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Sunday, April 24, 2022

Interview With Chris Topher


 Today, we have an opportunity to talk to Topher Allen.  Topher has written the book, Geo.  

First, let me thank you for joining me.  I appreciate you giving me your links and I want to share those with our readers.


Website: https://www.topherallenbooks.com/

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09NJBCYJF

That is great.  Can you tell us a little about yourself and what led you to start writing?

I first started to seriously consider creative writing a few years ago. The undiluted expression it provides just seemed so refreshing. But at the time, my only real writing experience was authoring maintenance manuals for aircraft components. It was all pretty dry, but introduced me to sentence structure and economy of words and things of that nature. I had always enjoyed storytelling, as well as the creative moments of the engineering classes I was taking at the time. The impetus for this specific project was honestly nothing more than me challenging myself to create a legitimate story that could get people to care about and emphasize with the least interesting, least likely thing I could think of. As a child I was always doodling, carrying a sketchpad with me everywhere. One night while my family and I were out to dinner I got pretty bored and sketched this square little rock-crystal guy. It was one of a few hundred doodles I had done up to that point, but for whatever reason that specific figure just kind of stuck with me. That sketch, combined with the challenge I’d given myself, eventually came together to produce Geo. From there it was just a matter of getting the pen to the paper, so to speak, on any night or weekend I could manage.

Fairly early on in the process I got some less-than-enthusiastic feedback from a professional editor: “Do everything you just did in this story, but rewrite all the rock people as humans instead”. That one sentence gave me so much confidence. 


Getting a pen to paper is hard. Perhaps the effort is the greatest step an author takes. Any advice for a new writer out there struggling to make that move?

Actually following through on writing a book is a great accomplishment all on its own. It requires so much thought and effort over a long period of time (especially if you’re not full-time yet). For tips to get through it, I would say to learn how remind yourself of the parts you like most about writing, even if that’s not the exact part you’re working on that day. That always helped my get through some of the downswings. There’s a lot to do, and the parts you love doing will have a much higher chance of success if you’re working just as hard on the less-fun things too. I would also say to not worry so much if you have to cut out a huge chunk of story that you really loved. Even if it’s the best page you’ve ever written, if you keep getting feedback that it’s a problem, hanging onto it could jeopardize the entire rest of the story. There are lots of other parts of your story that are great, don’t hold them back out of stubbornness.

What is the best advice you have ever been given as a writer?

Fairly early on in the process I got some less-than-enthusiastic feedback from a professional editor: “Do everything you just did in this story, but rewrite all the rock people as humans instead”. That one sentence gave me so much confidence. I knew I was on the right track, with my own unique flair on the formula. I didn’t take the advice, but sometimes negative feedback can be a good thing if it’s directed at something you intended to do differently than most others. 

Website: https://www.topherallenbooks.com/

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09NJBCYJF

Do you write full-time or around another job? How do you schedule your time to write?

Still working around another job. Scheduling time was one of the biggest things I struggled with throughout the whole process. You’re creating a new world in your head, so it’s easy to get lost in that realm. Which is great! But, it can also take a heavy toll on those around you. Definitely focus on communicating with your family/those around you, BEFOREHAND and stick to the plan you both established for writing time.

How many hours a day do you write?

Weekday: 0-3hr (usually about 45min), Weekend: 0-16hr (usually 1 or 2hr). Really any time I can have to myself AND if I’m feeling well enough mentally to not destroy my brain with another marathon session.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Noise-cancelling headphones.

What is your writer’s kryptonite?

Wasting time doing nothing of interest on the internet.

What is your favorite part about writing?

Worldbuilding and dialogue. You get to create an entirely new and unique culture. As long as your characters are acting appropriately, you can do some pretty wacky traditions and make it believable. As far as dialogue goes, there are so many times we have to watch our tongues in real life, which is good because of the actual people with actual feelings. But, when it’s two fake people ripping each other apart in a book, readers love it. It’s pretty liberating.

What does literary success look like to you?

Knowing that I got to slip a little bit of physics and biology into a book that might be entertaining to kids is pretty cool. Besides that, if I can get a few people to feel for a bunch of rocks I’ll be happy.

Please tell us about your current release.

My current book, Geo, follows a rock and his friends trying to survive a world unlike anything they’ve ever seen. I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a sort of hidden longer-form narrative going on in the background that gradually takes center stage by the end of things. Geo’s always dreamed of something more. He’s always had questions about some strange things he’s seen around his home town, but he’s never asked them out loud for fear of being labelled different. By the time his journey is nearly done he’s a changed person in a lot of ways, having found out some of the long-held secrets regarding the forces controlling his home town. The whole thing ends up in a place I don’t think many will predict, but hope most will enjoy.

What part of writing and publishing was most difficult for you?

Knowing when to move on to the next phase. There’s always that little voice in the back of your head telling you how much better you can make your writing if you just work on it a little more. I think there’s diminishing returns to that each time though, unless there’s some specific part of your story that you have very specific concerns about.

Thanks again for joining me. Let's throw out those links again:

Website: https://www.topherallenbooks.com/

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09NJBCYJF

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Interview with Patrick W Anderson


See the Blog Post here

Today, we have an opportunity to talk to Patrick W. Andersen.  Patrick has written the book, Acts of the Women.  First, let me thank you for joining me.  I appreciate you giving me your links and I want to share those with our readers.


Website: https://www.pwandersen.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Author.Patrick.W.Andersen

Twitter: @PWAndersen

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pwandersen/

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@sanfranciscopatrick


That is great. I see more and more authors joining TilkTok. Seems like a growing platform.  Can you tell us a little about yourself and what led you to start writing?


When I was 25 and working a decent union job in a cannery in my native Southern California, I realized this job was not going to help me realize my dream of becoming a writer. Fortunately, I was not married or otherwise committed, so I quit my job and moved to San Francisco to earn a degree in journalism. I became editor of a newspaper in Chinatown and established a successful career as a writer. I left the paper and went into a larger, more corporate environment, and earned my master’s degree in public administration. After retiring as a communications manager for a large organization with about 6,000 employees, I was finally able to return to my first love, writing fiction. My wife and I continue to live in San Francisco.


Where do you get your inspiration, information, and ideas for books?

In many years of news writing, I learned the best way to attract and keep readers’ attention was to always look for conflict or disagreement, and then offer both sides a chance to make their best case so readers could decide what to accept and what to reject. In writing fiction, I am sometimes drawn to a story idea by the same motive. If a large number of people have accepted a premise as “fact” just because that’s what they’ve always been told to believe, then I get a nagging notion in the back of my head that someone ought to challenge that assumption.

 I always try to glide over the obvious responses on any story, and instead look for something—probably idea six or seven—that will make a reader sit up and say, “Wow—I hadn’t ever thought of it that way.”

Can you give an example?

For instance, I became a Christian more than 45 years ago and have studied many aspects of the faith. So, after some random guy started arguing with me that Jesus was an only child—despite very clear texts in the Bible that say he had brothers and sisters—I did a deep dive into researching the topic. My debut novel, Second Born, was the result of that study.

And over the years I got tired of all the talk about what the so-called “Church Fathers” had done to establish the traditions that billions upon billions of people have since accepted as fact. What about the Church Mothers? You don’t give birth to much of anything if you don’t get the mothers involved. So that question led me to write my newest novel, Acts of the Women. When someone asks for my “elevator speech” to describe the plot, I just say that the men gave speeches and wrote history books about their own noble deeds, but the women did most of the work.


Clever. It sounds like you listen a lot but also aren't afraid to think independently. What is the best advice you have ever been given as a writer?

My first English professor in my freshman year of college was teaching us how to write essays, because that would be a key element to our success in school and, in many cases, our careers after graduation. He told us that when we received an assignment to write an essay about a topic, to stop and write down the first ten ideas that occurred to us about how to handle that topic. Then cross out the first five on the list, because everyone else in class has thought of the same ideas. Keep in mind that the primary audience is a tired professor grading papers late at night, and she’s sick of seeing the same thing over and over again with only slightly different wording from one student to the next. Ideas six and seven on your list will be more original and probably still be close enough to the topic to make it interesting, to make that tired professor sit up and take notice. By the time you get to idea number eight, you’re probably stretching the connection to the original topic pretty thin. And ideas nine and ten will be so far off track that the professor will give up trying to make sense of it. So, I always try to glide over the obvious responses on any story, and instead look for something—probably idea six or seven—that will make a reader sit up and say, “Wow—I hadn’t ever thought of it that way.”

 If I’ve coined a phrase that becomes

part of the lexicon,

then that’s success.

Do you write full-time or around another job? How do you schedule your time to write?

Before I retired, my full-time job was writing, plus managing and editing the other writers I worked with, and managing the office procedures necessary to allow us all to do our work. Since retirement, my writing schedule is much more lax. When the word gets around that you are retiring, well-meaning friends who assume you will be bored start “volunteering” you to serve on the boards of nonprofits and to publish their newsletters. I’ve found myself serving on more than a dozen boards and volunteer committees, so the time set aside for writing is much more limited than I’d like.

Too funny. I was asked to be on a board for a writer's guild last year. Some days I am thankful and others I wonder what I agreed to! It sometimes pulls me away from the things about writing I enjoy. What is your favorite part about writing?

I like that I get to use my craft to inform, entertain, or persuade readers. In the past four decades I have needed to be able to do all three of those. Once I know what my objective is and who comprises the audience for any particular story or assignment, then I am able to decide my approach, my methods, my style, my vocabulary, and the rhythm with which I will put all these elements into play. I’ll take input from others, but I’m all alone and in charge at the keyboard when it’s time to write it. Too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the dish. Just tell me what I’m supposed to do, and then give me the space to do it.


What does literary success look like to you?

Some people define success by the size of a paycheck. Others see success as the fame that comes with having your name out there. But in my experience, most readers don’t really pay much attention to who the writer is. So, I measure success by whether readers accept and act on what they have read in any story I have written. If I’ve coined a phrase that becomes part of the lexicon, then that’s success. If I’ve introduced a new interpretation of a long-accepted “fact,” and that interpretation becomes a topic of public discussion or debate, then I’ve succeeded, and it doesn’t matter so much whether the people debating the issue are attributing it to Patrick Andersen. If I’ve moved the discussion forward, then I’ve done my job.


Please tell us about your current release.

The title of the novel, Acts of the Women, is a take-off from the New Testament book, Acts of the Apostles. If that latter book was your only source of information, you’d come away thinking that a roomful of illiterate or semi-literate men led by Peter decided one fine day in Jerusalem, Hey—let’s start a religion that will replace Judaism and the Greek and Roman gods of our time and make us all famous. And in the second half of the book, another man named Paul—much more literate, this one—says, Hey, you’re right, but I’m more right than you are so I’ll take your new religion and make it even grander. Then the rest of the story consists of each man saying my religion’s bigger than your religion. Oh yeah? Well, my religion lasts longer and is more satisfying—everybody says so. Oh yeah? Well my religion… And on and on and on.


Now, as a married man who has been forced to learn the proper order of the genders in the running of the universe, I know quite well that it wasn’t a dozen illiterate men who created the Christian church and made it grow so phenomenally that it became dominant in the empire in just a few hundred years. Even if women were considered “property” under the laws of that time, the women were running things just as they always have. They will flatter their men to make the guys think they’re in charge, but the women will manipulate events behind the scenes to make sure things run smoothly. So shall it be written. So shall it be done.


Can you read / provide us with a small exert? (optional – under 200 words)


Okay, this occurs early in the book, so I’m not giving away too much. The scene is when the woman we’ve always called Mary Magdalene has come to the “upper room,” where Jesus’ brothers are mourning his execution by the Romans three days earlier. She’s just told them that Jesus is still alive; they don’t believe her, but she has stared them down and forced them to accept what she says. Now she has gone downstairs:


I found Rachel in the kitchen, fussing over a large cake of bread she had just pulled out of the oven. She poked a small knife into the middle and examined inside to see if the dough was cooked all the way through. Apparently satisfied with what she found, she set the knife down and turned to me.

“I was sorry to hear of your family’s loss,” she said with a slight bow of her head. “The Rabbi Gamaliel was so sad when he told me. I’m sure the Rabbi James must be grievin’ terribly, it bein’ his brother and all.”

I clutched her forearms in greeting the way the men did, and locked eyes with her. “Rachel, he’s alive. I saw him this morning. I need you to gather some women that you can trust to help me take care of him.”

Rachel’s eyes widened in a mixture of shock, disbelief and wild joy. “Alive? But we heard the Romans killed him. They said the King is dead.”

“No, they failed to kill him, or at least they can’t keep him dead. But we have to hide him and care for him or else he may die. He’s badly wounded. And then we have to smuggle him away.”

She looked off vacantly for a moment as if consulting a list that hung in the air before her, then snapped back into focus. “I know some people who can help. We’ll go to them.” Then she looked at my belly. “You look like your baby’s gonna pop out any minute. Why don’t you rest here while I go take care o’ things?”

I tilted my head as if I were looking at a teenager who had just uttered a mouthful of nonsense. “Rachel, we are women. Who do you think actually gets things done in this world — the men?”


Buy it HERE

 Love this. I am a Bible reader in my own life and journey. This is a refreshing way to enliven well known story. What exciting story are you working on next?

A murder mystery, set in a different century, a different culture, a different mindset. It’s requiring a lot of research.


Research is always my kryptonite. What is your writer’s kryptonite?

Kryptonite? That makes it sound like there’s just one thing that prevents me from writing. There’s social media, computer video games, volunteer projects like the weekly church newsletter and taking minutes for nonprofit board meetings. Every time I declare to myself that I’m going to spend several hours on my writing project, one or more of the other voices in my head shout out a dozen other reasons why I should do something else first. Sometimes I have to call all my personalities into a conference so we can discuss and vote on our priorities for the day.


 What part of writing and publishing was most difficult for you?

The writing part is probably the easiest. Trying to find an agent is like climbing a steep hill of loose sand. After giving up on finding an agent, finding a publisher who is willing to accept queries from an agent-less writer is like deep-sea diving without the air tank. And then promoting your work so some people will actually get the opportunity to read it—well, if you haven’t already lost all hope, then you soon will.


Are you involved in any writer groups?

I guess I’m listed as a member of a dozen groups loosely held together by social media. But a group of three of us started meeting every month about seven years ago. We called ourselves Coffee House Eccentrics & Writers (CHEW), and we met at a coffee house a few miles from Stanford University. When the pandemic hit, we started meeting on Zoom, which was really easier because we were each driving 40 to 50 miles to get to the coffee house. Each of us has completed two novels. One member, Victorian Kazarian, has published both of hers in what she’s calling the Silicon Valley Murder series. The other member, Pamela Chartrand, did not publish her first novel because she wanted to look at it again after thinking about other things for a year or so. But her second novel The Herbarium, is due for publication this spring.


One more time, where can someone go to purchase your book?

Add your links here again




Acts of Women begins grounded in one of the most known and well read stories in history: the death of Jesus. But here there is a twist early in the dialogue: “Many lives are at stake here, so I’m going to need people with common sense. I’m going to talk to the women.” Or as Priscilla gathers a group of women at one point: “We are here today because it is up to us women to bring order to the empire.”

The story cleverly builds upon the text of Scripture around the voices of the women. Some names are well known to readers of the Bible account while others may be less familiar. It does well to honor the original text while cultivating a new perspective with such gems as: “Well, let’s not just stand around like a bunch of men. It’s time to get to work.” Or “Rachel here has one of the most important jobs of all…. She has to keep control over all of you men.”

There is also a great deal of fun interactions with the ancient world if you are a fan of history (I particularly liked Thomas’ at the library of Alexandria). The author has certainly done some research as shown by knowledge of Priscilla. It was fun to finally hear from Lazarus (who at one point declares the works in mysterious ways perhaps tongue in cheek) since he never speaks in the Bible after his resurrection.

Overall, it offers a fresh way to see a known journey and some of the road through the New testament (book of Acts in particular). There is enough invention to keep it fresh and enough from the text to keep it familiar. This may be the hardest challenge the author faced approaching a sacred story and I think did it well.

I was given a copy for review. The opinions are my own.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Review: The Path of Lucius Park stories


Elijah David has written a collection of short stories. Some, most maybe, stand alone but they also collectively build a tapestry of a small Florida town. From a man snake bit to wheel chair races in a school hallway, to monsters, to people living under the legacy of the infamous John Lucius the stories are fun and enjoyable. 

It is reminiscent of Faulkner's more extensive works around his fictional town of Yoknapatawpha county, MS. Some stories resonated with my own experiences growing up win a small town (I too was bit by a snake) while others reminded me of the charm and the darker side of a small community. Overall, well written and worthwhile if you enjoy southern fiction. 

I read through the collection in two sittings. They were fun and easily accessible. There was enough real and enough wonder to keep me engaged.


The Path of Lucius Park: StoriesThe Path of Lucius Park: Stories by Elijah David
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Elijah David has written a collection of short stories. Some, most maybe, stand alone but they also collectively build a tapestry of a small Florida town. From a man snake bit to wheel chair races in a school hallway, to monsters, to people living under the legacy of the infamous John Lucius the stories are fun and enjoyable.

It is reminiscent of Faulkner's more extensive works around his fictional town of Yoknapatawpha county, MS. Some stories resonated with my own experiences growing up win a small town (I too was bit by a snake) while others reminded me of the charm and the darker side of a small community. Overall, well written and worthwhile if you enjoy southern fiction.

I read through the collection in two sittings. They were fun and easily accessible. There was enough real and enough wonder to keep me engaged.

View all my reviews

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Interview: You Won't Know Her Name

You Won't Know Her Name tour banner

This is my post during the blog tour for You Won't Know Her Name by Shanti Hershenson. You Won't Know Her Name is written by a fourteen year old author and is based on a true story.

This blog tour is organized by Lola's Blog Tours and the tour runs from 21 February till 6 March. You can see the tour schedule here.

You Won't Know Her Name book cover
You Won't Know Her Name
By Shanti Hershenson
Genre: Contemporary
Age category: Young Adult
Release Date: July 27, 2021

“I thought they were my best friend…”

There lives a little girl whom you will never know the name of, and for her, a terrible storm is coming. She is going to a new, public middle school knowing no one but her sister, and the horrors are absolutely endless.

But she doesn’t expect what is to come.

In her first few months of school, terrible and unspeakable things begin to happen, that go beyond what is considered “normal”. Finding the courage to get away from the wrong people is a difficult thing, but when a horrific incident occurs, she finds herself running from who she once thought to be friends.

Now lost and alone, The Girl turns to one thing to help her get through her darkest moments. Writing poetry is the one way she can express her anger, and when her school announces that they will be hosting an open-mic night, she knows she has to enter. But entering means that she will have to face her demons, and it could be her worst nightmare…

From a teenaged author, You Won't Know Her Name shines a light on a heartbreaking reality that often goes unspoken about - the issue that is bullying in middle school. From hateful comments to real, shocking violence, this book shares what cannot be ignored.

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Shanti Hershenson author picture
About the Author:
Shanti Hershenson's first two novellas were published when she was in the sixth grade, although her writing journey started long before then. Ever since she could hold a pencil, marker, or crayon, she was creating stories. They started from pictures, mere scribbles, and eventually, turned into captivating tales.

Author links:
- Website
- Twitter
- Instagram
- Tiktok

There is a tour wide giveaway for the blog tour of You Won’t Know Her Name. 5 winners will win a paperback copy of You Won't Know Her name by Shanti Hershenson (US Only).

For a chance to win, enter the rafflecopter below:
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For our readers, Here is an exerct:

There lives a little girl 
Whom you will never learn the name of
 But she exists; she’s real in these pages 
Her features, you may never learn 
But you can know one thing 
She is a survivor 
Or, she thinks she is 
She thinks she’s faced the worst storm 
But that’s a lie, and things are only calm 
Because a deadly hurricane is coming 

The Girl is starting middle school three days late 
Once because of a car accident 
Then, because of a tragedy 
And lastly, because of what is supposed to be good news 
She’s moving to a new school 

The Girl walks through the doors for the very first time 
Her sister by her side 
She takes in a deep breath 
Other kids flooding around her 
The public school is like nothing she’s ever seen before 

The school floors are gre
They feel dark and dreary 
And for The Girl, everything feels like a nightmare 
She is lost and cannot find the way 

The Girl is given a fresh slip of paper 
With bold lettering telling her where to go 
It’s like a map, and it gives her a classroom number 
She needs to go there soon, or else she’ll be horribly late 
On her already chaotic first day 

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Saturday, April 2, 2022

The Clandestine Queen


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This is my post during the blog tour for The Clandestine Queen by Brandon J Greer. In The Clandestine Queen a fifteen-year-old abandoned witch must find her way home to become queen while trying to escape from a demon hell-bent on destroying her.

This blog tour is organized by Lola's Blog Tours and the tour runs from 29 March till 18 April. You can see the tour schedule here.

The Clandestine Queen
The Clandestine Queen
By Brandon J Greer
Genre: Fantasy
Age category: Young Adult
Release Date: 12 April 2022

A shard of ice hides in her chest
A raging fire burns in his.
A lost queen
A desperate assassin
Together they will change the world.

Maggie Abernathy always thought she was human, even though she could do the most peculiar things. Things no other girl in her village could do. Fifteen years after being abandoned as a baby, she begins to question who she is, where she belongs, and what she might be capable of. When a mysterious letter from the past calls her home, she embarks on a journey that will change her life forever-if she survives.

Loravain-an enslaved, ember-breathing witch hunter-is hot on her trail and gaining fast. If he can find and kill her, he will win what he has sought for twenty years: freedom from the demon he serves. But he knows he isn't supposed to be the villain, and his conscience weighs heavily even as he continues his hunt. Will the prospect of freedom overpower his desire for redemption?

As their fates intertwine, neither knows what the future truly holds.

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Read the first 5 chapters!
Want to read the first 5 chapters of The Clandestine Queen for free? Get the first 5 chapters here

Brandon J Greer
About the Author:
Brandon J Greer is the second and third oldest in a family of eight kids. (He was second oldest until a new marriage brought a new child that bumped him to third.) To set himself apart from so many siblings, he discovered the arts. Drawing, acting, and writing pulled him in at a young age. His first book, Around the World in About a Year, was written in the sixth grade, complete with hand-drawn illustrations. The book was garbage but won him a place in an arts competition at the local university. Now living in northern Utah with his wife and daughter, he travels as much as he can. His favorite places to go are Yellowstone and Peru.

Author links:
- Website
- Facebook
- Twitter
- Instagram
- TikTok

There is a tour wide giveaway for the blog tour of The Clandestine Queen. Five winners will each win a signed copy of The Clandestine Queen (US Only).

For a chance to win, enter the rafflecopter below:
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Excerpt 1:


At the base of the mountain, a narrow, winding path had become visible. At the head stood two massive statues guarding the way. The figure to the left was a large stone man cocooned in fire, his arms stretched out in front of him. Marble robes extended to the base of the pedestal he stood on. His face was hidden beneath a dark hood. The other statue was an angry bear standing on its hind legs. It was taller than the man and much broader. Instead of a natural, animal emotion, the bear wore an expression of caution, a warning to the unworthy.

"Only Loravain is to proceed from this point," Thanatos said, stopping the others' progression to the trail. "If you cross the threshold, you will most likely die."

Head down, Loravain proceeded to the guardians alone but stopped when someone touched his hand. Turning around, he stared into Sarah’s watering eyes.

"Be careful up there, okay?" she pleaded.

He squeezed her hand and whispered something into her ear that made her smile through the tears.

"I heard that," Maggie said when Sarah returned to her side. "How long has that been going on?"

Sarah shrugged her shoulders and looked away, deliberately avoiding the question.

Loravain stared up at the guardians. As he watched, the stone flames, carved so many years ago, began to flicker in the light of the dying sun. Or was it something else? Behind him, the sun was still above the horizon, but only just. He thought he could hear the faint crackling of fire as well. As he stepped closer, the flickering became more intense, the folds of the man's cloak becoming more prominent. Suddenly, the stone began to crack and fall away, chunk by chunk, revealing an actual man beneath it, wrapped in burning fire. The flames, when free from their prison, leaped to the bear. Both statues were now raging infernos. Loravain backed away.

"Glory awaits the worthy judged." A strange voice hissed through Loravain's mind. "And fire to cleanse the troubled soul. To put away the long-held grudge, the newfound hero, his story told."

The voice repeated the phrase in his head, the flames growing and falling to its rhythm. As he prepared to proceed, another voice spoke to him. A voice he knew well and longed to be with.

"Come to me. Be found worthy of this gift." It was Camila.

Loravain stepped forward, crossing into the arc of flames in front of him. Instead of heat, a cool summer breeze blew across his skin and the world behind him was silenced. More and more voices called out to him, speaking of power, glory, corruption, and death. Visions of war, blood, and carnage flashed before his eyes, followed by tranquil scenes of peace and prosperity. The voices continued, rising in volume, reciting to him his deeds. His past was played out before him, and he was ashamed of the man he had been. Yet, knowing that he had committed those sins, he took full responsibility for them.

"Yes," he shouted. "I did those things, but I am no longer that person. I have changed."

Falling to his knees, he wept for his sins, for those he had killed, and the families he had left fatherless, sonless, and parentless. When his sorrows peaked, a soft hand reached out from the bright light of the flames and caressed his tear-streaked face.

"Don't cry, my love. Your heart is noble. Your future is also being judged, not only your past."

The hunter looked up into the eyes of his beautiful bride. Her hair was brilliant, burning with fire, but her face was just as he remembered.

"Forgive me, Camila," he pleaded. "I should have done more. I could have saved you."

"You could have done nothing. You were meant to play a much greater role in life. My death has served a purpose. You are the one destined to help this witch. This is what your life has been leading you to. Had we been allowed to stay together; the world would have been plunged into darkness."

"But I have created much of that darkness," Loravain said.

"We must come to understand the darkness before we can fully appreciate the light," Camila answered.

"Will I ever see you again?"

"I am waiting for you in a place that has been prepared for us, but you still have much to do here."

"What must I do?"

"You have been found worthy. As you proceed up the mountain, you will face three challenges. They will teach you about the power you are seeking. Open your mind as you climb for enlightenment cannot be obtained if the book is closed."

Camila stepped back into the flames and disappeared, along with the voices, the visions, and the fire. The trail appeared before him again, leading up the barren, rocky landscape of the mountain. Looking back, he saw Sarah and Maggie huddled together in conversation. Thanatos sat near the sleds. They were not watching him. They didn't appear to be able to see him. He was on this quest alone. Drawing in a deep breath of air, he held it for a moment, warming it with his fire, then slowly released it as he took his first steps to becoming a true Fire Mage.


Excerpt 2:


Laughter rang out through the small room. Knowing Maggie was leaving in the morning pushed her parents to be more lively, upbeat, and happy. Maggie knew they were doing it to support her, and she thanked them for it, but she could see the sadness in their eyes. But no amount of sorrow could prevent them from celebrating.

"... and when we came outside," her father reminisced, snorting so loud through his laughter he began to choke. He only continued once he'd composed himself. "You were sitting on the house and that little friend of yours was limping away, holding her rear end."

Maggie couldn't contain the sip of milk in her mouth as she tried to hold in the laughter. Failing, she spat milk out all over the table. She remembered that day as clearly as if it had been yesterday

"I can still see the look on her face," Maggie said.

"Her father came running up the hill about an hour later yelling about how his daughter had been attacked by wild demons. When he saw us, all working in the garden as if nothing had happened, he just scratched his head."

Maggie tried to keep a straight face while she cleaned up her mess. The rag was sodden and dripped with milk as she carried it to an empty bucket in the kitchen.

The wind outside was still howling and she could hear rain splashing in puddles as it fell. She worried about the beginning of her journey. If the rain kept up, she might be in worse shape than the milk-laden rag. Nevertheless, she couldn't help but be uplifted by the stories her parents were sharing.

"Do you remember the time you froze up the well?" her father asked with a chortle.

"That wasn't my fault," Maggie complained but still looked forward to the story. Her father was a wizard with words.

"We'd just finished gathering the leaves covering the garden. It was early spring and the sun was giving us a hint of summer. I was so upset when it happened. Little Mags decided to dump the whole lot of wet, stinky leaves on the fire. It had taken me all morning to find kindling dry enough to start it and there you'd gone and nearly smothered it. But then the smoke turned thick and dark."

Her mother failed to control the fit of laughter that had taken over her. It was so contagious that it spread through the room like wildfire. When she could breathe again, her mother continued the tale.

"When the leaves burst into flames, sending that fireball into the sky, you almost jumped out of your pants and fell head over heels straight into the dung pile."

That earned another round of howling laughter.

"You were so scared," her dad said, wiping a tear from his eye. "You ran to the well and dropped the bucket. You wanted to douse the flames."

"All we heard," Mother said, interrupting her husband. "Was a hollow thump when the bucked bounced off the ice."

"That's not fair," Maggie said. "How do you know it was my fault? It was early spring. It could have still been frozen."

"It wasn't," her father said. "I'd already drawn out at least five buckets that morning."

"Well, I had no idea what had happened. I just thought I was going to burn down the whole village."

As the moment wore on, silence fell over them as they each remembered different memories that brought them joy. The joviality that had prevailed began to fall away as the seriousness of the situation came rushing back. No one wanted to talk about it. No one wanted to ruin the memory they had just created, but it was inevitable.


Excerpt 3:


The barn was one of the oldest and most dangerous buildings in the village. As hazardous as it was, Maggie was grateful the town council had not yet decided to pull it down as it worked perfectly for her needs. It provided her with a private place to spy on Jacob, the town's apprentice blacksmith. His father was the real blacksmith, but the fever had taken his leg, so he left Jacob to manage in his stead.

Jacob's hair was usually golden blond but with all the ash in the air from working the forge, it was more gray than anything else, giving him an aged and distinguished look even though he was only a teenager. His arms were large and muscular, one of the benefits of swinging a hammer all day. He wasn't tall, but his shoulders were broad, giving him the shape of a barrel. A desirable barrel, Maggie thought. His eyes shone blue in the sun, which reminded her of the cool, deep lakes her village fished on. In short, Jacob was the man of her dreams and she loved watching him.

Maggie was the opposite. She was tall, lanky, and agile. Her hair, almost entirely black, matched her eyes and was shoulder length and ragged as if someone cut it with a pair of dull gardening sheers. She considered herself pretty but had never had a wide range of suiters to agree with her. At least no one said anything to the contrary. That was understandable though as she was just now reaching the age of marriage. In three months' time, she would turn sixteen and her parents would start preparing to marry her off. The only thought that brought her any comfort about that was that Jacob wasn't married either. Would he ever consider marrying her? The idea tickled her stomach.

Inside, she shimmied up a questionable-looking ladder to the loft above. She'd done it many times before so she had learned which rungs would send her plummeting back down to the hard floor below and avoided them. On the far wall of the loft was a small knot in one of the planks of wood with a tiny hole carved into it. When she lay down on her belly, she had a clear view of the forge. Closing one eye, she peered out the slight opening and watched Jacob take a drink of water. She was in luck. He'd been working hard and was already sweating. When he had finished drinking, he poured a ladle of water over his head. The thin fabric of his shirt stuck to his chest. It was almost more than Maggie could bear.

She rolled onto her back and stared through the gaps in the roof. She lost herself in a waking dream. Jacob stood in front of her, gently taking her hands in his, then slowly fell to one knee and proposed. Her parents were there as well, beaming with pride at the prospect that she would accept. The dream shifted to a wedding scene where she wore a beautifully tailored dress. The entire village was in attendance and all eyes were on her. The flowers that lined the crowded streets were stunning with bold and agreeable colors. The food was delicious, both sweet and savory, and lively music filled the air, encouraging everyone to dance. It was the biggest party the village had ever seen. When her lips were moving to form the words "I do", the smile faded from her face.

"Jacob Prescott. You know I can't concentrate with you pounding that hammer all morning."

It was the voice Maggie despised most of all and it pulled her harshly back to reality. It belonged to Katie Levinston, the butcher's daughter. She was wealthy, according to Lakes Hollow standards, and beautiful. Her mother had passed on a few years back from the same fever that had taken Jacob's father's leg, and since then her father had attempted to raise her all alone. With a bustling shop to manage, he let his daughter do whatever she wanted. Like Maggie, Katie was close to marrying age and her father was doing everything in his power to attract a long line of suitors for her. He was a little blind when it came to his daughter because Katie didn't need help when it came to finding suitors. Without his help, the line she could garner on her own would be even longer. No matter the disdain Maggie held for her, she thought Katie was stunning, which made her sick. Her hair alone was enough to entangle any man within a hundred miles of Lakes Hollow. It was rarer than diamonds in these parts. It was curly, long, and red. Her father had black hair and her mother’s had been light brown so no one knew where the red had come from but a few wicked rumors had floated around the village. Her eyes shone like emeralds, a brilliant breath-catching green, which was another rarity. All the boys swooned over her and all the girls hated her while secretly wishing they were her. Maggie loathed her, just like the rest, but for another reason. Jacob liked her. They were always flirting and playing around in the streets, putting on a show for the entire village. This morning was no different.