Guest Post from Sara Hosey – “Only Connect!”: Ideas and Inspirations

Guest Post from Sara Hosey

Sara Hosey is the author of three young adult novels: Iphigenia Murphy, Imagining Elsewhere, and Summer People. Her short fiction been shortlisted for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize and the American Short Fiction Halifax Ranch Prize and has appeared in journals like Cordella Literary Magazine and Mudroom Magazine. She is a parent, a community college professor, and a tree enthusiast.

“Only Connect!”: Ideas and Inspirations

I often develop stories by thinking through a hypothetical situation or question. I was once in my local supermarket, for example, and for a split second I thought I saw something obscene on the flatscreen television about the checkout line. When I looked again, I saw that I had been mistaken; it was just an unappetizing shot of some squash. But I kind of laughed to myself and thought, what would I do if it had been an obscene picture? Would anyone else have noticed? Would I have continued to watch the screen to see if it cycled back around again? This situation became the opening for my story “Not for Everyone,” in which a mother character sees what she believes is a “dirty” picture in the supermarket. It freaks her out, and becomes the instantiating event of the story, which traces a daughter’s realization that although her parents are not unambivalently bad people, they are in fact profoundly dysfunctional, and, in many ways, hateful.

Similarly, sometimes a word or phrase or even a joke will come into my mind and that will be the anchor for a story, or I’ll hear or read about a concept, and I’ll ruminate about it until it works its way into a story. I came across an article one day that said that, before they were aquatic, dolphins had been land mammals. What? Dolphins had walked around on the earth? I found this amazing, and I incorporated it into my story, “Land Mammals,” in which the main character, Lexi, uses the idea of leaving behind one kind of life and moving into another medium, going somewhere that others cannot easily follow, as a way of grappling with the loss entailed by her mother’s dementia.

I am also endlessly inspired by my friends and relationships. I try to surround myself with people who interest and invigorate me. I thank many friends in Dirty Suburbia’s “Acknowledgements,” and some of them are people I haven’t spoken to, literally, in years, but whose lives or behavior or just general way of being impressed or inspired me somehow. I’m fortunate too, to have friends that make me laugh and who sometimes let me borrow their jokes, and they are acknowledged as well.

And it’s only now, as I consider the book as a whole, that I’m realizing how many of the stories end with two people, usually women, sometimes strangers, taking care of or supporting each other. Not all the stories end happily, and when they don’t, I think it’s because characters are left without that sense of being understood or belonging. I feel that short fiction is particularly well-suited for exploring this fumbling-towards-connection, and many of the authors whose work most inspires me—Kelly Fordon and Joel Mowdy and Jess Walter and Chelsea Bieker—so deftly conjure complex characters who try—and sometimes succeed—in breaking through. It’s what E.M. Forster called for, over a century ago: “Only connect!” To me, the most inspiring art is art that explores, and sometimes as a result enacts, this idea.

About the book

Dirty suburbias are working-class neighborhoods in which girls who are left to fend for themselves sometimes become predators, as well as affluent communities in which women discover that money is no protection against sexism, both their own and others’.

One young woman sets up her abusive, cheating boyfriend, hoping he’ll get arrested so that she can rescue him and win him back. A teenager arranges to meet up with an older man she’s met online playing video games; she brings a knife with her, just in case. A middle-aged divorcee attempts to rekindle a romantic relationship with her high school English teacher, who happens to be a former nun. A struggling academic falls in love with a Henry David Thoreau impersonator, and a well-adjusted grad student goes home for Christmas only to be repulsed by her family’s casual cruelty.

Despite the ugliness and injustice they face, as well as the failures of their families and communities, these characters often find relief in friendship and connection, and sometimes, even discover meaning and cause for hope.

Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Guest Post by Michelle Corbier on ‘Vampire Profiling’

Vampire Profiling
a Guest Post by Michelle Corbier, author of ‘Dark Blood Awakens’

Last Sunday I posted a TikTok video regarding Stephen King’s short story “Rat.” In the post, I mentioned that his novel, “Salem’s Lot”, remains my all-time favorite vampire story. Why? Because the vampire is a monster—not sexy or contemplative. A simple creature feeding on blood and willing to kill for survival.

Similar to the protagonist in “Rat”, Drew Larson, my writing ideas originate from real-world flashpoints. The premise for my urban fantasy manuscript germinated from a dream. Once I awoke, only tidbits of the story remained. Enamored with the idea, I based my novel around that premise. However, I forgot the vampire’s origin story—or maybe that wasn’t part of the dream. Either way, I needed to create a vampire persona.

On a friend’s suggestion, I watched “What We Do In the Shadows”, a Hulu streaming show. If you’re unfamiliar with the program, it’s a hilarious tale of three vampires living together outside New York City. The show is original and irreverent. Though I enjoy the program, I didn’t want my vampire to be a comic.

Anne Rice gave readers ancient, cultured bloodsuckers in “Interview with the Vampire”, which provided some inspiration. In my dream, the vampire had been a physician—presupposing an education. Deciding to draw upon the African diaspora, my vampire would come from Mali, east Africa.

A friend recommended I incorporate Haitian culture—my ex-husband is Haitian—into the novel. With his help, I created a language, Baoumali, derived from east African dialects and Haitian Creole.

But what about my vampire? Recently, I listened to “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, read by Steven Red Fox Garnett—a talented vocal artist. Stoker’s vampire was treacherous and evil—not to mention his lady vampire companions.

The vampire I created for “Dark Blood Awakens” embodies different aspects of the many monster tales I’ve read, viewed, or heard. Korlemo Ibori craves power, wealth, and revenge. People are tools for manipulation or nourishment for consumption.

In a creative space, an artist’s only limitation is imagination. Fantasy provides a platform to craft new worlds, languages, and creatures. It was my pleasure to design a new world within our own—the beauty of urban fantasy.

Preorder your copy of “Dark Blood Awakens” here

About the author

Michelle attended the University of California Santa Cruz before completing a pediatric residency program at Michigan State University. After over twenty years in clinical medicine, Michelle now works as a medical consultant. As a member of Crime Writers of Color, Sisters in Crime and Capitol Crimes, her writing interests cover many genres—mystery, paranormal, and thrillers. If not writing, you can find her outside gardening or bicycling.

About Dark Blood Awakens

Dark Blood Awakens is a paranormal urban fantasy incorporating Black girl magic with myths from the African diaspora.

As a child, Makeda’s mom forced her to abandon sorcery. Instead, she pursued a career in nursing while killing monsters with her family of mwindaji. For over a millennium, the mwindaji have hunted Korlemo, a 1000-year-old vampire.

While working in Haiti, Makeda’s desire to recapture her sorcery skills increases. When a lead takes her to a Kentucky rural hospital searching for Korlemo, she uses Baoumali, the language of sorceresses, to reclaim her heritage. During her investigation, Makeda develops a steamy romance with the local sheriff and uncovers a macabre secret the hospital administration will kill to keep silent.

With time running out, Makeda must recapture her sorcery and choose where her alliances lie. If the mwindaji cannot destroy the monsters haunting the hospital, people will die—starting with her boyfriend.

Preorder your copy of “Dark Blood Awakens” here

Guest Post by Lynne Howard ‘Building an Animated Book Trailer’

‘Building an Animated Book Trailer’
Lynne Howard

Lynne Howard, author of Dylan Dover: Into the Vortex series, is a writer, lawyer, and teacher. Passionate about serving her community and dedicated to social justice, she lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband, Andrew, their children, Matthew, Jessie, and Dylan, and their two dogs, Halle and Oliver. Regardless of your preferred social media platform, you can find the animated trailer of the novel here on… Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and/or TikTok! Now, about the process of actually designing and developing the book trailer…

When I sat down a few years ago to begin writing the first novel in the Dylan Dover series, I had an idea, a laptop and a carved out workspace in my bedroom. I did not have a game plan, or in this case, chapter outlines. I did not have a plot summary, I did not have any idea of what I would write beyond the first chapter. Fortunately, I quickly discovered that my long-buried interest in creative writing which began when I was child, immediately returned. I found the words flowed easily from my mind onto the computer screen. Sure; there were times when I was stuck or grappling with internal dilemmas about where to go next, but for the most part, writing was pure, unadulterated joy. I was also fortunate to have the support of my family who gave me the time to write without interruptions and who managed to figure out meals and carpools without me! The first draft of Dylan Dover: Into the Vortex was finished in just a few months, and then I began editing.

Finally, I felt it was ready for an audience.

Then the hard work began.

As most aspiring authors know, finding an agent can be daunting and incredibly humbling. You think you have the next bestseller but finding an agent to even look at your manuscript can be extremely difficult. It took me about a year before I found mine. From there, the agent had to find a publisher willing to take the risk to publish the book. Another extraordinarily difficult task, that also took a lot of time… and a lot of rejections. But after approximately two and a half years after beginning to look for an agent and publisher, we were in business. We had a publisher, a contract, and we were ready to go.

The next hurdle to surpass was how to market the book. After all, there is little point in having the book published if nobody except me is going to read it! On the advice of my agent, I hired a private publicist. In my view, it would be well worth the money to have an expert help me navigate the world of social media, of bloggers and influencers, vendors, school boards, and librarians. When it comes to marketing, I am not just a “fish out of water…” that would be far too generous a description. It is more like I’m a fish on an alien planet somewhere in the universe that doesn’t even have water at all.

So I hired my publicist. She has been amazing, patiently walking me through the labyrinth of Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and more. It was Roxy’s recommendation to have an animated trailer created to promote the book. I thought that was a great idea… the targeted age group for my novel would likely love watching an animated teaser of the novel, and the prospect of seeing these characters come to life was exciting to me as well.

Finding an animator to do the work was difficult. I needed to find someone who was talented and could do the animation at a professional level, but I was also working on a tight budget. I had already paid money for professional editing, the publicist, and now an animator, without seeing any return on my investment. But I also realized that the trailer could be a very effective marketing strategy and sometimes, you have to make a personal investment whether that be time or money or both in order to reap the rewards later.

So I started asking around. I asked colleagues, friends, friends of friends, relatives, anyone who could possibly refer me to an animator who would have the time and the skills to take on this job. I was so lucky to have found Samantha Duckworth who was referred to me by an artist friend of mine.

Of course, Samantha’s first question after I provided her with the general idea that I wanted her to create an animated trailer for my soon-to-be published fantasy fiction novel, was what specifically did I want the trailer to include?

Once again, I found myself floundering in a sea of hopeless uncertainty. I knew that the trailer was only going to be one minute maximum in length. I knew the target audience. I knew the purpose of the trailer was to spark potential interest, to make people excited to read the book. But how to design the actual trailer, frame by frame? Once more I found myself feeling out of my league!

So I reached out for help again. This time, I knew exactly who to contact. As a high school teacher for over 20 years, I am so fortunate to have worked with hundreds of young people who have gone off to do amazing things with their lives. One of those former students is someone who I have stayed in touch with since he graduated five or six years ago. His name is Jordan Erdman and I knew that Jordan had finished an undergraduate degree in history at university and had gone on to film school after that. I got in touch directly with Jordan and he offered to help me with this project.

Jordan and I sat at my kitchen table for hours talking about the novel. He wanted to know about the plot, the settings, the characters, the themes… I tried my best to give him the truncated version as I described in vivid detail the images that had been in mind for so long. Once Jordan had a good idea of the highlights of the book, together we started mapping out the frames one at a time that we wanted to be included in the animation. You can’t include everything in a one minute trailer, so we had to focus on what we thought was most important to highlight for prospective readers. Jordan created a chart that provided specific details for Samantha to work from, including the visual aspects of each frame and the text that should be included as well. We even included photographs of people and places, even colors, that we thought would help translate our vision to the screen.

Once the chart was completed, I sent it to Samantha, who replied with more questions and comments. Some ideas we had originally envisioned were not feasible, and so we came up with alternatives. Working with someone who understood the process of filmmaking was extremely helpful. Jordan knew exactly how to map out each second of the animated trailer, considering all aspects such as timing, graphics, and sound.

Our amazing animator Samantha kept me informed each step of the way. First, she sent me sketches of the characters that would be included for my comments and approval. I think she appreciated all the details we had sent to her, and I know that I appreciated her ability to create images that matched precisely the descriptions I had provided. Any frame that was not exactly as I wanted it, Samantha was willing to change until after a few weeks, we had the final animated trailer… almost.

Samantha’s job was done, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled! But next, it needed sound. Jordan again stepped up. He found the music, and the sound effects, all of which had to be free to download without copywriting restrictions. I asked a colleague from work to do the narration, and he emailed his voice recording to Jordan. From there, Jordan had to make all the sounds line up with the visuals. I don’t know how he did this, but the end result was absolutely amazing!

In total, it probably took about six weeks for the trailer to be fully completed and ready to share. As an author, seeing characters who have lived in my mind for several years suddenly come to life through the magic of animation is an experience that defies words. I literally cried tears of joy the first dozen times that I watched it. I kept the file on my cell phone and would show everyone that I met, at work, at the grocery store, at the bank…

All that being said, the animated characters perfectly match how I envision these characters to look, but that is not necessarily how other readers may see them in their own mind. I hope that the trailer is generic enough that people will still be able to use their own imagination as they read the novel. In my mind, Dylan Dover looks exactly like my youngest son, also named Dylan (no coincidence) and the animated trailer truly made my son into a cartoon, which is awesome for me! But I’m sure that people who read the novel will picture a different face for that character, and I would not want the animation to detract from that aspect of reading the book.

For other authors who may be thinking of following this path, I would absolutely recommend it, so long as you are working with the right people. You have to have great communication with your animator and others on your team, and you have to have realistic expectations about what can be accomplished working within your budget of money and time. Then you have to know what to do with the finished product…or if you’re like me, you have someone you trust and can rely upon who knows what to do with the finished product!

Will I ever make back the money I spent to have the animated trailer created? I have no idea. Time will tell, but I know that this was a risk that I was willing to take and do not regret. Because at the end of the day, I know that I have done absolutely everything I could to effectively share Dylan Dover with the world.

About the Novel

Dylan believes he is a typical twelve-year-old until he stumbles into a vortex that miraculously transports him to the immortal dimension, a parallel universe. Dylan not only learns that he is a warlock, but he also discovers a twin brother, extraordinary powers, and a secret prophecy that seems to have Dylan and his family at its crux.

Dylan, along with his brother and their new-found wizard friend Thea, begin to unravel the mystery that surrounds their birth and the danger that threatens immortals and humans alike.

Get your copy of Dylan Dover in print or e-book edition HERE

Guest Post: Novels about Mental Illness

7 Novels About Mental Illness
Stephen Bitsoli

Today I have a guest post from Stephen Bitsoli to bring a selection of novels that depict humans who struggle with mental health issues. It’s a topic close to my heart, so I’m truly delighted to have him here. I confess that I haven’t read any of these, so my to-be-read pile just got even longer!

Mental health issues, from major depressive disorder to chronic substance abuse, are part of the human condition, and so perfect fodder for fiction. Not every author who tackles the topic is up to the task, however. 

Authors with a first-hand acquaintance of the subject, among themselves, family members, or loved ones tend to speak to mental health disorders with a realism that just can’t be beaten. 

If you’re interested in some of the best fictional explorations of mental illness, these seven classic-to-recent novels should be on your reading pile.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962). One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a 1962 novel, perhaps best-known for its wildly successful 1963 stage and 1975 film adaptations, but the original novel stands on its own. Set in a psychiatric ward, run by the tyrannical and possibly psychopathic “Big Nurse” Ratched, it depicts her conflict with a disruptive new patient Randle Patrick McMurphy, as narrated by a fellow inmate, the schizophrenic “Chief” Bromden. McMurphy has faked mental illness (though some analysts have diagnosed him as having antisocial personality disorder) to avoid hard-time at a prison work camp for battery. Inspired by Kesey’s experience working at the psych ward of a veterans hospital in the 1950s, the novel focuses on the mental health care system. So-called medical “treatments” then included electroconvulsive (electroshock) therapy (ECT) and lobotomy.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963). The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical account of a young woman growing up in the 1950s and dealing with societal expectations and mental illness. The story follows Esther Greenwood, a young woman who struggles to feel excited about anything, including winning a prestigious internship at a New York City fashion magazine. She has a mental breakdown and fixates on death and suicide. The novel’s motif of a bell jar “suffocating” Esther’s world parallels Plath’s struggles with depression, suicidal ideation, and what may have been bipolar II disorder. It also describes psychiatric treatments of the time such as insulin shock therapy and ECT.

Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987). Beloved tells the story of Sethe, a former slave now living in freedom in Ohio after the Civil War. She is still mourning the death of her baby—she may have postpartum depression in addition to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from her enslavement—who had no name but “Beloved.”  Sethe believes her baby’s spirit is haunting her. She is also tormented by the memories of life on the plantation. The theme of PTSD is similarly explored in another character, Paul D, who relives his physical and sexual abuse. Inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner, Beloved is a brutal account of the atrocities of slavery and the effect of trauma on mental health that everyone should read at least once in their lifetime.

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb (1992). She’s Come Undone follows the story of Dolores Price, who, as a teenager, suffers emotional neglect due to her mother’s postpartum depression and her parents’ divorce. Later she binge eats due to her depression (or possibly cyclothymic disorder) until morbidly obese, experiences PTSD following a rape, and ends up in a wellness facility after a suicide attempt. After her release, a bad marriage, and more tragedy, she finds peace in her late-30s and accepts that her life is both good and enough. Lamb’s first published novel, an early Oprah Winfrey Book Club selection, has been translated into 18 languages. It’s an exploration of trauma, hope, and radical self-acceptance.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (2007). It’s Kind of a Funny Story follows the story of Craig Gilner, a teenager who is filled with ambition. After he’s admitted to a prestigious school, Craig finds himself buckling under the pressure from his teachers and parents. This eventually leads to disordered eating, depression, and thoughts of suicide. Craig starts taking medication but throws it away when he believes himself to be “cured”, causing a breakdown that puts him in a psychiatric hospital. The novel, based on author Ned Vizzini’s experiences in a psych ward, deals with themes of suicide, mental health care, and how society views those with psychological issues.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (2009). Wintergirls is the story of Lia, a teenage girl struggling with survivor’s guilt after the death of her best friend Cassie. In the wake of Cassie’s death, Lia develops obsessive behaviors, including anorexia and cutting. She feels isolated from everyone and like she is unlikely to get help. As her self-destructive behaviors grow worse, Lia is haunted more insistently by Cassie’s spirit. While some critics voiced worries that Wintergirls could encourage teens to engage in disordered eating, the 2009 novel largely received praise for its gritty exploration of self-harm, guilt, and hope.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (2017). John Green’s novel Turtles All the Way Down tells the story of Aza, a 16-year-old girl struggling with loss, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These manifest in spiraling thoughts, safety rituals, health anxiety, and feelings of depression and isolation. Anyone who has suffered from similar mental health struggles will identify with Aza as she finds a new idea to fixate on: finding the missing billionaire Russell Pickett, the father of her classmate Davis, with who she begins a relationship. All the while, she fears that her mental health struggles will make it impossible for her to have a normal life.


If you’d like to read more by Stephen Bitsoli, here’s the link to his website – Sunshine Behavioral Health

Guest Post from Dr. Horowitz on Climate Grief

A Guest Post from Dr. Horowitz on Climate Grief

Far north in western Antarctica, sits the widest glacier in the world. Roughly the size of the state of Florida, and contains enough ice to raise the sea levels by 10 feet: The Thwaites Glacier. Pan toward the eastern portion of the Thwaites Glacier, and you’ll find the Thwaites Ice shelf. Until recently, this ice shelf has held Thwaites back from the ocean. But now, it’s melting- and quickly too. The culprit? Climate change, a crisis of which we are approaching with terrifying rapidity.

Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at the defining moment. Currently, we are edging closer to an environmental precipice. It is vital that we act now before we tip over the edge, with potentially irreversible consequences. Not only will this have disastrous effects on our climate, but on the health of our citizens- in this country, and globally. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Further, with the collapse of biodiversity, comes the spread of infectious diseases. Vector-borne infections are already on the rise, and there is evidence that as permafrost melts, we may encounter new infections, triggering another pandemic.

So, what could our world look like if we continue on our current path? That is the future I imagine in my upcoming novel, Starseed R/evolution: The Awakening. The year is 2037, and the Earth is in the midst of a deadly climate crisis, prompting the massive spread of various vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus. Chemical pollutants have left birth rates at an all-time low, and crop destruction has led to massive famines. The world’s only hope lies in the hands of Crown Prince Ian, the last surviving heir of the Royal Arcturian Family of Antwar. He’s a half-human/half-alien with an IQ approaching 200, a penchant for Swiss chocolates, and defending humanity from itself.

I’ll be honest, penning a cli-fi novel wasn’t originally on my bucket list. I have worked as a physician treating individuals with Lyme and tick-borne diseases for over 30 years. My previously published books are purely scientific in nature, and outline how healthcare providers can effectively diagnose and treat resistant chronic illness. However, the worlds of healthcare and climate science are far closer than one might imagine. According to the World Health Organization, “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.” As someone who has taken an oath to heal, how could I ignore this quickly impending health crisis?

Further, I began to see the grim effects of climate change in my day-to-day work. A good deal of my patients are young adults. Following treatment, I would ask them, “What do you plan on doing with your life now that you’re healthy”? Quite often, the response was the same, “Nothing, what’s the point”. These young people were struck by what is known as “climate grief”. To them, the state of the planet seemed so hopeless, that what they wanted to do with their lives was irrelevant and meaningless. It was at that point that I knew I needed to do a deep dive into climate science literature, to get a better understanding of my patients’ mentalities. Unfortunately, I found that they were right. The planet was in trouble, and world leaders were ignoring climate science and putting everyone’s futures at risk.

Starseed R/evolution: The Awakening arose primarily out of my desire to combat this “climate grief” in my young patients. I wanted to disseminate vital information in a way that would have the reader laughing and learning simultaneously. The truth is, we do need radical change if we are to avoid a potential climate disaster, but that change is possible. Throughout the novel, I have outlined real-world scientific and cultural solutions. If enough people are truly committed to making a difference, I believe we can use these solutions to make our planet a safer and healthier place for everyone to live. The Earth is in trouble, so let’s all roll up our sleeves and get to work. If you’re interested in joining the “r/evolution”, my book is available for pre-order now!

About the Author

From the mind of acclaimed physician and author, Dr. Richard Horowitz, MD comes a new novel: Starseed R/evolution: The Awakening. Dr. Richard Horowitz, MD is a board-certified internist with 30+ years of experience treating over 13,000 patients for tick-borne disorders and complex autoimmune conditions. He is the author of two national best-selling books on Lyme disease (Why Can’t I Get Better? St Martin’s Press, 2013, NY Times Best Seller; How Can I Get Better? St Martin’s Press, 2017, National Bestseller). After years of treating complex patients, Dr. Horowitz felt called to treat a newer, and much larger patient: Mother Earth.

Guest Post with Jonathan Durham on ‘Building a Small Universe

A Guest Post with Jonathan Durham, author of Winterset Hollow.

I’m so excited to be bringing you a guest post today from Jonathan! He’s been kind enough to write us a really detailed piece on “Building a Smaller Universe”. Take it away!

When most people talk about the concept of “universe building” as it relates to stories, the conversation usually focuses around large-scale narratives that deal with completely alternate realities—books or films that have almost literally built their own universes like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. But what about smaller, more contained stories? They most certainly have their own universes too, so why don’t we ever talk about how they’re built? Why don’t we ever discuss the finer points of making them feel real and tangible and like they could actually exist? Well, as luck would have it, I happen to deal in stories of a less…shall we say…grand scope…so I figured I’d take a moment to share some of my thoughts on the subject in the hopes that it might be of some aid to some of you out there who share the same proclivity.

The universe of your story is always important…and it doesn’t really matter if you’re inventing a galaxy that doesn’t exist or a town that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t even matter if you’re not really inventing anything at all, you still need to paint a picture that feels complete and accurate within your story’s logic…and you need that picture to be a framework that allows your narrative to thrive. So, how do you fill that canvas when you don’t have a big story to work with? How to make that portrait feel real and interesting when you have a limited cast of characters and a limited list of locations and even a limited period of time? Well, in my experience, it’s all about thinking in different literary dimensions.

You may not have space…but you always have time. What I mean by that is that there’s never any limits on history, and history can be an extremely powerful force when it comes to telling a story. Successes, failures, traumas, love, loss, abuse, childhood, adolescence, first times, last times—think about all of the pieces of a character’s history that have been stitched together to make them who they are, and ask yourself whether or not investigating them within your story would help to build your universe. Think about the footprints of the past. Think about the specter of what’s come before. Think about the residue of the history of the story that you’re telling…and think about how you can use those things as mortar to your bricks.

History has always been a huge part of my writing. It’s been so integral, in fact, that almost everything I write features a dead character that plays a major role in the lives of the living. And if you think about it, those that have passed play a part in our lives long after they’ve left us—our parents, teachers, relatives, lovers, children—their footprints don’t disappear when they take their last breath. In fact, they continue to help define who we are long after their departures, so wouldn’t it help a piece of fiction to feel a little more real if it featured the same mechanic? History defines our present in the real world, so for my money, it should act no different in the literary world.

If you can’t build outward, build inward. Get introspective. There’s a whole universe between each of your character’s’ ears, too, and sometimes the exploration of those spaces in just as interesting, if not more so, that the exploration of the space that surrounds their ears. I mean, you could spend your whole life writing about a single person’s mind and never run out of things to say…it’s literally a limitless framework that contains limitless stories…so if it makes your narrative stronger, don’t be afraid to dig down when there’s no room to go up. If there’s not a whole lot of room to talk about where characters are going or what they’re doing or even what they’re saying…try talking about what they’re feeling and see if it doesn’t help to bring a little balance to your tale.

And last but certainly not least, find the authenticity in little moments instead of relying on big-picture believability. Large-scale stories often feel believable because their large-scale connective tissue feels believable—the social structures and world functionalities and languages and that sort of thing, but small-scale stories don’t have those frameworks, and so you need to be doubly sure that the little moments feel real. You need to double down on the attention that you pay to conversations and reactions and voicing and emotions, because those things are your connective tissue…and they need to be strong.

There’s no right way to tell a story…and there’s no ‘best’ size for a story’s universe…but you can make even the most contained narrative feel just as grand as the most epic fantasy ever written as long you paint that portrait with care, and as long as you understand that the journey isn’t necessarily shorter, it’s just drawn along different roads. And remember, whether your tale takes place across a galaxy, a country, a city, a town, or even just a room…you’re always always always building a universe.

About the Author

Jonathan Edward Durham was born near Philadelphia in one of many satellite rust-belt communities where he read voraciously throughout his youth. After attending William & Mary, where he received a degree in neuroscience, Jonathan waded into the professional world before deciding he was better suited for more artistic pursuits.

He now lives with his partner in California where he writes to bring a unique voice to the space between the timeless wonder of his favorite childhood stories and the pop sensibilities of his adolescent literary indulgences.  His debut novel, Winterset Hollow, an elevated contemporary fantasy with a dark twist, is mined from that same vein and is currently available everywhere. You can find it at all of these links:

Guest Post from Jeff Evans

A Guest Post from Jeff Evans, author of the middle-grade fantasy series ‘What Magic is Not’.

What Magic Is Not is a cheerful, quirky story about a class of young students who attend summer school in an enchanted forest with the eccentric Professor Philonius Gnut. Full of wonder, humor, and heartwarming friendships, this book is perfect for kids of all ages.

Summer school in the Enchanted Forest is just like you would imagine it: chasing frogs (that are not really frogs), making new friends (with trolls), and learning what magic is (and more importantly, what magic is not.)

Below is an interview the author, J. Evans, conducted with the elusive Professor himself.

My Interview with Professor Gnut

Evans: I’m honored today to interview Professor Philonius Gnut, who teaches magic at the legendary school in the woods, deep in the Enchanted Forest. He’s a bit of a local legend: every rumor about him is more outlandish than the last, and he rarely leaves the woods, so booking him for this interview was not easy. (I had to promise him a few months off of work before the sequel.) But here he is—Hello, Professor! Thanks for joining me.

Gnut: I’m glad to be here, although I didn’t really have much of a choice, did I?

Evans: I’m surprised to hear you say that—so much of what you teach your students in What Magic Is Not is about how many choices each of us does have, whether we realize it or not.

Gnut: Nice to know somebody pays attention to what I say.

Evans: Well, to be honest, you do have a reputation for droning on during those morning lectures by the pond—

Gnut: Droning on? Is that any way to speak to your elders? No wonder the boys and girls you write about are so disrespectful!

Evans: I wouldn’t call them disrespectful. They’re just… exuberant. What kid wouldn’t be excited to attend summer school in the Enchanted Forest? After all, it’s pretty rare to get an invitation to study with you, isn’t it? And it’s been years since your last class. If the kids get a little restless, I think it’s because they would rather skip some of the Ancient History lessons and jump right to the good stuff.

Gnut: Is that so? And how would you like it if your readers skipped right to the last chapter in order to get to the ‘good stuff?’

Evans: I’d tell them they were missing out on a great story full of humor and funny characters and heartwarming friendships, and that they wouldn’t understand or appreciate the ending if they didn’t start at the beginning and read the whole thing.

Gnut: Excellent—it appears we are on the same page, for there is far more to learning about magic than pointing your wand at something and muttering a few mystical words. If you don’t learn how to use your head before you learn to use your wand, there is a good chance your first spell will be your last—and teaching ‘exuberant’ students—no matter how well they are written—to slow down and think before they leap is not as easy as you might imagine.

Evans: I know—I tried. The truth is sometimes your characters just take on a life of their own, and all you can do is go chasing after them like a frog in the woods.

Gnut: An occupational hazard, I suppose, but as long as you don’t end up talking to the figments of your imagination, you ought to be all right in the end.

Evans: Thanks, Professor. I’ll, uh, think about that. Speaking of endings, I have one final question.

Gnut: Yes, my boy?

Evans: Everything you get involved in, whether it’s a dilemma your students are having, or some danger in the forest, or even the whole semester-long feud you have with the Dark Wizard, it seems like… how should I put this? Everything you do, or teach your students to do, it always just sort of works out in the end, like a puzzle fitting itself together. So, my question is—and I know your students have asked you this, too, but you never seem to give them a straight answer: the way it all comes together in the end, that was part of your plan all along, right?

Gnut: Plan? Who said I had a plan?

Evans: Come on, Professor—all that stuff with the dragon and your gardener and the tower and the wedding cake and the wishing well—they can’t all be coincidences!

Gnut: Who knows—maybe it was magic.

About the Author

I live in a small town in Illinois. After college, I worked (if you can call it that) as a nanny for the next eight years. When the kids got older, I stumbled into remodeling and have been working with my hands ever since. As it turns out, writing a book has a lot in common with raising kids and building houses; who knew?

What Magic Is Not is my fifth novel.

For more information on my books, artwork, to contact me, or to join my mailing list, please visit my website at: . You can find Jeff’s books on Goodreads and Amazon as well.

Guest Post from Clark Burbidge on Advice to Budding Authors

Guest Post from Clark Burbidge – His advice to budding authors and what he’s learnt from writing!

Clark Burbidge was born and raised in the high mountain valleys of the Rockies. He earned an MBA from the University of Southern California and a BS from the University of Utah. Clark and his wife, Leah, live near Salt Lake City, Utah, where they enjoy their blended family of ten children and nine grandchildren.

Clark’s award-winning works include the Star Passage series, Giants in the Land trilogy, the acclaimed Christmas book,
A Piece of Silver: A Story of Christ
and a nonfiction work, Living in the Family Blender: 10 Principles of a Successful Blended Family.

What is your best advice for aspiring novelists (based off your own experience or what advice you’ve been given by other writers!)

  1. Just write. You will get better over time.
  2. Test your writing against both fan-type readers as well as editor-type readers.
  3. o to a bookstore, pick out books in your chosen genre, look at the acknowledgements, and write them down. These are people who have supported the kind of book you want to write. Read those books and figure out what they liked about it. Then, give them a call or text. You will be surprised how often you hear back. Most authors are very approachable, but their gatekeepers can be difficult. Persevere.
  4. Do not be intimidated by big agent companies. If they say no, that’s fine. Try to learn from each interaction.
  5. You will get turned down. Remember, you just need one person that likes it, not a dozen.
  6. Good editors will make lots of corrections, but never try to steal your voice. Edits have always made my books better and helped me learn a lot about myself. Those who try to steal your voice and make your work into theirs are not editors.

What did writing your books teach you?

  1. How to be patient with the process. It takes a long time.
  2. How to learn from those who make comments or provide critical advice and behumble.
  3. Your book needs to catch the imagination of strangers to sell. Anyone can sell to their family and friends.
  4. When you are looking for a publisher, you must remember that anyone can print a book, but a publisher should do so much more. Look for those extras.
  5. Love what you do.

Clark is with us today mainly to promote his newest book, Star Passage
buy links: Amazon | B&N | Bookshop

Mike Hernandez and the Coleman twins return, but just when the friends think they have the Star of Passage, it’s riddles, and Orion’s Belt figured out, they discover a new relic.

All of Tim and Martie’s rules are tossed aside when Tocho, a member of the Native American Shoshoni tribe which roamed the Rocky Mountains, knocks on Callie and Courtney’s Astoria, Oregon door with the mysterious Star of Hope. The new relic has the shocking ability to transport the teens forward in time, where cartels and gangs are a rising threat and technology has advanced so far that computer viruses affect humans. As Mike, Callie, Courtney, and Tocho struggle to remain free of the virus, they also have to dodge the shadowy Trackers, those wicked souls who are doomed to haunt history and desire the relics to free themselves from their eternal prison.

The teens find themselves racing to save a possible future, but can they change it for the better?

You can find out more about Clark on a number of platforms including

Guest Post from Mojgan Azar

In A Lullaby in the Desert, one woman’s fight to freedom plunges her into humanity’s depths
Mojgan Azar

What if by questioning injustice and standing up for the oppressed, your words
were met with threats, captivity, and execution? Would you still stand up?

Imagine being born without rights. From bicycle bans and compulsory clothing to
mandatory beliefs, what’s worse than being born in a society where your gender alone is a crime? Millions of women are held captive, whether behind bars or behind barriers, for what they believe, what they wear, and what they say. They are suffering at this very moment. Some, like Susan, decided they wouldn’t take being held in the grip of a society’s invisible hands any longer. Some, like Susan, decided to stand up despite the possibility of paying with their lives.

A Lullaby in the Desert isn’t just Susan’s story; it’s the chorus of millions of women, their voices carrying forcefully over the empty sands. Their silent melody can be heard from Iran to Syria, from Indonesia to Morocco. Indeed, their voices ring all over the world.
Slavery as we read about it in the history books may be fading into the past, but another kind of slavery lives in the present and threatens to persist into the future if we choose to ignore it.

Some use fear as a weapon to keep others down, forcing entire societies into silence. In some countries, those in power would prefer to destroy the identities of millions of innocent people so long as their grip on power remains intact.

What they don’t know is that fear won’t stop someone who has nothing to lose. In A
Lullaby in the Desert, Susan finds herself homeless, penniless, and alone in Iraq, a country on the brink of disaster. When standing on the edge of the abyss, Susan stepped forward, just like the other refugees beside her taking this journey to the point of no return. They all had the same goal: freedom.

Freedom is their fundamental right, their dream, their destination. Like the so many others, Susan’s freedom was stolen from her, the shackles thrown over her, covering her body, pushing her down. For Susan, the forces of evil and slavery could be easily seen in the black flags of the Islamic States of Iraq and al-Sham, who some call ISIS, covering her life in a shadow. However, for millions of women, those dark forces are not so obvious, but they are deadly nonetheless.

Since 2014, ISIS killed and enslaved thousands of women in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq. The world watched as the numbers of the dead ticked by on their televisions, seeing digits instead of faces, not knowing the tragedies those women have faced and continue to face, even at this very moment.

For a long time, I wondered how I could speak for those who could not, for those who had already died, for those who were still enslaved. When the idea first entered my mind, I had to take a step back. Even the thought of telling the world of our plight made me shudder as I remembered my own trauma that began from my earliest days. I remembered the nine-year-old girls sold for fifty dollars in the street to marry strange old men, I remembered a singer assassinated for speaking up about people’s rights, I remembered seeing a woman shot in the head because she wanted to be free. Shame on me if I remained silent.

When I close my eyes I feel no pain because I cannot see anything around me. But my
beliefs remain, my story remains. I had to stand in front of my trauma, confront it, release it, because I didn’t choose this life but this is what I know.

When I decided to write Lullaby, one thing pushed me forward: the pain. Pain may stop some, may slow some down, may force some down a different path. For me, I allowed it to open my eyes. Everything I see fills me with responsibility, to women everywhere, even from different places and different backgrounds. I don’t want other humans to suffer what I’ve suffered.

I’ve always believed that we are alive for others. We exist for each other. We can’t survive alone. We all look up at the stars and wish we could be in space, looking down at the earth. However, the moment we were really up there, smothered in cold and dark, we’d realize how alone we felt, and we’d wish to be back among humanity.

Just like those places between the stars, our earth would be frozen and empty, sad and lonely, if people live without regard for those with less than them, those with a different belief, a different gender, a different ability.

Yes, you read that right: it’s our earth. They’ve separated us, they’ve painted us with identities and made us into “us” and “them.” They’ve made some of us human and some of us less than human.

Well I have something to say to “them:” they’ve underestimated women everywhere for far too long. It hurts to be seen as less than someone else, but our world was built on pain and struggle. It was also built on hope. We women have given birth to the leaders, the teachers, the world changers. A Lullaby in the Desert shows that just like Susan, we need to reject the idea of being weak that is imposed on us, and instead be ready to be strong. They should never underestimate us.

About the Author

MOJGAN AZAR was born in Iran and lived most of her adult life in Iraq. She was living in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2014 when the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham swept through the area, displacing millions and trapping Mojgan in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Her harrowing experiences have inspired her writings, and for the first time she is making that story known to the world.

AmazonAuthor Page

About the novel

In 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham swept through the Middle East, threatening the lives of women, children, and millions of people already clinging to life after decades of conflict. This is the incredible story of Susan, an Iranian woman caught in the middle of that war, trapped not only by the terrorists at her doorstep but also by her nationality, her gender, and her innocence. This is a haunting account of war and desperation, taking the reader on a journey through one woman’s fight for freedom.

Purchase this novel from a range of reputable retailers:

Barnes and Noble

Guest Post: Sophie Whittemore on ‘Writing an LGBT+ Found Family’

A Guest Post with Sophie Whittemore, “Writing an LGBT+ Found Family”

Family isn’t necessarily just the bonds formed by blood. A found family is a connection through shared experience.

And having that shared experience is a strong tie in the LGBT+ community.

And this, the concept of an LGBT+ found family, was what I wanted to explore with my punk fantasy mystery novel Catch Lili Too (Book 1 of the Gamin Immortals Series). The book’s main character, the asexual siren detective Lili, finds herself slowly building a queer found family of her own. Together, the cast of living, reanimated, and immortal beings help each other past internal struggles and external battles against the living (and the dead). And that family bond draws them tight, even when the world (and a rampant string of supernatural killings) threatens to tear them apart.

A found family isn’t bound by just one definition. There are also intersections of identity based on race, religion, ability, gender, and more. The LGBT+ found family is one that is built of a shared experience of being a part of the LGBT+ community, and all the wonderful rainbows of identity that might follow.

Especially considering that young people might end up in the street for coming out or otherwise disowned later in life, the found family becomes an incredibly integral part of the LGBT+ experience (though not all LGBT+ people find it so easy to gain a found family as this varies by whether or not being LGBT+ is legal in their respective geographies).

However, in fiction, one’s bonds with the character aren’t limited to geography. One can travel the world through the pages of a book. And an LGBT+ found family can be presented for someone who never knew that was a possibility.

Even if someone lives in a place that isn’t accepting of who they are…

They should still be told they are accepted, even if it’s through a book.

Often, we see the found family literary trope presented as ragtag groups of superheroes or a team of misfits in heist films. However, it’s important that, through fiction, LGBT+ people can see themselves represented as having a found family and being in an environment that is accepting and understanding of their experiences. Fiction gives them the validation and acceptance that they might not know exists otherwise.

Coming out and joining the LGBT+ community, reckoning with my gender and sexuality, wasn’t an easy process. I am so incredibly grateful I had amazing, understanding friends along the way. And honestly, when I was in the closet and didn’t have the vocabulary to say what I felt and understood about myself, watching media was the only way I knew how to make sense of myself. The main characters in Catch Lili Too have their own coming-out and coming-of-age experiences (yes, even immortals and undead young adults manage to have those too), and it was important that they not be alone in it.

I remember reading a book about a knight who presents as a different gender in a fantasy novel and thinking “this feels right” when I read it. I remember reading fantasy novels where the hero feels like they don’t fit quite right into society, like an outcast for things beyond their control. I remember thinking if they can accept themselves, so can I. So, I wanted Catch Lili Too to also have that, to show people they aren’t alone.

I know there’s no one book or movie or video game that can perfectly encapsulate a person’s life experience. However, I want to continue writing about LGBT+ found families in fiction because I want young LGBT+ and questioning kids and adults and all people to read fantasy and think:

That’s me.
And if that character is accepted…
Then I can be too.

About the Author

Sophie Whittemore is a Dartmouth Film/Digital Arts major with a mom from Indonesia and a dad from Minnesota. They’re known for their Gamin Immortal series (Catch Lili Too) and Legends of Rahasia series, specifically, the viral publication Priestess for the Blind God. Their writing career kicked off with the whimsical Impetus Rising collection, published at age 17.

They grew up in Chicago and live a life of thoroughly unexpected adventures and a dash of mayhem: whether that’s making video games or short films, scripting for a webcomic, or writing about all the punk-rock antiheroes we should give another chance (and subsequently blogging about them).

Sophie’s been featured as a Standout in the Daily Herald and makes animated-live action films on the side. Their queer-gamer film “IRL – In Real Life” won in the Freedom & Unity Young Filmmaker Contest (JAMIE KANZLER AWARDS Second Prize; ADULT: Personal Stories, Third Prize) and was a Semifinalist at the NYC Rainbow Cinema Film Festival.

Their prior works include “A Clock’s Work” in a Handersen Publishing magazine, “Blind Man’s Bluff” in Parallel Ink, a Staff Writer for AsAm News (covering the comic book convention was a dream), and numerous articles as an HXCampus Dartmouth Correspondent. Ultimately, Sophie lives life with these ideas: 1) live your truth unapologetically and 2) don’t make bets with supernatural creatures.

You can find more information about Catch Lili Too here.

You can find out more about Sophie on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, GoodReads or on her website.