Book Review: Stage 3: Alpha by Ken Stark

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Book Review: Stage 3: Alpha


In Stage 3 Mason tries with all his heart to reunite his new charge, Mackenzie with her beloved Aunt Sarah. By the end of the book, we’re left wondering if there’s even an Aunt Sarah to find. I’ll admit I worried Aunt Sarah hadn’t made it out of the doomed hospital.

Stage 3: Alpha gives us a whole new cast of characters to explore, among them, Aunt Sarah. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see that the author had given Aunt Sarah the space to show us who she is. I kept waiting for Mason and Mackenzie to show up and rescue Aunt Sarah, but I quickly learned that Aunt Sarah needs no rescuing.

I felt as though Stage 3 gave us a teaser of what humanity had become, the obvious monsters and the not-so-obvious monsters. In the second installment of the series, we get a much clearer view of the wasteland they’re all living in, the hopelessness they face, the kindness of strangers, and that some monsters look just like us.

The author has a knack for character development. Each character in Stage 3: Alpha feels real. Even the truly vile humans we encounter have wants, desires, and motivations. I loved how Stark used the characters of the book to show this new world isn’t as black and white as the old one. The world has grown much grayer.

Stark’s story weaves us through a dangerous landscape without ever making us feel like the people are surviving by the grace of the author. The scenes come alive because I don’t feel like the author handed the character everything they needed in a neat and tidy, little package. Stark makes his characters work to survive. A believable plot and believable characters are what bring me back to Stark’s series.

This is my second purchase in the Stage 3 series, and it won’t be my last.


Author Interview: Jay Sandlin

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Author Interview: Jay Sandlin

I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Jay Sandlin, author of Outbreak Mutiny and creator of The Novel Comics, as much as I have. This fascinating and witty fella has a lot on his plate, but he still agreed to an interview with yours truly. Enjoy!


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Hi, Jay. Thank you for granting me an interview. I’m excited to learn more about you and your novel.


Thank you, it’s a pleasure to talk with you and your readers. I’m excited to let everyone know about The Novel Comics!


I’m sure your fans and those just getting to know you would love to know more about you. Give us the scoop. Who is Jay Sandlin?


I’ve been asking my therapist that for years…Kidding. I’m a small business owner, student, husband, and father. After owning and operating my business for years I felt a tug of emptiness. I still had dreams to realize and wanted to set an example for my son.

I enrolled in the Master’s Program for History in my Alma Mater. I’ll graduate in December with that degree. I also have had a lifelong passion for superheroes and all thinks GEEK. I decided to combine those two passions and make a career out of it.

Thus, the Novel Comics was born. It is a shared universe of superheroes, characters, and events in an alternate timeline I created. My first release, Outbreak Mutiny came out in mid-April and is available exclusively on Amazon in paperback and eBook for just 99 cents.


Wow! Impressive. You’re quite the busy bee. I’m sure your son will be proud.

Some of the best tips come from fellow writers. What tips do you have for new writers?


Write, write, and write. Never let your impatience halt your progress. I was the least patient person on the planet when I started this process. Now I may be in the 80th percentile. You have to recognize it’s a day-to-day process. Then ask yourself, “What am I doing today to reach my goals as a writer?”

Set deadlines for yourself and then don’t beat yourself up when you don’t meet them. In writing everything took longer than I imagined it would.


All great tips for keeping your focus on what matters. Thank you.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Did you always want to be a writer?


I always held a deep love for reading. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was under the playground equipment reading Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry and the other kids my age were kicking around this rubber ball filled with air. It seemed so pointless. Why were they engaged in this mundane activity when I was entering new worlds in a galaxy far, far away?

It wasn’t long before I was the one creating my own worlds. Of course, I didn’t stay consistent. I needed time to grow and mature before I came back to a childhood love of writing. I stuck with theater for years and that was my creative outlet. Then in 2015 I appeared in three shows back to back: a comedy, musical, and a drama. When they all wrapped I was left filling unfulfilled. After the curtain closed my efforts felt like they had evaporated into a vapor that would only linger in the minds of the few audience members for a few days.

I turned down all requests for auditions after that and still do today. I realized that print could last forever; and through the written word my art could achieve immortality.


An important step forward, realizing your goals and making them happen.

I’m often surprised by what inspires my stories and where those ideas lead. What gave you the idea for Outbreak Mutiny?


At the time I was on a beach trip. I was reading other novels about Superheroes while taking a Master’s course in the Cold War. The history of the Cold War is essentially the history of the 20th century. The course was organized in highly compact blocks of time through the decades of the tumultuous century.

While reading the Superhero novels on my break, I felt like I was in a unique position. I knew everything about Superheroes and was a History buff as well. I decided to combine those factors and insert heroes into the events I was currently studying.

That quickly evolved into an alternate timeline altogether. You’ll recognize some names, places, and events from actual history in Outbreak Mutiny, but as you can see from the reorganized borders in my world things are very, very different:



That’s a wonderful origin story, a great example of writing what you know. I love the use of the map. It really drives home the changes in your world.

Without giving the story away, what can you tell us about Outbreak Mutiny?


The tagline gives away the idea: It’s an alternate history. With superheroes. We all remember the early 20th century saw the Baby Boomers, correct? That was an Outbreak in the American population. It’s also remembered as the “Greatest Generation.”

In my world, they had the Outbreak Babies. These were human beings who manifested superpowers after serious trauma or life threatening accidents. They came to the attention of the world in 1918 when the USS Maine was sunk by an Outbreak Baby with heat vision off the coast of Havana Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

This is a novel, but because of my love of comics I label my chapters as “Issues”. In Issue 0, we find the US on the brink of losing the Outbreak War; the first war fought between nations using beings with superpowers.

It does not go well for the United States.


I love the idea of combining history and superheroes, but I think the merging of the novel and comic really sets your novel apart.

What types of superpowers can we expect to see in Outbreak Mutiny?


Anything is possible! For a handy guide, I created character stats to go with their artwork. I have to thank my friend and fellow host, Ray, on The Naked Porch podcast for giving me the idea and putting these together:


What a great idea! I love these. They remind me of the character cards in some of the tabletop games I’ve played. Just brilliant!

In what ways does Outbreak Mutiny set itself apart from other superhero stories?


That is an answer I would prefer to leave up to readers. I would say it is different because I’ve built a world; not just a story. The Outbreak timeline is another Stream in the vast network of worlds that run parallel but never intersect with one another. Their future looks bleak, and I hope readers get invested in what happens next. I think the greatest strength lies in the characters.


With interesting characters and plot, I’m sure readers will love shouting about their most beloved parts.

Which of your characters is your favorite? Why?


I’m going to cheat and pick two. I love Clockwork. He is the Steampunk Savior and the founder of the Armorer’s Guild. He’s a man operating a Power Suit that he designed himself and built with his vast fortune. It would be like if John D. Rockefeller decided to become Iron Man back in his day. He encouraged his peers to also step up and defend the weak with their ingenuity. They may not all have superpowers like the Outbreak Babies, but with their wealth and intelligence they can do their part. He’s also the stereotypical, corny, superhero. He has catch-phrases and even plays his own theme music through speakers mounted to the armor.

Secondly, I would say Buccaneer. I can’t say much about him. I can tell you he’s a revolutionary with heat vision and doesn’t trust many people. You’ll have to read to find out anything else.


After seeing those character stat sheets, I can see why it’d be hard to pick just one!

As someone who loves worlds created around superheroes, what will I love about your superheroes? What will fans of the genre love about your story?


I would tell people who already love Superheroes to view my world with this in mind: What if superpowers were real? If they were, there would almost certainly have been dictators, leaders, and even Presidents that wanted to manipulate or even weaponized them for their own benefit.

If that were the case, could the world have become the way I wrote it in my fiction? A regime like my villains, the Reich, could just as easily have united behind a charismatic Outbreak Baby like they did Adolph Hitler in the years leading to WWII.

That is why slavery is a major theme. When the powerful control our destinies and guide our fate, freedom is lost for all. The tagline on the book cover jacket states that the choice in my world is clear: “Die free, or live in chains.”

When faced with that choice, what will you choose? What do my characters choose? Let me know what you think, @JSandlinWriter on twitter.


Some thought-provoking questions. I hope readers will head over to Twitter for some fun discussions with Jay.

What is The Novel Comics? And what is in the future for The Novel Comics?


Outbreak Mutiny was the first in the Volume Series. The next release will be Outbreak Mutiny Volume II and will contain the next set of Issues (chapters). I plan to continue those indefinitely as the main series.

In addition, there will be short stories or other collections in the same shared universe under The Novel Comics Anthologies title. That will serve as a method to tell backstories and other tales of characters in the Outbreak world independently of the Volume series. The first I hope will focus on the origin story of Caliente Blu, the heroine from Issue 0. She seems to resonate with many readers, male and female.


It sounds like this world will provide you with a wealth of material for the future. I’m sure fans won’t be disappointed.

When you’re not writing “Alternate Histories with Superheroes,” what do you like to do with your free time?


100% of my free time goes into being the best possible father I can be to my three-year-old son. He is the bright spot of my life and all that is best in me. I am still working towards my Master’s degree and hope to teach online or work as a Guest Lecturer in my free time next year. I’m also working on my Master’s Thesis which I hope to transition into another book. This one will be a nonfiction bit of Oral History based around a series of interviews I conducted with a local WWII veteran, Manhattan Project worker, and NASA employee during the Cold War.


I’m sure your son will love your story as much as your fans!

Several of the authors I’ve interviewed were drawn to other creative pursuits. Are you the creative type? Any painting, woodworking, or other creative endeavors?


Yes, I already mentioned my love of theatre. That calmed down in the last couple of years but I still perform regularly with my friends in the improve troupe The Wickets. Check us out on Facebook at

And as an advocate of geek culture, I like to stay active with movie/book/trailer/comic reviews and regular appearances on podcasts. I am an occasional guest host on The Naked Porch as well with my friends Ray, Chris, and Danielle.


Your workload would wear down any normal human. Perhaps you have a little superhero in you.

What three books are you most likely to recommend to a friend?


I’m glad you specified “friend” because my recommendations to my enemies will be far different. For my friends into fantasy, I recommend the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher; The Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines; Confessions of a D-List Villain by Jim Bernheimer; all STAR WARS, especially Timothy Zahn. I can’t wait to pick up Thrawn this weekend.

For my enemies, I don’t know, you might like Moon People by Dale Courtney.


Haha! Yes, I suppose I didn’t need the “friend”.

Any new projects in the works for fans to keep an eye out for?


Quite a few. I have a series of Children’s Books that will begin in August. They will follow “Little Wolfie” the son of the Big Bad Wolf and the lessons he learns attending new schools and making new friends. My oral history book will also be available this year or the first of next year. I’m wrestling with two titles: “The Sunday Historian” or “Six Pages Per Shot”. You’ll have to contact me on twitter and tell me which title you prefer.

In the meantime, you can find my book on Amazon. Visit me at,, Good Reads, or just come by Twitter and talk any GEEK topic day or night. Thanks for having me and I can’t wait to hear what you all think about Outbreak Mutiny.


Thank you, Jay, for taking the time to answer my questions. It’s been a delight getting to know all about you and The Novel Comics. I can’t wait to finish the book.

Author Interview: H. A. Callum 2.0

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Author Interview: H. A. Callum 2.0

If you’re a fan of H. A. Callum’s then you know the last interview just left us wanting to know more about this wonderful, supportive writer and his new book, Whispers in the Alders. I’m thrilled to bring you the second installment, H. A. Callum 2.0. Enjoy!


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H. A. Callum’s Whispers in the Alders

Welcome back, H.A. I know you’re busy with the release of your first novel, so I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions.

Hi, Donna! The pleasure’s all mine. I greatly appreciate the time you’ve taken away from your own writing for this interview.


For those who refuse to read the first interview, which they should since it’s incredibly entertaining, tell us about Whispers in the Alders.


Shame on them! Hopefully we’ll get them to go back and read the first to avoid any spoilers! Since there has been more publicity (just a little!) since the first interview, we can give away a bit more as the story of Whispers in the Alders is slowly revealing itself leading up to its release. Whispers in the Alders is more than just the collision of two worlds when Aubrey and Tommy first meet. It reflects society, where we’ve been as a nation socially, where we are now, and how two people can change their places in that social structure, regardless of the emotional cost to them. Whispers in the Alders is a beautiful story about how two misbegotten kids find their escape in the alder stand, and by getting lost in the pages of a book. How many of us can relate to that? I know I can.


I haven’t finished Whispers in the Alders yet, but I’m well on my way. I would have to agree. The characters and storyline have drawn me in from the beginning just by being relatable.

My stories often evolve from a spark or a glimmer of thought leading down a rabbit hole. What was the spark or glimmer of thought that inspired Whispers in the Alders?


The story behind Whispers in the Alders constantly pulled at me until it was given its rightful place on the page, staring back at me, ready to be told to conclusion. Variations of it played out in my imagination for years. Finally, late one night, I found the inspiration and courage to give this story its due. I hope that, as an author, I’ve done justice to Aubrey and Tommy’s story.


Speaking of Aubrey and Tommy, what can you tell us about the stars of the show? Who are Aubrey and Tommy? No spoilers, please.


They are an odd pairing, and it’s hard to say who they are without risking spoilers, because so much of the story is driven by their personalities and their relationship. Aubrey is the daughter of privileged parents, her childhood spent touring the country via countless relocations caused by her father’s corporate position. She’s the new girl in school every year, and her father’s reputation always ushers in her arrival. Finding friends is never easy for Aubrey in the towns that become part of her vagabond childhood. She backs up Tommy, who is the shy, free-spirited boy that spent his days hiding behind a book. He’s also from Alder Ferry’s lower economic class, and the shame of that is apparent in his first encounters with Aubrey.


Most of your fans only have two questions for you, where can we purchase your book? And is it available for pre-order?


Finally! I thought you would never ask! The kindle edition is available now for pre-order on Amazon at: On release day, it will also be available on B&N, iTunes, Kobo, 24 Symbols, and many other online stores.


Many folks love eBooks, but for those who don’t, will there be a paperback or hardcover release coming in the future? If so, when can we expect to see it?


Yes! Paperback will be available for order on May 26th through all online retailers. As of now we are also working to place the paperback in select independent bookstores in the Philadelphia metro region. I also make personal deliveries for signed copies (wink).


I know what I’d do on release day for my book, but what will you be up to May 26th while the rest of us are reading Whispers in the Alders? Any fun festivities planned for the days leading up to and after the release?


I decided against the traditional launch party. In the end, I want to celebrate the release of Whispers in the Alders finally getting into the hands of readers. May 26th is going to be a busy day for me on social media promoting the book, and I plan to cap the day off with a dinner date with my wife whose support has been incredible. The writer’s life takes its toll on everyone whether or not we notice it.

Which isn’t to say there will not be any events! For as much time that goes into writing a novel, why sell its release short?


That sounds like a wonderful way to spend your release day! If I lived closer, I’d say, “Drop off the kids and have a fabulous time!” I’m sure you both deserve the celebration.

I intend to live vicariously through all my friends who get published, so what’s it been like realizing your dream? From words on a page to a novel?


Phenomenal, and challenging! It’s remarkable getting Whispers in the Alders out there, and finally holding the finished book in my hands is a priceless experience. There’s nothing that would stop me from doing this all over again, exactly as it has played out. To quote a line from Whispers in the Alders, “This is why we write.”


“…exactly as it has played out.” Are you sure? Nothing you’d do differently the second time around?


Honestly, no. Some of the best memories I have writing Whispers in the Alders are the many late nights my infant daughter spent snuggled against my chest. She’ll never remember those nights, but I’ll never forget them.


What a beautiful memory! Thank you for sharing it with us.

I asked a mutual friend, C. M. Turner, if there were any questions she’d like you to answer. She gave me one, and I have to agree I’d like to know the answer as well. Is H. A. Callum a planner or a pantser? Do you have the story worked out before pen touches paper? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants and see where the story takes you?


Yes – to both! I’m a planner, but not one who is afraid to let the story dictate the direction it needs to follow with some guidance. Whispers in the Alders had a drastically different ending when I started. Very different. After workshopping a draft of the first chapter at my writer’s group, I decided to outline the first several chapters. It gave the initial guidance I needed as a writer to stay on track, especially with the advice I received from experienced members of my writers group. I still outline in this way: the first several chapters, then outline each chapter prior to writing. As things change, so does the outline.

Writing is a process, and I’ve learned from experience that preparation never fails the writer. I will always be a student of writing, and I know it shows with each new story or poem I commit to paper.


I’m sure C. M. Turner will be just as surprised by that answer as I was.

Now that Whispers in the Alders is on its way to fame, what projects will you be focusing on? Any new books in the works?


Why yes, of course! My next novel is – nearly outlined – since you asked! I’ve begun drafting, and it’s a contemporary literary work. Partially inspired by recent events, it has also inspired a poem which is now out on submission, titled “Snow Ghost: Whitefish, Montana.”


You have a gift with words, my friend. Is there any chance of a poetry book in the future? Or a collection of short stories and flash fiction?


Aww … thank you! How did you know to ask?!?! I have multiple poems and short stories out on submission. Look for them in the next few months. I am considering a poetry collection as well, especially with the overwhelming and positive response to the poetry that I’ve posted on Here’s another hint: Whispers in the Alders features new poetry as well.


After reading your poetry, you’d have to be daft to not put out a poetry collection. You have a gift with words and imagery.

When I’m not writing, I’m drawn to other creative projects. Do you find yourself drawn to other creative forms? If so, which ones?


Let’s just say that other mediums and I don’t get along very well! Running is a great outlet for me to recharge and get the creative juices flowing again. When I have time, cooking is a great way to express my artistic talents. But I think the best thing for me is being around my daughters and letting my imagination walk with theirs. That is what births creativity. Somewhere along the line most of us lose that, and without it we lose inspiration. My advice – stay in tune with your imagination, and never place boundaries on your imagination or the imagination of a child.


I couldn’t agree more. I draw so much from my children. They look at the world in a way many adults have forgotten.

My family and friends can’t wait for me to finally finish a book. How do your family and friends feel about having a published author in their midst?


They are full of love and pride. Everyone knows it’s an accomplishment, and really, how many people even attempt to write a book, let alone send it out to the world to be scrutinized? But here’s the thing: I don’t talk about it unless asked, and I refuse to be “that guy” turning every family event into a book signing. My family’s been great and I adore them for recognizing this milestone. The look in their eyes has said it all. What more could a writer ask for?


Researching for this interview, I read a blog post on your website about the querying process. I know it is the moment I most dread. Any advice for those of us filled with dread?


Don’t dread it. Just do it right – research agents and publishers that are open to submissions in your genre and follow their submission guidelines. You have nothing to fear if you do these two simple things. I spent many evenings querying, and trust me, it takes time. Two or three well-crafted and personalized queries in an evening is huge if you are balancing your writing life with family and work. Keep it personalized to whom you are submitting and professional in tone, then send it off and wait. I read the complaints from other writers about querying, and honestly – not to say that it was easy – for me it was a pleasant experience. I was surprised how many agents and publishers actually took the time to respond to my queries, and some even offered advice – which I considered in my edits and rewrites. In the end, publishing is about people and I hope that my work querying Whispers in the Alders, if anything, worked to develop my future relationships with agents and publishers. Next stop is to attend some of the many writer’s conferences offered in New York City and Philadelphia, pitch my work, and get to know the amazing people involved in the world of books and publishing. The people I’ve met along the way, and the friendships made, are a large part of what has made the publication of Whispers in the Alders so special.

I’m always amazed with the writing community, and Donna, you’ve been a shining example of how we as writers work to support not only our own works, but each other. Thank you again for supporting the upcoming release of Whispers in the Alders!


It’s not easy being a writer, worried if you’re any good and finding the time to get it done. The least we can do for one another is be supportive through the process. I’m honored to have been able to help in any way. Thank you, again, for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish you much success with the release of Whispers in the Alders and in the future.


To find out more about H. A. Callum:


Whispers in the Alders




Blue Deco Publishing

Author Interview: H. A. Callum

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Author Interview: H. A. Callum

He’s a supportive author, a friend to the writing community, and his writing will leave you speechless. He knows how to sling words, bringing you to his world and making you feel what he’s feeling. So just imagine my excitement when I scored an interview with H. A. Callum, author of the upcoming novel Whispers in the Alders. *hand to forehead, fangirling*

Without further ado, may I introduce you to the mysterious, H. A. Callum.


Hi H. A.! Thank you for allowing me to interview you. I’m excited and honored to have this opportunity.

I’d like to start by congratulating you on getting Whispers in the Alders published. No small feat, my friend. I’m sure many of your fans, myself included, would love to know what the process was like, from finishing your novel to getting published.

What did the journey teach you overall? Anything you’d do differently?


Set fear aside and query, send that manuscript out into the world. All the agents and publishers I queried offered great advice. I received many rejections, but along the way was given feedback that honed down my query letters and gave me the encouragement to keep going—which led me to being signed by Blue Deco Publishing. I know I’m about as solitary as writers come, but we can’t forget that publishing is a people business and we need to get ourselves and our work out there.


Any advice for those of us writing our first novel?


This may sound kitschy, but just enjoy the experience. Forget about word and page counts and just write the damn thing. Write every day. You only write the first novel once, so fall in love with it and enjoy the ride.


For those of your fans who don’t know, what is Whispers in the Alders about?


Whispers in the Alders is a contemporary coming of age story that addresses issues like gender, sexuality, social class, at-risk children, and access to higher education. It’s also a story about how Aubrey and Tommy—kids from very different social backgrounds—overcome the prejudices of a town stuck in its past. I pitched it once as “Born in the U.S.A.” meets “Born This Way,” and it’s true. Aubrey and Tommy defy a town set on destroying their unlikely and uncommon relationship. No spoilers here—but it’s not an easy road for them.


What can you tell us about Whispers in the Alders that we don’t already know?


It’s a story that anyone who has come of age during the past two decades should appreciate. The struggles are real, and I’m sure many readers will be aware of the forces working against Aubrey and Tommy. It doesn’t matter if you’ve experienced what they experience. The fact is that young people have had to deal with some sweeping social changes that have challenged society, some for better, and unfortunately some for worse. It’s these changes that defined two generations, just like it did for Aubrey and Tommy.


Whatever I write, I end up with a few favorite scenes or characters. Did Whispers in the Alders spark any favorites?


Definitely! One of my favorites is when Aubrey and Tommy prepare to go their separate ways after high school. It’s touching and heartbreaking, but has to happen. It’s a reminder that the relationships that matter most will always be there. For the first time, they realize the difficulty of balancing a relationship against life. They’re two kids that never had any real solid example of how to be in a relationship, or what true, authentic love really was. Seeing them figure it out is a reminder of the love that exists in all of us—as hard an idea that can be to understand when seeing some of the hate that exists in our world.


My current novel has known it’s fair share of ups and downs. What difficulties did you experience with the writing of Whispers in the Alders? How did you overcome them?


For me, I’ve come to accept that writing a novel is a journey down a long road, and a very lonely one. No one else can tell the story—it’s ours to own in all its glory and faults. I’ve met plot roadblocks in Whispers in the Alders that I didn’t plan for as the story unfolded and began to tell itself. Time away from the manuscript always gave me a fresh perspective. Like I said before, enjoy the experience. I learned that forcing a story onto the page was more unproductive than not writing at all. So, I would turn to another project, or read. Both keep me creative without burning me out.


Now that you’ve got us excited for the release, when can we expect to see a copy of Whispers in the Alders?


No firm date has been set, but we are anticipating a release sometime in the Spring of 2017. The cover reveal could be as early as this winter.


I adore the author bios at the end of a book. I love even more when an author gives that little extra. What’s in H. A.’s bio? And what’s that little extra nugget you’re willing to share with us, your fans?


That’s a tough one. I’m a very private person, and mostly avoid talking about myself. Then I wrote a novel, something I should have done before reclusive writers went out of style. I’ve never been one to catch a trend in its early stages.



Like I said, “the mysterious, H. A. Callum” folks. *snickers to herself*


Whether it’s stories of the kid who loved the writing assignments in class or the lady who decided to write down her life story, I just love hearing how an author’s love of the written word got started. When did you start writing and what was the flame that ignited that passion?


My family wasn’t one with much of a literary background. I would usually be off on my own, exploring, fishing, kind of a suburban Huck Finn. I was always the quiet kid reading, and books became my escape. My early years weren’t easy, but I could always find peace in the pages of a book. When I was nine I wrote my first poem, and writing poetry became my outlet as a teenager. After high school I scored my first gig writing a weekly fishing report for a local paper. Seeing my name in print that first time has kept the spark to write alive in me.



The people of my life, nature, and the beauty and ugliness that surround us every day inspire me and my writing. What inspires your writing?


All the same things! Nature always offers inspiration, and Whispers in the Alders is a testament to that. But I find great inspiration from my children. A simple mind may ignore this, but their unspoiled view of the world shows me what I overlook. Quite a few of my poems have been inspired by being in the moment and listening to what they say. My poem “3/4 Time” in the Literary Arts Review magazine is a perfect example of that inspiration.


I used to comb those little pamphlets they brought around for book sales as a kid and beg my parents for books. It wasn’t until I discovered an Agatha Christie, though, that my true love of books came through. Which authors make your heart and mind sing?


I know I’m leaving quite a few names off the list, but Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, John Updike, Maile Meloy, and Harper Lee have all inspired me to keep on writing. But honestly every author I’ve read has inspired me in some way and shaped me into the writer I am today.


It can be hard to find time to write. How do you find the time you need? Do you ever feel like any other parts of your life suffer when you’re writing?


I’ve made night time my time. I sacrifice sleep so I can write. Following a dream requires sacrifice somewhere along the line, and I figured—enter cliché—that I’ll sleep when I’m dead, and hopefully leave more than memories behind to remember me by.


Now, I’ve got to throw you a hard question. Every reader hates to limit themselves, but if you had to choose only three books to live the rest of your life with, what would they be? Only three. No exceptions. Okay, you can have two honorable mentions, but that’s where I draw the line.


Are you kidding? Not fair, but I’ll play along! My top three would include To Kill a Mockingbird, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Only two honorable mentions? I’ll take a couple of the classics, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. I think a more reasonable question would have been to limit myself to three libraries—but that’s just me thinking out loud.


Out of all the authors I know, I feel like you’re possibly the most mysterious. So give us the scoop, Mr. Mystery, how does H. A. spend his time when he’s not wooing minds with his words?


Do you know that unicorns are all around us? My daughter and I’ve narrowed them down to living at the end of the rainbow. But wouldn’t you know it that we just can’t get to the end of the rainbow in time to find out for sure? I’m also a huge U2 fan and will be on the lookout for scoring some tickets to their Joshua Tree tour. Bono, if you’re out there, please read my book! That’s it, no more fandom or shameless plugs from this guy.


Donna, thank you so much for having me! It’s been a real pleasure. I’m looking forward to catching up with you again soon, and can’t wait to read your novel!


Thank you again for allowing me this interview. It’s been a real treat to work with you. I wish you much success with your book launch and the future.

To find H. A. Callum:





Blue Deco Publishing



Author Interview: C. M. Turner

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Author Interview: C. M. Turner

C. M. Turner’s book, Where the Ironweed Blooms drew me in as soon as I laid eyes on the cover. I didn’t buy it right away, though, because after looking at the description, I wasn’t sure it was for me. The cover kept making appearances on my timeline, and soon, I found myself adding the book to my Amazon cart for purchase. I’m happy I did. The book was nothing like what I expected. Once I devoured the book, I had to review it.

C. M. Turner has many projects in the works, but she still found time to grant me an interview. I hope you have as much fun getting to know C. M. Turner as I have.


I’m sure your fans are curious about the mysterious C. M. Turner. What can you tell us about yourself? Who is C. M. Turner?


Well, I died this year and lived to tell about it. I’m not sure how many can make that claim. This year also marks the debut of my first book, a dream I’ve had since childhood. I feel like the best is yet to come and I’m looking forward to sharing my next novels with you. Three are complete, one needs a little work – and two are in need of an ending.


Everyone needs a break from time to time. When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your time?


Some of my free time is spent reading but most of it painting, cooking or gardening. Writing is always my first choice, while painting runs a close second. I consider it another art form in which to tell a story. I paint abstracts. There is something freeing about standing across a room slinging paint onto canvas and watching what forms. Whatever else beckons, I always return to writing. It’s the voice that calls me home. Within its margins of accuracy and realism, I find a kind of balance – that truth all writers pursue.


Every project has its ups and downs. What were your biggest challenges with Where the Ironweed Blooms?


The biggest challenge I faced with Where The Ironweed Blooms was quite simply, fact checking. The story poured from me but the history of the region and the era required hours, if not years of research. I spent years in that region learning its history and as I finessed the book with many rewrites to fit the area, my book and characters grew.


Where the Ironweed Blooms (WTIB) was such a great read. What can we look forward to next? And what can you tell us about your next book?


My next novel is in sharp contrast to WTIB. It’s a young adult novel set on the West Coast during the early sixties, the time period and place I grew up. It deals with personal tragedy – addiction, love, and loss, yet ultimately hope in the end. The main character carries his sorrow well into adulthood as he struggles to free himself from the past. As an adult, he lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest, where he still battles with old demons from adolescence, and the heartbreak that altered his life.


I’ve written some characters I truly love, and I’m sure you have too. Which of your characters is your favorite? Why?


My favorite character is one named, Dande. Her life flowed from me almost as if I’d lived it. I followed her journey from the time she was ten, through her eighties – longer than any other character. I lived every breath of the story alongside her, from the first line of the book to the last. Dande has an ironclad will, despite growing up in the South during a time women had little or no voice. Also a time of racial discord, she is never afraid to speak out over her male counterparts, or defend a cause no matter how contentious or combustible. This makes her my favorite character.


I’m constantly pulling from my life and experiences. Where do you find inspiration for your characters and settings?


I also draw my settings from real life – places familiar to me where I’ve lived at one time or another. Like many authors, my characters are inspired by people I come in contact with on a daily basis – then embellish with traits I instill to suit the role they will play. As I create them, I claim equal credit for the darkness in the villains, as the valor of the heroes. Whether inspired by actual people or my mind, they all share a portion of my DNA.


As I’ve mentioned on my blog before, my grandparents’ storytelling drove me to want to tell stories. What inspired you to become a writer?


My mother was a poet and for as long as I can remember, would tell stories about her family at bedtime. Sometimes she read from storybooks, but I always looked forward to the true accounts. Those are my happiest memory of her; and I’ve shared many glimpses of them in different books throughout the years. My favorites were the stories of her growing up in her uncle’s family home, Monticello, in Cynthiana, Kentucky. The estate was blueprinted and named after Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia – built by her Uncle Tom (Thomas Jefferson Megibben) and destroyed by fire in July 1985. Fortunately, able to visit it beforehand, I was so impressed it inspired what would become Highland House in WTIB.


I have several authors I admire, and I strive to write stories that will make a reader feel the way I do when I finish one of their books. What are your favorite authors and books? Who inspires you to be a better writer?


There are too many to list and it’s difficult to choose favorites. I’d have to say Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” tops the list – then Richard Wright’s three novels, read at a most impressionable age; “Black Boy”, “Native Son”, and “The Outsider”. It wasn’t until living in the South during the sixties, that I came to be witness to some of the atrocities portrayed in these books. I also love everything by J. D. Salinger and Edward Albee. More recently, I haven’t been able to get enough of Joyce Carol Oates, John Irving, Albert Camus and Toni Morrison. All inspire me to to write better.


The writing journey is such a great teacher. What has your writing journey taught you?


The important thing this journey has taught me, is everything in my life happened to serve a greater purpose. What seemed tragedies at the time, resulted in books that never would have existed without having those experiences. I have also learned that a writer’s greatest tool is the ability to listen, and if you do, anything can be turned into a story. I’ve had entire books evolve from nothing more than bits and pieces, those things overheard around corners or through open doors – flashes most people probably would have forgotten.


What advice do you have for writers working on their first book? Asking for a friend. . .    😉


My advice for a writer working on their first book, is NEVER GET DISCOURAGED. Writing is like everything in life – there are always going to be naysayers and critics. The hardest thing is not to dwell on an unfavorable opinion, albeit, the neighbor, an editor or prospective publisher. For me, what is most difficult, is taking that opinion and turning it into something constructive. Like most writers, I have thrown myself into a siege of edits and rewrites but have also learned to believe in what I’ve written and stand by it. Eventually, the time comes when a project has been perfected to such a point it must be considered finished – so the best advice I can offer, is knowing when it’s time to let go. It is never too late to start, finish or publish a novel, I’m a great example of that.

Donna, thank you so much for the opportunity to do this interview with you.


A big thank you to you, C. M. Turner for granting me this interview. It was a pleasure to work with you. I wish you much success!

To find C. M. Turner:

Twitter, Smashwords, and Amazon

Pick up Where the Ironweed Blooms for only $2.99 right now on Amazon or Smashwords!


Author Interview: Ken Stark

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Author Interview: Ken Stark

I met Ken Stark on Twitter, a mutual follow back. From the first time I saw a post about his book, Stage 3, he had my interest. I didn’t buy the book right away, though. I had others in line to be read, so I waited. During my wait, I clicked the link and read some fantastic Amazon reviews for the book, which made me want to read Stage 3 even more. I ended up buying the book and loving it, as you can see here in my review. After writing my own glowing Amazon review for Stage 3, I contacted Mr. Stark for an interview, and he granted my request.

Have fun getting to know more about the author Ken Stark!

Q1. When did your love of writing start?

I think I’ve always had it, really. I was forever scribbling things in a notebook, and I was never happier than when a school assignment involved writing a short story, or composing a poem or a speech. In my teens, I actually built up the nerve to submit a few things to prospective publishers, but I was sorely lacking in self-confidence, so it didn’t take too many rejection letters to get me to stop trying. I still kept writing, but from then, it was only for myself.

Q2. When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

It depends on the season. Summers in Vancouver are great, so one can usually find me outside, soaking up every bit of sunlight I possibly can. The rest of the year, I retreat inside. I hibernate, and I read, I write, I paint, and I’d be embarrassed to admit how many hours I devote to crossword puzzles and sudoku. Honestly though, I could easily spend all day, everyday, writing. I love every minute of the process, from the first line to the finished product. I even enjoy editing, which definitely puts me in the minority. But the way I think of it, life only gives us one crack at things, while in my world, I can tweak and hone and polish every word until everything is just the way I want it.

Q3. Where do you get inspiration for your characters and settings?

I like to use settings that will be familiar to the reader. Everyone knows what the inside of a hospital or a jumbo jet looks like. They are familiar places; mundane, even. But give the familiar a little off-axis tilt, and it can suddenly become a haunted house.

As for characters, I get them from anywhere and everywhere. We spend our lives soaking up information from all around us; friends, family, TV shows, radio, books, movies, social media, the girl at the coffee shop, the guy at the bank….Unless you’re living life like Gilligan, you can’t help but be influenced by hundreds of interactions every day. So when I need a specific character for a certain situation, it’s just a matter of taking a little from column a….. a little from column b…..

Q4. Are there any future projects you’re excited to get started on?

I’m excited about continuing the Stage 3 story, because I love spending my time with those characters, and I don’t like leaving them hanging. Aside from that, I have so many story lines banging around in my head that it’s really a question of which ones come out first. I am primarily a writer of scary tales, but I’ve had a love for science fiction since forever, I’m fascinated by ancient cultures, I enjoy a good conspiracy, and I like a straight-up adventure yarn. If I can find a way to weave all of those together, that will be a fun one to write!

Q5. What resources do you use to write?

I’m not sure that there could be a better resource for a writer than the internet. If I need to know the precise firing rate of a Kalashnikov, or which muscle attaches to the zygomatic process of the maxilla, it’s all a mouse-click away. And as an added benefit, my fingers just so happen to type at the precise speed that my mind thinks, so my computer is my greatest ally. I know what it’s like trying to construct a world with pen and paper, and it’s tremendously frustrating. The confidence that comes with being able to edit at will can’t be overstated. I can hone a piece until it’s exactly the way I want it, which is something I couldn’t have done even twenty years ago.

Q6. Who are your favorite authors?

I grew up with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, so they have to tie for first place. After that, and in no particular order; H. G. Wells, Poe, Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve read every word these men ever wrote, and more times than I can count. I could probably recite most of their works by heart. As for those authors still on the right side of the grass, I don’t play favourites. I’m a fan of many, but part of the fun is picking a book at random and hearing an entirely different voice.

Q7. What lessons have you learned from your adventures in writing?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that no matter how much of your heart you pour into a story, no matter how much you bleed, no matter how much you agonize over every word to get it exactly right; some readers are going to love what you’ve done, some will hate it, and most won’t care one way or the other. You will never please everyone, so don’t write for other people. Even if you are aiming for a ‘target audience’, you’re really only doing it for yourself. If it feels right for the story, let it happen. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Write what you feel bubbling out of your chest, because ultimately, it’s your world.

Q8. What advice do you have for someone writing their first book?

Just that. Do it. It doesn’t matter if everyone you give your book to thinks it stinks to high heaven. Just do it. Follow your bliss. Have fun, live your dream, and create the world you see in your head. If you send the finished manuscript to a dozen traditional publishers and they don’t happen to have the same vision as you, then it’s their loss. With today’s technology, you can publish it yourself. So do it. Write it, finish it, and either send it in, or do it yourself. I guarantee, someone out there has the same vision as you, and they will absolutely love the world you made.

Q9. If you couldn’t write, what activity would take its place?

Painting, probably. I slap oil on canvas in my spare time, and sometimes it isn’t entirely awful. It’s mostly Bob Ross kind of landscapes, but painting is a great release, and I get to see the end product in hours rather than months. I suppose it’s just another way to create worlds.

Q10. What book will you be releasing next and what can you tell me about it?

The next Stage 3 book is a month or two away, but I’ve just finished something else that I hope will be out soon. A while ago, I asked my best friend’s daughter what she wanted to read. Her response was, “Something scary, with a monster, and some kind of mystery.” So, for her, I wrote ‘Arcadia Falls’. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I can say that it is scary, it involves a mystery as old as time, and the monster is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

A big thank you to Ken Stark for granting me this interview. It was a pleasure to work with you. I wish you much success!

To find Ken Stark:

Website, Twitter, and Amazon Author Page

Pick up Stage 3 for only $2.99 right now on Amazon!

Stage 3 by Ken Stark

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Stage 3 by Ken Stark

Stage 3 by Ken Stark

Ken Stark found a unique way to introduce us to the protagonist and the plot of the book, and I found myself applauding him for it. He teases and taunts us with snippets of the world we’re about to be immersed into and then takes it away by secluding our protagonist. All the while, you know what will be awaiting you.

Stage 3 feels new and different from others like it. Yes, we have a virus that turns folks into monsters, but that’s where the similarities end. The protagonist isn’t the normal cliched protagonist. He’s not going to do what you’d expect, and I found it refreshing. Mr. Stark even goes so far as to give us an interesting sidekick who is constantly trying to steal the show. Most authors would shy away from introducing a child into a book like this. Children add a great deal of work and consideration, but Mr. Stark bravely takes on this challenge and does it well.

At first, I questioned whether a child would trust a stranger, let alone so quickly. As a parent, we tell ourselves our children wouldn’t trust a stranger so easily. I only had to consider the environment to see the truth. A child alone in a world of madness would reach out to any adult who treated them with kindness. For Mackenzie to find someone, anyone in a sea of monsters was miraculous enough, but a person willing to help her as well, of course, she clung to that glimmer of hope.

The child element to this story gave Mr. Stark a great way to throw a wrench in the “easy way out”. Every step of the way Mackenzie challenges Mason to do the right thing and to be a better person. I could see people wanting to leave Mackenzie behind, a save-yourself mentality, but I believe there’s plenty of people who couldn’t bear to leave a child alone in a world of death.

Please don’t get the wrong impression. Mackenzie isn’t solely used to make Mason’s world harder. Mackenzie has her own sets of strengths, and she does her fair share to keep the duo alive. I applaud Mr. Stark for making her more than just mere baggage to hold Mason back.

Mr. Stark weaves suspense, action, and character development into a horrific tale of survival and friendship. Stage 3 has a steady pace that keeps you turning pages without wearing you out. You’ll have your fingers crossed for our duo, but you’ll get some breathing room and some time to learn who they really are.

Author Interview: R. R. Willica

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Author Interview: R. R. Willica

I had the great fortune to gain an interview with the witty and intelligent R. R. Willica. I first met R. R. Willica on Twitter and enjoyed the lines she shared. I decided to read her book “Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves“. I loved the book as you can see in my review, so I asked for an interview. R. R. Willica was nice enough to answer a few questions despite working on her second book, “Darkness Falling: Shadow of the Seeker”, which is scheduled to release June 18th.

Let’s get started!

Q1. When did your love of writing start?

R. R. Willica:  I don’t remember the exact age, but I was pretty young, probably between six and eight years old. I was terrible at math, but my teachers always praised my writing. Even before that, though, I had a huge imagination and loved making up stories.

Q2. When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

R. R. Willica: I’m married and have 3 kids, so I spend time with my family doing things like going to museums or hanging out at home watching movies or television. I like playing video games. My favorite games are RPGs and MMORPGs like WoW, Skyrim, Fallout, Wildstar, and Final Fantasy (both on and offline.) I also work full time as a receptionist.

Q3. Where do you get inspiration for your characters and settings?

R. R. Willica:  I get ideas from everywhere; music, television, pictures, video games, and even just sitting quietly. My brain is always coming up with ideas and it’s up to me to sort them out.

Q4. Are there any future projects you’re excited to get started on?

R. R. Willica: I have a lot of future projects that I’m planning, many of which are already in progress in rough draft stages. I have already began a rough draft of a fantasy comedy, which will be my main focus after Darkness Falling. I also have plans for two other fantasies that are stand alone novels set in two separate worlds. Another projects in the works is a fantasy that is more magical realism on present day Earth, a teen zombie comedy, and two psychological thrillers. Yes, I am crazy, why do you ask?

Q5. What resources do you use to write?

R. R. Willica: I primarily use my computer. I do not like writing by hand, it’s not easy for me. I also often use my phone notepad to type quick scenes or lines when I’m away from my computer. As for writing guidance I read a lot of different blogs, articles, and anything that comes my way. Google is also my friend for research.

Q6. Who are your favorite authors?

R. R. Willica: I have a lot of favorites. For early inspirations I would say J. R. R. Tolkien, Katheryn Kerr, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, and Tadd Williams. I also read a lot of Stephen King as a kid. Later I really enjoyed Douglas Adams and J. K. Rowling, and Jane Austen. Recently I’ve been having fun reading Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore. Right now I’m reading a lot of indie authors, especially those who are “undiscovered,” like Angela D’Onofrino, Jewel E. Leonard, and D D Sydral, just to name a few. There’s a lot of good work out there to read. (But be warned, I’m a really tough reviewer, so watch out!)

Q7. What lessons have you learned from your adventures in writing?

R. R. Willica: Writing is really hard and you have to keep going. It’s a long road, and you won’t get the feedback you’re looking for the majority of the time. Sometimes it can be really frustrating, but if you keep going it’s worth it. Even if you never become famous or rich, if it’s what you love to do then it’s worth doing. 

Q8. What advice do you have for someone writing their first book?

R. R. Willica: My best advice is to not listen to too much advice. There is a lot of advice out there on what to do and what not to do, but really you need to trust your own instincts. Do what works best for you. Try out other advice, but if it doesn’t work, then don’t worry. “Real writers” come in all shapes, sizes, and mental capacities. It’s hard to get to the end, so don’t allow yourself to become bogged down with too many opinions.

Q9. If you couldn’t write, what activity would take its place?

R. R. Willica: If I couldn’t write I would slowly go into a dark wallowing of despair that I’m not fully aware of, and eventually I would find my way back out into writing again. Actually, I would probably play a lot of video games, that’s what usually happens.

Q10. What can you tell me about “Darkness Falling: Shadow and Seeker”?

R. R. Willica: Shadow of the Seeker starts only a few days after where Soldiers and Slaves ended. If you’ve read the first book, you know it ended rather abruptly and left a lot of questions not only what’s going to happen, but what in the world is actually going on. Shadow of the Seeker is going to answer a lot of those questions and starts to move the characters in new directions. All of this will hopefully set the stage for book three, Secrets of Syerset, and the final conflict. I’m hoping to have book three ready in the Winter of 2017.

A big thank you to R. R. Willica for being so kind as to do this interview. I wish you much success.

To Find R. R. Willica:

Website, Twitter, and Amazon Author Page


Pick up “Darkness  Falling: Soldiers and Slaves” for 99 cents right now!

Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves by R. R. Willica

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Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves by R. R. Willica

Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves by R. R. Willica

Every time I buy a book from an author I’ve never read before I get worried. I’m sure I’m not alone. The idea of spending money on a book I might not even be able to get through is awful. I don’t want to waste my money or my time. Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves had wonderful reviews, so I figured why not give it a try. Now granted, I could have read the sample provided, but I didn’t. I’ve seen some of R. R. Willica’s lines on Twitter and had always enjoyed them, so I figured it’d be an interesting read.

Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves sped past interesting and right on into “This is a keeper.”

Willica drew me into her story from the beginning. The world felt familiar yet different, and I felt myself being pulled to know more about it. Willica’s seamless blend of magic and technology left me in awe. Most of the fantasies I read are set in a time of horses, candles, and maidens fetching ale, so I discovered a whole new type of world to love. At first, I worried the magic would have no constraints, but I was quickly shown the toll it takes on its users, and I worried no more.

The characters reveal themselves as the plot unfolds. Willica displays the character details in a way that seems natural to the movement of the plot. No info dumps here. In fact, I was left wanting more. I couldn’t wait to get more info on each of the characters. I don’t wish to spoil the book for anyone, so I’ll give one example that really hooked me. When the High Princess doesn’t want to get married, her mother comes to her and sets her straight on a few ideas she’s having. Up until this point, the mother seems part of the problem and happy with her lot in life, but once the conversation concludes, I felt in awe of the woman’s complete understanding of where she fits into this society. Her understanding of her daughter’s feeling and her desperate plea to her daughter, all left me heartbroken for the two of them.

The typos were the only negatives I found in the book. I’ve read mainstream and indie books with typos, so I’m used to seeing them regardless of the writer. Some of the reviewers said they believed it was from the conversion of the book. I couldn’t say either way. I can say, they didn’t pull me out of the world. The Disciple Series, I reviewed recently, had a lot of typos and those typos pulled me right out of the story. I think it shows how strong Willica’s plot truly is.

Where the Ironweed Blooms by C. M. Turner

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Where the Ironweed Blooms by C. M. Turner

Where the Ironweed Blooms by C. M. Turner

Last week, I finished C. M. Turner’s Where the Ironweed Blooms, and I loved the book. Although Amazon has Where the Ironweed Blooms listed as a “Romance”, I felt more like I was set in a murder mystery filled with suspense, intrigue, twists, and turns. I didn’t notice the romance because it was the foundation of the very book. The suspense and mystery were weaved around and throughout the romance in such a way that I never thought, “This is a romance.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against romance. I like a good romance from time to time. However, my normal genre is fantasy or mystery, so I’m sure that’s why the elements of mystery and suspense stood out so much more than what I felt were some rather painful relationships. The relationships of Where the Ironweed Blooms were well written. They were just painful to watch mature.

The characters of Where the Ironweed Blooms were so well developed, and I thank the author for that! I hate trying a new author for the first time and getting flat characters. No worries here! C. M. Turner gave me believable people, not characters. I feel like I could find each of these characters in a town registry. Turner didn’t sugar coat anything either. Turner laid it bare for us to sift through, whether the way anyone different was treated or the rumor mills that surround small towns and small town ways. We were left with the ugly feelings that ugly people leave behind.

For me, it felt like a true recounting of events as they had unfolded. At some point, I even imagined I could find archives buried in some library detailing the events that took place at Highland House. It felt like a storyteller was weaving a tale around me, and the telling was so good it could only be true. Each time I thought I had the story figured out the author corrected my assumptions, which kept me turning page after page. By the time I hit 75% I couldn’t put the book down. I had to find out what happened to the residents of Highland House.