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: Ken Stark 2.0

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Author Interview: Ken Stark 2.0

I’ve been harassing Ken Stark ever since I learned of Stage 3: Alpha, and it paid off. Ken is back to tell us all about Stage 3: Alpha, what’s in store for the series, and his other project, Arcadia Falls. I hope you enjoy Ken’s interview as much as I have.


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Ken Stark, author of Stage 3 and Stage 3: Alpha


Welcome back, Ken! I appreciate you taking the time to answer some questions for all of us fans, especially with the release of Alpha keeping you busy.


My pleasure, Donna! For the record, you were the first person to interview me after Stage 3, so I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather sit down with after the release of Stage 3: Alpha. My only hope is that you don’t get so rich and famous with your own books that you won’t want to keep the tradition going!


I’m hoping we both become rich and famous and do kooky interviews with each other just to make people wonder about our eccentric lives.


Haha…sounds good to me!


You know how excited I’ve been waiting for Stage 3: Alpha. I can just imagine how excited the rest of your fans are. What can you tell us about Alpha?


All I’ve said so far is that the story is told from a different point of view, but now that it’s out, I can finally say it out loud. Aunt Sarah is alive! And not only is she alive, she is the driving force behind Stage 3: Alpha. The story starts just after the collapse of the hospital, and we follow Sarah as she tries desperately to reunite with her niece, Mackenzie. She knows that she has to survive if she is to have any hope of saving Mack, but she learns pretty quickly that she will have to harden her heart to do so. It is pretty much the opposite trajectory that Mason took in Stage 3, so it should make for an interesting contrast.


I love the direction you took with Stage 3: Alpha. I worried it would be the easy answer, having Mason come and save the day, and I should have known better. The way you start Stage 3 and the way you handle the zombie outbreak is different than the tired storylines we see all too often. I was glad you gave Sarah the space to show why she’s a survivor.


Well, thank you. I figured most people would expect book 2 to be the Continuing Adventures of Mack and Mace, so I wanted to make it clear right from the start that this was Sarah’s story. We saw Mason’s learning curve in understanding this new reality, so it was only right to show Sarah’s as well, and whereas Mason’s education began with a bright spark of hope, Sarah’s is initiated by a personal loss. So though they may have ended up in pretty much the same place, Sarah’s path there was considerably more tragic, giving her an entirely different set of motivations.


I don’t know if I’ve told you this, Ken, but my first horror movie was Night of the Living Dead. I’ve loved zombies ever since. So as I read Stage 3: Alpha one question loomed above all others. How many books are planned for the series? And can your fans convince you to never stop writing them?


I planned the series as a trilogy, but I’m having too much fun to stop at three, so no convincing needed! I’ll keep them coming as long as there’s even one person who enjoys them, myself included. I’m also trying very hard to write each of them as its own story, so hopefully, a reader will be able to come in at book 3 or book 5 and have no less an entertaining story than if they were there from the beginning.


*happy dance* Stage 3: Alpha feels like it could stand alone so I’d say you nailed it, sir. I hope it continues to work for the books to come.


I hope so, too! I love the idea that someone might pick up one of my books and enjoy it, then find out later that there were two or three books preceding that one. It would mean that they enjoyed the characters and the story without knowing all of the background minutiae, so I will have done my job right.


We start the story with Sarah, whom we had heard only mentioned in Stage 3. (By the way, I love Sarah, and she’s a character I wish I could meet.) What can you tell us about Sarah? Where did the inspiration for Sarah come from?


Oh, Sarah…. I love Sarah, too. I desperately wanted to introduce her in Stage 3, but to do so would have required her to be rescued by the big strong hero, and that simply wouldn’t do. Sarah is no damsel in distress. She is as tough and resourceful and as utterly badass as Mason himself, so to truly do Sarah justice, she needed a book of her own.


The character isn’t based on anyone in particular, but she shares some of the best and worst traits with every woman I’ve ever known. She is proud and strong and resilient, and she is most definitely loving and caring, but just like everyone else on Earth, there are times when she is driven by pure, raw emotion. In those moments, we get to see Sarah at her very best and her very worst, so they provide a pretty good insight into what really makes her tick.


One of the things I love about your characters is how real they feel. Sarah doesn’t feel like a sudden superhero, which again, we see all too often. She feels like a character adapting to her surroundings, using what she’s always got by on…brains.



Well, I think the greatest asset anyone can have in any kind of dire situation is plain old common sense. You don’t have to be Einstein, you just have to observe, realize the dangers, and act accordingly. Sarah is smart, sure, but it was common sense that told her how to use what she knows to her best advantage.


I assume once people finish reading this interview they’ll be running off to buy your book. It’s the only logical choice. So where can Stage 3 and Stage 3: Alpha be purchased? Will it be available in ebook and paperback?


Both are on Amazon, and by the time this interview comes out, both should be available as ebooks and paperbacks. If Alpha isn’t in paperback yet, just give it a day or two. As well, Beacon Publishing recently released an audiobook version of Stage 3, which you can find either on Amazon or iTunes. (Inside tip: it’s a LOT cheaper on Amazon. You can combine it with the ebook or add it on later, and it’s still cheaper than iTunes. But you didn’t hear it from me…..Shhh…..)


Already bought my ebook. =) Don’t worry, people. The review is coming.


And I appreciate it! As they say, writers live or die by review, so thank you very much. But since I mentioned the audiobook, let me just give a shout-out to Gregory Peyton and all the fine folks at Beacon Publishing. I had no hand in any of it, but I honestly couldn’t imagine a better actor than Gregory Peyton to bring Hank Mason to life. He was so much like the Mason I heard in my head that I couldn’t quite believe it. He even swore like the voice in my head, so that’s pretty awesome!


When I finally release a novel, I’ll probably happy dance until I collapse. How will you be celebrating the release of Stage 3: Alpha?


Oh, the usual; a heady blend of excitement, pride, satisfaction, and a special kind of gut-wrenching dread. Honestly, I can’t celebrate a book’s release. Even though I know that I’ve done the best I can, once the book is out of my hands and committed, I immediately start to second-guess every aspect of it. Maybe I should have done this, maybe I should have done that…. Eventually, I just have to accept that it is what it is, and readers will either like it or not. But none of that translates into celebration. I guess what I really do to celebrate a book’s release is to jump right into the next thing, hoping to do a better job on the next one than the last.


Man, now I’m thinking I’ll happy dance until I realize the implications… What is this feeling in my guts?


I’m afraid you’d better get used to that feeling. That is the future you feel, unknown and unknowable.


If I promise not to harass you too much, will you tell me if the third Stage 3 novel is in development?


#3 is underway as we speak. I have no idea when it will be done, but it will be done! All I’m willing to say about it right now is that everyone left alive at the end of Alpha will be there, plus we’ll meet a few new friends, a few new enemies, and some that might just straddle the line.


*fist bump* I’m already looking forward to it. You’ve introduced some intriguing characters in Alpha. I can’t wait to see where you take them. There are so many possibilities for this “new” world.


Oh, there are endless possibilities. I’m already several books ahead, plotting all manner of mayhem. Will some old villains re-emerge? Does the virus have anything else up its proverbial sleeve? And just what caused the outbreak in the first place? Only time will tell.


The last time you stopped by and subjected yourself to my questioning, you mentioned another project in the works. What can you tell us about the Arcadia Falls project you’ve been working on?


I’m starting to feel like George R R Martin when I discuss Arcadia Falls. It’s coming, I swear! The book is actually done, but finding time for one final edit has been tough with everything else that’s been going on. In a nutshell, the book is about an unlikely group of friends coming together to battle a long-forgotten evil that’s been plaguing the town of Arcadia Falls. It was written with YA readers in mind, so I’d rate it as PG-13, but there should be plenty of nightmares to go around. No zombies this time, though. In fact, I can truthfully say that the evil in question is something no one’s ever seen before.


I’m excited to read Arcadia Falls. We need new monsters. I love the old ones (zombies, vampires, werewolves, etc.), but there’s nothing like a new monster to keep you peeking under beds and behind doors.


I couldn’t agree more. We can certainly breathe new life into old monsters, but there’s nothing like a brand new horror to really shake things up.


Not that you’re not already busy enough, but any other projects we should keep a lookout for?


After Arcadia Falls, I’ll pour myself back into the world of Stage 3 and see what kind of havoc I can wreak. But don’t be surprised if the odd short story pops up from time to time, either on my website or elsewhere.


Any chance for a short story compilation book?


Maybe one day, but I think I’ll just post them on my website for now. Or maybe throw the occasional one on Amazon and ask for a few pennies for charity.


Two books out, one crazy lady who stalks you for interviews *points to self*, do you feel like a famous author now? Do you feel like a success? Please use details so I can live vicariously through you until my time comes.


Lol! Tell you what, if I ever start to feel like a success, you’ll be the first to know! But maybe that’s the whole point, after all. If we think we’ve arrived at our destination, we stop moving, so maybe it’s better we keep our eyes on the horizon and keep plodding along, one step at a time.


I like that a lot. Always looking upward and onward. I have trouble feeling like a “real” writer. At what point did you feel like, “I’m a real writer”?


I think it’s an incremental thing. The day my first book was accepted by a publisher, the day the book came out, the first review…. I’m not even sure if I feel like a ‘real’ writer yet, but at least I can start to imagine that I might one day.


With a second book under your belt, what advice do you have for writers trying to get words down on a page? Any advice for those trying to get a novel published?


Two excellent questions with very different answers.

Firstly, for anyone struggling to get words on a page, my advice is simple. Stop struggling. Put down whatever’s in your head and worry about making sense of it later. Most of the struggle comes from trying to write like someone or as good as someone, but you have to know that every voice is unique and every view of the world is unique and every writer’s imagination is unique, so why the hell are you setting limits on your own creativity? Maybe what you come up with will be an instant best seller, but even if it never sees the light of day, the work still wasn’t done in vain. You are now a better writer than you were yesterday, and you will be a better writer tomorrow than you are today. So just write! Put one word in front of the other and write!


But now, getting your book published is another thing altogether. If you’re looking to be published traditionally, there are certain protocols that you ignore only at your own peril. Yes, you might stand apart from the crowd by sending in a query letter on a cocktail napkin, but your chances will be much, much better if you follow the rules. A quick online search will show you dozens of publishers looking for unsolicited manuscripts, and each publisher’s website will tell you what they’re looking for and precisely how to submit your work. Any deviation might cause your hard work to be deleted with the stroke of a key, so follow those rules to the letter. The only other advice I can give is to have your book finished and polished before submitting anything, and spend more time than you ever imagined it would take on coming up with an awesome blurb. That blurb is meant to catch readers’ attention, but it might just be what catches the publisher’s attention too, so take your time with it. Seriously. If you have it in a week, take another five to make it better.


As a writer who struggles to put words on the page, I can attest you just have to do it. It’s much easier to fix the words you write than to continue staring at a blank page. I have to admit the publishing advice is solely for my own selfish needs.


I don’t believe you for a second, but sure….


This next question might make you grumble a little bit, but I’m going to ask it anyway. If Ken Stark were a character what three positive traits would he possess? What three negative traits?


A little bit? Sure, okay, a little bit…. But alright, my friend, and only because it’s you. The three positive traits would have to be honesty, integrity and a logical approach to all things. On the negative side, that entirely fictional character would probably be somewhat impatient, a bit of a know-it-all, and might possibly be prone to wanting to go it alone rather than put his life in the hands of others.


Good answer! A character I would read. I need to think of another uncomfortable question for the next interview. Buwhaha!


Have at it, sister. If it’s too uncomfortable, I’ll just lie. Oops! I mean, I’ll ’embellish the character’.


As I learned from my last interview with you, you dig soaking up the summer sun. Any plans for this summer?


As long as we have our usual fantastic Vancouver summer weather, I’ll stay put. I’ll sun myself on a rock like a lizard by day and spend my nights at the keyboard. Actually though, I have so many things going on right now, even the sun might have to take a back seat. But pale and pasty is the new sexy, am I right? Donna, am I right? Donna? Uhh….hello?…….


…Uhm… You’re asking the wrong person. I have two shades…pale and lobster red. I don’t think either rate new or old sexy. Live it up, Ken. Write or edit outside in your favorite little nook.


Yah, you’re right. It was a long winter and I’m not quite thawed out yet.


Anyone following you on Instagram knows you love animals. What critters own you?


Hey, no joke, I gave a granola bar to a sickly-looking rat just yesterday, so I think it’s safe to say that every critter owns me. But I do have one particularly spoiled cat who runs my life. She wandered in as a stray and laid claim to the place, then she spent the next 17 years bending me to her will. She even took over my comfy office chair, but she keeps me company no matter how long I spend at the keyboard, so I think we both consider it a fair trade.


The cartoon-like imagery that produces… =D Animals have a way of squirming their way into our hearts.


Oh, absolutely. It might take years for me to feel close to a human, but anything with four legs is an immediate friend.


One last question… I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the Syfy network or some other network snags up the rights to Stage 3. When they do, who should play Mason, Mackenzie, and Sarah?


Okay, now we’re entering Fantasyland. Honestly, seeing those characters come alive would be a dream come true, but I’ll bet there are thousands of actors I’ve never heard of who could do them more justice than any mainstream celeb I might suggest. I sometimes have an image of an actor in my head to help with the writing, but in this case I didn’t, so I’m wide open. But tell you what….. turn it into a series or a movie and pay me a gazillion dollars, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be alright with anyone they pick. Pee-wee Herman and Lindsay Lohan? Sure, sounds great!
That’s right, I said it. I’m not proud, but I said it…..


Unknown actors would probably work better. After all, these are just average people trying to survive a world gone mad. I think it would make the characters more believable. I wouldn’t say we’re in Fantasyland just yet. Throw out a few more books and Stage 3 might just be the next Walking Dead or True Blood.


Your lips to Spielberg’s ear, sister. I won’t hold my breath, but it’s nice to dream.


Thank you again for agreeing to another interview, Ken. As always, you’ve been a pleasure to interview.


No, thank you, Donna! It’s always an honour and privilege for me when we get to sit down and talk, and hopefully, you’ll return the favour when you hit the best-seller list. Maybe we’ll even meet on the red carpet one day. I’ll introduce you to Pee-wee. You’ll love him……


Aww, shucks. I better get to writing then. I’ve always been a Pee-wee fan. I’d be happy to meet him. Maybe not go to the movies with him, but meet him sure.


To find out more about Ken Stark:

Author’s Website

Stage 3 on Amazon

Stage 3: Alpha on Amazon

Ken Stark on Instagram

Ken Stark on Facebook



Author Interview: Ken Stark

Author Interview: Ken Stark Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

Stage 3 by Ken Stark Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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.