Author Gem Collie, a royal native of Kingston, Jamaica, is a psychology student with a focus on holistic health. Drawing on her passion for exploring the damaging impacts on the cognitive, behavioral, emotional and psychological development of people in the African diaspora, Collie’s quest is to repair the pieces of her identity through metaphysical healing and to use her expertise and knowledge to help others on their healing journey. I’m delighted to feature her in this month’s Author Spotlight and showcase her book and her writing process. 

What is the book about?

A Damsel in Dis-Stress: Coping with Emotional Co-Dependency Personality Dis-Order is an unparalleled attempt at understanding the self, the surrounding people, relationships and the culture that she comes from, from a psychological perspective. Rendering the life story of the author, this book explores the world of the African diaspora and the challenges they face. The coming-of-age account of a young girl in Jamaica who travels to America only to return to her native place is filled with innumerable twists and turns, forcing her to evolve amidst a broken family and community, creating an inordinate impact on her personality. The book not only probes into her life, psychology and being but also the people around her.

The author calls this book “greedy”, one that has caused her to lose friends. She calls it “selfish” and yet regards it as a healer. This book has been an attempt at soul-searching, at healing oneself and highlighting the defects in the way most families and communities live in the present times. The Damsel in distress, waiting to be rescued and loved, is only left broken and abandoned by everybody that comes along in her life, including her parents, who too are a product of the same broken culture. This unique account of the author’s life intertwined with the theoretical wisdom of the school of psychology will compel you to think about the self, relationships and society only to drive you to make this world a better place to live.

Damsel was published in July of 2021 and is available in Kindle and Paperback formats from Amazon, Lulu, Google Books, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram.

What Readers Are Saying

  • “Highly Recommended! A must read!”
  • “A great look into the unspoken truths of trauma”
  • “A relatable journey”
  • “An emotional and impactful book”

Was there a specific event or turning point in your life after which you knew you needed to write this book?

The turning point was when the book topic began speaking to me. It was here that I felt as though I was traveling through my subconscious mind, digging away at the calcified dysfunctionality that was left to be considered as normalcy.

How did you research this book?

I am a psychology student in the field of social sciences. So resultingly, the research was more of a social experience than a literal research project. My inquisition came from investigation of the ideas and philosophies of my subject matter.  

The content in this book feels like an intersection of psychology and spirituality. How did you draw on your knowledge of psychology in the writing of this book?

Much of an intersection of meta psychology and spirituality, my spiritual beliefs merge with the philosophy of psychology. As I tap into the sources of my inner self, evidence of our collective consciousness emerges.

How much of a role did region play on your decision to write this book?

Region and environment played a major role in the writing of this book, in terms of family culture, belief systems, and social situations. As I began to expose my demons on paper, they began to come alive in cultural and social settings. 

What was the most challenging part of the writing of this book?

Unveiling the truth of my trauma, being bold enough to slay goliath with the sling of resistence and the stone of bold truth. Knowing the beast would now attack me and that it did.

What are you working on now? 

I am now working on my second book: The War in the Heavens about breaking the chains of generational curses. 

Which authors have inspired your writing the most? 

Marcus Garvey, Napoleon Hill, Dr. Joy DeGruy, Robert Green, and Dale Carnegie 

Buy A Damsel in Dis-Stress from Barnes & Noble

Learn More about Gem and Connect

This blog series celebrates writers, creativity, and the fantastic writing journey. If you’re a writer with a new book and you’d like to be featured in an Author Spotlight, reach out to me at:

Thank you for visiting, today, and I hope you enjoyed meeting Juliette Lauber!




I’m so excited to feature award-winning novelist Juliette Lauber in this month’s Author Spotlight. Juliette’s latest book is a fascinating read, drawn from her rich and diverse interests, expertise, travels, and history. Juliette nurtures two careers – novelist and an international entertainment lawyer. Her latest book, The French Queen’s Curse, is part of a historical romance and mystical thriller trilogy – The Kikki Trieste Trilogy. French Queen won a Literary Titan Award for Fiction and was published by Indies United Publishing in 2022. Juliette’s successful international legal career led her to become European General Counsel for Time Warner/ Warner Bros. in Paris and London. She has lived in New York, London, Madrid, Santorini, Sante Fe, and she’s fluent in French, Spanish, conversational Greek and some Italian.

What is the book about?

Véronique “Kikki” Trieste – an international entertainment lawyer moonlighting as a time traveler and 21st Century High Priestess, answers a plea from the ghost of Queen Marguerite de Valois to break a 400 year-old curse. Two ancient secret societies are pitted against each other—one, the Knights of the Holy Swords of God and the Daughters of the Goddess Inanna. Kikki crosses time and dimension to the 16th century through past life visions to break the 400 year-old curse.

“A thrilling and mysterious fantasy saga filled with action and drama” – Literary Titan

“Cunningly plotted, filled with suspense and unexpected moments. Masterfully written” – The Book Commentary

Where did the idea of The French Queen’s Curse: In Queen Margot’s Gardens come from?

It came from the French Queen herself! I have lived in Paris for many years and beginning in 1993, I lived on the corner of rue de Verneuil and rue de Beaune, once the site of the early 17th century gardens of Queen Marguerite de Valois’s Rive-Gauche palace. I was literally haunted by the spirit of Queen Margot. She came up time and again through the old tunnels under the 17th century buildings where I lived and insisted that I listen and give her a voice. I became fascinated with her, and she compelled me to share her untold story.

Who is Kikki Trieste?

Kikki Trieste is a kick-ass fighter for justice who courageously walks the labyrinthian hero’s journey doing battle against darkness and evil. And, of course, she’s my alter ego. Kikki’s also a 21st Century High Priestess fighting to protect and empower Mother Earth, the Mother Goddess, and powerful women of history whose lives have been rewritten by the Patriarchy. The character of Kikki was born during Holy Week in Marbella, Spain, where I had gone for a master flamenco class. In the richly evocative ambiance of Andalucia, and as a flamenco dancer myself, I conjured a wildly free-spirited character who wanted release from the constraints of her professional legal career to explore her passions– a character who sought love, magic, adventure, and danger in equal measure. That eventful week inspired Kikki’s birth and her reunion with an old flame, Pepe Torres.

Who was Margot?

Marguerite de Valois, “Queen Margot”, was known as the Rebel Queen. She fought to rule as Queen and was denied agency. A brilliant and great beauty, poets called her the Pearl of the Valois Court. She fought to be heard as a woman in the treacherous patriarchal Valois Court of the High Renaissance—one of the most tumultuous and dark times in Paris’s history, during the French Wars of Religion. I believe Margot and I are kindred spirits – passionate, romantic, interested in magic, the spirit and natural world, drawn to the archetypes and beauty of Greek Goddesses. As one who has always been fascinated by past-lives, I was told by a psychic that I was Margot’s confidante, Gillone, who appears in past-life visions in the novel.

Why is Margot still relevant today?

Four centuries later, women are still fighting for agency. Margot is an exemplary hero/role model for the 21st century. While imprisoned in exile, she continued to fight for her place, for a return to the court and Paris, for a woman’s right to live as men did. She finally returned triumphantly to Paris and with the money from her divorce (annulment) settlement, shocked everyone by building her palace right across from the Louvre, home of her former husband, King Henri IV. She was the original “influencer” – a trend setter at the forefront of social change, the first to transform the Left Bank into the fashionable area it is today. She held the first “Salons” on the Rive Gauche, bringing together philosophers, poets and artists to mix with daring aristocrats.

What advice would you give a first-time, novice writer thinking about getting started with their first book?

To have fun with their writing, ideas, plots, characters, to let it all come out in glorious bloom. No editing on the first draft. Enjoy it! Get a good writing coach and editor as soon as possible to help shape the book after the first draft. It’s also important to develop a discipline, a practice that fits the writer’s personality and obligations. Read Natalie Goldberg’s books, “Wild Mind” and “Writing Down the Bones.” Respect the psychic privacy of your work. It is sacred and you are entitled to keep it private until you are ready to share it. Always be kind and patient with yourself as you write and revise.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a sequel novella to Kikki and Torres’s adventures, The Black Queen’s Shadow. It takes place in Paris and Amboise, France in the Loire Valley, leading up to Winter Solstice, and features familiar characters as well as some new cast members—the ghosts of Leonardo da Vinci and Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots—in a quest to save and protect a powerful ancient treasure from the dark forces who seek to destroy it.

Buy The French Queen’s Curse on Amazon


This blog series celebrates writers, creativity, and the fantastic writing journey. If you’re a writer with a new book and you’d like to be featured in an Author Spotlight, reach out to me at:

Thank you for visiting, today, and I hope you enjoyed meeting Juliette Lauber!

Author Spotlight: LAURA DiNOVIS BERRY

2022, Indies United Publishing House

I’m delighted to focus this month’s Author Spotlight on a wonderful middle grade fantasy author, Laura DiNovis Berry.

Laura’s latest publication, The Nasties of Nastgant Swamp, was released by Indies United Publishing last October and is the 2nd book in her Story of Antyfas series. I love middle grade fantasy books so I wanted to take this opportunity to share this wonderful author, her story and her wisdom with you.

What’s it about?

It’s not every day that a gnome invites you to dinner. When Valentino is invited to a special gnome party deep in the Nastgant Swamp, he can’t wait to go. Unfortunately, he isn’t just the guest of honor — he’s supposed to be the main course! Join Valentino on his fantastic adventure filled with trolls, gnomes, and danger.

The Nasties of Nastgant Swamp is filled with all of the creative escapism you’d want in a fantasy novel – imaginative world-building, all kinds of magical creatures, danger, challenges, and absolutely delightful characters who drive the story forward.

Author Interview

Do you write and read middle grade mystery fiction? Why does this specific genre and age group speak to you?

While I don’t read as much middle grade fiction anymore, I used to! The Magic Tree House was a great series, and I used to drink in the Red Wall series too. When I was a kid, I wanted action, adventure, and magic. Books had that in great supply. I work in this area now because there are many young readers in my family who liked my stories. And so, the world of Antyfas came to be.

Illustration by Lee Thompson

Where do you get your ideas for the setting/locale of your series?

The real world and the writers of Xena Warrior Princess. I adored how their world building didn’t really have rules. They seemed to take inspiration from costume closets, world history, and myths. Putting those together created a wonderfully cohesive atmosphere because they committed. Antyfas is a little like that. It’s an amalgamation of things I like, but it also sometimes shows how I would like our real world to be.

Who has been your biggest inspiration as a writer so far? How did their influence affect your experience as a writer?

That’s a tough question. John Updike has been an inspiration because of how prolific he was. When I don’t feel like writing, I’m reminded that John Updike didn’t become who he is by putting off the craft. Now, Mr. Updike is my inspiration for my work ethic, but creatively I would say J. K. Rowling and Terry Pratchett. Rowling created a very immersive world filled with relatable teen characters, and Pratchett’s incredible humor is phenomenal. I enjoy writing silly books that kids can relate to, so you can see how those two have played a role.

Stephen King makes the list too. (I told you this was a tough question). Carrie was honestly a life-changing read for me when I discovered it as a freshly minted teenager. And his short stories? Come on, those are amazing. His best novels, in my opinion, are Cujo and Carrie. They’re scary, sure, but they’re really tragic, human stories at heart. King’s influence is why I became a horror fan, and why readers will bump shoulders with some mild scares in a few of these books.

What are some of the high and low points on your path to developing your successful series?

Well, a certain nephew needed a birthday gift, and writing that story for him launched the whole thing.The high points were the entire writing process. Death at Dusbar College was the first manuscript I worked from beginning to end. The feeling was exhilarating. Lee Thompson, the illustrator, was such a joy to work with as well. Our collaboration meetings were so much fun. Watching him bring the world of Antyfas to life in real time was real magic.

Illustration by Lee Thompson

What do you know now as a writer that you wish you knew when you first started?

Plan the ending before you even start. If you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t get there. That, and schedule time to write. Without a plan, nothing is going to happen.

You write serial novels and also shorter fiction. Which form is your favorite to write?

Another tough question! I suppose I would have to say the serial novels, but writing shorter fiction and poetry is really what got me started as a writer. I saw that Death at Dusbar College was the first manuscript I finished, but Egg Shaped Ball is really my first cohesive written work. I say cohesive because I actually had a plan with that one. I wanted to write poetry about women’s rugby and implement different poetic forms throughout. Very few, if any, of the poems in that chapbook are free verse.

What are some of your practices as you get started writing a new book?

The first thing I do is pick a protagonist. Then I start to scrape out an idea of how a book will end. There’s a lot of dog walking involved in this process. My dogs probably love this time because we go on constant walks so I can mull over ideas and polish and polish them until they’re ready. Between walks, I’m writing down the ideas I get.

It’s not a strict outline process, but I hack away at one chapter at a time. If I get thought for a chapter down the road, I’ll jot it down and work my way back to it.

What’s one thing you would say to a novice writer as advice on the writing journey?

Start from the ending and get yourself a good editor! My brain is constantly moving faster than my fingers, but you also need someone to field test your work. Was that joke really as funny as you thought it was at 3 a.m.? Your editor will let you know.


This blog series celebrates writers, creativity, and the fantastic writing journey. If you’re a writer with a new book and you’d like to be featured in an author spotlight, reach out.

Thank you for visiting, today, and I hope you enjoyed meeting Laura DiNovis Berry!



A big moment in my author journey happened today: my 9th book, The Ridders, is officially released and available everywhere. It’s published by Indies United Publishing and is available in Kindle, paperback, and hardcover formats.

And I’m especially excited that the audiobook format is also now available from Amazon, iTunes, and Audible, because it’s narrated by noted crime author and my dear friend, Jonathan Brown.

What’s The Ridders about?

A young private investigator, 21 year old BJ Janoff, investigates a mysterious envelope and gets tangled up in a labyrinth of secrets, a shadow government, and a deadly game of global espionage.

The Ridders was the Winner of an American Fiction Award in the Crime Thriller category, and was a finalist in the Political Thriller category.

Curious about the Brotherhood of Ridders and their terrifying agenda?

You can buy the book on Amazon, or if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ll be with author Ana Manwaring tonight, November 30th, at Books, Inc. in Alameda, CA (1344 Park Street) at 7pm for a booksigning/reading event, and also Barnes and Noble in El Cerrito, CA on Saturday December 3rd at 3pm.

Books make convenient holiday gifts because they’re easy to wrap and easy to ship! 🙂

If you enjoy The Ridders and would like to let other potential readers know what you liked about it, you can leave a review here.

Happy Reading and Happy Holidays!


Publisher Spotlight: JEFF GEORGESON


This month’s Author Spotlight is a little different, focusing on Jeff Georgeson, Managing Editor of Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine. As a writer, I love this literary magazine for so many reasons. It’s free to readers, the writing is excellent, the artwork is eye-popping, and they even pay contributors, which is unheard of for a free magazine. In this interview, Jeff shares his experience with the beginnings of online publishing, reflections on the relationship between technology and fiction, his advice to novice writers, and his vision for the magazine.

Let’s dive in!

Interview with Publisher, Jeff Georgeson

Jeff, thanks so much for taking the time to join us today. How did you get involved in publishing?

I started this long journey the summer after eighth grade, when I went to work at my grandmother’s weekly newspaper in Brush, Colorado. I was thrown straight into proofreading copy on long strips of paper coming out of the typesetter, but I learned all the various stages of creating a newspaper. Those lessons, modified by the times, have ended up defining the course of my life. By the time I was at university I worked on the newspaper there, and then went into proofreading professionally, which I’ve been doing as my primary day job for the last 25-plus years. Most of it has been textbooks, political non-fiction, and celebrity biographies. I still do this today.

What were some challenges you encountered when founding Penumbric?

After being the editor-in-chief at my university newspaper in the mid-90s, I went on to edit the university literary magazine and then start two magazines of my own, just as print became a very expensive, very passe thing. The first one, Z-Geist, was supposed to be a print magazine but ended up in the nascent online world due to financial issues; I’d thought that being online was a huge let-down, but, really, it was the vanguard. By the time I started the second magazine, Penumbric, in 2002 I’d realized that the way to go was online, and I used my layout, design, and programming skills to create a lovely publication that, after a fifteen-year interruption, is still in publication today. Thriving, I’d say, not monetarily but definitely artistically, which is the important thing to me.

That interruption, however, was a result of me still being stuck in the idea that a) I needed some kind of print version of the magazine, and b) the magazine needed to make money (even though it can be really difficult to make money as a print magazine). And of course in the early 2000s there wasn’t really such a thing as print-on-demand; I had to put out thousands of dollars upfront to get boxes of the print anthologies, and then hope that with my limited marketing skills I could sell them. This was the embodiment of ROFL; I still had most of those boxes many years later. By the time of the pandemic, however, I was much more comfortable with—in fact, almost insistent on—the joy of it being a free online magazine, and PoD allows me to still put out a print antho without laying out a bunch of money upfront. And I can even pay a little something to contributors.

You also have a long technical history in computer programming.

I do! Almost as long as my history with publishing, starting with ancient languages like FORTRAN. Later, even while working as a proofreader, I created an artificial intelligence engine for videogames that creates non-player characters with human-like personalities—personalities which develop and change over time in the same way as people’s do, based on the Big Five personality theory set forth by Costa and McCrae (and several others). I also created an engine that mimics the way memories are stored in the human brain, but I’ve had some ethical doubts about AI development, so I’ve temporarily hit pause on those projects.  

Do you think technology can benefit from fiction?

I’ve always thought stories, especially speculative fiction, have a large capacity for exploring just these kinds of issues; hence the development of Penumbric. For instance, there are many ways to explore the problems inherent in the creation of “strong” AI systems, in the creation of artificial beings, without actually going ahead and creating one and then realizing this was a super-problematic idea. This kind of exploration has been going on at least since Shelley’s Frankenstein or Jewish tales of The Golem.

The reverse is also true (that fiction benefits from technology): Not only did word processors give us a much easier way to write and edit, but publication has become more democratized through self-publishing and the internet. Even traditional publishing has benefited—I remember doing all markup on paper that had to be shipped overnight back and forth across the country, at great expense; now this is just a pdf, sent instantly and for free. And the internet makes research much easier.

What is your vision for the magazine?

Penumbric is an edgy, not very traditional publication that gives writers and artists a place to really stretch, although of course that ends up getting filtered, I realize, by both the pieces we actually receive and my own preferences, so sometimes it’s more edgy-adjacent than it is experimental. But I hope the overall direction is towards the new. We don’t accept advertising or charge anything for the publication, again because I want to give these authors and artists as much exposure as possible and not be beholden to any corporate nonsense (or clutter the site with a thousand tiny ads, competing for the reader’s eye).

What type of writer is Penumbric open to?  

I focus on authors who are not traditionally given as much publication space, so we encourage authors of all different backgrounds, cultures, orientations to submit work to us. This is a publication of the world of humans, of human experience whatever that might be, of human explorations of science fiction, fantasy, and horror whatever the viewpoint. Only the multifaceted journeys of all the people of the earth will really move us forward, and we cannot be mired in racism, sexism, us-them-ism, etc. and expect to thrive.

What is your definition of speculative fiction?

For me, it’s a broad umbrella encompassing not only science fiction but also horror and fantasy, or pretty much anything if you can convince me that there are elements of those—so things that are experimental but include magic or technology, things that are mythic in some way, etc. all can work for me as spec fic. I love works like your own “Ruba’s Rift,” or Rin Kelly’s “The Breaking News of Charlie Que,” which are both experimental fiction that still fit into my idea of speculative fiction as well.

How often is the magazine published, and in which formats?

Penumbric is published online six times a year (in June, August, October, December, February, and April, going by our “publishing year”). Once a year we do a “Best of” print anthology that’s available as print-on-demand from Amazon. I keep trying to have that come out around the end of June, but there always seems to be something that delays it. This year’s antho will probably make it out before the end of July.

Typically how long is the wait time after a writer submits?

Usually it’s about three weeks between receiving a submission and acceptance/rejection. The time from acceptance to publication is around six to nine issues (a year to a year and a half) because of the number of submissions we receive and accept, although themes/special circumstances can change that.

What advice would you give novice writers who are just getting started on their writing journey?

Don’t give up! My own writing career was stunted by my inability to keep submitting works regardless of the stream of form-letter rejections (I also kept submitting only to the largest publications, which just exacerbated the problem).

Also … be super open to learning your craft, and to editing suggestions. I’m not saying to just change everything in your work every time someone doesn’t like something (you’ll get as many different opinions as people you ask for them, and it’ll become a Sisyphean task to get anything done), but definitely take criticism/suggestions and use them to hone your work in directions you might not have thought of before.

And of course you have to write in order to be a writer … so write things! Ideas like to build on ideas, or even just follow unrelated ideas, but they won’t flow if you don’t write them down, give them their moment in the sun, basically help them to grow and flourish. It’s like they know what you did with all your previous ideas, and if they don’t like it, they won’t show up. But if your ideas are happy, they’ll unlock the door to others, and those to others, and more and more and more …

Thank you, Jeff, for taking the time to share your wisdom and reflections and for all you do to support writers.

Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine’s submission guidelines can be found here.

If you enjoyed this interview, please leave a comment. And thank you for reading!



“It’s about magic – and witches and druids and wizards and fairies and all sorts of exciting, adventurous, and sometimes dangerous things.

Booklovers, hello again!

One of the features of this writing blog is to shine a light on the work of other authors – to support them on their journey and help build their following of avid readers. I am so excited to focus this month’s spotlight on a father/daughter writing team – Isabelle and Michael Nelson, who have just authored the first in a new fantasy fiction series called Annie Abbott and the Druid Stones (Indies United Publishing, 2022). While Isabelle studies at St. Ambrose University in Iowa, her father Mike Nelson is a retired physician living in the deep hills of Southwestern Wisconsin. And somehow, in their busy lives, they write books together.

At sixteen, Isabelle had already started her own business, which she operated throughout her high school career. She was selected as one of the top five high school seniors in Illinois and was a guest speaker at the 2019 Annual NEAIA state teaching conference. She was selected by her classmates to give the 2019 Graduation Address before departing for college. Currently Isabelle is a senior at St. Ambrose University, studying Secondary Education and English, with plans to teach English at the high school level. She has always loved to read, and recently found a passion for writing. She credits her love of the craft to the many educators that encouraged her and continuously helped her to see her potential. 

Mike’s storied career has taken him through a number of respected and impressive roles, most importantly giving his service as a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam era. He’s worked for the Atomic Energy Commission as one of the first people involved in the catastrophic shutdown of Three Mile Island Nuclear Station, Assistant Director and Professor at a respected midwestern university, he’s worked on six continents and has three amazing children, which he cites as his most important accomplishment. He became Board Certified in Orthopedics and also Industrial Ergonomics and earned a Ph.D. 1994. A seasoned author, Mike’s previous novels (published under Michael (Deeze) Nelson) detail his life from the projects of inner-city Chicago, the Vietnam War, and the struggle to rise above the emotional and psychological burdens of those experiences.

Published by Indies United Publishing, May, 2022

Who is Annie Abbott?

A junior high school student, Annie Abbott’s life is routine and normal, until a set of mysterious boxes appear hidden in her attic. Opening them, Annie and her father discover clues that pull them on an adventurous path, testing them to their limits. On this magical new path, Annie encounters the sisterhood of witches, who teach her to see the magic that naturally occurs all around her. But as her newfound powers begin to grow, her father holds the key to a deeply guarded secret. They must face these challenges together as this new magic begins to unfold.

You want to read it, share it with the young adults in your family. Maybe with S’mores. Around a campfire with everyone taking turns reading it out loud.

– Carol Williams, Asbury Park Press

Interview with the Authors

Where did the idea for Annie come from?

Isabelle – When I was eight or nine, my dad started taking me on an adventure every summer after school got out and we traveled all across the country. Last summer, we decided to chronicle those adventures together into a novel, and throughout the process it kind of morphed into a fantasy novel-type format.

Mike – I had finished my 3rd novel and it felt sufficiently cathartic. I thought I had told my story, I thought I was done, but my daughter would have none of that. She convinced me that I might go in a different direction. She said she would work with me and that we could have fun with it. So I let her drive the bus, so to speak, and off we went.  

What made you want to start writing fantasy fiction?

MikeAfter a significant health crisis that required me to retire, and although I had never considered writing, I decided to chronicle my life for my children in case someday they might be interested in it. I wanted them to understand that at one time at least, I had been an interesting person.

How do you and Izzy write together?

MikeThis one is a little harder. For the most part, Isabelle is very involved with college and work. How she juggles such a full schedule is a mystery to me – I am retired with hobbies. We discuss chapters with ideas and directions that we want to take the narrative, I get it down on paper, then I email it to her. Then a lively discussion ensues, and changes and enhancements. The chapter can take shape quickly after that or be rewritten multiple times, and sometimes trashed completely. 

What was the most challenging part of the writing? 

Isabelle – Trusting ourselves to let the story flow and not let what we thought other people might think inhibit that.

Mike – Izzy and I don’t always accept each other’s writing style.

How does Annie develop as a character throughout this first book?

Isabelle – Annie has to grow up very quickly and make a lot of decisions 12-year-olds usually don’t/shouldn’t have to. In this process she comes into her own and matures into a very adult version of herself, even if she still has many of her 12-year-old, self-doubt, awkwardness qualities.

Mike – Annie is a typical Junior High School student, thrown into the maelstrom of possible destruction of the concepts she has come to accept and the reality of evil trying to gain a foothold in the world around her. She finds that inside of her there’s a strength that she would never have imagined, and that’s when her life finally begins. Above all else, this book is about female empowerment.

Izzy, how do you juggle the academic demands of college with writing a book?

I have an incredible support system in my parents, teachers, and work family. They are all incredibly helpful and supportive of everything I do and help me as much as they can. One thing that truly does help me is to carve out time for myself to reset. Oftentimes that looks like writing or being in nature. I love school. I love teaching (which I’m going to school for). I love my job. I love writing and I also love reading. They say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life, and here we are. Living the dream. 

Mike, has your medical practice influenced any of your novels?

Yes, it’s the subject of my third novel, The Heretic. I practiced in a very obscure corner in the deep woods of northern Wisconsin and there were often times when I would get home after a long day with two dozen eggs, a pound of spätzle noodles, two loaves of bread, a hog liver and twelve dollars to show for my time and effort.

Are your previous published books in this same genre?

Published under Michael Deeze, my three previous novels are part of the Emmett Casey Chronicles series and collectively detail my life from the projects of inner-city Chicago, the Vietnam War, and my struggle to rise above the emotional and psychological burdens of those experiences. Published in 2020, they include Bless Me Father, For I Have Sinned, and The Heretic.

Can you envision any parallels between your former life as a doctor and as a fiction author?

​Any doctor who is willing to pay attention learns more from his patients than they will ever learn from him/her.  Human nature is incredibly interesting and entertaining.  When I write, I have a vast library of personalities and situational drama to draw from. It comes in very handy.

What kind of readers are you targeting with this book?

Isabelle – We decided to write to the YA (young adult) reader group for a couple of reasons. That’s the age I truly started to escape into books. I fell in love with the fantasy genre, and that’s also the age when my dad and I started taking our adventures together. Annie is this age for that reason too. 

Mike – This book is targeted at young adult readers, but all of the reviews I’ve seen so far are from adults who were captivated by it.

What’s next for you and Izzy? 

​The 2nd book, working title Annie Abbott and the Red Queen, is coming along nicely. Once again, Raina Hopkins has agreed to help us with the cover art, like she did for the first book. Isabelle is very busy with school and women’s rights advocacy, and we both plan to go fishing together, hopefully soon!


Thank you for visiting, today, and I hope you enjoyed meeting Mike and Isabelle Nelson!

New Review: HOT HOUSE


“Towles does a fantastic job of pacing the storyline so that the reader hangs on to every clue as it is discovered. I recommend this for fans of crime fiction writers Baldacci, Slaughter, and Gardner.”

4.5 out of 5 Stars

I was delighted to see a wonderful review of my forthcoming series thriller, Hot House, from the San Francisco Book Review this morning. Here’s the full text of the review:

Fans of crime thrillers will be excited to grab a copy of Lisa Towles newest book, Hot House. Hot House features the new partnership of Mari E. and Derek Abernathy. Mari E. is San Diego art gallery owner Marissa Ellwyn who moonlights as a private investigator. Mari figures that one day she may need backup so she hires rough-around-the-edges ex-police officer Derek Abernathy. Marissa’s team also includes her security detail/dogwalker/the guy who knows how to do or find anything or anyone, Duga. Although the book is not very long in length, there is so much that happens. There is the murder of a young college student named Sophie, the murder of a journalist who was researching the death of Sophie, the disappearance of another journalist, and the blackmailing of a judge who may somehow be connected to Sophie.

Appellate Court Judge Conrad McClaren hires Mari, who is a close family friend, to help him find out who is blackmailing him for a crime he supposedly committed. Mari starts finding notes in her mailbox that seem to be from the same blackmailer telling her to “STOP”. She hires Derek, and with the help of him and Duga, they start digging deeper into the case. First off, who is Sophie and why is she also called Sasha? How does she know the judge? Did he have a motive to kill her, and if not, who would?

This book is action-packed and the story keeps getting better as it goes on. Mari is smart, intuitive, and bold. Derek is the perfect partner for her and shows both his smart and rugged sides. It’s easy to see that he starts having a soft spot for Mari as they work the case. Duga is amazing and finds out the most secret information via his many contacts. His gentle way with Trevor, Mari’s Great Dane, is heartwarming.

Bits of information that were not found out in the original investigation of Sophie’s murder bring everything to light making local law enforcement seem quite incompetent. Towles does a fantastic job of pacing the storyline so that the reader hangs on to every clue as it is discovered. My mind was racing the whole time I was reading, wondering what would happen next. I really love this combination of characters and look forward to the next installment of the new E & A Thriller Series. I recommend this for fans of crime fiction writers Baldacci, Slaughter, and Gardner.

Reviewed by Kristi Elizabeth of San Francisco Book Review

About Hot House

Hot House is the first book in my new E&A Crime Thriller Series, following private investigators Mari E. and Derek Abernathy through a crime litany of blackmail, kidnapping, corporate espionage, and murder. Hot House will be published in paperback, hardcover, Kindle, and audiobook formats on June 15, 2022, and Book 2 in the E&A Series, Salt Island, will be published by Indies United in June of 2023.

And in between Hot House and Salt Island will be my political thriller, The Ridders, which will release in November of this year.

Stay up to date on my new releases by subscribing to my email newsletter, which I send out monthly.

Thank you for subscribing to this blog and for being a part of my writing community!

Author Spotlight: H. MAX HILLER

Author H. Max Hiller

H. Max Hiller’s first taste of New Orleans was as a cook on Bourbon Street at the age of seventeen. His resume now includes many of New Orleans’ iconic dining and music destinations. These jobs have provided a lifetime of characters and anecdotes to add depth to his Detective Cooter ‘Cadillac’ Holland series. He now divides his passions between writing at his home overlooking the Mississippi River and as a training chef aboard a boat traveling America’s inland waterways and is always living by the motto “be a New Orleanian wherever you are.”

What is the setting for your latest book?

Being a mystery, especially one in this series, means the story is unlikely to end where it begins. The Cadillac Holland series is set in post-Katrina New Orleans, with the initial novella timed to barely a year after the storm and the following installments beginning at roughly the five-year point.

What’s the book about?

Parish The Thought is Book 5 in the Cadillac Holland series. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but this is Louisiana, where everything gets a splash of hot sauce. Detective Cadillac Holland is called upon to locate Senator Chester Donovan’s missing daughter-in-law. A pool of blood in the trunk of her Mercedes exposes unexplained deaths in a town once described as being a place “where there are more alligators than people, and the alligators are friendlier.” The solution to this mystery lies buried in the town’s sordid history, a story that changes with each telling. Detective Holland must find what is driving an innovative and vengeful killer before he becomes their next victim.

Hurricane Katrina offered the first opportunity to literally rebuild a major American city since the destruction of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. Both cities had an opportunity to totally reimagine themselves, and both cities failed to do so because of politics and narrow interests. The Cadillac Holland Mysteries follows the framework of the BBC series Foyle’s War, with each case being complicated by some issue or multiple issues related to the city’s recovery. Parish The Thought is an exception to this, being intent upon making a serious subject a topic of discussion. This novel is meant to expose the largely ignored issue of underage marriages, which are an overlooked aspect of sex trafficking, and the potential impact and politics driving it. All of the statistics used in the story are researched and verified, and ugly.

Tell us about your connection to New Orleans.

My love for New Orleans began at seventeen when my father announced I needed to have a summer job. I ran away from home to work as a porter/cook on Bourbon Street.

Bourbon Street, New Orleans

My father, bless his heart, let me stay for the summer and sent a postcard (which I lost in Katrina) that read ‘This isn’t what we had in mind.’ I returned as an adult and worked as a cook, server, and bartender at a number of French Quarter places and was part of the opening team for the House of Blues, managed a music club for Levon Helm, and was the lone salaried manager for a landmark late-night dive called St. Charles Tavern for a decade before the owner sold out and my wife and I unwisely chose to move back to Missouri to be close to her eighty-two-year-old mother. Her mom is now ninety-two and we can no longer afford to return to New Orleans. The move led me to my present job, cooking on a towboat and training other cooks, which has afforded me the time to write that my previous jobs never allowed.

House of Blues, New Orleans

What are the other books in your series?   

Can’t Stop the Funk (2020) was an indictment of the gentrification that has poisoned the city, and multiple others, for those who have called it home the longest and mean the most to its identity.

Blue Garou (2015) spoke to the way the federal law enforcement agencies rolled over the local police force. Blowback (2017) and Blue Garou also dealt with the missteps outsiders made in trying to help the city recover.

Ghosts and Shadows (2020) was based on genuine misdeeds by the DEA and DOJ in combating the drug war, and how deadly those actions could have been had they not been exposed.

Where did you learn to write?

My grandmother was the local librarian when I was growing up and reading was always an expectation, to the point that Bartlett’s Quotations was my ‘bathroom book’ as a kid. My parents subscribed to New Yorker Magazine and being published there was a long ambition, and I began writing really bad fiction as a teenager. My stepmother introduced me to mysteries, and it was the TV mystery “Longstreet” that inspired me to choose New Orleans for my early adventures.

Who inspired you as a writer?

I have not had mentors, but (as my wife says) I have sort of zeliged my way through life. I spent the year after high school (1975) hitch-hiking around the country and doing odd jobs for cash. At one point I worked at a book fair in Los Angeles and was invited to join the organizers at a lunch table that included Will and Ariel Durant, Ray Bradbury, and Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut gave me the single best piece of writing advice ever: Never refuse an invitation.

How do you fit writing and reading into your life?

I have read little besides mysteries for years, so it was natural that this was the genre I chose when I finally sat down to write the first book. I use the free time between lunch and starting to cook dinner, roughly three hours a day, to write while on the boat and then edit and write when I can when home.

I work a schedule that puts me on the water for twenty-eight days at a time (as a chef) and then have the same amount of time at home with no work responsibilities. Blue Garou and Can’t Stop the Funk took less than a year apiece to write and publish, and the last three books have averaged just over a year. I wrote almost nothing in 2020-2021 as my attention was focused on Donald Trump single-handedly exploding the limits of ‘reality.’ I don’t think one could create a character that some readers would not believe in this present environment.

How did you develop the Cadillac Holland character?

A writing exercise a friend and I developed in high school was to ride public transportation and to make up character backgrounds on random people riding the train or bus. Years later, I was living in New Orleans and my daughter was living in Kansas City, so I had to drive back and forth multiple times a year for visits and her summer stay with me and I began imagining characters based on the names on interstate exit signs. Cooter and Holland are the towns at Exit 4 on Interstate 55 in the bootheel of Missouri.

I loved the name and came up with dozens of story ideas to use it before Hurricane Katrina also provided the perfect setting and genre for the sort of stories I wanted to tell. His derogatory nickname is explained in the books, but it came from an actual incident in the wake of the storm. The local police (NOPD) destroyed their patrol cars by driving them in the brackish floodwaters that covered eighty percent of the city. Lake Pontchartrain is a tidal basin so the water that came through the ruptured floodwalls had a high salinity that shorted the electronics in the cars. A decision was made to press the vehicles at the city’s only surviving car dealership into service. This was Sewell Cadillac, and it is one of their purloined sedans that the detective is presented when he becomes a one-man police force among the city’s detectives. The dealership closed a couple of years after the storm, but one of their last billboards read “New Orleans’ Finest Drive Cadillacs.” It is the best inside joke ever!

How has Cooter transformed through the development of your series?

His back story is that he was packed off to military school by his father after one too many nights underage in the French Quarter. This morphed into ROTC while getting his economics degree at LSU in Baton Rouge, and then into a military career beginning just before the First Iraq War. He progressed through Ranger training and Green Berets to the point he was an intelligence specialist in Delta Force during the conflict in Afghanistan. He blows out one knee and is mustered out but begins working for the intelligence agencies in Iraq. The things he has seen and done discourage him from visiting his family for well over a decade, so he is emotionally distanced from his hometown by the time Katrina destroys it.

Ghosts and Shadows‘ plot involves the private defense contractor he worked with in Iraq bringing his own blueprint to New Orleans to spark a gang war during Mardi Gras at the behest of a crooked Homeland Security official. What we get in this character arc is his coming to terms with being a civilian, rejoining his fractured family, and rediscovering his love for his hometown and decision to use his special set of skills to defend his family, friends, and city from those who would do them harm. He begins to thrive in the narrow distance between the law and justice, which is the ongoing complication in his romance with an assistant state attorney.

Buy Max Hiller’s Parish The Thought on Amazon.


Author Spotlight: JAKE CAVANAH


Jake Cavanah began telling stories before he even knew how to write. He’d iterate his stories to his father, who wrote them for him until he learned himself. Being an editor for his high school’s newspaper and majoring in journalism kept Jake writing, but it wasn’t until after college that he realized his passion: creating stories based on his own imagination. He published his first novel The Abandoned in September 2021 and is the author of the short story series Impoverished Wealth. The Abandoned’s sequel is in the works, he is adding to the Impoverished Wealth series, and, just like every other writer, thinks about new story ideas every day. Jake lives in Portland, Oregon with his girlfriend Scout and two dogs Murphy and Sophie.

Author Interview

Jake, thank you for joining me here for this month’s Spotlight. Tell us about your book The Abandoned.

Once an uninhabited island off the Californian coast, the government used Morple to quarantine minorities during the sonoravirus pandemic from 2030 to 2045. At its conclusion, Morple became the country’s fifty-first state. This is where sisters Robin Karros’ and Ariana Jackson’s tragic journey began. As two of the first children officials checked into and raised in a state-run program responsible for inflicting severe abuse on Morple’s youth, they shared hardships that strengthened their bond. After a social revolution put an end to the program and freed them, Robin and Ariana went their separate ways. Now in 2089, as each has achieved prosperity, their paths intersect after spending the latter portion of their lives apart. Even though it goes against protocol, Ariana reestablishes a relationship with her older sister and integrates with her family. In doing so, she risks her marriage and her husband’s business interests, but it causes her to realize she must make up for her life’s biggest mistake. It soon becomes apparent the fate of Robin, Ariana, and others has been more intertwined than they ever could have imagined.

Is The Abandoned part of a series or a standalone novel?

The Abandoned was originally going to be a standalone novel, but near the end of the project, I decided to write a novella as the sequel. The first half of the first draft is nearly done and it will be a two-part novella.

I love the premise of this book – what gave you the idea to write a futuristic dystopian?

When I began writing The Abandoned, the premise was how America’s internment camps during World War II resulted in our fictitious fifty-first state. But after speaking to my favorite professor and former New York Times journalist/best-selling author, he sparked the idea to base it in the future. That way, I had more freedom to create its world, which has a lot to do with our present.

You note that people-watching is one of the ways you get ideas for your fiction. Were the characters of Robin and Ariana inspired by real people you know? 

Absolutely! I’m not going to reveal who those people are, but yes a lot of their strengths, weaknesses, and even circumstances (just not as severe) are inspired by people I know.

Having worked in corporate, do you think corporate day jobs fueled or stifled your creativity and impetus to write?

Fueled because I knew I couldn’t do that for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the energy to write as much as I would’ve liked back then, but I thought about it constantly and knew I’d eventually make it happen.

What does your writing practice look like? Are you consistent and regimented about writing every day?

Prior to my new job, I would wake up at 5:45 a.m. and write Monday through Friday. To get done what I needed to, I had to make time for it elsewhere, too, but those morning sessions were always the most productive. Right now, I’m writing every weekend, and I’m doing my best to wake up at 5:15 a.m. and write. But I can’t lie, I’m finding out those thirty minutes of extra sleep were crucial!

The Abandoned seems like a multi-layered, complex plot. How much time did you spend researching and outlining this book?

Calling it “researching” and “outlining” is too kind – it felt more like throwing ideas at a wall and seeing what stuck. I wrote countless chapters about whatever was on my mind before deciding what I was actually going to include in the book. The bulk of writing The Abandoned occurred in 2020 when, as we all know, a lot was going on. The news and political climate were so in my face that it was more feasible to get creative. While being all over the place is sort of my style when it comes to narrowing down my ideas, I’ve since identified methods that will make this process more manageable for future projects.

What are the top 3 books you’ve read this year?

John Grisham’s The Brethren, Jeff Pearlman’s Three-Ring Circus, and Abigail Dean’s Girl A.

Who inspired you as a writer more than anyone else in your life? 

It’s hard to narrow down to a single person, but I’ll go with author Don Winslow. His stories are absolutely incredible, but hearing his passion when he talks about his work is what really moves me. It took him a while to make it big, and when asked about what kept him motivated, he said something like, “I’ll just write another book.” I think about that often, and it’s a mantra I now live by.

What’s coming up next for you?

At the start of 2022, I’ll be joining Indies United Publishing House, which is super exciting because I’ll connect with so many other talented authors, add more stellar books to my collection, and have another place to share my work. Both The Abandoned sequel and a fourth Impoverished Wealth short story are my current WIPs. The latter will be part of an anthology that I’ll publish with IUPH, and I hope to do the same with the former. My goal is to get both of those done so I can start my second novel, which I haven’t stopped thinking about since I came up with the idea.

Buy The Abandoned

You can buy Jake’s books here:

Amazon author profile

Connect with Jake


Cover of Millennial Girl by Scott Meehan

Millennial Girl

Millennial Girl is the third in a three-book series by US military veteran, author, and teacher Scott Meehan, forthcoming by Indies United Publishing House on January 5, 2022. In this book, protagonist Asha Hawkins, the first female Green Beret soldier, embarks on a mission to stop the diabolical human trafficking network involved in robotic replication. When the daughters of Washington’s elite are targeted, Asha is summoned by the President himself to select a special team to rescue the young girls and bring the cartel to its knees. More than confronting an enemy of mere human forces, the cartel’s arsenal includes humanoid forces and world officials in high places—including Asha’s own American government.

Scott Meehan brings a wealth of personal and professional experience to his writing career. He’s a retired military veteran, author, and middle school teacher. He writes both fiction and non-fiction novels and short fiction based on his 25 years of military experience and a world-traveling tour of more than 20 different countries. His passion is fueled by an understanding of the nuances associated with cross-cultural and diverse storytelling. He considers himself a life-learner and teacher with ongoing professional development to build on his academic foundations in education, information management, business, and the military.

Learn more about Scott Meehan below and how he draws on a storied military career and world travels to bring his fiction to life.

Author Interview

Were you always a writer, or did writing come to you later in your life?  Since high school, I have always enjoyed writing stories, but it was only a “now-and-then” hobby. I began writing for publishing two years after retiring from the Army, in 2007.

Wondering about the interplay between your extensive military career and teaching, how is writing related to these parts of your life? Does one fuel the other? My experiences growing up traveling through South America and the military have been the main interplaying that inspires my writing. However, since I have been teaching middle school for the past two years, I have plans for several middle-school-aged stories coming up. One is already in the works, a 1970s Cold War mystery set in one of the places I lived and went to school – Costa Rica. The main characters are in 8th and 9th grade.

I love the idea of the first female Green Beret. Where did you get the idea for this story, and was Asha modeled after a real person? I’ve always thought that a female soldier could be a Green Beret. My belief in this was solidified by some of the female soldiers I encountered in Iraq. My original storyline for the first female Green Beret was written in 2014. In the summer of 2020, the first actual female Green Beret graduated from all of the Special Forces (Green Beret) training phases.

I imagine you’re a very disciplined person, based on your long military career. Are you a highly disciplined writer or do you write whenever the mood strikes? As much as I would like to be more disciplined as a writer, my first priority is being a middle school teacher at the moment. I give this 110% and am very disciplined. Hopefully, I will find more time to write more, but for the moment, I have been squeezing in my writing whenever I can find time. This is a challenge, because I also have six grandchildren, who I love dearly and love spending time with.

What is the primary genre you read, and what books have influenced your writing the most? I mostly read military, though I also enjoy reading mysteries and thrillers. I turn more towards YA and middle school stories to better understand their mindset, though I have a pretty good feel for it now from my own experiences as a teenager, my own kids, a granddaughter, and those I teach. My favorite writing involves the military family that features a series with an Afghan girl, a twelve-year-old girl, and the 12-year old coming of age, as the first female Green Beret.

The books with the most influence include: the Holy Bible, Green Beret (Robin Moore), Killer Angels (Michael Shaara), and the old thrillers by Alistair MacLain, Jack Higgins, Ken Follet, etc.

What one piece of advice would you share for novice writers just getting started on their writing journey?  If you love writing, never allow another to discourage you. Never give up. Write because you love to write!

Stay Connected

Learn more about Scott’s forthcoming books here: and on his author website. You can also follow him on social media:

Buy books by Scott Meehan:

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to leave a question or comment below.

Happy Holidays!