Remember

I was sleeping. My alarm went off at 8:00 a.m., which was intended to give me enough time to shower and eat before starting work for the day. I looked down at my cell phone and saw that I had received a text message while I slept. It was from my girlfriend at the time, and it read: “Did you turn on the news? We can’t stop crying here at work.” My wits hadn’t even become fully operational yet, but I turned on the television to see what had happened. I don’t remember the channel, but it didn’t matter. The story was universal across them all.

At the time of my awakening, the first tower had already fallen, but the second was still clinging on. I remember the news anchor trying his best to report the news, but his voice was wavering. He said that the entire newsroom was praying, but that those on the scene were anticipating the fall of the second tower at any time. All of these thoughts were expressed off-camera, as footage of the second plane striking the tower was shown on an endless repeat from multiple angles.

I sat on the edge of my bed, staring at the screen in disbelief. I called my boss to see if our business would still be operating as usual, to which I was unfortunately informed “yes.” I couldn’t believe our company was making us report to work with such travesty weighing heavily on our minds. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to focus, but still, I did as I was instructed. Every customer that crossed the threshold came in with updates about what was happening in New York, the details of each story getting more and more difficult to stomach.

I remember the media trying to find a positive message amidst the horror of what had happened. They said that the events would bring us closer as a nation and that we could all put aside our politics to band together and show the terrorists that America would not be defeated. It was a beautiful sentiment that was over all too soon. It didn’t take long for us, as Americans, to put the past behind us and resume our petty daily squabbles.

Ten years later, I woke up at 8:45 a.m. I sat up in bed and checked my email and Twitter feed to see what was going on around the world. I saw many messages from friends and followers expressing their memories about that fateful day, each tagging their thoughts with #neverforget. Though sad, there was a comfort in knowing that we are all still linked at our core, despite our everyday differences, and it brought a smile to my face. If something good could have come from such a horrible day, I would gladly embrace the unity of my fellow brothers and sisters.

Regrettably, the feeling was fleeting, because mixed in with all the positive messages of hope were messages of people blaming one party line or the other for the world we live in today. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it really disappointed me to see so many people who just don’t get it. People that would use something as sacred as 9/11 as a platform to preach their party lines as though “their side” was suffering more than anyone else.

It breaks my heart to know that there are people who feel that way. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were targeted at ALL Americans, not just some. We were all hurt that day, regardless of which political affiliation we had. I worry sometimes that nothing was really learned that day in 2001. What happened to our unity and solidarity as a country? When did we get right back to picking sides and hating each other because of our differences? If you ask me, there could be nothing less American than that. Or maybe that’s why it upsets me so much. Perhaps that has become what it means to be American.

We may have survived the events of 9/11 as a country, but we’re not out of the woods by any means. We’re at the center of a constant threat every day. Our survival rests solely on the ability to function as one cohesive unit. So, let us remember and honor the memories of those that were lost at ground zero, and refuse to disrespect them by fighting amongst ourselves.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it – George Santayana

Book Review: The Gifted Ones by Lisa Vaughn

They say that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, but more often than not, the truth is just more painful than fiction. This is the premise behind The Gifted Ones, a memoir written by author Lisa Vaughn, that chronicles a very difficult time of her life: adolescence.

You might be thinking, weren’t those awkward teenage years difficult for everyone? I’d wager that we all had our fair share of unique challenges, but I’d also wager that only a microscopic percentage of people will have ever dealt with the growing pains felt by Ms. Vaughn. Coming of age during the late ‘70s in Terra Haute, Indiana would’ve been challenging enough, but it was amplified by the iron-fisted rule of ultra-conservative, God-fearing parents. Lisa had a secret: she had fallen in love with another girl.

In The Gifted Ones, Ms. Vaughn tells her story openly with a commendable level of bravery. Being that this memoir is an actual recounting of true events from her life, I found myself experiencing the feelings that she likely had at the time. I laughed at the sarcastic barbs she exchanged with her mother. I felt the gentle tugs at my heart strings as she delicately expressed her feelings of love toward Selina. I got mad at her for making the dumb mistakes of a capricious youth. I cried from the gut-wrenching pain of seeing a love so pure and beautiful crumble away until it was lost. In particular though, I found my bottom lip begin to quiver as I read through the epilogue, but it wasn’t until after I turned the last page and stared down at a real-life photo of Lisa and Selina together as teenagers that the floodgates finally opened.

Not everyone will be able to relate to the tale of Ms. Vaughn, but it’s the moral of the story that you’d be a fool to miss. This book isn’t about same sex relationships, it just happens to include the story of one. At its core, this book is about love, pure and simple. A love that sees no color, race, or gender. It’s a book that is both romantic and cautionary. To love and to lose. No matter whom you have ever loved, you will be able to relate to this story on a personal level. I learned something about myself, which was an unexpected, yet much needed, side effect.

Readers will appreciate that Ms. Vaughn has written this book in a unique voice. It’s not the structurally sound format of a traditional book. Instead, it is written as though she is sitting right next to you, reading into your ear. It’s a charm that a cookie-cutter memoir lacks, and The Gifted Ones is anything but cookie-cutter.


Q & A with The Gifted Ones author, Lisa Vaughn



[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: The events in your book took place while you were a young woman coming of age. What made it the right time to tell your story now?

[LISA VAUGHN]: Well, I actually started dealing with all that ‘baggage’ shortly after my mother passed away in 2005. I discovered I held a lot of pent up anger still and needed to work through it in order to forgive, let go, and move on. Through that process I also discovered ‘others’ along my journey that needed and deserved the same attention, including Selina. But it wasn’t until one fateful afternoon when, for whatever reason, I decided to sit down with a friend of mine and purge the story I had held inside my soul for 30+ years. After I was finished revealing my naked soul, she looked at me with tears running down her face telling me I MUST write a book, as the world needs to hear this story. And that’s when I knew the purpose of my entire journey…to share my story and emphasis the importance of acceptance.

[DKH]: Your story is extremely personal and you reveal many sensitive moments from your past. Was it difficult for you to speak so openly about your life?

[LV]: Yes and No. Once I committed to writing about my life, I knew I had to be genuine, which meant being real, raw, and honest. I couldn’t see sugar-coating any aspect of it, as that would change the entire feel and outcome of my story, thus changing my whole purpose of writing it in the first place. Once I gave myself permission to let it all out, my fingers took control and they typed as I purged. The hardest part was letting my husband read it for the first time! And then of course, when I unleashed it onto the world. What I thought would be the most joyous moment in my life was the most frightening, as I was once again setting myself up for rejection and not being accepted…and THAT scared the hell out of me!

[DKH]: Was it hard for you to relive this story while writing your memoir? Was there a particular part of the story in particular that you struggled to tell?

[LV]: Although very therapeutic and healing, yes, it was extremely emotional – a necessary evil of any healing process. The hardest parts to write were when my parents ‘found’ my diary and the initial episodes following that, and of course, when Selina left me. Both those scenes touched me at my core, even 30 years later. I still get choked up a bit when I read them, but also feel they were the most powerful chapters in the book.

[DKH]: What would you say was your primary goal with this book?

[LV]: My sole intent and purpose for sharing my naked soul with the world is wrapped around one simple word: ACCEPTANCE. If I can change one person’s outlook, either for themselves, their children, or even society as a whole, then I’ve done my job. To realize that love comes in all shapes and sizes, and if it is a healthy love, how can that ever be wrong? I thought for sure by the year 2011 this wouldn’t be an issue, but sadly it still is for some. Hopefully after being a voyeur into my life, even if you don’t agree, perhaps compassion and empathy will overtake the fear or misunderstanding and replace it with acceptance, or at the very least, tolerance.

[DKH]: You have said that publishing the book reconnected you with some of the people from your past. What is Selina like today?

[LV]: I knew as the words were flying onto the pages, that if I decided to publish I would have to locate at least Selina…which I ultimately did. And that itself made this project more than worth it. Even if I failed to sell one copy, my reconnection with my BFF, and the healing that came with it, was well worth my efforts. Today we keep in touch on a regular basis and have visited one another numerous times. She is the same person I knew 30+ years ago, her core has not changed a bit, which made it easy to fall right back into our friendship and make it seem as though we never lost precious time in-between. She is, and always will be, my soul-sister, and I can’t imagine my life without her in it now. I am truly blessed to be loved on so many levels now.

[DKH]: Has anyone that was featured in the book ever read it? What kind of feedback have you received from them?

[LV]: My husband, sister, Selina, Jon and Sis have all read it and have given me nothing but support, encouragement, and glowing reviews. Each was touched in their own ways, as each played a very different role in my life. I will have to admit, I was overwhelmingly nervous when I presented this little ‘firecracker’ to each of them, but pleasantly surprised at the amount of love I received back. I think when you open your raw soul to people and are completely genuine with them, they feel and respect that. I mean, how can you fault someone for complete honesty and revealing how they feel (felt)? You just have to respect that on some level, even if you don’t totally agree. Live and Let Live.

[DKH]: In the book, you posit that Selina knew you weren’t gay even before you did. Do you think that fact was more important to her than it was to you?

[LV]: Yes. In fact I know it was. She was able to foresee future problems for us in regards to family and acceptance, and ultimately me accepting my choice down the road, as I was already showing signs of drifting to the ‘other side’- all warning signs for her I’m sure. As for me, I still say I have the capacity to love based on WHO they are, not WHAT they are, so I don’t think it’s an issue with me, especially now that I’ve lived a full life with love on both sides – I know it can be done…and it can be awesome either way! Love is love to me.

[DKH]: Now that you’ve completed your memoir, what will you do next? Do you want to keep writing?

[LV]: I’ve been asked this many times, and my stock answer is I never say never! As an artist, I live to express myself in my work, whatever medium that may be, so if I feel I have something worthwhile to say, you know I will! At this point I have nothing to lose and everything to gain…so who knows? That chapter has yet to be written, as I said. Since we’ve reconnected, maybe I can get to work on The Gifted Ones, Part II, Senior Edition!


Buy The Gifted Ones on: Kindle

For more information, please visit Lisa Vaughn’s website.

Creating The Jumper: From Author to Ghost Hunter

I have had an interest in the paranormal since I was a child. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I always thought it was fun to have the living daylights scared out of me. Oh, who am I kidding? I still love it! However, my love of the things that go bump in the night didn’t originate from books or even movies. I had my own brushes with the unexplained that have stuck with me throughout my entire life. Plug your ears, skeptics, you may not want to hear this.

Yes, I am a believer in the paranormal. Not the Hollywood version designed to mimic the “haunted house” experience, but rather I hold an acceptance that there are some things we simply cannot explain. Skeptics are rolling their eyes right now, but people who have had their own experiences know what I’m talking about. It’s okay to be skeptical. I am too. It’s healthy. Outright cynicism, on the other hand, is just plain boring.

I remember one time specifically from my childhood where a small group of us were camped out in the basement of my friend’s house. We were all alone, playing board games, when we heard a thud come from the hallway just outside the door, followed by the sound of high heels clicking against the tiled floor walking away from us. I imagine my face turned quite pale with fear. I called out the name of my friend’s mother, but there was no response. My friend assured me that she was not home, but I wasn’t satisfied with that. Like a scene straight out of a Don Knotts and Tim Conway film, the three of us lined up and walked through the house together. Sure enough, the house was empty. I’ll never forget that day, or the excitement that came along with it.

When I set out to write The Jumper, I wanted to write about that experience. To explore that feeling of being converted from a non-believer into a believer within the blink of an eye. In my story, R.C. Dawson experiences that after encountering the spirit of a teenage boy that haunts the community center where he works. Not only does R.C. change his perspective on the paranormal, but it also enables him to think differently about his path in life in general.

Naturally, to write a ghost story, I did a lot of research in the paranormal field, which has grown leaps and bounds since my childhood in the ‘80s. In The Jumper, R.C. conducts an amateur investigation to try and make contact with the restless spirit, and I wanted to make that as authentic as possible. I have watched many programs about the practice of “ghost hunting,” but knowing that the ratings are more important to a network than the authenticity, I found myself very skeptical. With all due respect to Jason and Grant from Ghost Hunters, some of their evidence in recent seasons had left me concerned about the validity of their findings. That, and their addition of a “longtime friend” to the cast that just happened to be an attractive, starving B-movie actress with a passion for ghost hunting… and a new boob job.

I knew that I’d never be able to work past my skepticism until I could see how a paranormal investigation was conducted first hand. When I saw that Zak Bagans and Aaron Goodwin of Ghost Adventures fame were hosting an event in my neck of the woods, I immediately packed my bags. The event included the opportunity to do a private “ghost hunt” with Zak and Aaron, which I participated in.

The hunt consisted of a two hour block of time in a reportedly haunted building in the marketplace of downtown Seattle. Zak and Aaron were gracious hosts, taking the time to walk us through the process, demonstrate how to operate the equipment, and engage in conversation about their personal experiences from a previous visit to the location. With so few people around, I knew they would be unable to pull any funny business, so I proceeded into the investigation with an open mind.

After one of several EVP sessions (the practice of capturing disembodied voices on audio), our recording was taken to an on-site computer, and we watched as the digital file was monitored on screen by audio technician, Billy Tolley. Much to our surprise, Billy found something. It was a brief patch of audio containing a faint whisper that clearly said “don’t believe ‘em.” Just as you might be doing right now, I too appreciated the irony. However, I watched the process from beginning to end and could verify that there had been no tampering. We’d caught a bona fide EVP.

Over the course of the investigation there would be more snippets of audio that were captured, and I have to say to anyone that doubts the sincerity of Zak and Aaron, they are the real deal. They are passionate about what they do, and they are good at it. Observing Zak in action was inspiring, because that’s not the part you get to see on television. You get to see him cuss, act like a goofball, and occasionally overreact to basic bangs and pops, but in reality, he’s calm, collect, and professional. I’m not even remotely joking. It was an honor to be trained by him.

Coming away from the Seattle experience, I felt better, but still wasn’t sold entirely on the practice. My skepticism just wouldn’t allow me to get over feeling like there was a trick to it all. When I returned home, I soon participated in several investigations with a local group and was given the opportunity to put my new skills to action. I thought that if I personally caught evidence of the paranormal without “a net,” then and only then would I believe it.

After six months, I came away with much that I could not explain. I’ll never forget the feeling of finding that first EVP. The recorder had been set up in an empty room, and at just over three hours in, the clear sound of a female whispering “David” came through in the audio. It still gives me goose bumps!

Feeling satisfied that I now had enough experience to work off of, I wrote The Jumper. The practice of doing a real investigation is actually quite boring, as long hours go by without a single hint of activity. That wouldn’t translate into a very interesting read, so I created the ghost story of Brandon Fletcher and then embellished the heck out of it! I now understand why Hollywood-style ghost stories are told the way they are. Be that as it may, there is still room to tweak the formula and create something that can be both authentic and fun. That was my goal in writing The Jumper, and I hope that you’ll enjoy it!

The Book Giveaway Celebration

Wow! 1,000 followers on Twitter! When I first started my account back in November of last year, I never imagined that this day would come. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank each and every one of you that gifts me a few precious moments of your day to follow my social network misadventures! I know not every tweet is a winner, but you stick with me, and I love you for it! 🙂

As a small token of my appreciation, I would like to celebrate this milestone by giving away some copies of my debut novel, Noble. Noble was recently described as “criminally underpriced” by a very kind reader who paid the .99 cent asking price for an eBook version, but I’m going to up the ante and give away REAL TRADE PAPERBACK COPIES!!

And what do you have to do to win one of these copies? Let’s make it fun, shall we? All you have to do to be eligible is post a comment in answer to the question below between now and Friday, August 12th, 2011. That’s it. I will select three winners based on the creativity of the answer, so put on your thinking cap and have some fun with it! It can be serious, it can be funny, it can be sad—it’s your choice! Just answer the question however you see fit. Be sure to include your email address so that I can contact you if you win. Good luck! I anxiously await your fantastic responses!


QUESTION: Detective Miller Brinkman, the main character in the Noble series, has been investigating the case of a missing teenage girl. As the trail grows cold, he receives an anonymous letter containing information to suggest that its author was involved. What does it say?

Book Review: Whitechapel-The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes by Bernard J. Schaffer (@ApiarySociety)

Though I realize it will be considered blasphemous to say so, I actually have never read a Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Growing up, my dad would watch the movies—all 18 times a week HBO would play them—and I found myself interested in the stories. However, it wasn’t until the 1985 Young Sherlock Holmes (critically panned, but a classic to me) that I became absolutely enthralled with the characters. If that admission loses my credibility for this review, then so be it, but I wouldn’t hold that against this book and deprive yourself of a great read.

When I first talked about Whitechapel with author Bernard J. Schaffer a couple of months ago, he said that his goal was to show readers a version of Sherlock Holmes that they’d never seen before. Mission accomplished. Interestingly, the story is told through the perspective of Dr. John Watson rather than the iconic super sleuth. By doing so, we’re also given a thorough view into the complicated life of Holmes’s most loyal and trusted sidekick. When Watson interacts with Holmes, Sherlock is a beaten and broken man who has become complacent in the ways of deduction, and is losing the struggle with his drug habit. He no longer sees the challenge in detective work, and he has grown belligerent towards his dearest friend. This leads Watson to seek his day in the sun and attempt to catch The Ripper himself, while the rest of London cries for their hero to rise again.

Mr. Schaffer’s greatest feat with this book is in his extraordinary character development. Perhaps none more so than of notorious butcher, Jack the Ripper. Being that the real Ripper was never identified, Schaffer opted to work from a blank canvas and create him from scratch rather than assign blame to one of the actual documented suspects. Going down that path required a great deal of homework, including speaking with an FBI analyst, and the story is richer because of it. Quite literally, the devil is in the details. As gruesome as the real Whitechapel murders were, Schaffer has recreated them in horrific fashion. In other words, if you’re a squeamish reader, you may want to skip this one.

Because I am not an expert on the Sherlock Holmes universe, I was able to sink my teeth into this meaty story and savor it for what it is—a fantastic piece of quality writing and storytelling. Diehard fans of Doyle’s work may not regard it so fondly, however, but I don’t get the feeling that pleasing them was the author’s intent. It is obvious that Schaffer is knowledgeable regarding the work of Doyle, and that he is a fan. Though he plays with borrowed characters using the rules of his own sandbox, they are all handled delicately and with the utmost respect.

As much as I enjoyed this book, it does not go entirely without complaint. The dream match-up of Holmes versus The Ripper is the star attraction of this story, but their eventual encounter is all too brief. It’s like anticipating Freddy versus Jason after a thorough build-up, only to have their final showdown reserved for the last 60 seconds of film. And while that aspect is a bit of a letdown, I still came away from this book completely satisfied. Why? Because the writing is stupendous. Let me say that again, STUPENDOUS. Every character, from the most prominent to the lowest bit player, is deeper than an ocean. There are scenes in this book that I will never forget, including an ending that brought tears to my eyes.

Schaffer is as much a teacher as he is an entertainer. His books are both treasure and textbook. Any aspiring writer should become familiar with his work and soak it all in. He’s got me as a fan for life. Treat yourself, buy this book.


Q & A with Whitechapel author, Bernard J. Schaffer



[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: With a few weeks separated from the release of your book, how are you feeling about the reaction its receiving?

[BERNARD J. SCHAFFER]: Incredibly grateful. There are already so many Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper products available to people that to have them even notice mine is a tremendous honor.

[DKH]: Setting out to write a story for a character as well-known and beloved as Sherlock Holmes must have been an indescribable challenge. How influential was Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work on you as a writer—Sherlock Holmes or otherwise?

[BJS]: My first introduction to the character was through film. When I was a kid, Saturday’s were dedicated to cartoons in the morning, then a Kung Fu flick, a Godzilla movie, and a monster movie in the late afternoon. Every once in a while they threw in a Hammer film, and I distinctly remember watching Peter Cushing play Holmes in Hound of the Baskervilles as a small boy.

When I was fourteen, I bought a two-volume collection of ACD’s entire Holmes canon. The first thing I read was The Final Problem because I wanted to see how Holmes ended up. So there you have it. My first exposure to Holmes was a horror movie and my first reading was about his violent death. It’s really no wonder I wound up writing WHITECHAPEL, now that I think about it.

[DKH]: At any point were you concerned about potential backlash from the Sherlock faithful?

[BJS]: There was an incident early on with one of the Sherlock fan websites where the editor was apoplectic with outrage at my abuse of Jack the Ripper. That kind of threw me. I mean, he was okay with me turning Holmes into a drug addicted hermit and Lestrade into an abusive whoremonger, but how dare I give Saint Jack a sexual aspect and be so damn gory.

I tried to shrug it off.

[DKH]: You told me in a previous interview that the way society had seemed to romanticize the real Jack the Ripper was disturbing for you. Were you at all worried that readers may not view him as the villain in this story?

[BJS]: Actually, by the end of the story I had great pity for Monty. In real life, the “Good” guys and the “Bad” guys are really not all that different on the inside. It’s the choices we make that define us.

[DKH]: Was it difficult for you to get inside his head and create a cold-blooded killer?

[BJS]: At first, very much so. I could not wrap my head around why anyone would commit the atrocities that he had. It’s very different than creating a bad guy from scratch. You can build him into anything you want. I was looking at a finished product (The Ripper Crimes) and trying to figure out how the hell he’d put the thing together.

The FBI analyst for the BSU was very helpful in that regard. I could not understand for the life of me why Jack was taking specific body parts and arranging his victims a certain way. I was looking for some sort of scientific answer. They told me that there wasn’t one and that it only had to make sense to the killer.

[DKH]: You did an unbelievable amount of homework in preparation for this book. What was the main draw for you to reach into the past for this case and put a new spin on it?

[BJS]: It was out of necessity. My wife and I were separated and I was living in a small, run-down apartment. My personal life had collapsed and the two or three day stretches of not seeing my kids were tearing me apart inside.

I remember the day I started. I took out several large pieces of poster board and drew calendars on them for the months of August 1888 through December of that same year. I plotted out every event that seemed significant to the Ripper case so that I had a structured timeline to set my story in. Those were invaluable in keeping me on track.

[DKH]: On a personal note, will the word “cunny” ever be scrubbed free from my brain? 🙂

[BJS]: I’m including a secret message in GUNS OF SENECA 6 that will instantly scrub that word and all residual memories of Whitechapel’s horrors. You will instantly feel peaceful and at one with the universe…right up until the cannibal hillbillies show up.

[DKH]: There is a powerful scene in the book where a drunken Lestrade stumbles into an old church and has an epiphany as the veiled women wait for their sister. I don’t know if you had intended that scene to be so moving, but it had an impact on me. What influenced your version of Lestrade’s character?

[BJS]: Lestrade was a traditional Doyle character, but always shown as a foil for Holmes. He’s the stuffy old Englishman too caught up in his own pretension to see the clues right in front of his face.

The Lestrade in my book is a cop who would actually work in a place like Whitechapel. There is simply no way a cop can exist in that environment and not begin to reflect it. The people you deal with wouldn’t understand you and you’d be ineffective.

[DKH]: As a huge fan of Moz myself, I was pleasantly entertained by the numerous references to the music of Morrissey. Even the more subtle ones you’d tucked in there, such as Holmes’s declaration that he would never marry. Why was Morrissey such a strong influence on you during the creation of the book?

[BJS]: Nice catch. Morrissey was really the soundtrack to Whitechapel, and I would play his concert dvd endlessly while writing it. His persona of being committed to being alone and yet having all these frustrated feelings of longing gave me a very clear idea of Sherlock Holmes’ mindset. And probably mine as well, at that point in time.

[DKH]: So, what’s up next for the ultra-talented Bernard J. Schaffer?

[BJS]: A sci-fi western called GUNS OF SENECA 6 should be along shortly. I love this book and can’t wait for people to read it. I took all of the things and people I love about the Old West, threw them into a remote planet in outer space and shook it up like a Christmas globe. After the rigid structure of WHITECHAPEL where I was bound by so many rules and times and dates, I just needed something where I could be completely unbound. I’m telling you, the Old West in outer space is badass.

Before I go, I’d like to thank you for having me back again. I truly appreciate the support. Best of luck to you and your readers.

[DKH]: You are welcomed back here ANY time!


Buy Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes for KINDLE, NOOK, or PAPERBACK.

Author Interview: Jesi Lea Ryan

I am pleased to welcome fellow author Jesi Lea Ryan to my blog today! Jesi Lea Ryan was born and raised in the Mississippi River town of Dubuque, Iowa. She graduated from Loras College with degrees in Creative Writing and Literature, and is now working on her MBA. She currently lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to her debut novel, Four Thousand Miles, she has published several short stories and maintains a book blog.



[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: It’s been almost a year since your debut novel, Four Thousand Miles, was published. Looking back on it now, what do you remember the most about that experience?

[JESI LEA RYAN]: I loved the day my book was finally for sale. I had been working on this book for a long time, and to have my family and friends be able to read my work was incredible. I loved going online and seeing it listed for sale. I was such a nerd that I kept going back and looking at the listing!

[DKH]: What prompted you to choose England as the setting for the story? Was it somewhere you’d been personally that stuck with you?

[JLR]: I have always loved English history and culture, but the real inspiration came when I stayed at Elvey Farm in Kent. This place was so beautiful and romantic that I never wanted to go home again. Obviously, it isn’t possible for me to just abandon my life in the States like that, so I did the next best thing. I created a character that spontaneously moved to a B&B in rural Kent.

[DKH]: Did you have to do any extensive research in order to keep your story authentic to the English?

[JLR]: The single most vital thing for me as far as research was actually having visited all of the places in the book in person. I don’t think I would have felt confident to even attempt writing a story set some place without having that first-hand knowledge. In fact, the only place in the book that I haven’t been to was Herrod’s Department Store. I wrestled with whether to include it or not just for that reason. What I ended up doing was watching YouTube videos posted by tourists so I could experience it vicariously.

Other than my personal experiences, I used the internet extensively. Some of my searches involved learning Scottish slang, how to restore a 500 year old barn, and just about every Rob Pattinson interview available on YouTube (He was my inspiration for the character of Gavin.)

[DKH]: Once an idea enters your head, describe your process from conception to publishing.

[JLR]: Writing for me always begins with day dreaming. I have a vivid and emotional imagination. This allows me to visualize scenes, hear the voices, and flesh out details long before I sit down in front of a computer. When I get to the point of writing, I usually have a good idea of who the characters are and what the main action of the story is, even if I don’t quite know how it will end.

With Four Thousand Miles, I attempted to attract an agent for several months with no luck. Then, I decided to pitch my book directly to an editor while at the Romantic Times Convention last summer. Jean Watkins, the editor at DCL Publications liked my idea and offered me a contract. DCL was extremely easy to work with.

[DKH]: In addition to being a writer yourself, you also run a blog featuring other authors and book reviews. Talk a little bit about “Diary of a Bibliophile?”

[JLR]: The blog started because I love to talk with people about the books I read. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone who reads as much as I do. I think I average about 150 to 200 books a year. So, I thought I would start doing book reviews. When I started, I didn’t think about the exposure I was giving to the authors, I just did it for fun. After I began promoting my own work, I discovered how important reviews are for authors to sell their work. That’s when I began also posting author interviews. I don’t get a lot of comments on my blog, but I get plenty of hits. I think the lack of comments is more a result of “BloggerFail” than anything else.

[DKH]: Do you feel that it is important for authors to band together and help each other out, or do you tend to view other authors as competition?

[JLR]: It is absolutely important for authors to support each other. When it comes down to it, we are not in competition with each other, at least not in any measurable way. Most readers read many books in a year, not just one. So if they have to choose between two interesting novels, it’s easy for them to go back and pick up the other later. I really think writers need to band together to encourage more reading in general. This will help all of us to sell more books. Not to mention, reading is so beneficial to developing well-rounded people.

[DKH]: Was there any advice in particular that you received prior to writing your first novel that really helped you?

[JLR]: I don’t think I could have got through the publishing process without Twitter. I’m serious. I went into this not even knowing what a query letter was, much less how to write one. Other writers on Twitter have been helpful every step of the way. It also connected me with my writing partner, a few beta readers, many book reviewers, and some local writers. When people tell me they want to begin writing professionally, I always tell them their first step should be to get on Twitter and connect with the writing community.

[DKH]: As a young writer, sometimes dealing with that first negative review can be a crushing blow to your confidence. How did your first negative review impact you?

[JLR]: I have a really thick skin. I was an insurance underwriter for many years. You have to be tough when you are canceling people’s insurance policies. They love to call you up screaming. 🙂

As far as reviews go, my reviews for Four Thousand Miles have been really good. The piece that I’ve had the most difficulty with is a short story that I wrote called Delia Boobelia. Childhood bullying has been in the news a lot this last year. When I was growing up, puberty hit me early and hard. Having an adult body at eleven years old was not only uncomfortable, but I was brutally harassed. I decided to write a story where I took my childhood and exaggerated it in order to show how cruel people can be to these young women. I knew that my topic was controversial, so I didn’t even bother trying to submit it anywhere. Instead I self-published it and crossed my fingers.

As I expected, people either loved it or hated it. I heard from several women who could relate to my character and her plight. Others completely missed the point and had strong negative emotional reactions. I think because I expected this before I put the story out there, the negative reviews didn’t bother me that much.

[DKH]: As if writing and blogging weren’t already time consuming enough, what is your involvement with Miricor Publishing?

[JLR]: Miricor is a side project involving myself and my friend Tori. So many writers want to enter self-publishing, but either don’t know where to start or they make poor decisions which result in bad product. I read a lot of self-published work and honestly, there are some wonderful ideas which fail because the author did not have professional editing. Tori and I want to help writers to self-publish by offering a la carte services such as the editing, proof-reading and formatting help a publisher would give them, but for a fixed price so that the author can maximize their royalties. If anyone is curious about the services we offer, they can check us out at .

[DKH]: So you’re certainly a busy woman these days! What can your readers look forward to up ahead on the writing front?

[JLR]: I just finished a young adult, paranormal romance that I will start shopping out in the next month or so. I also have a couple of romances started that I will be dusting off here soon. I’m also in the home stretch with completing my Masters degree, so I’m sure much of my writing time will be spent on term papers!

Thank you, David for hosting me today!

[DKH]: Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to chat with you!


Buy Jesi Lea Ryan’s books on Kindle or Smashwords

Check out Jesi Lea Ryan’s blog, Diary of a Bibliophile

Book Review: What Money Can’t Buy by Liz Borino (@LizBorino)

When I first discovered author Liz Borino’s books, they were tagged as romance novels, and I had never really considered myself a fan of the genre. Not that there’s anything wrong with the romance genre, mind you, but those books often deal with plots that are based more in fantasy than reality. I tend to prefer the gritty, sometimes gut-wrenching, tales of real love—love that must sometimes endure hardship, and that requires work in order to be sustained. After doing a little research into the Taylor Twins series, I was delighted to find that this is precisely what Ms. Borino writes about. At just .99 cents, there was no risk in stepping out from beyond my comfort zone, and purchasing her first book, Expectations. I came away from it as a fan of her work, making the decision to purchase her second book, What Money Can’t Buy, an easy one.

The Taylor Twins series is centered on the lives of three main characters: brothers Matt and Chris, and Chris’s husband, Aiden. What Money Can’t Buy picks up soon after the events of Expectations, and their lives are quickly moving forward in different directions. Matt and Chris have successfully gained access to their individual trust funds and are now filthy rich. However, neither of them had intended to simply cash in and retire. Each still has a plan for what they’d like to accomplish in their lives. Matt has proceeded in leading the company he’d formed in the first book, and continues to indulge his love of business. Chris and Aiden have moved into a bigger house, and are preparing for the arrival of their twin babies being carried by surrogate, and sister to Aiden, Meghan O’Boyle.

As the title of the book suggests, the characters soon discover that money is not the answer to all of life’s struggles. While Matt overcame his addiction to alcohol in the first book, the stress caused from a pregnant girlfriend on bed rest has now led him to face new temptations, such as painkillers and other women. Chris, who was savagely assaulted by his father, must now relive that horror daily, as he has been entrusted with the medical care of his invalid patriarch. Aiden, who teaches at a successful dance studio, succumbs to a torn MCL and is told that he may never dance again. These new predicaments are tough, but they only scratch the surface of a very dark road ahead for everyone.

For only a second book, Ms. Borino displays a substantial amount of growth as a storyteller. Her pacing is vastly improved, and there are no wasted words. Every section of this book has a purpose and comes together full circle without the reader ever missing a beat. Traditional fans of romance will likely shudder at the dreadful scenarios that the characters are occasionally placed within, but there is no arguing that the author has captured a slice of life that can be related to in one way or another.

As average everyday people, we tend to believe that money would solve all of our problems, but Ms. Borino comes bearing a strong message, and warns us that such thoughts are not always true. However, What Money Can’t Buy is not without a silver lining. For every misfortune that the characters must bear, a new opportunity of hope is presented for them. Ms. Borino has quite successfully created characters that you can cheer for and care about—a fact that is no more easily proven than by my words of praise, speaking as someone who is not from her target audience.


Q & A with What Money Can’t Buy author, Liz Borino



[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: You were able to write a sequel to your debut novel, Expectations, very quickly. At what point did you actually start working on the events of What Money Can’t Buy?

[LIZ BORINO]: They were in my head as I edited Expectations and as my release day approached, I found myself asking, ‘Well, okay great, what happens now?’ What Money Can’t Buy is part of the answer. Books three and four (coming soon) are the continuation.

[DKH]: Most writers will tell you that writing the first novel is the hardest part. Did you find that writing your second was much easier? How was the process different for you?

[LB]: Not at all. Actually, just the opposite. With What Money Can’t Buy, I had obligations, a deadline to start, and Expectations received such good response. I was struck with a fear I couldn’t duplicate the success. As a matter of fact, I almost pulled What Money Can’t Buy from publication because I was so scared.

[DKH]: Character development is crucial in any story–especially in a series. Were there any characters in particular that you wanted to focus more on this time around?

[LB]: Again, the opposite. In What Money Can’t Buy, I made a conscious effort to spread the focus more equally between the two couples. Matt wasn’t very well represented in Expectations and his story probably shows the most growth.

[DKH]: You have been vocal in interviews about how attached to your characters that you have become. Does that make it harder for you to put them in difficult situations?

[LB]: I love my boys, but the story must go on and without conflict, there is no story. My attachment to them does make it easy to get them out of said situations. Sometimes they get out, otherwise, their circumstances are changed. And that’s not always bad either, is it?

[DKH]: You have also said in interviews that even if you approach your books with a planned story in mind, that your characters wind up guiding you in completely different directions. How does that happen?

[LB]: How does it not happen? Sometimes, I’ll be writing and see their most logical reaction to a given situation and realize, ‘Well, that changes everything, now doesn’t it?’ You just need to go with it.

[DKH]: Were there any plot lines that you wound up cutting from this book?

[LB]: Yes. Matt almost died in a car crash on his way to the hospital to see his baby born. But in the end, I couldn’t do that to Chris and that would have left Dorothea alone with Carley. Not a great situation.

[DKH]: Even though Expectations was far from light, What Money Can’t Buy seems to explores even darker areas of humanity. Do you find that current events can sometimes play a role in the shaping of your books?

[LB]: Well sure. Writers take in EVERYTHING around them. Anything can make it into a story. Yes, even you.

[DKH]: Note to self: stay on Liz’s good side. 🙂 So, what’s next for Liz Borino?

[LB]: Book three and four and hopefully many sales. Please? Thank you. I don’t do well living out of a box.


Buy What Money Can’t Buy for: Kindle and Nook

Book Review: Surviving the Fall by William R. Potter

The independent book world is not unlike that of the independent film. Both are comprised of storytellers that choose passion over fame and art over wealth. Not to say that the two can’t ever go together hand-in-hand, but it’s a long road that leads to a final destination often unreached. Independent authors aren’t driven by promise of fortune, and their carefully-woven stories often consist of bold plot line decisions made without fear of a major publishing house wielding the creative axe. Surviving the Fall is one of those stories.

James Goodall is an ordinary man in every sense—superfluous and perfectly relatable. His Achilles heel is a giant heart pinned to his sleeve that constantly drives him to want to help the unfortunate. His behavior, as result of his kind soul, has driven a wedge between him and his now estranged wife. On a cold winter day in December, his rescuer complex is taken to the next level after he meets a fifteen year old girl named Ashley that was thrown violently from a speeding car. She is reluctant at first to trust him, but with nowhere else to turn in a brand new city, she reaches out to him for help—his dream come true.

Unbeknownst to James, Ashley comes with a lot of baggage that he is unprepared to face. Her cruel life has consisted only of prostitution, and a loveless mother that has left her emotionally scarred beyond repair. James takes her in and provides her with food, clothing, and shelter, though she remains guarded and unwilling to completely trust him. Over time, the two form a rather unorthodox friendship that includes its own special set of complications. James has a holy roller sister that continually makes him feel guilty about their relationship, and Ashley has a secret from her past that eventually comes back to haunt them both. She carries one last tie to the underbelly of society that she’d left behind and has endangered both of their lives.

Without beating around the bush, Surviving the Fall is a well-written tale by a clearly talented author. William R. Potter carefully walks the tightrope of moral turpitude, as the adult male protagonist struggles with the temptation of his Lolita-esque friend. I am far from a prude, but at times I actually became quite uncomfortable, and turned the pages nervously. It was more than hope—I needed James to make the right decision, which is a testament to just how real and engrossing Potter was able to make the characters and story.

In the end, however, this book isn’t about the occasionally awkward moments between a man and a teenage girl. It’s about their friendship, which never feels unbelievable at any point. James sees Ashley as a jigsaw puzzle, and yearns to help her put all the pieces back together again. It’s a noble gesture that even someone without a rescuer complex can identify with. The way that Potter tells the story from two unique perspectives on a collision course with each other kept me glued to the book way past my bedtime.

If I had but one complaint about this book, it’s that the ending left me feeling unsatisfied. Not because Potter failed to wrap it up convincingly, but because I wasn’t quite ready to leave the world he’d created. I wondered if there had been an opportunity for a final chapter that would took place three years later, after the events of the book had played out, and explore what the lives of the two protagonists may have been like at that point in their lives. Regardless, it was an enjoyable read that went by all too quickly.


Q & A with Surviving the Fall author, William R. Potter



[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: Readers are always fascinated about where a writer gets their ideas from. How did Surviving the Fall come to be?

[WILLIAM R. POTTER]: Years before I wrote STF, I saw a TV news story which featured an area in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver where the child sex trade existed. I had heard of this area by its reputation; however I had no idea just how young some of the girls working there were. The area was known, not just in Canada, but worldwide as a place to go and purchase sex from children eleven years old or younger. I began to think about how a child could end up in such a horrible situation and how they might escape this nightmare life. A few thoughts became an idea and a plot outline was born.

[DKH]: Did you base the story’s protagonist, James Goodall, off of a real person or event?

[WRP]: James is a lonely man about to be divorced from his wife. I drew on my own experiences from my marriage break up to get James’ emotions correct. At that low point it is easy to attach yourself to anyone who can help take your sadness away.

[DKH]: In the book, James is challenged to make a moral decision between right and wrong as it relates to his relationship with a teenage girl. Tackling such a controversial topic had to have been tricky. Did you find it difficult to explore those moments with James?

[WRP]: Yes, it was difficult researching and writing about this topic. I don’t think anyone wants to believe that this type of abuse exists, especially so close to home. I put myself in my protagonist’s shoes and asked myself what would I do? Give into temptation and loneliness or do the right thing? I hope any guy reading the book might ask himself the same questions. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

[DKH]: At various points in the story, the reader is treated to some of James’s deep thoughts about the holiday season, or his immediate surroundings, that provide him with character, but aren’t necessarily tied to the plot. Are there any characteristics of yours that slipped into the narrative?

[WRP]: I’m not a huge fan of the holidays at the best of times and when you’re struggling with the emotional rollercoaster of a divorce, Christmas can be very difficult. All those flooding memories each tied to “First Christmas Together” type nostalgia. It wasn’t intentional but these thoughts certainly made their way into the narrative.

[DKH]: The setting in any book plays a significant character as well. Talk a little bit about the real life areas from your book and why you selected to include them.

[WRP]: I’ve always enjoyed books written by writers who incorporate their own neighborhood. If used correctly the author’s familiarity with the setting comes through so the reader feels right there in the scene. As I mentioned above, child prostitution exists in my city so there was no need to use an exotic locale or to create a fictional one.

[DKH]: Sentimentally, what does Surviving the Fall represent to you?

[WRP]: I believe it is the best of my earlier work (written in 2007). I recognized right away that STF touches on a controversial subject and I’m proud of myself for not toning it down. One reviewer mentioned she thought it was creepy and yet she still published a favorable review.

[DKH]: Several bodies of work now under your belt, what are the most important lessons that experience has taught you?

[WRP]: I realize tackling an issue or genre which challenges me is much more important than choosing a theme just to make sales. Publishing a young adult fantasy may tear up the Amazon best seller lists but writing something I can get passionate about is much more satisfying, at least for now.

[DKH]: What is coming up next for William R. Potter?

[WRP]: I have a full length novel called Falling Down the Hole and a horror novella called Fright Factory at the editing stage. Falling is about a man who loses his sight in a freak kitchen accident and then struggles to live as a sightless father and husband. Fright is about a forty-something couple who embark on a getaway weekend only to become the lead characters in an insane director’s “Snuff Film.”


Buy Surviving the Fall on: Kindle and Smashwords

Visit William R. Potter on: The Independent Author Network

Book Review: Gateway to Celesta by Tessa Apa (@TessaApa)

Gateway to CelestaI have a confession to make. As a 34-year old man, I’m far from an expert when it comes to the world of YA (young adult) novels—a fact that concerned me a little bit as I read through the first couple of chapters in Gateway to Celesta. However, as I continued to read, I realized that what author Tessa Apa had done was manage to tell a story that could be attractive to younger readers, but also offer enough complexity to keep older readers entertained.

Gateway to Celesta is the first entry of a forthcoming series of books that revolves around the lives of three extraordinary children. Sisters Frankie and Xim, and their brother Boscoe, are unknowingly entrusted as the guardians of an ancient puzzle called The Qui, which comes bundled with special powers. Once the children are able to unlock the Qui’s secrets, they are given the gift of “thought throwing,” and telepathic communication. They also soon discover that unlocking The Qui has greatly enhanced their primary natural talents, allowing them to excel even beyond their wildest imagination. However, the Qui’s most important secret is that it serves as the doorway that leads to the hidden world of Celesta.

As you might expect, a gift of great power soon attracts the attention of nefarious characters that would rather use its power for greed and destruction. A troubled teenage boy named Peter is given the task of seeking out the Qui and retrieving it for a shady faction known as The Chapter. Peter’s journey is a struggle, however, as he is torn between doing the sinister things mandated by his mother, and following the small traces of light that exist within his heart. When he meets Frankie, she makes him feel significant for the first time in his life, but allowing himself to fall for her would come with a hefty price for defying his mother’s wishes.

The influence of Harry Potter is impossible to ignore while reading this book. It’s highly likely that author Tessa Apa intended for this to be a story that parents could easily share with their children before bedtime. With the exception of a few fleeting moments that might be a little intense for younger audiences, I’d say she hit the mark straight on. Apa is incredibly imaginative, and her creation of the Qui puzzle, it’s powers, and the world of Celesta, are vast and complex. Perhaps even a little too complex at times, considering the intended demographic.

What you’ve got here is a more than adequate entry point for a sprawling new series that should satisfy J.K. Rowling fans wondering what to do in life after Potter. As with any first novel, Gateway to Celesta is occasionally rough in spots, and it could have used just a little more polish before release (Apa recycles a few of the same visual cues throughout the book), but there is no question that this author is poised for even greater works on the horizon. Considering that the cost of entry is but a mere .99 cents, the mystical world of Celesta is a bargain worth venturing toward.


Q & A with Gateway to Celesta author, Tessa Apa


[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: Gateway to Celesta is very deep and contains many layers. How did the whole idea come about?

[TESSA APA]: It started with the concept that we are not always in control of what we think. You know how we can sometimes be swept away by unexpected thoughts? How they pop into our head from no-where or maybe they come from ‘somewhere?’ Does that make sense? Anyway, that’s where it began. I also wanted the book to be a warning – that we should guard our minds, and be very careful what we dwell on. The world of Celesta grew from there, and the whole concept that we all have the ability to tap into this power. Every single one of us – not just the special people.

[DKH]: How long did you wait before you decided to try and put your ideas into a book?

[TA]: I started straight away and pretty much wrote the first and the last chapters in the same day. After that I had to fill in all the detail. That part took four years (I’m the world’s slowest writer!)

[DKH]: Did your story change a lot as you wrote, or did you stick closely to your original vision?

[TA]: It changed a huge amount. I developed the relationship between Frankie and Peter. At first they were barely interested in each other. I also added a lot more tension with the fire and the dog being stolen (and thought murdered!). None of that was really planned at first – those elements just developed as I wrote. I even changed some of the characters names. Taking four years to finish it definitely didn’t help on that score. Because I was writing it with my children in mind (as my audience), they grew from pre-teens to teens in that time span, so I had to add more depth, conflict and relationship than originally planned.

[DKH]: Gateway to Celesta is the first book in a series. Do you have a plan for how many books you would ultimately like it to contain?

[TA]: I know there is a second book. I think there is a third. I’d love to say 6 or 7 but I just don’t seem to be able to plan that far ahead. I also keep getting ideas for other stories and those distract me a lot. I love writing short stories with fresh new ideas and seeing where they lead.

[DKH]: Did you have any real-life influences for creating the kids in your story, or are they all entirely your creation?

[TA]: How did you know? I have three children, two girls and a boy (like the James children). I read somewhere to write what you know and that’s why I went down that path – only some of their characteristics are similar though. They know which ones, but hopefully no one else does. Peter is entirely my creation though. I look for him everywhere, but haven’t seen or met anyone who comes close. Goose, the dog, is a shameless tribute to my dog – there’s a photo of her on my website.

[DKH]: What’s up next for you?

[TA]: I’m finishing a novella called The Girl Who Played Chess with an Angel. After that I have to fill in the gaps on the ‘Gateway’ sequel. I have promised myself to finish that this year. I think the first book is the hardest in so many ways. Cross fingers I can do a quicker job from now on.


Buy Gateway to Celesta for: Kindle

Download ‘The Night Shift’ For Free!

I am very excited right now, as I have submitted my upcoming novella The Jumper for final edits, and will soon see it released for eyeball consumption! It has been a lot of fun to write, and I sincerely hope that you’ll enjoy reading it. However, since there is still some time to kill before the story of R.C. Dawson is released upon the world, I thought that I would prepare a writing sample for you while we wait. It’s a short story entitled The Night Shift that serves as a prequel, and will introduce you to one of the locations and supporting characters from The Jumper.

In this prequel, we meet Craig Dixon and get a glimpse of his life before the events of The Jumper. When R.C. Dawson meets him in The Jumper, Craig is working the day shift as a custodian for the Emily Glavine Community Youth Center. He ominously tells R.C. that he used to work the night shift, but just for one night. This short story tells the tale of Craig’s first, and only, night alone at the community center, and will give you a taste of the spooky events that have been reported by several employees of the building… and what’s soon to come for R.C. Dawson.


WARNING: This material is intended for mature audiences and contains language that may be considered offensive to some people. Please enjoy at your own discretion.


Download ‘The Night Shift’ for free!

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