A Long Journey To Publication For A Story About Immortal Love

Guest Blogger: Alma Katsu

Even though my first novel, THE TAKER, wasn’t published until last year, I’ve been writing on and off my entire life. However, my career in intelligence (yes, I worked for CIA) made it hard to pursue publication and I stopped writing for a long time. Then about 12 years ago, I became seriously ill and decided that if there was only one thing I’d do with my life, I wanted to try to write fiction. Once my illness was under control, I threw myself into writing, went to graduate school, and poured ten years intoTHE TAKER. I didn’t expect to be published, given how hard it is to break into book publishing, and was surprised when it did, but it just goes to show that you never know what can happen if you try.

My inspiration for the trilogy came 30 years ago, when I got the idea for a short story about a man who is made immortal but as a punishment, to atone for his sins against the woman who loved him. I thought about the characters on and off for many years while I was not writing, but when I decided to return to fiction, I knew this was the story I wanted to write. At the time, literary agents told me there was no audience for stories that combined history and love with the supernatural: the world didn’t need another Anne Rice, they said. They are eating those words now, as we see the book marketplace filled with every permutation imaginable on the supernatural and metaphysical.

That short story was the origin of my first novel, THE TAKER. The story morphed and shifted in the decades it took to write, but the essentials are still there: old New England, the supernatural, heartache and longing, and a love so strong that it transcends time. The story flipped somewhat and the protagonist is now a woman and not a man, and her sin also involves betraying someone she loves and she, too, is given eternity in order to make amends for what she’s done. I wanted THE TAKER to be the kind of story that would grab readers and not let go, with characters that would haunt you for days after you finish reading. It was a tall order, but I’m gratified to say that this is what I’ve been hearing from readers.

In THE RECKONING, which just came out, we see Lanny, the heroine, trying to atone for her past sin. She’s living with a new love, the man who helped her in THE TAKER, hoping to put the past behind her. But just when she has taken the first steps toward her new life, the villain Adair escapes from the prison in which Lanny had trapped him. Lanny knows he will come for her, looking for revenge. She must leave behind everyone she loves to go on the run and try to figure out how to stop the unstoppable.

You’re probably wondering if you need to read THE TAKER in order to enjoy THE RECKONING. Reviewers have jumped in with the second book with no trouble and, as a matter of fact, that story is meant to be a little like the movie MEMENTO: it’s a bit of a twisty puzzle, with the mystery unfolding whether you read it forwards or backwards.

Alma Katsu is the author of THE TAKER and THE RECKONING, the first two books in a supernatural trilogy about love and loss that spans centuries. She lives in the Washington DC area with her husband and our two whippets. THE TAKER has been published in English worldwide, and translation rights have been sold to ten countries. THE TAKER was also picked by Booklist/American Library Association as one of the top ten debut novels of last year. You can find out more about her novels at http://www.almakatsu.com.


Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones … The Power of Words

Guest Blogger: Jaime Rush

Okay, it may be the writer in me, but I love the idea that words have real power. That old kid’s saying was wrong—“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Words can hurt. How many times have we been hurt over something someone said to us? But it goes deeper than hurt feelings. Words have energy. Every time we utter words like “hate,” and the emotion that goes with it, we put negative energy into the atmosphere. I’ve done muscle testing experiments with my nine-year-old daughter, where she wrote “I hate mommy” on a piece of paper, and I held it to my chest and couldn’t resist when I held out my arm and she pressed down on it. But when I held the paper that said, “I love mommy,” I had my strength back.

Masaru Emoto has studied Magnetic Resonance Analysis at length, determining that the words taped to a glass of water actually affected the way crystals formed when the water was frozen. Words like “hate” made ugly, jagged designs, and words like “Love” and “Forgiveness” made snowflake designs.

I have always approached the paranormal aspect of my stories with an energetic bent, meaning I don’t have werewolves or vampires or the like but use psychic energy. I’ve explored and played with the possibility of parallel universes and what might happen if people from one different than ours came here. And recently, in my Offspring series, I’ve gone on to the energy of words and emotions becoming a tangible “something.” That something is called Darkness. Since the word Darkness, probably a negative word itself, appears in every Offspring title, I decided to make Darkness a real thing. An almost living entity. And it consists of an accumulation of all the repressed negative emotions of the people in my parallel dimension. Someone figured out how to tap into that energy, to use it like dark magic and transform themselves into something other than a human. And when those people come here, they bring Darkness with them.

My heroine, Jessie, holds Darkness, having inherited it from her other-dimension father. Unfortunately for her, she has no idea what it is, other than it’s triggered by her high emotions and turns her into something dark and powerful. Her uncle, who is a full-fledged holder of Darkness and therefore adept at it, is hunting her down. And Jessie, with the help of the last man to whom she’d ever reach out for help, is learning to face her darkest fears and get to know that Darkness inside.

I had great fun with Darkness and my parallel beings because I could create my own mythologies and abilities. But I like to base my stories on what could be real. What might be real. What some certainly believe is real.

So now I know that not only do my written words have power—to entertain, perhaps enlighten, and hopefully enrich—my spoken words do, too. I think about what I say more carefully these days.

How has a word or a piece of writing affected you?


Desperately in need of redemption, Lachlan McLeod has a mission: find the beast who put his brother into a coma. He’ll start with Jessie Bellandre, his brother’s girlfriend, who’s harboring a dark, dangerous secret that could get them all killed. But as they fight the battle of their lives, not falling in love with her will be as hard as staying alive.

About Jaimie Rush:

Missing the romance and action of her favorite television shows, X-FILES, ROSWELL, and HIGHLANDER, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Jaime Rush created her own mix in the Offspring series, from Avon Books. The Offspring: Sexy…dangerous…outcasts. They possess extraordinary abilities, and together they must find the truth and fight an enemy out to destroy them.

Jaime Rush is also bestselling Tina Wainscott, author of eighteen novels for St. Martin’s Press (now being re-released as e-books) and Harlequin. Contests, sneak peeks and more at Jaime’s website. You can also find her on Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook.


Go Ahead, Watch TV and Movies

Guest Blogger: Martha Brockenbrough

When I was growing up, my mom would let us know when—in her view—we’d had too much fun. My brothers and sisters and I jokingly called it TMF or “exceeding the fun quotient.”

Mom used to feel the TV for telltale signs of warmth when she came home from the grocery store, and she instructed me on many occasions to “get my nose out of that book” and into, say,                                                                the garden, which needed weeding.

In the entirety of my childhood, I saw three movies in the theater: STAR WARS, ET, and THE GOODBYE GIRL (twice, for some reason). Any more was TMF.

On special occasions, we could just go to the video store in the mall and choose between one of two family movies deemed appropriate at the time: MY BODYGUARD and HEAVEN CAN WAIT. (ARTHUR was too trashy, the parental ratings board determined after a partial viewing.)

Eventually, I did listen to Mom. I inserted my nose into history books. Into Shakespeare. Into poetry and plays written in Ancient Greek. Into Calculus. Twice. (Why, younger self. WHY?) During college, I did not watch television. I mostly viewed classic movies at a nearby revival theater. I went to a few concerts, but nothing that could be considered too much fun unless you are a major fan of Andreas Vollenweider’s New Age harp stylings. That, I attended to write a newspaper review. And this became my motto. Work is Fun!

And then, a few years after college, came Joss Whedon. I first watched BUFFY intending for it to be ironic—I’d seen an ad on the side of the bus and couldn’t believe they were making that horrible movie into a TV show. Almost instantly, though, I was hooked.

At the time, I was producing an online entertainment magazine (because Work is Fun!) and I wrote a piece about how smart the show was. Yes, the first season was imperfect. But it was good enough, deep enough, and rich enough to make me laugh, cry, think, and yearn to be home in time to watch the next episode.

When Buffy died a second time in season 5, I’d received my 24th rejection (out of 25 submissions) for a book I’d hoped to publish. I’d quit my day job a couple of years earlier to become a writer and spend time with my daughter, then 1. And that night, morose from Buffy’s fate and the apparent death of my own writing dream, I went to bed utterly miserable.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what made me sadder, my own rejection, or my concern for this made-up character. I recently re-watched that episode with my daughter, who is now 11. I cried again, though I no longer cry over rejections. So I think I have my answer.

I think this shows that good storytelling can reach people on deep levels. It’s not just about having fun. It’s about developing empathy for others, about understanding what is truly important in life, and what is less so. It’s also a way of seeing how much people matter to each other.

And oh, how I wanted to be able to create that experience for a reader. I’d hoped to be a writer since I was 8 years old, but because of my parents’ wise and well-meaning influence, I started to feel guilty when I read books. Worse when I watched TV. And forget about movies.

In part because I wasn’t exposed to a wide variety of books, TV, and movies, I spent a lot of time with my favorites, listening to recordings of Steve Martin perform THE CRUEL SHOES over and over, watching HEAVEN CAN WAIT until I’d had it memorized, reading books about characters who could do things regular people couldn’t—today, these are called paranormal.

That first book, the one that was rejected two dozen times, was published. And so was a second. Both were nonfiction, meant for adults. It took me a whole lot of work to peel away enough layers of earnest seriousness to be able to write books good enough for children, though.

But I finally managed to, in part by remembering what I loved about books, TV, and movies from my childhood. It was about listening to my heart and my head, myself in addition to (not instead of) my parents.

It was when I let myself be who I wanted to be, without ignoring who I’d been, that I was able to write this book. A lot of that journey is reflected in the experiences of my characters. I worked hard, yes. My parents taught me how to do that. But I also had authentic fun, something Joss Whedon reminded me how to when I most needed it.

That experience was as satisfying for me as the end of a good book. Even better, it’s just the beginning of a new career.



What about you? Is there something you’d love to do but aren’t because you think you’re supposed to be working?

Martha Brockenbrough is the former editor of MSN.com. She’s the founder of National Grammar Day and SPOGG, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. DEVINE INTERVENTION is her first novel. In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews called it “frequently hysterical … devastatingly honest writing that surprises with its occasional beauty and hits home with the keenness of its insight.”


There is a great legend of the guardian angel who traveled across time and space for the human girl he loved, slaying those who would threaten her with a gleaming sword made of heavenly light.

This is not that story.

Jerome Hancock is Heidi Devine’s guardian angel. Sort of. He’s more of an angel trainee, in heaven’s soul-rehabilitation program for wayward teens. And he’s just about to get kicked out for having too many absences and for violating too many of the Ten Commandments for the Dead.

Heidi, meanwhile, is a high school junior who dreams of being an artist, but has been drafted onto her basketball team because she’s taller than many a grown man. For as long as she can remember, she’s heard a voice in her head – one that sings Lynyrd Skynyrd, offers up bad advice, and yet is company during those hours she feels most alone.

When the unthinkable happens, these two lost souls must figure out where they went wrong and whether they can make things right before Heidi’s time is up and her soul is lost forever.



4 Points to a Successful Writing Collaboration

Guest Bloggers: Angie Brenner and Joy E. Stocke

A good companion shortens the longest road.

Turkish proverb

“Why Turkey?” is the first question we’re often asked when we talk about our travels and collaborative memoir ANATOLIAN DAYS & NIGHTS. What seems obvious to us after visiting the four corners of a vast and varied country, still escapes many of our Western readers.

“And why a collaboration?” is the second question.

Our love of travel, culture, and adventure brought us together, but it was our growing friendship and desire to share those adventures that led us into a ten-year journey of research, writing, and countless revisions. And to a successful collaboration. While it took three years to develop a shared voice, it never occurred to us to give up and NOT write our stories about Turkey.

However, if you have considered a writing collaboration, here are our four points that work for us and helped us reach our goal.

1) Check your ego at the literary door.

At times, each of us had to “get rid of our babies.” This also speaks directly to how we created a “voice” for our narrative. We came up with a formula that allowed us to retain our individual voices within a forward moving narrative arc by writing chapters with an alternating first person narrative.  We gave each other creative license to write individual chapters without censorship. Then we passed the work back and forth between us. There were times each of us fought to retain sentences and paragraphs that came from our deepest selves. And there were other times when we gladly accepted a revision, and clear, unsparing criticism.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1, Lycian Days, a first person narrative through Angie’s eyes, with Joy’s editorial input:

“Have you been to eastern Turkey?” asks Joy, sipping her coffee.

“Only as far as Nemrut Dagi, near the Atatürk Dam, on a two-day tour from Cappadocia,” I say. “But I’ve wanted to go farther east, especially to Mardin, where Syrian Orthodox Christians still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.”

Joy tilts her head as if she sees something hovering on the horizon. “In Urfa, which isn’t far from Mardin, there’s a Phoenician river goddess I’ve been reading about called Atargatis. She took the form of a mermaid and is associated with the Virgin Mary.”

“Why don’t we go?” I say, recognizing a mutual sense of wanderlust.

2) Focus on a Single Goal


It took as a while, but we spent a lot of time working on an outline.  Taking on a country is a fool’s errand, especially a country whose history can be traced to Neolithic times.  So, we made a commitment to tell stories within geographic regions, stories that resonated with us and moved the narrative forward. Whenever we got stuck, we’d ask ourselves: “Is this important to our goal of creating and entertaining and compassionate portrait of Turkey?”

This is Joy’s voice from Chapter 8, Our Grand Basic Black Sea Adventure with input from Angie:

On Maraş Caddesi—street—we join a crowd of young people in low-slung jeans and denim jackets cruising shops selling Diesel jeans and Dolce & Gabbana knockoffs. Stylish young women have wrapped silky headscarves over top-knotted hair, tying them behind their necks like Grace Kelly ready to take a cruise in Cary Grant’s convertible.

Beneath a flashing neon palm tree next to a five-foot-long neon skewer of meat, teenagers gather at the Formica tables of a fast-food joint called Kebab Island. Next door, an equally tall red neon chicken grins and advertises another restaurant, Chickenland. Sidestepping schoolchildren in crisp blue smocks and white Peter Pan collars, we dart down an alley, past shops selling stationery, underwear, and vegetables, and stop in front of a metal door next to a shoe shop.

“Welcome to the Grand Basic School of English,” says Faruk.

He swings open the door, turns on a light attached to a timer in the stairwell, and hurries us up the staircase before the light clicks off.

A wiry man dressed in a tan sweater tucked into brown corduroys greets us on the landing.

“Ah, my American teachers,” he says, embracing Faruk.

“This is Nuri,” says Faruk, his cheeks reddening at our puzzled stares. “One of the owners of the school.”

“Bana mı söylüyorsun?” says Nuri, pointing an index finger at his chest, his smile set off by flirtatious dimples. “You talkin’ to me?”

He bursts into laughter at his dead-on imitation of Robert De Niro in the movie Taxi Driver. “Ah, fuhgeddaboudit,” he says. “Come and meet Meryem, our head teacher.”

Angie shoots me a look that suggests she too thinks there’s a bigger agenda afoot, but neither of us is sure what it is.

3) Respect for each other’s talents.


Art is never created in a vacuum.  “Collaborative art,” says friend Bill Eib, husband of the online magazine WILD RIVER REVIEW’s literary editor Gerri George, says in response to a conversation we had about the collaborative process, “No one does it on their own.”

Stephen Greenblatt shows in his book: WILL IN THE WORLD: HOW SHAKESPEARE BECAME SHAKESPEARE,” says Eib, “that Shakespeare with the aid of his life experiences, other playwrights, and the retelling of pre-existing stories, became the William Shakespeare we all know today.”

4) Never Give Up.


There were many times when we were tired, when we realized that to do justice to the narrative we would have to return to Turkey, times when we each were holding down more than one job and making time for the research and writing of the book. But, we never gave up.  We believed in the work.

And perhaps that’s one of the gifts of collaboration.  Just when you’re feeling you can’t go on, your partner sends an amazing revision of a chapter, or a photo from one of your journeys or a book recommendation.

And when one of us was busy elsewhere, the other was busy with a revision. It could be one of many things, but it reminds you that no piece of literature is created in a vacuum.

From Chapter 13, Return to the Lycian Sea

We watch the sea flow into Kalkan Harbor, where through the ages a hundred languages have been spoken, where the muezzin’s call has replace church bells, where evangelists, travelers, entrepreneurs, farmers, adventurers and dreamers like us, have left a part of themselves within this golden fold of mountain.

Joy E. Stocke is founder and Editor in Chief of the online magazine, WILD RIVER REVIEW. She has published fiction, nonfiction and poetry, and has written about and lectured widely on her travels in Greece and Turkey, as well as religion, ancient and modern. She is the author of a bi-lingual book of poems, CAVE OF THE BEAR, translated into Greek by Lili Bita; and a novel, UGLY COOKIES, co-written with Fran Metzman. Her travel memoir, ANATOLIAN DAYS AND NIGHTS, based on ten years of travel through Turkey, co-written with Angie Brenner was published in March 2012 by Wild River Books. You can visit the book’s website. Or order ANATOLIAN DAYS & NIGHTSby clicking here: ADN. Her essay, Turkish American Food, appears in the 2nd edition of the OXFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FOOD AND DRINK IN AMERICA (OUP, 2012).

Angie Brenner is West Coast Editor for WILD RIVER REVIEW. In March 2012, Wild River Books published her memoir ANATOLIAN DAYS AND NIGHTS: A LOVE AFFAIR WITH TURKEY – LAND OF DERVISHES, GODDESSES AND SAINTS, chronicling more than ten years of travel through Turkey, co-written with Wild River Review’s Editor in Chief, Joy E. Stocke. Brenner has written numerous articles about Turkey and facilitates travel literature reading groups and presentations at bookstores and libraries in southern California and Oregon. In addition, she has traveled extensively through Africa, Turkey, and Vietnam bringing back both hair-raising and humorous stories. In 1997 she closed her store in order to travel and write, and works with elementary students in their Language Arts program near her home in Julian, California. She has recently returned from her fifteenth journey to Turkey.


“Extinction” in Slices of Flesh Anthology

I’m pleased to announce that my story “Extinction” is now published in SLICES OF FLESH: A Collection of Flash Fiction Tales from the World’s Greatest Horror Writers. Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame (with Dave Steward doing the color work) created the cover art. Net proceeds from the book go to various reading and literacy programs, the Horror Writers Association Hardship Fund, and the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation.

Editor Stan Swanson says about this endeavor, “I put together a flash fiction anthology including a number of authors (FRIGHTMARES!) late last year and really enjoyed it. I find flash fiction intriguing. To tell a good, solid story in just a few hundred words is a real test of an author’s skill. In putting together FRIGHTMARES!, I met several authors who had already established themselves as horror authors. That was when the seed of SLICES OF FLESH was born. It was an opportunity for Dark Moon Books to take the next step forward—to be able to publish stories by Jack Ketchum, Simon Clark, Ramsey Campbell, Nancy Holder, Tim Lebbon, Nancy Kilpatrick, Graham Masterton, Rick Hautala (and the list goes on and on). The amazing thing was the response to my call for submissions. What a great group of people this was to work with. And with net proceeds going to worthy charities has just been the icing on the cake.”

So, go grab yourself SLICES OF FLESH and support some wonderful charities.

Here’s the complete list of authors. For additional information about the book and purchase links go to Dark Moon Books’ website.




The Deep Zone Proves It: Reality Is Fantastic Enough

Guest Blogger: James M. Tabor

I know that vampires and werewolves and zombies—oh my!—are all the rage now, but I’ve never felt the need to step over the line from reality to fantasy, or wherever those things live. Reality is plenty fantastic in its own right, as the real events that inspired THE DEEP ZONE prove. In 2003, military doctors began seeing an increase in “unusual infections” in soldiers wounded in Iraq. The pathogen responsible was a bacterium named Acinetobacter baumanii—ACE, as I call it in THE DEEP ZONE.

Acinetobater baumanii

Acinetobacter Baumanii (AciNEETobacter BoughMANee), is a highly drug-resistant bacterium with a personality quirk that makes it inordinately dangerous. ACE may be the Great Communicator of all bacteria, able to pass on immunological mutations with speed that, in evolutionary terms, is lightning fast. In THE DEEP ZONE, when Don Barnard tells heroine Hallie Leland that geneticists found, in ACE, the greatest number of genetic mutations ever recorded in a single organism, he is speaking truth. They actually did, in 2005.

The Iraqi ACE, a new genotype variation, was even more drug-resistant than its predecessors. Authorities claimed it lived in dirty Iraqi soil and was being blown into wounds. Doctors were seeing so many cases that they began calling it “Iraqibacter.” By 2004, ACE had colonized one in three soldiers admitted to Bethesda Naval Medical Center.

That was all fantastic enough, but it gets better. Military damage control went into overdrive. Physicians were warned, “Don’t tell them [the press] any more than you absolutely have to.”  Why the cover-up? It’s one thing for America’s warfighters to die from valorous actions in combat. It’s quite another for them to die from hospital-acquired infections, and, as it turned out, that’s exactly what was happening. Sadly, it took a grieving mother to bring out the real truth.

After a Marine recuperating in a Florida military hospital died unexpectedly, his mother was told that he succumbed to combat injuries. She suspected otherwise. An investigation by her Congressman revealed that ACE was responsible for his death.  A thorough, if belated, Department of Defense investigation found no trace of ACE in Iraqi soil. Instead, the source turned out to be military hospitals themselves. The soldiers were being infected, and in some cases killed, by facilities that were supposed to be saving them. Even worse, it appeared that ACE could jump from wounded soldiers to unwounded civilians. A ranking government official said that “the potential consequences to health care and to the cost of health care are huge.”

I had just finished a best-selling book of narrative nonfiction, BLIND DESCENT, about the discovery and exploration of supercaves, when I learned about the Iraqibacter fiasco. Though my last two books were both nonfiction, I’d wanted to return to fiction for some time. Combining a superbug and supercave gave me the perfect launch pad.

When one of THE DEEP ZONE’s villains, Bernard Adelheid, says that hospital-acquired infections—“nosocomial,” in medicalese–have risen dramatically in the last decade and kill about 90,000 Americans annually, he’s speaking truth. When he says that the real total is undoubtedly higher (given hospitals’ tendency to cite causes other than infections contracted inside them), it’s also true.

During my research, I was shocked by how many people I interviewed had had experience with nosocomial infections. Have you suffered from any? Your family or friends? Please share your stories. Thanks!

James M. Tabor is an international award-winning and bestselling nonfiction author making his first foray into fiction. One reviewer said that THE DEEP ZONE was “THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN for the 21st century.” Tabor was the writer and on-camera host of the acclaimed PBS series, “The Great Outdoors,” as well as co-creator and executive producer of the History Channel special, “Journey to the Center of the World.”  He lives in Vermont and is working on the next novel in the Hallie Leland series, due out from Random House/Ballantine next April.


Fact/Fiction: The beautifully blurry line – in writing, life, and religion


Jefferson Bass: Jon Jefferson (left) and Dr. Bill Bass at the gate of the Body Farm. Photo by Erik Bledsoe

Guest Blogger: Jon Jefferson, the “writer” half of Jefferson Bass

Medieval mystery meets modern murder in Jefferson Bass’s latest Body Farm thriller



Writing THE INQUISITOR’S KEY– a crime novel set in France – required a research trip to Avignon, a walled city in Provence, nestled in a bend of the Rhone River. The task loomed, daunting, even overwhelming – all those wines! all that cheese! – but someone had to do it, right? So in May 2011, I dusted off my passport, packed my French phrase book (“La toilette?”), and headed off for a grueling week. Seriously, folks: authentic forensic detail and meticulous research are trademarks of the Body Farm novels, so I had to go. Really I did.

The prelude to a week in Avignon was a day in Turin, Italy, home to the famous Shroud of Turin—a 14-foot-long strip of linen that’s revered by millions as the burial cloth of Jesus. The Shroud bears the full-length image of a man’s body, front and back, in a faint reddish-brown hue. The image includes what appear to be bloody wounds in the wrists, feet, and one side, as well as other marks on the forehead, back, and legs – wounds and marks consistent with biblical accounts of Jesus’s scourging and crucifixion.

I didn’t actually expect to see the Shroud in Turin, mind you. Couldn’t: no one can until the year 2025, its next scheduled exhibition. But I needed to see Turin Cathedral and the chapel where the Shroud is housed – behind bulletproof glass and a black curtain –because one of the novel’s scenes is set there. In that scene our fictional heroes, forensic anthropologists Bill Brockton and Miranda Lovelady, are investigating a possible link between the Shroud and a mysterious set of bones – centuries old, but freshly unearthed – that have been found within the Palace of the Popes, the massive fortress where a series of French popes lived and reigned in the 1300s.

On the surface, it might seem foolish for me to devote a day – two days, if you factor in travel time – to the Shroud, a religious relic I couldn’t even see. But in a way, not seeing the Shroud was the point of the trip. (“Huh?” you might well be asking…) Let me explain. In the novel, Dr. Brockton is so excited about the possible link he’s discovered that – like me – he impulsively dashes across the Alps from Avignon to Turin, certain that he’ll be able to talk his way behind the black curtain, examine the Shroud, and compare it to the ancient skeleton he’s found. (Guess where Brockton gets his impulsiveness?)

Turin Cathedral surprised me. I thought the home of Christianity’s most famous relic would be immense and opulent, but I thought wrong. On the outside, Turin Cathedral looked small and drab; on the inside, it was spare, practically austere. The modest, whitewashed nave was nearly deserted. At a little side chapel, a few elderly pilgrims knelt and prayed at a rail in front of the glassed-in, curtained-off Shroud. In a back corner of the church, an old woman sold souvenirs – charms and bookmarks and postcards and books – from a tiny gift shop (or, rather, a gift counter, about the size of my kitchen counter). There were no security guards, and I couldn’t help wondering how hard it could be to stage a heist.

But what I wondered about more was the image on the Shroud. Ever since the cloth was first displayed, in the 1350s, controversy has raged: Is the Shroud genuine, the faint image of the crucified Christ? Or is it a hoax from the Middle Ages – the heyday, mind you, of fake relics – created (as one bishop at the time wrote to warn the pope) by a clever artist for the cynical purpose of attracting pilgrims to Lirey, France, the town where it was first displayed?

For more than a century now – ever since a photographic negative of the Shroud created a more haunting, ghostly image – scientists have weighed in, time and again, on both sides of the authenticity question. One of these scientists – a friend of mine, a former medical illustrator who’s now a forensic anthropologist – has published a journal article explaining (and demonstrating) a simple “dust transfer” technique that a medieval artist could have used to create the faint, haunting image on linen. But did a medieval artist use that technique to create the image?

I put it to you, gentle readers: What do YOU think about the Shroud? Is it a clever hoax from the Middle Ages, or a genuine and holy relic, 2,000 years old? Please weigh in with your comments below – and please read THE INQUISITOR’S KEY to see how we answer the question, as we weave together science and religion, medieval mystery and modern murder…

Jon Jefferson – writer and documentary filmmaker – is the “writer” half behind the bestselling series of Body Farm novels. Together he and renowned forensic anthropologist Bill Bass, founder of the “Body Farm” at the University of Tennessee, are the bestselling author, “Jefferson Bass.” Their latest forensic thriller, THE INQUISITOR’S KEY, will be released by HarperCollins/William Morrow on May 8, 2012. Also, available on April 24, 2012 for 99 cents – an art-&-intrigue e-story prequel to THE INQUISITOR’S KEY entitled Madonna & Corpse.

For more on Jefferson Bass, LIKE them on Facebook, visit their blog, or follow them on Twitter.

Check out Jenn’s Bookshelves’ review of THE INQISITOR’S KEY here!

For a full list of posts celebrating the release of this novel, check out the list here.






25% of You… Is Patented!

Guest Blogger: Brian Andrews

Medical practitioners and medical researchers have always been joined at the hip, but with the advent of modern genetics, they’ve become strange bedfellows. The weirdness started in early 1950’s with an American woman named Henrietta Lacks. Lacks was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cervical cancer and treated at Johns Hopkins. For diagnostic purposes, her doctor ordered a tissue biopsy of her cervix. A scientist in the culture lab by the name of George Gey noticed that Lacks’ cancer cells did not die off in the culture dish like normal cells. Instead, they survived and multiplied unfettered. He dubbed these resilient cells HeLa cells, borrowing the first two letters from Henrietta and Lacks. As a scientist, Gey realized that these immortal cells would be invaluable to the field of medical research, so he cultured a HeLa cell line for this express purpose and laid the foundation for sixty years of ground-breaking research based on Lack’s cellular mutation. Without HeLa cells, modern medicine would not be where it is today: vaccine creation, cancer research, pharmaceutical drug development, our understanding of infectious diseases like HIV and influenza all rely on the use of HeLa cells. Global medicine and health (i.e., the greater good) was served because of Gey’s insight and Lack’s contribution.

What a wonderful success story, right? Well, not exactly.

Recently, Henrietta Lacks has become the poster child for biomedical exploitation. Why? Because the HeLa cell line was cultured, patented, and commercialized without Lacks’ knowledge or consent. Moreover, her family was kept in the dark and never financially compensated or paid a royalty from the subsequent profits. (Rebecca Skloot’s book, THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, tells Henrietta’s story in excruciating detail if you are interested in additional reading on Lacks.)  But there is more at stake than informed consent and just compensation when it comes to medical research on the human genome… much more.

Did you know that a company called Myriad Genetics presently owns patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer marker genes? This means if a woman wants to test if she carries the BRCA1/2 genes, she must pay Myriad Genetics whatever price they demand for the gene verification test because they have a monopoly. Every woman who has the BRCA1/2 genes will be happy to know that Myriad Genetics owns this little piece of their genome. In fact, recent reports estimate that 25% of the human genome is patented. Does it bother you to know that you’ve lost the right to 25% of your person? It bothers me… so I wrote a book about it.

My debut thriller, THE CALYPSO DIRECTIVE, explores the slippery slope of gene patenting. The novel’s protagonist, Will Foster, becomes embroiled in the dark side of biomedical research when his genome is stolen because of a priceless genetic mutation he possesses. THE CALYPSO DIRECTIVE is a thriller, but amidst the chase scenes and sleuthing for answers, it also delves into the following questions: When does genetic research become genetic piracy? Does serving the “greater good” justify exploitation of the individual? Does a human being have the right to own his or her own genome?

THE CALYPSO DIRECTIVE is on sale now, at your favorite online or local bookseller. Chapter 1 is available online for free here.

Midwest born and raised, Brian Andrews is a US Navy Veteran who served as an officer aboard a 688 class nuclear submarine in the Pacific. He graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt University with a degree in psychology. He is a Park Leadership Fellow and holds a Masters degree from Cornell University. Brian lives in Tornado Alley with is wife and daughter.


Hooking the Reader

Guest Blogger: Dakota Banks

Browsers in a bookstore scan the shelves, eyes moving rapidly from book to book. If your books are spine-out rather than face-out, you have only your title and your name to get the buyer to pick up your book. If your book is face-out, you have cover art and blurbs in your favor. Assuming you get past these hurdles, the browser then rapidly scans the jacket copy (if hardback) or the back cover (if paperback). Many factors here are out of your control. The editor may change the title you slaved over. You may have little or nothing to say about cover art and jacket copy. Blurbs may come from reviews (out of your control) or advance readers, whom you may have at least selected.

The online buying experience is much the same, except that you are spared the worry of being spine-out! Many times there is an opportunity to read the first few pages of the book, or you may have even posted the opening of the book yourself to get the reader’s attention.

If your book is still in the reader’s physical or virtual hands at this point (and sadly, many are not), the hook comes into play. That’s the main point-of-sale tool that you, the author, have under your control. It’s roughly the first couple of pages of a book, say 500 words. You don’t want your book to be easy to set aside before the reader has a chance to become involved with your wonderful characters and plot. If you can capture a reader’s interest right away, chances are they’ll still be with you at the next critical point, which is around fifty pages into the book. The “fifty-page fizzle” can prevent readers from finishing your book, and if that’s the case, it’s not very likely they’ll try your next.

You may have even less time to impress an editor or agent, since they are accustomed to rapid decisions. In some cases, only your first paragraph is read to determine whether to spend precious time on the rest. What can the agent possibly glean from so few words? Your professionalism (spelling, grammar, and punctuation), your presentation (font type and size, and manuscript formatting), and your prose (genre and your voice, which is a combination of your writing style and the characterization of the protagonist) are all on display to discerning eyes.

So how do you make those first pages bear up under all these important tasks? You can’t do it with a lengthy description of your protagonist’s bedroom when he/she wakes up (unless it’s a pitch-black, stinking dungeon cell and your protagonist, who has no idea how he got there, is awakened by rats nipping at his nose) or by describing the weather (unless your protagonist is being slammed around by a tornado or carried along in a flash flood, clinging to the remnants of her front door with bloody fingers). Finally, you don’t cheat the reader by having wild happenings occur and then having the protagonist wake up—it’s all been a dream. If you are going to use one of these three overused openings (morning surroundings/routine, weather, dream), then you’ve got to have a totally original, engaging slant to compensate.

A key concept in those “don’ts” above is description. Make your description minimal, which doesn’t mean it can’t be vivid. Focus on a few well-chosen, evocative details and let them stand in for heavy description. Be sure to draw the reader into your story with sensory description that appeals to more senses than just sight.

Try to make your description do double duty in building character as well. Make sure you are not in a headlong rush to explain everything in the first few pages. Prune back-story to an absolute minimum. Don’t fall into the trap of telling the reader everything they need to know about a character and/or situation in the first chapter. Hold out longer—use the “layers of an onion” approach.

Instead of getting bogged down in back story, toss the reader into an ongoing situation and leave the explanation for later. Make the reader wonder about what’s going to happen next by planting the seeds of intrigue right away. That’s the start of a page-turner! Intrigue can result from something as simple yet chilling as a threatening phone call late at night, so don’t reach into artificiality.

One thing your opening should convey is a strong sense of the tone of the book, so let your voice be heard. Introduce a main character (villain or protagonist) in an intriguing way, preferably in an action situation or a situation that hints strongly of action to come. Convey an immediate sense of place. Don’t have your exciting action taking place with the characters floating in a generic setting. Otherwise it’s easy to drift away, and if the TV remote is at hand, you may have lost your audience.

Cut to the chase. Sometimes you may write an entire first chapter and find your actual lead somewhere in the middle of chapter one—-or even in chapter two or three-—because you began with too much explanation. In that case, lop off the unnecessary part to pare down to the true opening. You can work in all that explanation later, if it was important.

Then polish, polish, polish. You’ll probably rewrite your lead twenty times or more. Read it aloud. If your voice is stumbling over awkward phrases or dragging, reflecting a glacial pace, you’re not done.

Look through the lead below with an eye to vivid, sensory detail; a sense of place; an ongoing situation with the strong hint of action to come; minimal backstory; and early contributions to characterization. Would you keep reading?


Maliha Crayne placed her feet carefully on the old clay-tiled roof. Freezing rain made the passage treacherous. Xietai, the man she was chasing, seemed as sure-footed as a gazelle wearing no-slip boots. She had already sent a tile sliding to the street three stories below.

It was three in the morning, and although New York never sleeps, the residents of this neighborhood did. Most of them, anyway. As another tile clattered to the sidewalk, a window was flung open and a woman’s head appeared, her neck twisted to look up at the roof.

“What’s goin’ on up there? Think yer Santa Claus or somethin’? Get off my roof!”

With flat roofs all around, he has to choose one with tiles. Should have gone around and picked up his trail on the other side. Maliha 0, Xietai 1.


Xietai had been in her sights twice before, and he’d eluded her. He ran a human trafficking ring, bringing Asian girls to America, and then sending American girls to Asia. Round-trip profits. Complicating matters was that Xietai was the son of one of Maliha’s dearest friends, Xia Yanmeng. Maliha planned to bring Xietai to justice but with his record of confrontation, it was possible she’d have to kill him.

Kill Yanmeng’s son. Not sure how he’d feel about that, even though the two of them are estranged. If my daughter Constanta had survived her birth and grown up evil, would I be hunting her?


Maliha came to the end of the tiled roof and paused briefly. Xietai’s footprints led her on into the moonless night. Using her ability to view auras, she could see the outline of his footsteps and the tendrils of red and black twining together, rising from them. Normally she used her aura vision for a few seconds at a time, a quick check to see if someone was lying or to make sure she faced a truly evil person before plunging her sword into him. Constant viewing, as she was doing now to track Xietai, was draining. His aura footprints were clear, but her surroundings were a little out of focus. As long as Xietai kept out of her normal sight, he had an advantage.


Maliha felt a touch on her shoulder, as soft as if she’d been brushed by a bird’s wing. Yanmeng was a remote viewer, and he was signaling her that he was viewing her now. She could extend her arm and make an L-shape with her fingers, the sign they’d agreed upon for him to withdraw, and he would immediately stop remote viewing her. At least, she trusted that he would.


She didn’t make the withdrawal sign.


It’s his son. Yanmeng’s not going to like this, but it’s not right to hide it from him.


She swung over the edge of the roof, hung briefly by one hand, and dropped down to an adjacent flat roof. Landing with a forward roll to break the momentum of the fall, she put out a hand to avoid sliding on the patchy ice. She scraped the side of her hand raw on the rough roofing material. She wasn’t an accomplished traceuse—tracer—so her hands weren’t calloused. The man ahead of her was a highly skilled practitioner of parkour, a method of crossing obstacles in the most efficient way and the shortest time.


She ran barefoot, with loose black shorts, a black t-shirt, a belly bag with a few throwing stars secured inside so they couldn’t shift and hurt her, knives strapped to her thighs, with her thick black hair flowing behind her. It was late November, and an icy rain pelted her face and other exposed skin. Maliha wasn’t prepared for this pursuit, but when Xietai crossed her path, she had to try it.


About the Mortal Path Series


The Mortal Path is the story of a 300-year-old woman’s quest to overcome the evil that she perpetrated as an assassin for the ancient Sumerian demon who owns her soul. To redeem herself, she must save a life for every life she’s taken. The score is kept on a scale of justice carved into her torso by the demon’s claw; it activates to record progress and fallbacks. With her inner circle of friends, Maliha Crayne struggles to beat the clock—she ages a little with every life she saves. If she doesn’t, she’ll become the demon’s tortured plaything—forever.


DELIVERANCE is the third book in the series, after DARK TIME and SACRIFICE. In DELIVERANCE, Maliha’s closest friends are beginning to disappear. Amid her anger, suspicion, and sorrow, her life is spiraling out of control. Worse still, a beautiful Renaissance-era murderess is recruiting Maliha as her new assassin. Maliha is turning into a lethal puppet with an evil Immortal pulling the strings, forced to kill innocents or see her missing friends die horribly. Trapped in a moral no-man’s-land, Maliha is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t … and time is rapidly running out. The book’s on-sale date is today, March 27th.




“DELIVERANCE by Dakota Banks delivers everything I love in suspense fiction: great characters who jump from the page; a smart, layered plot, and pacing that screams.  This is the kind of book that makes you look forward to a rainy day.” —John Gilstrap, author of NATHAN’S RUN and DAMAGE CONTROL


“Readers who like their paranormal romantic suspense novels to feature nonstop action, twisting plots, and deadly heroines will devour Banks’ clever and compelling Mortal Path series.” – Lisa Gardner, #1 NYT Bestselling Author of CATCH ME


“A breakneck ride through worlds visible and invisible — who knew the ancient Sumerians were this thrilling?” – Joseph Finder, Top 10 NYT Bestselling Author of BURIED SECRETS


“DELIVERANCE is wonderfully unpredictable, full of breathlessly exciting action scenes. Readers will be hooked till the very last page, and then will rush to pick up the others in the Mortal Path series.” – RT Book Reviews


Additional Information


Get the latest news about the Mortal Path series and the international giveaways running now, which include a Kindle Fire and multiple opportunities to win a Mortal Path Swag Bag, containing a tote bag, all three signed books in the series, pens, bookmarks, magnets, and a calculator. Check Dakota’s blog for a current list. Visit Dakota on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and her website. See the DELIVERANCE trailer here!


Dakota Banks is a former independent computer consultant, now the author of the Mortal Path series of action-adventures with a supernatural twist and the PJ Gray series (as Shirley Kennett) of suspense novels using virtual reality to simulate crime scenes. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, and a former board member of International Thriller Writers. She lives near St. Louis with her husband Dennis, two sons adopted from Peru and Ethiopia, and two cats who keep her writing on track.






Is There a Writer Gene?

Guest Blogger: Donna Galanti

Is there a writer gene and is storytelling genetic?  NY Times Best Selling Author Jonathan Maberry thinks so. As a student in his Write a Novel in 9 Months class he noted that we either have the urge to write or we don’t. I believe this too. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean we will be good at it but just that it’s in us. If the urge is there then we can learn the craft. But first, we need the urge. The urge is what drives us to perfect our craft. We either are storytellers or we aren’t.

I read a piece from my book A HUMAN ELEMENTat a writer’s workshop last year. I thought I picked a piece that would not offend. When the faces stared expressionless at me at the end, I quickly realized I did not quite fit into this nice chick lit group. Especially when the workshop leader, Kathryn Craft, noted the comedy in my reading about heads popping in vices and what not as I peered up with innocent eyes.

This led me to wonder if there are sub categories of the writer gene just like there are sub genres in writing. If there is a “dark” writer gene, well, that fits me perfectly. I like writing from the dark places. To spiral my characters into tragedy – with a dash of hope. On the page I can act out horrific events by evil people and never get arrested. My blood pumps a bit quicker. My fingers fly faster over the keyboard. My husband wants to know how I can write this stuff. Perhaps I’m simply getting my aggressions out.

I see sparks of the writer gene in my son. He writes with colorful passion as I did at his age. He acts out his dreams as well, embellishing on them as he plays. I asked why he did that once. He said he wants to add to his favorite dreams during the waking world, to keep them alive so he can enjoy them over and over again. I understand that. I want my characters to keep acting out new events and live forever through me as well.

Here’s a scene of one dark character in A HUMAN ELEMENTI enjoyed writing:

As X-10 ran under the full moon, leaping over rocks and roots, darting around boulders he could see her in his mind. Laura. You are mine. Then he saw her with her man. Water coursed all around them. Her hair hung wet about her shoulders. X-10 closed off his mind’s eye to the scene. He didn’t want to see her naked. It made him feel strange. And in that strange feeling he couldn’t define, X-10 hated her even more.

Rage surged through him and his blood pulsed fast, throbbing under his white skin in blue rivers. He forced himself to run faster through the night. Why did she get to live a normal life? He would make sure her end was not normal. And she would wish she had never been born.

A lonesome dog bayed in the hills above X-10 as if approving his plan. Streaks of moonlight and shadows fell across his face like whip lashes over and over, creating a living painting from darkness and light. He would show Laura darkness like she never experienced, and pain. There would be so much pain. He howled back at the creature that rode alone through the woods like he did. Perhaps they would meet along their journeys.

He hoped so. He was getting hungry again.

Unlike the fictional X-10 here, ancient history was full of inducing real pain. People acted out their aggressions in real life. Many were the unfortunate ones acted upon. Ripped to shreds by lions. Skewered gladiator style. Tortured by medieval stretch-rack.

We’re so much safer today reading and writing about tormented characters. Think about it. I wrote a blog post recently on how in writing dark fiction we’re saving the world one book at a time. If more people lose themselves in dark writing instead of dark action, we’d all be better off.  Plus there is just wicked fun to be had in writing the bad-ass character and the tormented character.

This brings me back around to the question; if the writer gene does exist then are writers pre-disposed to write what they do? Dark fiction, young adult, fantasy, science fiction, romance, memoir. What in our writer gene pre-disposes us for that? If my son writes some day from the dark places I will know why, and probably enjoy it immensely. My husband? Eh, not so much.

So, do you believe there is a writer gene? And what kind of storyteller are you?


One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next.

Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite–her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test.

With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his and she has two choices–redeem him or kill him.

Readers who devour paranormal books with a smidge of horror and steam will enjoy A HUMAN ELEMENT, the new novel about loss, redemption, and love.



“A HUMAN ELEMENT is an elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart. Highly recommended.” –Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author of ASSASSIN’S CODE and DEAD OF NIGHT

“Donna must have picked up on my weakness for Dean Koontz, because A HUMAN ELEMENT echoes the bestselling author in terms of creativity, the supernatural and overall dark allure. Add in a little paranormal romance and you’ve got one delicious literary paranormal mashup.” – Mina Burrows, Blog for the Paranormal & Mystical Minds. See full review.

Donna Galanti is the author of the dark novel A HUMAN ELEMENT(Echelon Press). She won first place for Words on the Wall Fiction at the 2011 Philadelphia Writer’s Conference. Donna has a B.A. in English and a background in marketing. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and Pennwriters. She lives with her family in an old farmhouse in PA with lots of nooks, fireplaces, and stinkbugs. Visit her at: www.donnagalanti.com and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Like Donna’s Author Facebook  page for news and updates! Her tour runs through April 11th with book giveaways, more guest posts, and interview fun, and a chance to win the big prize giveaway! So pop over to her blog to see the full tour schedule.