New Release: Catholic teen fiction and St. Francis!

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STANDING STRONG, the fourth book in the Catholic teen fiction West Brothers series, came out October 4th, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. I chose this for the release date because of a strong Franciscan theme. In this blog post, I’ll tell you a bit about seventeen-year-old Keefe West and the Franciscan Brothers.

Standing Strong follows the seventeen-year-old West twins, Jarret and Keefe. While Jarret struggles to remain faithful to God when faced with old temptations, Keefe tries to discern whether he has a calling to religious life.

Roland Front Cover with Award NoteKeefe West has come a long way since readers first met him in Roland West, Loner. He was once under the thumb of his controlling twin brother, Jarret. Sometimes he tried to talk his brother out of bad ideas, but more often he went along with Jarret’s schemes, even when he knew they were wrong.

While Keefe has always cared about his brothers—not wanting them unhappy or in trouble—he had a distorted view of true compassion.

The word “compassion” means to “suffer with” someone. However, true compassion cannot “suffer with” someone when sin is the cause of the suffering. True compassion considers the real needs of the other, including moral and spiritual. And sometimes the compassionate choice is to speak the hard truth.

In Life-Changing Love, on a trip to Italy, Keefe experienced a life-changing event. LCLFrontCover(Spoilers: he visited the Basilica of St. Mary in Bagno di Romagna, where he witnessed a Eucharistic miracle.) As he knelt before the Lord, the transforming fire of Christ’s love touched his heart. Upon returning home, he experienced the true measure of his transformation. He had to finally show true compassion to his twin by refusing to condone Jarret’s poor choices.

Keefe’s transformation created a rift between himself and Jarret, but it opened the door of Keefe’s heart to Christ. In Standing Strong, the latest book of the West Brothers series, Keefe feels drawn to a religious vocation, but he must first fight a few inner battles.

Battle Front Cover with awardIn Battle for His Soul, a group of Franciscan Brothers passed through Keefe’s town. To ensure accuracy, I researched Franciscan communities and happened upon a group of Brothers who I’ve been following ever since: the Franciscan Brothers of Peace in Minnesota. The Brothers in my story are loosely based on the Brothers of Peace.

These Brothers know all about true compassion. From their website: they are a “Pro-Life Religious Brotherhood dedicated to giving (their) lives for love of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church.” Faithful to the teachings of the Church, these men are committed to serving and defending the most vulnerable members of society: the pre-born child, the severely disabled, survivors of torture, the poor and the homeless.

I was incredibly touched by the story of their founder, Brother Michael, and by the other Brothers’ loving care of him. At age thirty-two, he suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest and was left with brain injury and a severe disability. The Brothers remained by his side at the hospital and later at an extended care facility, where he spent seven months. Then they brought him home to provide round-the-clock care. They did not see caring for him as a burden.

“Brother Michael became the loving heart of our home and of our Brotherhood. In the mystery of God’s plan for Brother Michael and for us, the Lord Jesus Christ manifested Himself in Michael and through his brokenness, and brought about a spiritual formation that we could not possibly have experienced in any other way.” 

I encourage all to pray for vocations and to visit the Franciscan Brothers of Peace website to learn more about the Brotherhood. Read about their history and “The Roots of Brotherhood.”

Like the Franciscan Brothers of Peace, I too have been deeply moved by the story of St. saint-francis-of-assisi-300x300Francis, especially by the way he took the words of Christ literally.

“If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow Me.”      ~Matthew 19:21

I wrote a blog post about this called “All In with St. Francis.” Thousands of men and women hear this call today and choose to follow Christ in the footsteps of St. Francis. And the Franciscan Brothers of Peace are beautiful testimony to that.


Standing Strong is available in paperback or ebook.


Follow the blog tour now!

  • CatholicMom.com posted the Press Release: “Catholic teen fiction can turn the tide of young adults leaving the faith.” You can also read an excerpt from Standing Strong!
  • T.M. Gauoette – writer, blogger, and author of Catholic fiction and non-fiction. Author T.M.G. has been kind enough to host my guest post “Why We Need Catholic Teen Fiction”
  • Leslea Wahl, author of award-winning Catholic teen fiction has read an advanced copy and posted her review, along with several other early reviews of the book.
  • Cynthia Toney, author of the Bird Face series, has posted my article about the inspiration for Standing Strong. It has to do with a nun and her teenage student who doesn’t like to read.
  • Carolyn Astfalk, author of coming-of-age romance Rightfully Ours, has posted the book trailer and her review of the book.
  • And finally, please check out my blog post about the Top Ten reasons you need a copy of Standing Strong!

 

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Summer & Books: An Unexpected Role

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Inspired by the A to Z Blogging Challenge this past April, I have decided to blog about books for the month of June. I will be sharing tidbits about my own books and the other books on the Catholic Teen Books website.

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This book is guaranteed to make your summer last longer and feel more relaxing.


About the Book:

The devastation of a ruined summer. The gift of a second chance.
Can Josie learn the lessons she needs in order to discover her true self?

After a humiliating event and overwhelming peer pressure, 16-year-old Josie flees her home to spend the summer with her Aunt on a South Carolina island. Her fresh start turns into the summer of her dreams as friendships grow, romance blossoms, and a series of thefts surround her with excitement. However, when tragedy strikes someone close to her, Josie realizes there are more important things than her reputation. As she sets out to solve the mystery she has become entangled in, she not only realizes the importance of relying on her faith but along the way also discovers who God wants her to be.


Truly a summer read, this story takes place on a small island off the South Carolina coast. While the characters and mystery keep you turning the page, the beautiful setting descriptions will transport you.

Author Leslea Wahl shared with me how she creates such beautiful setting details:

“One summer when my kids were young, we went on a family vacation to the coast of South Carolina. I’d been to many beaches before but something about this place was so lovely and calming, it quickly became one of my favorite destinations.

“When I began writing An Unexpected Role and my character needed to get away from home, I thought about where I would want to escape to if I needed a peaceful place to re-examine my life, South Carolina immediately came to mind.

“I wish I could’ve gone back there under the guise of a research trip but sadly I had to rely on my memory. When I’m writing scenes describing scenery I close my eyes and envision being there. I try to focus on as many details as possible and then think about how my character would describe them. Since my main character Josie is quite theatrical, seeing life through her eyes was quite fun and the perfect chance to describe things in a unique way.” ~Leslea Wahl, author of An Unexpected Role.

I am happy to share a few of my favorite excerpts from the story:

We dock on the west side of the island amid tall sea grasses and sand dunes dotted with driftwood. I fight the urge to abandon my tennis shoes and run through the blanket of sand, letting it sift through my toes. We slowly drive by pastel-colored cottages with white trim that remind me of a box of saltwater taffy, welcoming us to the island. An elderly couple on their front porch swing wave as we go by. Neighbors chat over white picket fences. Children on their bikes try to keep up with us.  

We turn on to a beautiful street full of little shops. Striped awnings and lamp posts adorned with overflowing baskets of vibrant flowers line the street. Couples relax at cafe tables and happy families window-shop with ice cream cones in hand. Lily’s description of traveling back in time was spot on.

~from page 27 of An Unexpected Role.

Another favorite:

We start down the well-worn path that leads through the tall sea grasses to the narrow strip of beach. Kahlua scurries around the bushes, then in a blur of fur runs out to the ocean, splashing in the water as she chases something. I kick my sandals to the side and join her in the cool surf. The wet sand oozes up between my toes, my feet quickly buried. The beach is deserted except for an army of seagulls marching along the sand on pencil thin legs. Kahlua, dripping with ocean water, spies tiny crabs that skitter sideways across the sand. She pounces along as she tries to catch them.ocean-931776_1920.jpg

I move down the coast, mystically drawn toward the towering lighthouse, the gleaming white pinnacle having the opposite effect of its intended purpose. I’ve seen lighthouses before, on Lake Superior, but nothing as elegant and majestic as this one.   A sign kindly informs me I’m in Shipwreck Cove. The beach’s semicircle shape is surrounded by tall black cliffs; a wooden staircase leads up to the lighthouse. My eyes follow the large outcropping of unique rocks that juts out into the ocean at the southern end of the cove. I assume the town and marina must be on the other side of the natural barrier. 

~from pages 30-31 of An Unexpected Role

My Review:

I can’t believe I read An Unexpected Role in one day, but it was that good from beginning to end. I mean, this book is absolutely hilarious! For me, as a writer, I love that the main character’s mom is a writer! And poor Josie decides her mom is ruining her life because everyone at school thinks the embarrassing stories in the book are about her. More than anything, Josie wants an escape. And she gets one which has the potential to be everything a girl could want.

As the fun plot moves forward a mystery begins to develop, the tension really starts mounting. In addition to being fast-moving and at times hilarious, this novel has incredible descriptions. Since I read this (last year) as summer was dwindling down, I really appreciated the beautiful imagery, the beaches and ocean view. It let me hold onto summer for a wee bit longer. But this story is also filled with life-lessons that are totally relevant to young adults–well, to me too. This book is a fun and rewarding read!

Visit Leslea Wahl’s website and blog. Follow her on Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook. You can also find her on Instagram:  Leslea_Wahl and Pinterest.

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Have you stumbled upon a favorite book this summer? Tell me about it in the comments. Feel free to share a link.

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Summer & Books: The Perfect Blindside

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Inspired by the A to Z Blogging Challenge this past April, I have decided to blog about books for the month of June. I will be sharing tidbits about my own books and the other books on the Catholic Teen Books website.

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The Perfect Blindside by Leslea Wahl really takes you there. I recommend it as a fun summer read that can transport you from the summer heat and into an ice cold mystery!

About the Book:

Fresh off a championship medal, Jake Taylor’s parents have dragged him to a middle-of-nowhere town in Colorado, far from where he wants to be. Smart and savvy, Sophie has spent the summer before her junior year of high school avidly following Jake Taylor in every article she can find, but now she sees the “truth” behind the story — he’s really just a jerk. When the only thing they can see is each other’s flaws, how can Jake and Sophie work together to figure out what’s really been happening at the abandoned silver mine? Follow Sophie and Jake into secret tunnels as they unravel the mystery and challenge each other to become who God wants them to be.


I love the cover of The Perfect Blindside, the shades of blue and the figure standing on the cool ice formation. Along with the great characters, this story has so many fun elements to it, including tunnels and mines. So I asked author Leslea Wahl about her research for this book.

Here’s her answer:

“Years ago, when the story of The Perfect Blindside suddenly popped into my head, it included a few things that my mind had been fascinated with for a long time:

  • the life and sacrifices of a young Olympian
  • the ultra-cool sport of halfpipe snowboarding
  • and old abandoned gold mines

“Growing up in Colorado, where there are many old mining towns, the stories of the successes and heartbreaks during the Gold Rush days were always plentiful. When I was young, my parents loved to ski and camp so we spent a lot of time driving in the mountains. I was always fascinated by the mines that dotted the landscape, the decrepit wooden structures set into the mountain, and the silt of the ore trailing down in front of them. When visitors came we sometimes took them on tours of the mines. Those dark tunnels leading into the heart of the mountain were terrifying and intriguing at the same time.coal-1626368_1920

“When I began writing my book, I had a little trouble with the mine scenes so my family indulged me and we went on a tour for some research. The tour included some amazing stories of daily life in the mines and tragic mine collapses. But my favorite part of the tour was when they took us to see one section of the mine that still looked like it had in the late 1800’s. You could see the chisel and pick ax marks in the rough stone walls, the holes where dynamite had been placed, as well as the old cart tracks. Seeing this place really helped me to envision my fictional Silver Springs Mine. Those sections of my story suddenly came to life in my head and made for an exciting backdrop for Jake and Sophie’s adventure.” ~Leslea Wahl, The Perfect Blindside

Leslea Wahl has made me jealous! I wish I could visit those mines. I also wish I could go on location to research my story settings. My work-in-progress takes place halfway across the country. I am using Google Maps Street View a lot –which is very fun!– but I’d love to be there and see it all for myself.

My review:

With mystery, well-developed characters, and light romance, The Perfect Blindside is a great teen read. Leslea Wahl’s writing style makes this a fast-paced story that is hard to put down, especially as the mystery and adventure unfolds. I enjoyed experiencing snowboarding with main character Jake. The sensory details are great! But I had never considered the effects of fame on a young person and the trials that go along with that. I also appreciated the natural way Sophie, the other main character, prayed and struggled with choices.

I especially loved the moral messages of using your gifts for the glory of God and of not jumping to conclusions about others. I can’t wait for Leslea Wahl’s next book.

Visit Leslea Wahl’s website and blog. Follow her on Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook. You can also find her on Instagram:  Leslea_Wahl and Pinterest.

Thanks for stopping by my blog, the first in the Summer & Books blogs! Have you stumbled upon a favorite book this summer? Tell me about it in the comments. Feel free to share a link.

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A Bit About Angels

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Look around you. How many are in the room with you? I propose that the actual number is more than double.

We all believe in things we can’t see: air, wind, electricity, gravity. But invisible spiritual realities surround us too. Each of us has a guardian angel. Take the number of people with you now and double it for a good guess as to how many beings are with you at this moment.

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By Nheyob – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36041219

I studied angels for a book I wrote (Battle for His Soul) and I’d like to share what I’ve learned. Most of my information came from St. Thomas Aquinas. Do you know who he is? He was a philosopher and theologian, now considered a Doctor of the Church.

 

In grade school, we all learn that there are 3 kinds of substances: animal, vegetable, and mineral. These are all physical substances, but we know that humans are so much more. We are made of both body and soul. So Aquinas believed that to round out the order of things there must be something that is purely spiritual with no body. We call pure spirits angels.

There are also far more angels than any other material thing.

We classify and sort all material things. Since angels have no matter in them, they can’t be sorted in the same way. While angels share the same spiritual nature (so they are of the same genus) each angel is the only one of its kind. Each angel is a species that is essentially different from every other angel.

Each angel is unique. Each represents the goodness of God in a unique way. I like this detail because it allowed me to give a different personality to each of the guardian angels in my story.

angel-595033While I portrayed angels with bodies, wings, and cool weapons in my story, angels actually have no bodies or physical matter. So they can’t die, decay, or change.

Do angels ever assume bodies? We know from Holy Scripture that they do. Angels appeared in bodily form to Adam and Eve (when they were kicked out of the garden) to Abraham, Tobias, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the shepherds, to name a few. You or I may have seen our guardian angel.

Aquinas believed angels can move quickly. Our guardian angels are in the world with us, so they move in time. They can’t be in two places at once. But they can move at the speed of thought.

Angels are highly intelligent, more so than any person, and they can grow in knowledge but they have no need to learn. They were given their knowledge the moment they were created. Angels do not all have the same intelligence either. There are higher and lower angels. Each one has the knowledge they need for their particular status and the work they will do.

Just as we have free will, so do angels. They exercise it more perfectly than us partly because they don’t have the temptations of the flesh.

Angels love. Love is something a person chooses to do freely. Angels have free will, therefore they have love. In fact, while it involves choice, love is a natural tendency for angels. They love themselves, each other, and God most of all.

Angels were not created before the physical world, but at the same time. They were created in heaven, but they did not originally possess God in the beatific vision. That requires grace. This explains how some became fallen angels. Each angel had the choice to love God or to put themselves first. Those who chose God merited the beatific vision.

It’s different for humans. We take steps and move through stages, growing in holiness. We can fall and get back up. We sin, repent, and are forgiven over and over. But they had one choice. The choice of a pure spirit is final and unchanging. Those who chose God, the beatified angels, cannot sin.

Before beatification, they could sin. And some did. Those are the fallen angels, or demons. Demons try to lead people to commit every kind of sin, but they have no bodies so they can only commit two kinds of sin: pride and envy. Lucifer, now called Satan, wished to be equal to God though he knew that it was impossible for a creature to be equal to the creator. He wanted to create by his own power, to achieve beatitude without God’s help, and to have command over others in a way proper to God alone.

Sin is contrary to the natural order, so it occurs less frequently. Therefore, there are fewer fallen angels than faithful angels.

Fallen angels did not lose their knowledge or intellect. They also have sorrow. Not the sorrow of repentance but sorrow of knowing that they will never attain beatitude and that, despite their efforts, we might still get to heaven. That’s why they are so busy battling against our salvation.

Back to the good angels…. Each of us was given a guardian angel from the first moment of our existence, so at conception.

What can angels do for us? They can enlighten us by strengthening our understanding or making us aware of something. Angels can deliver messages from God to us or from us to God. Angels can guard us.

They cannot act upon our human will. God alone can do that. But they can influence us by stirring up images in our imagination. They can also work upon the human senses, as is the case when one assumes visible form.

Have you recognized the actions of your guardian angel in your life?

I’ve been in several terrible car accidents and never came to harm, including when I crashed my Nova. The steering wheel was up against the driver seat but somehow I got out of the car without even a tear in my pantyhose.

I lived on the tiny island of Guam when typhoon Pamela hit. The island sustained an incredible amount of damage but only one person died.

I don’t know specifically how my guardian angel has helped me. But I know he has. And I am thankful to God for him and for all the angels. And I truly enjoyed researching for and writing about them in Battle for His Soul.

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Y is for Yes, You Can!

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“Y” is for Yes, You Can!

As we near the end of the blogging challenge, I want to offer a bit of encouragement.

I have never been much of a blogger because I don’t feel like I have that many ideas and I feel so busy with other things. But over the course of this challenge I have come to see that I can do it. I can find a few minutes every day to write something. I can also think about things and come up with worthy ideas while driving, washing dishes, or doing other routine things.

I never thought I could do it. But I did! (Almost. I still have the letter Z to contend with.) And you can do it too!

What are your dreams and goals? God made you unique, giving you specific interests, dreams, and talents.

Maybe He is calling you to step outside of your comfort zone or to go out on a limb. (Don’t you love my cliches?) Take a chance and give it a try! In order to reach for your dreams, you have to start somewhere and sometime.

Why not start here and now!

Make a list of your interests, dreams, and goals. Put them in order, with the one that speaks to you the loudest at the top. What would be the first step to reaching this goal?

Often the first step is prayer. Then maybe talking to your spouse or a close friend. Research will probably come next. Head for the library, bookstore, or get online. If you are like me, you might also want to get a list started. Lists are great for keeping our goals before us, especially if you look at your list every morning.

So take a chance and pursue your dreams! Yes, you can do it! And the time is now!

A to Z Blogging Challenge: V is for Virtual Travel

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“V” is for Virtual Travel

In my blog for the letter “R,” I wrote about research, and I promised to share my favorite resource for researching places I’ve never been. That’s what I’ll blog about now!

I love to travel. My father was in the Coast Guard and we moved often, giving me the impression that life was an adventure. We lived in California, Guam, and Hawaii (Oahu). Then Dad retired in Ohio. And I married a life-long Ohio boy. With the exception of the one year I convinced the hubby to try Arizona, I’ve lived in Ohio ever since.

While my family takes a little vacation to one or another neighboring state almost every year, I’ve lost hope in ever moving again. But I can still see the world through my imagination and my writing!

My West Brothers teen fiction series takes place in a forested area of South Dakota. I selected this area because of the unique rock formations and caves I discovered through online research.

I don’t know how writers did it in the past. I suppose they really had to pay attention to the advice: “Write what you know.” Today’s writer is lucky. We can research online and write what we learn.

A teenage boy in Life-Changing Love gets to travel to Italy with his father. I did lots of online research for the setting details, but my favorite research tool is Google Maps “Street View.” Have you ever tried it? Pick a location, zoom in close, and place the “street view” icon (the little yellow man) on the street. That’s what I did for every scene that took place in Italy.street.png You can click anywhere on the image and it will move wherever you want to go. I was walking all up and down Florence, Italy, and Bagno di Romanga! I could almost hear the people chattering with their Italian accents and smell the fresh baked bread and coffee from the local cafes. I even went inside a few places.

Click here to see inside the Basilica di Santa Maria.

I try to appeal to all five senses in my setting details, so when I travel virtually using “street view,” I jot down notes for everything visual. And I use my imagination for the rest. I love to experience new places this way, and I hope my readers to too!

Have you tried Google Maps Street View? Where have you gone?

A to Z blogging Challenge: R is for Research

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“R” is for Research

Love it or hate it, every writer needs to do it. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, your book can benefit from research. Since the research aspect is obvious for non-fiction, and I don’t write non-fiction anyway, this blog will focus on researching for fiction.

Ideas for Research

Characters – we want our characters to have unique talents, interests, and abilities, but we also want them to be realistic.

Got a child in your story but no child at home to base him on? Visit family or friends or even the library. Pay attention to the unique speech, mannerisms, interests, and interactions of children of different ages.

Got a teen in your story? Head out to the mall for some people watching! Pay attention to clothing styles and jewelry, along with the unique way each teen’s personality shows through body language and verbal communication.

For adult characters, consider people in your family or workplace and note different characteristics, personality quirks, and manners of speech that might work for a character in your book. Warning: don’t create a character that resembles a real person too closely if the person might take offense.

IMAG0097I modeled Toby Brandt in Roland West, Loner on my oldest son, who has autism. This character captures the personality and interests of my son at age 8 or 9, including his manner of speech and interesting behaviors and obsessions. And even some of the story conflict. While every child with autism is unique, I hope that people will find Toby a realistic character.


Setting – long, detailed passages of weather or setting descriptions will bore our readers, but we need enough details to allow them to picture the setting in their minds.

When possible, go on location to gather details. Go into the woods, warehouses, wilderness, or wherever your scene takes place. Take a notebook and focus on all five senses. When you can’t go on location or you want even more ideas, use the research of other writers, for example try the Setting Thesaurus on the Writers Helping Writers website.

I will share another favorite resource for setting details on the “V” blog next week.


Story ideas – these can come from anywhere and go in any direction but getting a few facts can go a long way in making a story feel believable. We don’t want readers to be thrown out of our story world because something doesn’t ring true.

Rightfully Ours Front (002)In Carolyn Astfalk’s new release, Rightfully Ours, sixteen-year-old Paul Porter relocates to Pennsylvania during his dad’s deployment. He makes a temporary home with the Muellers and develops a friendship with Rachel, the Muellers’ teenage daughter. Their abiding friendship deepens as they work side by side to uncover what could be lost treasure.

Author Carolyn Astfalk wanted to get her facts straight with this story so she researched sink holes (where and how they happen and how you rescue someone from one). She also researched how custody of a minor is handled when a single parent is deployed. And, she had to research how gold bars are authenticated.

Her hard work researching for this story makes it all the more believable and allows readers to truly immerse themselves in the romantic and adventure-filled story line. The e-book is available on Amazon and the paperback is coming soon. You can check out the book trailer here.


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The ideas for my dystopian trilogy came directly from the news. Governments too often step on the rights of the individual. Scientific and technological developments often cross ethical boundaries. And special interest groups attempt to indoctrinate us in order to push hidden agendas.

Because this trilogy is set in the near future, I did an incredible amount of online research into actual ideologies that influence world governments, the latest scientific developments, and cutting-edge technology. Unlike some dystopian stories, nothing that happens in this trilogy is that farfetched. If we don’t reclaim our culture and cling to faith, family, and freedom, this is a real possibility for our future.

The more I learned from research, the more I realized I needed to write this dystopian story. I only meant to write one book and get back to my other stories. I wanted to end Chasing Liberty showing a seed of change being planted. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What exactly is this freedom we should be fighting for? And how can one person make a difference?

This trilogy is available through most online booksellers and you can find the book trailers on my website.


What type of research have you done for your stories and what are your favorite resources?