Blog Tour Spotlight: Writing Novels about Faith and Religion that Will Appeal to a Cross-Over Audience of Many Faiths and Non-Believers Alike


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—Photo by Bruce J. Berger

The best way to approach issues of faith in a novel – or anywhere else – is to do so with great respect. Yet, try as one might, novels such as these are not for everyone.

The imperative of writing any novel is that it must tell a good story, by which I mean one that enables the reader to suspend disbelief, engages the reader’s imagination, and makes the reader keep turning pages. If a novel doesn’t do these things, then it will not appeal to any reader, let alone readers of a particular faith or religion. So, in a way, the challenge of writing novels about faith and religion that appeal to a variety of religious believers as well as to non-believers is the same challenge that every novelist faces. The novel must tell a compelling story.

My novels are very much about the conflict between belief and lack of belief, as first laid out in the prequel, The Flight of the Veil. Although raised as an Orthodox Jew in Greece, one of my main characters, Nicky Covo, becomes an avowed atheist when he realizes that the Nazis have murdered the rest of his family. In contrast, his younger sister, Kal – from whom Nicky has been separated – is miraculously rescued by the Theotokos, the Mother of God, whereupon she becomes Sister Theodora, a devout Orthodox Christian nun. More spectacularly, the Theotokos miraculously saves Nicky himself from certain death as he fights with the partisans. When these siblings reunite 47 years later, Nicky’s atheism clashes with Kal’s devotion to a Supreme Being. This juxtaposition of beliefs must lie at the center of the story and its resolution – or lack thereof – must be important to the reader. If it’s not important to the reader, then the novel hasn’t worked.

Similarly, in To See God, the key conflict is between Theodora’s ardent belief that her black seven-year-old grandnephew in America – Jackie Covo – is the Second Coming of Christ and the teaching of the Orthodox Church portraying the Second Coming in an irreconcilably different way. Additional conflict arises between Theodora’s intense need to visit Jackie and the equally urgent need of the monastery’s abbess, Fevronia, to guide Theodora’s beliefs into more Orthodox channels. If these conflicts are important to the reader, then the novel has overcome its first major hurdle; if not, no amount of doctoring will make the novel work.

And what about the possibility that the writer might get details wrong, particularly if writing about a tradition not his own? The answer is extensive research and care. As a Jew, I was helped in these novels by close relatives and friends who were also Orthodox Christians. Mistakes still, if any, are my own responsibility. If I have minimized mistakes and told a gripping story, then I’ve done my job as novelist.

BRUCE J. BERGER turned to writing after a 40-year career as a trial attorney, earning his MFA in Creative Writing from American University in Washington, DC, where he now teaches. His first novel, The Flight of the Veil, won a Bronze Award in General Fiction from Illumination Christian Book Awards, and his second novel, The Music Stalker, was a Finalist (Suspense) in the Next Gen Indie Book Awards contest. Including To See God, the three novels are now grouped by the publisher as the Forgiveness and Faith novel series. Bruce J. Berger has also published more than 50 stories and poems in a wide variety of literary journals. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife, Laurie, and their dog, Whiskey, and down the street from his grandson, Cole, and granddaughter, Neely, to whom he has dedicated To See God.


By Bruce J. Berger

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Pub Date: March 16, 2023

Genres: Fiction/Spirituality/Jewish

Price: $22.95, trade paper

Page Count: 293

ISBN: 978-1-68513-157-9



Blog Tour Spotlight: Excerpt of “To See God” by Bruce J. Berger



The Bones

“To see God.”

Sister Theodora’s words, uttered in little more than a whisper, lingered on the cool air as she looked out across the vineyards sloping down the hillside toward the dark purple mountains. It answered the question posed by Abbess Fevronia, who was gently holding Theodora’s arm, trying to steady herself after what was becoming an ever more difficult climb from the monastery’s church to its winery. As she tried to put away the slight twinge of pain in her chest, Fevronia followed Theodora’s gaze. Theodora had spoken with the conviction she would imminently see Jesus Himself, that He was waiting that very minute to reveal Himself again to humanity in the forests of northern Greece. But of course Fevronia could see nothing more than what she usually saw: the healthy grape vines carrying their burden of newly formed grapes, the fruit that brought the Holy Monastery of St. Vlassios most of its revenue.

“And do you see God now?” asked Fevronia, straining to keep doubt from her voice.

Theodora did not respond, but turned, looked into Fevronia’s eyes, and smiled warmly. Fevronia wasn’t surprised. For decades, Theodora had spoken to no one, and her voice could be heard only during prayer, only then in the softest of tones, so soft that a listener – and Fevronia listened frequently – might have imagined hearing Theodora’s thoughts alone.

Recently, Theodora had more to say out loud to Fevronia, not in prayer, but in reminiscing. A Talmudic story about Rav Huna, which Theodora had heard as a Jewish girl at her father’s side, had struck its way back into her heart. Fevronia’s attempts to question her about the story, to learn more of what the story’s miracle meant for Rav Huna, had been futile. All Theodora would say in response to the inquiries was: “I pray to the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive me, a sinner.”

Theodora took Fevronia’s hand; they walked to the last stone bench at the top of the path, close to the winery. Theodora intended that the two of them, as tired as they were, should sit to pray, and so they did, heads bowed. Fevronia, eyes closed,  heard Theodora breathlessly recite the Jesus Prayer. Although Fevronia tried to match the emotion of Theodora’s prayer, her mind soon wandered. The hired men’s voices – there had been cursing about a stuck valve at the winery – intruded into her thoughts. Fevronia felt the uncanny warmth emanating from Theodora, a warmth that made the hot day feel even hotter. She was impatient to head back down the hill and into the monastery’s much cooler stone buildings.

Her mind drifted once again to Rav Huna’s wine. Theodora must have left something out in the story’s retelling. The monastery’s library had no copy of the Talmud. She wasn’t even positive the Talmud had been translated into modern Greek. It occurred to Fevronia that she could write to Sister Theodora’s brother, Dr. Covo, and ask him if he knew of a translation. Perhaps Dr. Covo could even tell her over the phone the entire story, with the details Theodora must have omitted. Surely that was possible. Then the mental image of that tall, dark, Greek American psychiatrist who’d visited months earlier, discovering his sister still lived and had not been gassed at Auschwitz, drew her to reflect upon the two letters he’d sent to Theodora since his visit. They remained unopened, under Theodora’s cot. She knew they were unopened, because she’d searched through Theodora’s cell.

Why had Theodora not opened them? Curious what the letters might contain, Fevronia wondered whether she should have urged Theodora to read them. Did they contain another appeal for Theodora to abandon the monastery and join her brother permanently in America? Did they contain memories of their lives together as older brother and younger sister? Did they contain news that Dr. Covo and his girlfriend, Helen, were planning a wedding?

Fevronia’s thoughts turned to Helen, who’d been with Dr. Covo when he visited. Helen was a religious Jew, in sharp contrast to Dr. Covo. Fevronia could see Helen served as a stabilizing force for him, a guide, a safety net, a solid and mature companion, the kind of person he had needed when he realized Theodora would not return to America with him, notwithstanding his begging.

Fevronia finally noticed that she could no longer hear Theodora’s prayer. Minutes might well have passed since she’d last heard Theodora’s voice. Fevronia turned to see that Theodora, looking across the vineyards again, was crying.

“What is it, my precious daughter in Christ?”

Theodora stood unsteadily as she swiped at tears with the sleeve of her black cassock. She pointed at the distant hills; the dark purple had now brightened to vibrant indigo as the sun climbed.

“What are you seeing?” Fevronia asked, alarmed. She now stood herself and clutched at Theodora with the vague idea Theodora was ready to fly off toward the horizon in her search for God. Theodora had once flown across Greece with the Mother of God, the Theotokos. Would she now be able to take off on her own in search of God? And, if she flew away, would she ever return?

“There are the bones. I’ve seen them. Oh dear Lord Jesus Christ. Forgive me, a sinner. It is I who killed them.”

With that, Theodora collapsed.

About the Author:

BRUCE J. BERGER turned to writing after a 40-year career as a trial attorney, earning his MFA in Creative Writing from American University in Washington, DC, where he now teaches. His first novel, The Flight of the Veil, won a Bronze Award in General Fiction from Illumination Christian Book Awards, and his second novel, The Music Stalker, was a Finalist (Suspense) in the Next Gen Indie Book Awards contest. Including To See God, the three novels are now grouped by the publisher as the Forgiveness and Faith novel series. Bruce J. Berger has also published more than 50 stories and poems in a wide variety of literary journals. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife, Laurie, and their dog, Whiskey, and down the street from his grandson, Cole, and granddaughter, Neely, to whom he has dedicated To See God.

Blog Tour Spotlight: An Interview with Bruce J. Berger, author of To See God



BRUCE J. BERGER turned to writing after a 40-year career as a trial attorney, earning his MFA in Creative Writing from American University in Washington, DC, where he now teaches. His first novel, The Flight of the Veil, won a Bronze Award in General Fiction from Illumination Christian Book Awards, and his second novel, The Music Stalker, was a Finalist (Suspense) in the Next Gen Indie Book Awards contest. Including To See God, the three novels are now grouped by the publisher as the Forgiveness and Faith novel series. Bruce J. Berger has also published more than 50 stories and poems in a wide variety of literary journals. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife, Laurie, and their dog, Whiskey, and down the street from his grandson Cole and granddaughter Neely, to whom he has dedicated To See God.

Denise: What inspired a 40-year trial attorney to earn his MFA in Creative Writing and become a teacher and novelist? What does your curriculum focus on?

Bruce: I knew that I wanted to have a second career, meaning a career that was not as a lawyer. After 40 years, I’d accomplished as much as I was going to accomplish as a lawyer, but I wanted to continue to work and contribute to society as opposed to sitting around and doing nothing useful. As I had always written creatively, even during my years as a lawyer, I realized that writing would be the central focus of Career #2. As I began my MFA program, I soon realized that I also wanted to continue in an academic environment for the long term, and so teaching became the natural outgrowth of that desire. So, as an adjunct faculty member in the Literature Department of American University in Washington, D.C., I usually teach College Writing, a required course for all students at the school, and I occasionally teach the basic undergraduate course in Creative Writing. Regardless of which writing course I teach, I focus very much on writing clearly and keeping the audience in mind.

Denise: How do you have time to write when you have to read and grade your students’ assignments?

Bruce: It’s difficult to get very much writing done during the semester, although I might be able to do a chapter or two every week, and my chapters are usually very short, maybe 500-1,000 words. Thus, most of my creative writing occurs during the summer or between the fall and spring semesters. When I teach, 90% of my time is devoted to teaching, which includes formulating and revising lesson plans and meeting with students as well as reading and grading their work.

Denise: How many novels have you written and who published them?

Bruce: I have published three novels with Black Rose Writing: The Flight of the Veil, The Music Stalker, and To See God. I have written another novel about the same characters, Displaced, which I have never submitted for publication. I might someday, but that would require an extensive rewrite, and, frankly, I’d rather work on new material right now.

Denise: Your latest novel is To See God. I understand it explores questions about faith, trust, and healing among people separated by Life experience, culture, race, and religion. Separated in what way? 

Bruce: The first separation in these three linked novels was a literal separation occasioned by the Holocaust in Greece. An older brother, Nicky, is sent away from his family living in Salonica, to hide with a priest in Athens. His young sister, Kal, is sent away later to hide with other Christians in Kavala. This is a separation that lasts 47 years, and the reunion of these siblings – both of whom had no idea that the other was alive – is the central theme of The Flight of the Veil.

But separation exists as well in a spiritual sense, as one sibling, Nicky, has become an atheist, and the other sibling, Kal, has become a Greek Orthodox nun known as Sister Theodora. Nicky’s family in America includes his daughter, who has turned to Orthodox Judaism, her son, Jackie, being raised as an Orthodox Jew, and Nicky’s girlfriend, Helen, also a very observant Jew.

And separation in the sense of culture refers to the very different life experiences of the main characters, i.e. the experience of a monastic who prays constantly to Christ; of a successful psychiatrist practicing in Brooklyn; of a piano prodigy whose meteoric career is cut short by mental illness; of a wife and mother who has been a rape victim and suffers from schizophrenia, and so on.

Denise: Tell us about Nicky and Kal and the challenges in their lives.

Bruce: They both suffer from extraordinary guilt. Nicky, for example, suffers from the trauma of having fought with the partisans during World War II and the deaths of innocent people that his fighting brought about. He suffers as well from guilt for having abandoned his family when his parents sent him away to hide from the Nazis. Kal – who has become Sister Theodora – is similarly challenged by the trauma of her having left her home to hide, by the deaths of those who tried to save her, by the unexpected reunion with her brother and by the reawakening of her memories of growing up in a Jewish household. Nicky is further challenged by his marriage to a woman who suffers from schizophrenia (his former patient, Adel) and by being the father of a child prodigy, a role for which he is particularly ill-prepared.

Denise: Were they characters in your Covo family saga (book 2) The Flight of the Veil?

Bruce: Nicky and Kal (Sister Theodora) are characters in The Flight of the Veil and To See God. Kal is not a character in The Music Stalker because, at the time of the actions in that novel, no one is aware that Kal is still alive.

Denise: How can Kayla live a normal life suffering from schizophrenia and keep her son, Jackie? The odds seem against her. How old is Jackie and can he honestly handle his mother’s mental illness?

Bruce: The fact is that patients who suffer from schizophrenia can lead nearly normal lives if they stay on medications that have been helpful for them. A trait of the disease, however, is that patients often stop taking medication, and that’s when the real problems develop. In The Flight of the Veil, the reader learns that Kayla has attacked her son in an episode of paranoia occasioned by her failure to continue with her medications. The ramifications of this event are examined in To See God and, indeed, become the substance of a custody action brought by Jackie’s father, August. The odds may very well be against Kayla, who obviously needs the support of her community: her family, her psychiatrist, her rabbi, and her other friends.

Jackie goes from six to seven years old in the course of To See God. How does he handle things? With some difficulty, but, again, he is supported by his loving family: his mother Kayla, his uncle Max, his grandfather Nicky, and Nicky’s girlfriend, Helen. But it will take very tense moments in Family Court and beyond for things to sort themselves out.

Denise: Who is part of her support system? How does helping her only lead to further issues?

Bruce: Kayla has, for years, lived with her divorced brother, Max. He helps her raise Jackie, but Jackie at times longs for a real father, not an uncle. And Kayla is supported very much by her father and Helen, but their efforts to help her with Jackie – and to relieve some of the trauma that Jackie feels – put them, e.g., into a confrontation with the New Orleans police and with Jackie’s father.

Denise: Then there’s Aunt Kal. What makes her believe that Jackie is a special child?

Bruce: Kal – otherwise known as Sister Theodora – has what she feels is a Divine mission, i.e., a mission given to her in a dream in which she sees Jackie as the Second Coming of Jesus. So, it’s more than that she thinks Jackie is a special child; she believes that Jackie is God, come back to earth in the form of a human being, preparing to announce the post-messianic world to the faithful. She believes she’s been instructed by God to visit Jackie and assist in his Divine mission. When in your heart you believe that God has spoken to you and given you – and only you – a purpose in this world, it’s hard to do otherwise than to try to fulfill that purpose.

Denise: This is not your average novel. How did you come up with this storyline? Is there an underlying message that you are trying to share with your readers?

Bruce:  I agree that this is not an average novel. I would go further, in all humility, to posit that there’s never been a novel quite like this. So, how does the storyline emerge? I had a need to see what would happen to these characters I love following the conclusion of The Flight of the Veil. That novel ends with Sister Theodora telling the abbess of her monastery that she longs “to see God.” I had to find out what that longing meant, in her life and in the lives of the people she loves and interacts with.

If there’s one underlying message in all three novels, it’s that the bonds of family are the strongest bonds we know, that they propel us, as human beings, into extraordinary actions, and that ultimately they define what it means to be human.

Denise: Is this the final volume of the saga or can we expect a new book in the near future?

Bruce: I don’t think there will be a new book in the near future, but perhaps within a couple of years there might be a fourth book. And that book might be entitled Forgiveness. I’ve started work on such a book and perhaps I’m about one-fourth of the way through a first draft. Teaching comes first, however. I feel I can do more immediate good in the world as a teacher than as a writer of a fourth novel.

Plotting a Murder by Laura Childs, New York Times bestselling author of Lemon Curd Killer


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Dear reader,

I have a confession to make. I take great pleasure in figuring out how to murder people. I’m talking about deadly poisons, shootings, hangings, car crashes, stabbings, explosions, fires, strangulations, drugs, and even a plunge from the tower window of a haunted mansion. If you can think of a dastardly way to kill someone, chances are I’ve done it in one of the 54 murder mysteries I’ve written so far. But I’m always on the hunt for the next big thing – a new way to murder someone. Because that’s how I kickstart all my books. First, I devise a clever murder – the manner of execution, so to speak – then I figure out who’s going to be my victim (poor dear). Once I have that little bit worked out it’s time to start weaving together a plausible plot and storyline.

This is a system that works well for me. Because once a murder has taken place and confusion reigns, once the police show up and start grilling witnesses, I’m on fairly solid ground. Sometimes my victims are completely innocent people who’ve died, often unfairly, at the hand of an enemy. Likewise, some of my murder victims are very nasty people who deserved to be bumped off in wildly theatrical ways. And that’s where a protagonist comes in – the one person who’s smart enough to solve the murder. My books generally feature female protagonists who are clever, dogged, and curious. More often than not my protagonists are sympathetic to the victim’s family, so much so that the victim’s family tearfully asks my protagonist to step in and help. And thus is born the amateur sleuth.

In the case of my most recent book, Lemon Curd Killer, tea shop maven Theodosia Browning is that amateur sleuth. She inadvertently stumbles upon the murder of a fashion designer, then is asked by that designer’s sister and daughter to please help figure this out – to run a sort of shadow investigation alongside the police investigation. At this juncture of the writing process I need to bring in several major suspects that all have a fairly close connection to the designer and have a very good (or evil) reason for wanting her dead.

Now it becomes Theodosia’s challenge to ask questions, snoop around, and try to discern who the real killer is. This becomes the story’s plotline as I weave in enough information about each suspect to help Theodosia begin to winnow them down and settle on one or two candidates. Along the way, I drop a few red herrings, throw up several major challenges for Theodosia – including a second murder – and keep the action moving at a brisk thriller pace.

And when the killer is revealed? Well, it turns out he (or she) has been there all along, slithering their way from chapter to chapter. While many a sharp-eyed reader (as they often tell me) has also been noting hints, unraveling clues, and solving the murder!

Sound interesting? Then maybe you’d enjoy reading The Lemon Curd Killer!


Laura Childs

                                                      Author Bio:

Laura Childs is the author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbook Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. Most have been on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller lists. Recently, Book Riot named her mysteries to their list of “25 of the All Time Best Cozy Mystery Series.” In her previous life Laura was CEO of her own marketing firm, authored several screenplays, and produced a reality TV show. She is married to Dr. Bob, a professor of Chinese art history, and has a Chinese Shar-Pei named Lotus.

Find out more at or become a Friend on Facebook at Laura Childs Author

Writing Outside My Comfort Zone By Lisa Wilkes



Left, Lisa Wilkes. Right, her second book Mid-Flight

My first book, Flight Path, was published in 2020. This romance novel, told from the perspective of a free-spirited flight attendant named Callie, offered a quick escape from reality, as well as a chance to revisit—and reminisce over—my favorite city: San Francisco. Flight Path was a huge source of pride for me. It was the fulfillment of my childhood dream: becoming a published author. The road to publication is a difficult one, as most authors will admit. I spent years searching for a publisher willing to take a chance on me. Rejections poured in, piling up on top of each other and verifying my suspicion that I was the worst writer in the whole universe.

In January of 2019, an indie publisher in New York expressed interest in Flight Path. Shortly after that, I received a contract. All the criticism and heartbreak I’d endured suddenly felt irrelevant. Flight Path was going to be printed. I’d be able to hold a paperback in my hand, a 237-page depiction of the wild dreams conjured by my eight-year-old self.

As 2020 progressed, things took a dark turn…and not just because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Oppression was exposed on a national level. As a social worker, I had seen egregious violations up-close. But the whole country was suddenly taking notice. Racial injustice and homophobia could no longer be ignored. Thanks to body cams as well as personal testimonies, we saw discrimination unfolding in real time. The collective conscience seemed to tilt toward equality. Maybe this was the tragic, blood-soaked catalyst necessary to incite meaningful progress. Maybe the darkest and most dismal aspects of society would finally be rectified.

When 2020 gave way to 2021, I started to lose hope. Backlash from extremist organizations thwarted any progress. These powerful religious and political groups benefited from a stratified society which stripped all rights and protections from those in certain tiers. Laws were enacted to harm specific groups of people. It was an obvious ploy for control, but it worked. Seamlessly.

Out of frustration, I decided to venture into new literary terrain. I felt it was time to take a risk, one that might make a difference in this shattered world.

I wanted my next book to address injustice. I wanted to issue a warning similar to the one embedded within The Handmaid’s Tale: there are the consequences to remaining silent in the face of systemic oppression. Unless we take a stand, things will get worse.

My new book would not be easy to write. I knew this before typing a single word. The pursuit of equality is rarely—if ever— greeted with open arms, so this novel would be deemed controversial.

In addition, the novel would require research, contemplation, and courage. There would be looming challenges, both stylistic and thematic in nature. There would be opposition from every angle and I’d have to tackle each obstacle head-on. I needed to take my time with this book. And get it right.

I agonized over the plot for months. I read as many dystopian thrillers as I could, particularly ones written by people of color and those in the LGBTQ+ community. I spoke with friends. I subscribed to podcasts and YouTube channels. In addition, I joined writers’ meetups and recruited beta readers. After outlining each chapter of Mid-Flight, I scrapped my notes. The book needed to be authentic and deeply emotional. Sitting down in front of my laptop, I got to work.

Mid-Flight was the final product of this desire to shed light on inequality. Set in 2037/2038, this story tracks a grieving flight attendant as she navigates a dangerous post-Apocalyptic society. Mid-Flight is a love story, but it’s not your typical romance. This book addresses loss and redemption. At its core, Mid-Flight is about an unyielding desire to choose acceptance over complacency. Or ignorance. Or indifference.

To protect innocent people traveling on her aircraft, Mid-Flight’s main character, Lexi Brennan, launches a grassroots revolution. She knows it would be easier to stay quiet. She also knows this type of rebellion could get her killed. Yet she refuses to obey the authorities enforcing biased laws. To Lexi, the quest for equality is worth fighting for. Even if it means risking everything, and everyone, she loves.

This is the tale I wanted to tell, set against a bleak futuristic backdrop. It’s an allegory for our current political situation, but it’s also a reminder that humanity is better than the divisions we have enacted to ostracize certain people.

It wasn’t easy to step out of the romance realm; romance was familiar. It was safe. My first published novel introduced me to countless romance writers who served as mentors, colleagues, and friends. I knew what was expected. I also knew how to generate material that met those expectations.

But Mid-Flight presented a unique opportunity to do something foreign…and scary.

Once the book was finished, I sent it to friends and coworkers for honest feedback. Some of the comments were brutal, but that criticism helped me improve this novel. I made a ton of tweaks. While my first book was written in three months, Mid-Flight took nearly eighteen months to complete. After all, this was an entirely new venture, one I had never attempted before. It couldn’t be done overnight. This book, my second published novel, was definitely a labor of love.

My best advice to fellow writers is to follow your gut, venturing into new territory when you feel there is an important story to be told. Yes, it will be tough. There will be setbacks. You’ll throw your hands up in frustration. You will question whether it’s worth it, and if you’re even qualified to write this book. But I believe the rewards far outweigh the agonizing moments of doubt or insecurity.

After all, don’t we want to connect with people? Don’t we want to grow, and evolve, and embrace the challenges that shape us into better purveyors of the written word? The answer, as far as I’m concerned, is a resounding yes. Take chances. Do your best. Step into the unknown. This is how you will become a more versatile, more poignant writer than you ever imagined.

So, in sum, cheers to doing the impossible. By stepping out of our comfort zone, we can learn and grow…and, hopefully, inspire others along the way.

For more information:

Website: Https://

Amazon author page:




A Balancing Act by Jeremiah Ukponrefe




Writing is extraordinarily taxing. To get good at it takes hard work, long hours, grit, dealing with difficult people, and wondering if you’re going to make it anywhere. Then there is rejection, hurt feelings, and a huge desire to quit.

All art forms are tough. Just look at what standup comedians must go through when they start out. Driving tedious backroads to dingy bars in small towns that are stuck in the 80’s, where if you’re lucky you end up breaking even.

Lucky for me I do both.

People often ask me how I balance writing and being a standup comedian. Luckily, they end up bouncing off of each other. Sometimes at my show, people will buy my book, and sometimes when people read my book, they say “Wow, that was funny how he thinks he should be an author.” (I’m kidding, my book is pretty decent. The link is in my bio).

I find that I can never work at both 100%. When I’m sitting through a show it means I’m losing time that I could have spent working on writing. Being a writer pulls me away from engaging in the essentials of being a standup comedian, like generating new jokes, slowly becoming an alcoholic, and talking behind other comedian’s backs.

The way I balance things is I ultimately end up using both art forms to improve the other. When I first started with standup comedy it turned out that my writing style would often include more humor. Now, most of the time I write on my way to and from gigs. With standup comedy, I discovered that my storytelling skills got sharper, and the best compliment I get is you’re a “really good writer.” Now, if only somebody said that about my actual writing…

The most difficult part of standup is writing and presentation. When I write a joke and share it with the audience, I know right away that it’s not funny when I see the stern faces in the crowd and the date I brought to the gig doesn’t text me back the next day. With writing, the feedback I get about my characters or storyline only comes from beta readers, or actual readers, telling me its not as great as I thought it was.

With standup I love the performance aspect, and despite my complaints I love traveling to small towns.

Neither of these art forms make for an easy life where a perfect idea of balance is ever achieved, but both have been a source of joy, misery, some of my best memories, and some of my worst. I wouldn’t trade either for anything, except possibly dabbling in music one day.

About the Book:

The Collective military has spent years destroying the last remnants of The Hive, an alien force which devastated the old world, bringing forth the apocalypse, and ushering a new age of warring factions. Alexander King is a Collective soldier who during a mission monitoring the outskirts of Zone 6, discovers evidence that The Hive’s presence is stronger than commonly believed. With his new information it becomes vital that the Collective acts fast, for if it doesn’t the world will be brought to its knees again in a second wave of destruction that will end humanity forever. Astonishing, complex, and character driven, Hive is the first in The Arcane Volumes.

About the Author:

Jeremiah Ukponrefe is a Toronto-based author and standup comedian. He has written articles for The Runner, The Reel Anna, and Envie Magazine. His debut novel Hive released in March 2021, the first of The Arcane Volumes Series.  As a comedian his style is a mixture of clever observations with a subversive darkness, all performed under a veil of innocence. He’s performed at the Island Fringe Festival, Guelf Fringe Festival, and Victoria Fringe Festival. He is a founder of the comedy production company Punching Sideways Productions. He really hopes this comedy thing works out.

Does Murder and Mayhem Follow Psychic Characters?


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By S.K. Andrews

Author of “Bay of Darkness”

The answer is: yes. Murder and mayhem almost always follow a psychic character in paranormal fiction. That’s why most authors who create a psychic protagonist balance out dramatic chaos with humor and love. Otherwise, the reader would not get a break from suspense. I have followed many paranormal writers who feature a psychic hero or heroine and found many subgenres. There are pet psychic detectives, mid-life hormonal psychic women, cozy mystery psychics, and even a woman with “Aroma-Mojo” who sniffs out killers, just to name a few.

But readers of paranormal fiction featuring an intuitive character do so for thrills and chills. Could you imagine one of them undergoing a psychic vision and turning to their partner, husband, or best friend to proclaim: “I just got a vision of my neighbor buying a bag of kale from the produce section.”  Unless that bag of kale drops onto a sidewalk while the neighbor screams and falls victim to a serial killer, the image would be very boring!

My favorite humorous moment from my book Bay of Darkness arose from danger. One night my psychic heroine Vivien Kelly gets caught spying on a band of bad guys inside an old lighthouse. She is now in a very vulnerable position. They peer down at her on the staircase. Well, since said lighthouse conducts weekend tours, Vivien stares back at the malevolent men and asks, “Am I too late for the tour?”

I also surround Vivien with her own “Scooby” gang.  Her paranormal cleansing team includes a wisecracking videographer whose goal is to get a ghost on film. Most of the team’s punch lines belong to him.

Some books also include the spirit of a loved one (an aunt, grandmother, and the like) who appear to the protagonist and help solve a murder. And I guarantee their family ghost will be cheeky and challenging for that protagonist!

But besides comedic comments, characters, and scenes, a strong narrative of deep soul mate love relationships accompanies the sixth sense of many protagonists.

For instance, take Dean Koontz series Odd Thomas about a young short order cook in a desert town. Not only does Odd use his psychic talent to stop criminals and terrorists, but he does so with soul mate Stormy by his side. Odd also sees evil creatures and the love he shares with Stormy warms the readers heart, helping to counter the wicked energies Odd must endure.

My character Vivien Kelly witnesses her fiancé’s death in chapter one. She must save the world from darkness, but another challenge is to allow herself new love with Neal Harrington. We follow the journey with Vivien and Neal, and their love carries us through many frightening moments.

So, will paranormal fiction books starring psychic characters ever stop being published? No. Because, let’s face it, we have a craving to know what plays in their minds and what supernatural frights lie ahead.

About the Author:

S.K. Andrews is a writer and holds a degree in Theatre. Her favorite genre is paranormal fiction. In The Kelly Society book series, S.K.’s heroine, paranormal cleanser Vivien Kelly and her team are in a race to rid the modern world of deadly Celtic creatures. Bay of Darkness and A Kelly Society Christmas are the first two books in the series. Bay of Darkness won the Finalist prize in 2019 from N.N. Light’s Book Heaven and placed Finalist with Readers Favorite in 2020. The beautiful Hudson Valley in upstate New York is where S.K. calls home. To sign up for her monthly newsletter and learn more, check out:

Book Review – Meteors and Menorahs by Nessa Claugh


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Title: Meteors and Menorahs

Author: Nessa Claugh

Independently published

Format: Trade Paperback

Genre: Science Fiction

Date Published: Oct. 15, 2021 

Pages: 174

I received a free copy of this trade paperback in exchange for an honest review.

Doctor Leah Kennewick had a full schedule of patient meetings and surgeries before Hannukak. That was her life now and she accepted it. But what she couldn’t accept is having to see her ex, David, when she visited home. Even though she broke up with him 10 years ago, her parents won’t accept it. So, Leah comes up with a plan to have her co-worker pose as her boyfriend to get David and her parents to move on. Little does she know that Kenneth Knar is more than he appears to be.

For Knar, a physical therapist, time spent at Leah’s parents’ home is a learning experience in human family interaction. He not only learns about traditional Jewish holidays, but how parents want what’s best for their children. He also gets a front row seat to human jealousy, desire, and the difficulty for parents in allowing their children to live their own lives. He learns about the candles being lit for eight nights, how to play with a dreidel and how smart kids are. Also, how her parents really want her to get married and have a family. He also learned that sleeping beside Leah is going to be difficult. They were faking a relationship and he wanted intimacy.

Sooner or later, they would have to decide if they can take their friendship to the next level. Then there’s the matter of telling Leah the truth about who he really is.

There’s been a number of books focusing on human and alien relationships, though, I’ve never read where religion is involved. I’m only starting to see books and movies with Jewish women. Love the idea and this book. Loved Knar and hated David. Loved that his technology could cloak his skin color and that he was compassionate and patient. But what I really wanted him to do was take her home to meet his parents. I know their relationship was probably against some prime directive, but love happens and it could have led to another book.

Three and a half purple hunks out of five

Denise Fleischer

Feb. 27, 2023


Peggy Rothschild: How Molly and Harlow Helped Me During A Difficult Time


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I’m excited to be guest posting on the Gotta Write Network. Hard as it is to believe, book two in the Molly Madison Dog Wrangler Mystery series is already out! The past two years have raced by—a bit like Molly and Harlow on the agility course.

Prior to imagining Molly and her dogs, I’d been writing traditional mysteries. Then life took a drastic turn for my husband and I: Our home burned down in a California wildfire. We got out with our pets and our cars, and a few items of clothes. We were still in the process of rebuilding when my agent suggested I write a cozy mystery. I wasn’t sure I could, but after hearing how a friend was competing with her Boston terrier at agility trials, the idea for a mystery blossomed. I called my agent and asked if she thought the cozy market was already saturated with mysteries featuring dogs. Her wise answer: “You can never have too many dogs!” So, I got to work. And it was a real joy. Spending time with Molly and her golden retriever, Harlow, was the escape I needed during a difficult time.

Both A DEADLY BONE TO PICK and PLAYING DEAD straddle the line between traditional and cozy mystery. They’ve got cute animals – check! A plucky amateur detective – check! A small oceanside town – check! Not too much “on screen” violence – check! But my protagonist—though now working part-time as a dog wrangler—was both a cop and a private investigator in the past, giving her a seasoned approach to crime as well as an understanding of how law enforcement works.

When writing, I find it easy to get lost in the research—especially if it’s about dogs. For book one, I did my best to learn about agility training and for book two, barn hunt and scent-training. Because of Covid restrictions at agility trials, I wound up watching a lot of competitions on YouTube (which I highly recommend!). I also needed to do some research on gymnastics training and competition, learning several new terms in the process.

Since Molly sprang from my imagination, it’s not surprising that she and I share a few traits as well as a bit of history. We both moved cross country—her from Massachusetts to California, and me from California to Massachusetts (then back again five years later). But unlike Molly, I didn’t make the move to escape rumors about involvement in my husband’s murder. (Really—you can ask him.) Though I have none of Molly’s dog training talent or fighting know-how, we do share a lack of cooking skill and a similar sense of humor, essential during tough times. If only I were as brave as her and her loyal companions!

And now Molly’s ready to take on another murder—this time at Playtime Academy for Dogs.

About the Author

After losing their home during a California wildfire, Peggy Rothschild and her husband moved to the beach community of Los Osos along the central coast. When not at her desk or out walking, you can usually find her in the garden.

Peggy is a member of Sisters in Crime National and Sisters in Crime Los Angeles. Learn more online at

Blog Tour Spotlight: The Reality of Practicing Law And How it Led to Writing “O’Brien’s Law”




By John McNellis

I was a journalism major at Berkeley mostly because I was a pretty good typist and the major required little homework. Instead, we were sent out to cover events (usually student riots), come into class and type it up. Also, as my favorite professor said, I had a good ear for dialogue. Whether he ever figured out that I simply made up the street interviews I was supposed to conduct and that my dialogue was pure fiction, I’ll never know.

Anyway, I woke up one spring morning in my senior year and decided I had no burning desire to report the news, punted the journalism career, applied to law school and three years later ended up at a swanky law firm in downtown San Francisco. Like virtually every other young lawyer, I imagined myself in court, impressing judges, swaying juries, winning cases against all odds for my deserving clients. However, within a month of starting out, I realized that Hollywood’s portrayal of the law and lawyers’ exciting lives was more fanciful than Cinderella. More cruel joke than reality. The truth was—and still is—that young lawyers at top law firms are foot soldiers in endless trench warfare. Instead of bullets, they fire paper—pleadings, interrogatories, motions, complaints—almost literally trying to paper the other side to death. Nothing has changed over the years. If your client has enough money and a losing case, the strategy is to bankrupt the opposition by dragging out the lawsuit over many years. There are worse jobs than being an associate at a white shoe law firm, but few compare to its mind-numbing, soul-wrenching futility. Ask yourself how great you’d feel about, say, getting your polluting oil company off the hook for ten years running.

My misguided protagonist Michael O’Brien starts out bright and hopeful, certain of his career as a brilliant trial lawyer, but, like the author, swiftly learns how ill-suited he is for the practice of law.

I started out as a journalist, shifted to the law, then to real estate, writing a mountain of nonfiction during those decades, culminating in a highly-regarded primer on real estate development entitled Making It in Real Estate. When I made the shift to fiction, I quickly appreciated the foundation that nonfiction had given me. Borrowing a construction metaphor, I think writing fiction is like making concrete. With concrete, one needs the right mixture of sand and cement; with too much sand and not enough cement, the resulting concrete is weak and will crumble; with too much cement, the concrete is brittle and will crack under stress. Oddly enough, a 50-50 mix of the two is roughly correct. Facts are the cement of fiction, fantasy the sand. With too much factual detail, fiction reads flat, like dreary history; too much fantasy and you’re in a galaxy far far away where too much is nonsensical. Hopefully, O’Brien’s Law is a decent mix of sand and cement.

JOHN MCNELLIS is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Hastings College of The Law. He practiced law until he cofounded McNellis Partners, a Northern California shopping center development firm, in 1982. A frequent lecturer on real estate topics, he writes a monthly column for the San Francisco Business Times and is the author of Making It in Real Estate, an industry standard and taught in universities nationwide. John is a decades’ long member of the Urban Land Institute and a founding member of its Environmental Task Force. He is also actively involved with Outward Bound USA and a board member emeritus of Rebuilding Together Peninsula.

For more information, visit John’s website: