Sitting Down with Justen Ahren

Justen Ahren 2

Photo of Justen Ahren by Rob Berkley


                                              You turn me to rain with a sentence.                                                

Black and secret centers have me falling,

confessing. I know nothing but the crusts of


the starvation we call living.

All day the earth broke open.

Under a furrowed brow of clouds,

Crows rose, smoke, and thin crocuses.   – Justen Ahren

   A Strange Catechism

A Strange Catechism 3

Justen Ahren is a person of many talents and aspirations. He’s a family man, owner of a landscaping company on Martha’s Vineyard, Poet Laureate of West Tisbury, and Director of the Noepe Center for Literary Arts.  His works have appeared in Fulcrum, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, BorderSenses, Comstock Review, and been nominated for two Pushcarts, as well as in his own collection of poetry – A Strange Catechism.

I was first introduced to his poetry when I began to research writers’ residencies in the spring of this year. Beautiful, stirring, dramatic, sensitive – his work thoroughly impressed and moved me in a way I found surprising.  It also struck a chord with similarities in my childhood, starting with the dedication page:

To those who have lost children, and to children who have lost childhood. – Justen Ahren, A Strange Catechism.

Somehow I trusted the knowledge that if he could share such raw emotions, so could I. And that is the beauty of being around other writers and communing with each other for a space of time devoted solely to the craft of creativity.  It is the gift he keeps bestowing on writers of all genres, and the headline of the Noepe website: Time, Space, Create.

Because I wanted all of you to become familiar with his work and the opportunities at Noepe, I hoped he would have time for an interview, and he generously made it happen.

Justen Ahren 3.3

Justen Ahren at Noepe Center

RJ: How old were you when you first started writing?

JA: I’ve been writing since I can remember.  At first, I wrote songs, entire albums, and recorded them on a tape recorder.  It was pure play and joy.  It was my first experience of making things out of sound.  It was a further investigation into how language, sound, equaled a thing, brought a thing to life.  Here was a currency.  Prior to this time, I was conscious of constructing an ongoing narrative in my head as a way of making sense of the life I was waking within.  I was constantly writing and rewriting this ‘story’, manipulating it, turning it into some thing, making it dramatic, artful or beautiful, or otherwise, an artifact.  I felt Life’s temporality, and even then, my own fragility. 

RJ: What inspired you to write poetry as opposed to another form of creative writing?

JA: I came to poetry via music, lyrics really. Ultimately, I was drawn to a quiet, private utterance.  I heard silences, deep chasms between words.  Lyrics just didn’t go here.  I am still very attuned to the music words make and how that music means.  I also love puzzles, and solving them.  I love turning things over.  Poems are like puzzles—physical, visual, auditory puzzles—I can tinker with until they click shut and open for me at the same time.

RJ: How long does it take you to write a poem and turn it into the type of artistic expression that is both eloquent and emotionally striking?

JA: Years, sometimes.  I have poems that still aren’t satisfying and I’ve been writing them for 15 years. Though I’m learning to let go.  I’m learning that sometimes my experience of the moment that spawned a poem is itself limited, and impairs the resulting poem forever.  Occasionally, I have the pleasure of writing a poem in one or two sittings.  Those are gifts. 

RJ: Do you ever worry about what other people think of your work?

JAYes, of course. The things we make come from us or through us.  Rejection can feel personal.  But when I’m making new work, I try not to let that concern censor what I write.  I don’t think we can simultaneously express and be critical.  I want my poems to be understood, to communicate.  I have hopes for my poems like I have hopes for my children.  But I can’t control people’s response.  And I certainly can’t anticipate how people may feel about a poem that hasn’t seen the light of day.  My worry is more ‘Have I made myself understood?  Have I been true to the music and needs of the work? Have I fulfilled the imperative that first set me to work?

RJ: Tell me a little bit about your process. How does an idea work through you from the initial spur to the finished product?

JAI wish I knew how my process works. It is still a mystery. Why does some thing, a moment, an idea, a line of music take hold of me to the point I’m willing to live with it, allow it into my life and have a relationship with it for a period of time?  The mystery and the playfulness of ‘creating’ are so enjoyable, that I always want to be in that place.  I remember how free and joyous I felt as a child, making for the sake of making. It was a pure expression of the moment.  No permission was necessary.  It is what I did.  If it was raining, I’d write about the rain.  I’d imitate songs I heard.  It was all play and exploration.  At some point it became serious. Taking writing too seriously is something I now fight against. And so, any time I can create, I want to reproduce that early experience of being creative—being at play.  This is as close to feeling whole, a feeling of Oneness, as I can get.

RJ: Your works have appeared in Fulcrum, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, BorderSenses, Comstock Review, and been nominated for two Pushcarts, as well as being available through a published volume – A Strange Catechism – which deals with some emotionally raw subjects. When people express to you the effect your artistry has had in their lives, how does that make you feel?

JA: If something I write affects another, well, I’m speechless.  I think this touches an unquenchable longing: to communicate.  It is the fulfillment of the energy of a creation, the reciprocity of a gift.  It is the completion of the creative circle.  We give and receive and then must give again in order to keep the energy moving.  It is an exchange of energy.  This is what gives any work life.  If this exchange doesn’t take place, for example, as with the hundreds of poems I have in my drawers, there can be no life.  So, it is both humbling and gratifying to hear that something, some words I wrote were felt by another.  It is frightening, but I feel blessed that I’ve made some thing felt.  I don’t know how much control or credit I can take for this.  We seem to encounter what we are seeking.  I’m simply trying to interpret my experience, if others ‘get it’ and it resonates, amen.

RJ: What you are currently working on?

JA: Exile in its many forms; poetry as a machine for remembering, unearthing friends, lovers, the creek behind my house; violence, both intimate and public; and the music of long lines, short lines and couplets.  

RJ: Where and when did the idea to start a writer’s residency sprout?

JA: Around 2006.  I had just finished an MFA at Emerson College and a month-long residency in Costa Rica.  Both experiences were rich.  I was part of a writing community.  Back home on Martha’s Vineyard, I no longer had this community.  It was a selfish desire to start a residency.  I wanted to be around writers, talk about writing, share ideas, share food, and drink wine.  That was the totality of the idea at first.  

RJ: What are your hopes and dreams for the future of the Martha’s Vineyard Writer’s Residency and is it becoming enmeshed within Noepe Literary Arts Center?

JA: Noepe is the new umbrella organization.  I had an opportunity to take over the space where the residency is held—a ten room, old whaling captains house on Main Street in Edgartown.  In order to make it financially viable, the idea had to expand.  The resulting non-profit offers workshops, readings and talks, in addition to 2-6 week residencies.  My hope is that Noepe, and the residency, will continue to grow as a community where writers come for support, to work on their craft, and for the time and space they need to create. 

RJ: Martha’s Vineyard is a lively and bustling island with history, art, music, organic farming, fishing, water sports, beaches, and fantastic dining opportunities. Do you plan on developing a path at the Noepe Center that pairs available writers with these niches?

JA: A beach volleyball league for writersThe Novelists vs. the Memoirists. No, not in the plans.  But we are actively building partnerships with other island non-profits, The Farm Institute, for example.  Next year we plan to offer a residency to one writer interested in writing about local food production, sustainability and community supported agriculture.  We also are exploring partnering with a Choreographers residency. The residency and workshops always build in free time for participants to be able to explore what Martha’s Vineyard has to offer.

RJ: Who is your favorite poet – living or deceased – and why?

JA: I don’t have a favorite poet.  I return to many, and keep discovering others.  I want to feel the human in poems.  When I feel the heart beating, when the struggle to say is palpable, I’m there.  Recently, Joseph Stroud, David Baker, Eugenio Montale, Jane Kenyon (again and again), Mary Ruefle, Hayden Carruth.  

RJ: If you could spend an hour with anyone, from anywhere – also currently living or deceased – who would it be and why?

JA: Cleopatra. Is it necessary to explain? And Sappho. I’d love to know what is outside the extraordinary fragments we have of her work.

RJ: What do you read when you are not focusing on your own projects?

JA: Novels, newspapers, lists of ingredients.  I leave books all over the house so I can read when I am in that room.  Right now I’m reading about the Civil War, a psychology book on Spirituality, an anthology of European poetry, a memoir about an Arab-American growing up in Texas, and a collection of short stories. 

RJ: What is the best advice you’ve been given as a writer and what would you like to pass along to the readers?

JA: Years ago a friend told me, ‘a writer writes. If you want to be a writer, don’t talk about it, write.’  I used to think I could only write when inspired.  But I’ve come to realize that the act, the process of writing leads to discovery.  When we are writing we are demonstrating our preparedness to receive.  The act opens us to receive more.  To the contrary, not writing has a very strong inertia.  It is hard to get going once you’re stopped.  

RJ: Thank you, Justen, so very much. It has been a great pleasure to get to know a little more about you and your work and now my readers can share a bit of what I was so fortunate to receive over my time at Noepe on Martha’s Vineyard.

From the poem:

A Strange Catechism

in the book by the same title:

I feel inside a strange catechism

has begun, learning down the sound

of my love for God

into the dark of my body.

Justen Ahren, A Strange Catechism


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Bringing Noepe Center for Literary Arts at Martha’s Vineyard to You


“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” – Henry David Thoreau

The best thing about having a blog is being able to share experiences — people and places — with others.  My recent stint at Noepe Center for Literary Arts at Martha’s Vineyard has given me the opportunity to introduce not only the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, but also some of the wonderful writers I was fortunate to share a space of time with while there.  And when you have met them, you will want to attend a session there as well.

IMG_0733 I made a lot of progress with the Young Adult novel I was working on and I also learned a lot about myself.

For instance, I discovered the perfect rhythm of a day for me — write from 6 am to noon while guzzling coffee, take a l-o-n-g walk to the beach, IMG_1420light lunch, shower and dress for the evening, IMG_0754  stroll with writing friends to the wharf, shops in Edgartown, or other sightseeing spots, dinner, IMG_0957long group discussions, journaling until bedtime.  Doesn’t that sound like the perfect day?

I also discovered I could read from a section of my work-in-progress without breaking into tears although it resonated with a particularly emotional time in my life.

My First Official Reading

My First Official Reading

And I met and became friends with some amazing poets and writers.  Talent oozed from the doors and windows, and I just hoped a little of it would rub off on me.

IMG_1388  But here’s the best part.  You can do it too.  And over the next few weeks I’ll be bringing some of the people I met to you through interviews and excerpts of their work.  IMG_0978 IMG_0983 IMG_1444

You’re going to be so impressed!

The first interview I have planned is with the director of Noepe, Justen Ahren.  You can follow the links and apply for your own writing corner on Martha’s Vineyard.  And when you have read these interviews, you will want to do just that.

Where do you want your writing to take you?

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Summer Spotlight: Renee Johnson


Jill Weatherholt is hosting an interview with me. Check out her blog. It’s fantastic. And thank you, Jill, for doing this interview. You are so kind.

Originally posted on Jill Weatherholt:

189_7374461562651070902_n (2)Hi Jill and all of your blog followers and readers. Thank you for allowing me to join your wonderful list of author interviews. It’s been fun and interesting getting to know the writers a little deeper.

For those who are already familiar with my work, you’ll recognize me as the author of and The first is for pleasure, photography, and whatever pops into my head. The second is based solely on my journey as a writer – what I’m doing, thoughts on working with an editor, etc.

My first novel – Acquisition – is being published by The Wild Rose Press and is scheduled for release on November 7, 2014 through and all of the other usual sites.

Now onto Jill’s questions.

If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would you meet?

So many people came to mind, but in the end I decided on…

View original 455 more words

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Join us for a Reading!

IMG_0733 IMG_0771  IMG_0848  IMG_0927

I’m getting your kind messages and I know you are all curious about what happens when you meet up with a bunch of strangers and settle in for a long stretch of living together under one roof.

Well, I can only speak for myself.

Perhaps I have gotten lucky and ended up on this island — after a succession of plane, bus, ferry boat, and taxi — with the best community of writers.  We ‘mesh’ quite well.  And having this crazy craft in common with so many others makes me feel a bit like the rabbit in the proverbial briar patch.

I am right at home, no longer alone.

IMG_0748  IMG_0905

The island is much larger than I expected, having never been to Martha’s Vineyard before.  There are wharfs and beaches and gingerbread houses and old cemeteries and a fire truck museum.

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Local seafood is magnificent,IMG_0910 IMG_0911    IMG_0788  IMG_0787  IMG_0912

weddings have been plentiful, IMG_0742

and even though the Old Whaling Church is the bane of my existence at four in the morning, yes it ‘chimes the hour’ every hour all of the time, it does lend a certain charm.  IMG_0746

Last night some of the other writers even found a very ‘North Carolina’ event for me up here in Massachusetts!  Bluegrass and pit smoked pork in a barn!  I am still reeling from that one. IMG_0862 IMG_0863

I know what you’re thinking right now.

YouRenee, you are supposed to be writing!

MeDon’t bother me when I’m taking in ambiance for a future novel!

In all seriousness though, I have had a revelation about my main character.  I was a bit undecided as to whether he should have redemption or go deeper into darkness as my novel concludes.  In the second day of the residency, it ‘fell’ to me, just as I had been assured it would by someone much smarter and more talented than me.

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And that alone was worth the trip.  Now I can simply fill in the details.

So, what am I working on?  Find out.  Join us for a reading  at West Tisbury Library Tuesday night, October 7.

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A Journey Through Favorite Writer’s Eyes





Summer is over. My novel has an official release date — more on that later — and I have been granted an opportunity to work on another project through the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency.

This is such a fantastic journey for me, as much inward as outward. And to bridge the gap between ‘normal life’ and this dreamy space, I decided to begin with a few days in Concord, Massachusetts to commune with history and the spirits of so many literary greats who walked through its tree-lined lanes and breathed the fresh forest air down by Walden Pond.

The first pictures are of cemeteries and the tiny headstone of Henry David Thoreau at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. You can get a sense of its size by the height of the pencils.

I’ve been assured by one of the museum curators this was no accident, keeping true to his ‘minimalist’ lifestyle and philosophy.

Emerson, Alcott, Hawthorne, Sidney — are his eternal neighbors. And this is just one stop along my path.IMG_0498



The Alcott house–better known in Concord as The Orchard House–was open and I couldn’t help but recall dreamy childhood days spent reading Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys.


I’ll post more as time allows, and also post other pictures on Writingfeemail‘s site.

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Interview with Author Lisa Rayns

One of the great benefits of writing for a publishing company is getting to know other authors underneath its canopy. And The Wild Rose Press has such a wonderfully diverse list of authors and novels, finding something of interest shouldn’t be a problem for most people.

I was fortunate to attend one of their retreats back in 2011. From it, I took away many things, none more important than the friendships and connections developed while there. (If you get a chance to attend one, I’d highly recommend it.)

But if you can’t, I’ll try to bring some of my writing ‘friends’ to you — starting with today’s featured author, Lisa Rayns.

Renee: Lisa, I discovered the spark of writing presented itself to you when you were only ten years old and penning a poem for your family at Christmas. How did it develop from there?

Lisa: From there, I wrote journals, stories for school projects, and spent years reading and indulging in my love of books.

Renee: What was it about writing that made you want to explore it further and eventually turn it into a career?

Lisa: Two words – Romantic Suspense. I started reading romantic suspense, and I fell in love with the genre. Then, once I started writing in 2007, I realized writing suspense was a lot of fun. It became my dream job rather quickly.

Renee: As the mom of four boys, how on earth do you find time to write?

Lisa: My boys are older and self-sufficient. They are also very understanding when I tell them I need time to write.

Renee: That’s good. Do you still maintain another full-time job, or have you managed to find a way to focus entirely on writing as your career?

Lisa: I had the opportunity to focus entirely on my writing for the last two years, but I’m recently divorced so I’m working full time again.

Renee: When I vacationed out west, I was extremely taken with South Dakota. I see you call it your home state now. What do you like best about living there?

Lisa: I like everything but the winters. The air is fresh, and the cost of living is not as high as it is in other areas.

: Curse of the Egyptian Goddess is a delightful read. I left a review on Amazon, but sometimes they don’t show up. We’ll see.
Where did your interest in Egyptian lore come from?

Curse of the Egyptian Goddess

Lisa: Thank you! Reviews are so important.

I’ve always had an interest in the ancient Egyptian culture since I first learned about it in school. I’m also a huge fan of large cats.

Renee: Another of your novels, Wanted: Vampire — Free Blood, was nominated for Best Vampire Book. What was it like to receive that news about your work?

Wanted Vampire

Lisa: That was amazing, the best I’ve ever felt.

Renee: When did you become interested in paranormal literature and what spurred you to write your own tales about the world beyond?

Lisa: I think it was the twelfth draft of my first romantic suspense book when the idea to turn it into a paranormal romance hit me. Everything that wasn’t working in the book then clicked into place, and I started to have a lot more fun writing.

Renee: Name the best and worst thing that has happened due to your publishing career.

Lisa: Having a fan and knowing at least one person is anxious for the next book is really the best thing that’s happened to me. I guess the worst thing would be a one star review, but I didn’t take that too badly. Everyone has different tastes, and no one will ever please everyone.

Renee: What are you currently working on?

Lisa: I’m currently working on the second book in my Egyptian Duet.

Renee: Well, I’m looking forward to that one! Yay! What is the one piece of advice you would give aspiring writers?

Lisa: Write for yourself. Write what you like because you can’t please everyone. Also, never give up on your dreams.

Renee: Thank you Lisa. That sounds like good advice. I know you are busy and I appreciate the time you have given us to get to know you a little better.

For those interested, links to purchase her books are listed below.

Curse of the Egyptian Goddess

A Destined Death

Wanted: Vampire – Free Blood

Wanted: Vampire – Bad Blood

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The Galley

The galley — or an advanced reader’s copy minus the cover — of my novel Acquisition is here.


This is an exciting time for any author, but especially for the debut novelist. We get to see how the pages will align, how the chapters will lay out.


You’ve seen the cover before, but I’m adding it again because I like it, and I can. *wink*

I know some of you have expressed concern over my thinning presence on the blog, and I do apologize for that. But every time I have had the chance to go over the manuscript during the many editing processes a novel goes through before it reaches this stage, I’ve taken it seriously and re-read the entire thing from first word to last.

It’s impressive to follow an editor’s way of seeing the words from your head in a different light than you may have intended. Future readers will also bring their own perceptions and life experience.

In order to make it as clean and as thoroughly thought-through as possible, I’m going over it again. Although I can’t make changes directly to the manuscript at this stage, I can make a list of suggestions if I find errors. So this isn’t a step to skip.

I hope you will all cheer me on as I go over the galley — first word to last — as I have done before. But that means I will be noticeably missing for another stretch of time. I’ll be checking in on your blog posts as often as possible.

So now that you know what my summer project is; what is yours?

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On Disappointment

my-shadow-against-rocks-doughton-parkPosted a few thoughts on disappointment at writingfeemail. Would you check it out?

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Special Offer from T. B. Markinson

Most of you know our blogging friend and author T. B. Markinson. She guest posted for me in December, giving us all a taste of her journey as a writer.

Well she has a special offer right now and I’m pleased to extend it to all of you.


Sale Details:
Normal price: $2.99
Sale price $0.99 June 5th to June 11th
Normal Price: £1.99
Sale price £0.99 June 5th to June 11th

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Petrie has it all. She’s rich, beautiful, intelligent, and successful. None of this matters to her mom. Les-Bi-An. That’s all her mom sees.
Even though Lizzie insists her mom’s antagonism does not bother her, Lizzie distances herself from her entire family. When her brother, Peter, calls her out of the blue to announce he’s getting married, Lizzie’s entire life changes drastically. Peter’s fiancée wants to bring the lesbian outcast back into the family. Will this desire cause Lizzie to lose everything dear to her?
Sarah, Lizzie’s girlfriend, is ecstatic about this change in Lizzie’s personal life. Sarah, the hopeless romantic, wants it all, including settling down with the fiercely independent Lizzie.
Can Lizzie be tamed? And can she survive her family and all of their secrets?

Author Bio:
T. B. Markinson is a 40-year old American writer, living in England, who pledged she would publish before she was 35. Better late than never. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in England, or taking the dog for a walk. Not necessarily in that order. A Woman Lost is her debut novel.
My Blog:
Mailing List:
Links for purchase:
Amazon (US):
Amazon (UK):

Excerpt One:

“I’m getting married.”
“I’m getting married.”
“Peter, it’s”—I rolled over in bed and looked at the clock—“five in the morning, on a Sunday. I’m not in the mood for a prank.” My entire body ached; I’d been awake most of the night.
“It’s not a prank, Elizabeth. I am getting married.”
I sat up in bed.
“We’re flying in next week to have dinner with Mom and Dad. She wants you to join us.”
“What?” I rubbed my eyes, wondering if I was dreaming. My brother and I were not close in any way. I didn’t even know he had my home phone number. Was my number listed? And I was shocked that he’d admitted to his bride-to-be that he had a sister.
“Madeline wants to meet you. Oh, and bring Meg.” He sounded upbeat. It was four in the morning in California, an hour later here in Colorado.
“We broke up.” I tried to keep my voice calm and quiet.
“Oh, my gosh. When did that happen?”
“Two years ago.”
A long, awkward silence followed.
“Oh … wow … that’s too bad. Well, is there someone else?”
I wanted to tell him that girls, let alone love, just didn’t fall from the sky. Instead, I looked over at the naked woman in my bed and chuckled. Well, maybe girls did fall from the sky. Good grief, she could sleep through anything. She always said her mom was intentionally loud during naptime so she would be a sound sleeper; apparently, it worked.
“I’m not ready for that.” I didn’t mean I wasn’t ready to date. Obviously, there was a woman with me, but he didn’t know that on the other end of the phone. I meant I wasn’t ready to introduce anyone to my family … again.

Excerpt Two:

I grabbed my chai from the barista in the coffee shop, and announced, “Peter called.”
“Who’s Peter?” asked Ethan, and poured an insane amount of sugar into his coffee before we sat down at the table. He always ordered the special of the day, never a fancy drink with a shot of this or two squirts of that. He loved coffee with sugar and none of the hoopla.
“My brother, you ass.”
“Oh, my god! How is God?” He straightened his starched shirt. To say he was fastidious would be an understatement.
“He called to tell me he’s getting married. Oh, and get this: he wants me to join him, his fiancée, and my parents for dinner.” I blew into my steaming cup of chai. The vapors fogged up my contacts, and I had to blink several times to see again.
“You said no, didn’t you? Tell him you have a violent case of the clap and if you sneeze they’ll get it.”
“I’m meeting them Monday night.”
“Jesus! You do like your public floggings.”
“He asked me to bring Meg.”
Ethan giggled as he stirred his coffee. “Talking to you about your family always makes me feel better about my own messed-up situation.”
“Yeah. When I told him we broke up, he actually said, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ Like he gives a crap.”
“He did not! He always was such an ass. C’est la vie. So bring the new girl.”
“Sarah? Are you kidding? She’s not ready to meet the family. And besides, I insinuated I wasn’t seeing anyone, so I can’t bring her now. It will seem desperate.”
“Don’t you mean you aren’t ready to introduce her to the family, and other things, I might add?” He gave me a knowing look.
“That could be the case.” I smiled and took a huge gulp of my chai.


Let’s all go out and support one of our own while we can do so at such a great bargain!! And thanks to T. B. Markinson for allowing me to bring this special offer to all of the readers of this site.

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BIG ANNOUNCEMENT — One of my Novels is Getting Published!

Cue the fireworks and the marching band. Sing hallelujah and beat the drums!


One of my novels has been contracted by The Wild Rose Press!

Yes, my friends, one of my little children (as writers often think of their novels) is about to go out into the world.

Simultaneously exciting and scary, isn’t it?

I have known for some weeks, but hoped to have a release date when I announced it here on the blog. And then word started getting out and I wondered what I had been waiting for. After all, you guys are part of the journey.

And I have so much to share with you about how it is coming together. Of course, I’ve been extraordinarily busy with the business end of rewrites and edits, working with a cover artist, formatting a biography, writing blurbs and taglines and all of the other little loose ends that accompanies publication.

Hopefully I’ll have a release date soon. For now, let’s pop the cork on the champagne and share a toast!

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