So.....what do a beautiful, brilliant schoolteacher from California, a handsome, rugged man who recently retired from Law Enforcement, and a lovely, creative sixteen-year-old girl bursting with aspirations for the future, have in common?
Well, they’re all WRITERS TO WATCH in 2022, and they are HERE to introduce themselves to you in this month’s FRIENDS OF HALLIE Newsletter!
Meet Elizabeth Jacobson
Elizabeth, in her own words....
I’m a math teacher, born and raised in California, but I have to admit that I spent many sunny days of my childhood holed up inside with my nose in a book (math was not my friend back then). Words spoke to me in a way that I couldn’t quite explain, and I still get that same childlike excitement for a good book now as I did then, so many years later.
I don’t remember a time when my mind wasn’t making up stories, trying desperately to mirror those books I so loved. First, it was sequels or continuations of books or even movies that I liked – but soon I couldn’t let go of the idea of creating stories of my own. I enjoyed uncovering the intricacies of characters that I loved so much; I knew I had to attempt it with characters of my own creation!
My first work was on a fantasy series, and later I began work on a science fiction series. These are in-progress works and I am excited to someday share them with you!
My first completed work was Not by Sight: The Story of Joseph, a historically-accurate retelling of the story of Joseph, his brothers, and his coat, from the Old Testament of the Bible. It is the first in a series of historically-accurate Bible retellings – with an emphasis on both faith and humanity.
As a Christian, I can say with confidence that my faith is the most important part of my life. But I know that no one can say with any truthfulness that they always follow through with everything they believe to be right. That’s human failing at work, and that is the reason Jesus came, after all.
And so I looked at that story of Joseph in the Bible, and instead of the unshakable (and rather unrealistic) pillar of faith so often presented, saw a real human with failing there, waiting to be explored.
Not by Sight: a novel of the patriarchs, will be released March 16, 2022, published by WordCrafts Press.
What could make a man turn to God when every event in his life screams that God has turned his back on him?
Beloved. Brilliant. Despised. Joseph, the eleventh son of the patriarch Jacob, had his father’s favor, and that was his downfall. Sold into Egypt by his enraged and jealous brothers, Joseph is left with nothing to cling to except the stories of his father’s God, a seemingly remote and unreachable figure. Faith may prove futile, but Joseph is desperate – for the very hate that enslaved his brothers has begun to overtake him.
HALLIE: Elizabeth, we've known each other for two years now and I think you're exceptional in every way. Honestly, I never had any doubt you'd get published. I'm thrilled for you! Congratulations!
I've read your work. You're extremely articulate and thoughtful in your writing, which is why I'm blown away that you're a math teacher. I'd have pegged you for an English teacher for sure. How did that happen?
ELIZABETH: I love this question! I share this story often with my students. Language Arts always came easily to me in school. Math did not. I spent many, many hours from elementary school through college being tutored in math by my dad.
But, in the end, this is why I like teaching math far more than I like teaching ELA. How to you even begin to go about teaching something that came easily to you? It’s an uphill battle, because you have no point of reference for knowing why a student might be struggling, or when to expect that they might become stuck on a particular concept. Did I figure out how? Yes, over time and with collaboration with my awesome partner teachers. But is it as rewarding as teaching a subject where you can anticipate and relate to students’ struggles, and help them work though them just like someone once did for you? Nope. Not at all!
HALLIE: I'm struck by the cover of your book. It draws me in. It tells me right away that this isn't going to be your typical biblical fiction. Joseph's story is very edgy. Change the year and the names, and maybe the clothes, and it could almost be a scandalous Netflix series. Besides that (ha!) what made you want to tell this story? And is there another story from the Bible you'd like to write about?
ELIZABETH: Yes, his story is quite edgy. I think that can get lost in all the Sunday-School flannelgraph adaptations so many of us grew up on. But I think it’s deeply dramatic on top of (even partially because of) its edginess. Extreme – and if you know the Joseph story, you know it’s extreme – levels of drama between characters really draw me in as a writer. Character work is my absolute favorite part of writing.
Looking at the more “historical narrative”-type framing of the story in Genesis, I knew that there would be a wealth of interesting character growth and exploration to be uncovered in a novelized version. The idea was tantalizing.
We know what events happened and that people made certain choices in the narratives shown in the Bible, but we are often not told exactly why a person made the choice that they did. We are left to put those pieces together ourselves, based on the events. That seemed like such an intriguing challenge to undertake with the Joseph story. After all, he is the brother who is separated from his family and from his father, Jacob. And Jacob is supposedly the one who should be teaching the family about God. Yet Joseph, the brother alone in a pagan land, ends up as the one whose faith is exemplified. Why is this the case? It was, as I said, an intriguing question. That, coupled with the intense drama of the story, caught me – hook, line, and sinker. I had to write it.
As for other Bible stories, I haven’t yet found one that has grabbed me as an author quite like Joseph. That said, I do have some thoughts regarding a story set in New Testament times, running parallel with Biblical events. But, like Joseph’s story, it will be research-heavy to ensure that the historical setting is portrayed correctly, and I’m not quite ready to take that on again just yet!
HALLIE: What advice would you give to young writers such as Ava who is also a highlighted author in the 2022 Authors to Watch issue? She is only sixteen years old.
ELIZABETH: Ava, you’re a rockstar already for just having the passion to write. Writing is hard. Writing keeps us up at night, because we don’t know what to write next in the plot, or because we don’t know how to find the words to correctly portray the story or plot or character arc that we feel, that is right there, just out of reach – or maybe because our characters just won’t leave us alone and want us to give them things to do.
Writing is hard, but don’t give up, because writing is also intensely rewarding … which I know you know, or you wouldn’t be a writer. Don’t give up on a plot or a character arc that seems overwhelming. If it’s that complex, it’s probably really good. You need to plot, rework, and plot again. Let it rest, work on something else, then come back to it and try again. Practice makes progress. In my current manuscript, I’m tackling a plot that I had in mind fifteen years ago, but knew I wasn’t experienced enough to write at that time. It’s still not easy to write, but the practice and the waiting has been worth it, made it a reachable goal.
My last bit of advice – don’t write in a vacuum. Find people, other writers or astute readers, who will give you good, constructive advice about your writing. We writers tend to become so fixated on certain parts of our writing that we can’t see the hole over there in the secondary plot, or the fact that we’ve used the word “seemed” seven times on the last two pages. It doesn’t mean that we’re struggling, it just means that we’re human! And humans aren’t meant to work alone.
Great advice! Thank you, Elizabeth, and good luck with your debut novel! Not By Sight: a novel of the patriarchs debuts March 16th, 2022. Click to Follow Elizabeth EVERYWHERE!
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Meet Jeffrey Pentz
Jeffrey, in his own words...
I remember it vividly, the first book that ever hooked me. I supported its heft with my little six-year-old legs and turned the pages as quickly as I could read them. I couldn’t wait to see what happened and move on to the next book in the series. The book was an encyclopedia. Seriously.
It took me many years to get hooked on fiction. A child of the 80s, everyone was reading Stephen King. I forced my way through Pet Sematary because my girlfriend had read it. It would behoove me to read it. Meh. I chewed my way through Misery. Blah. The Firm? Zzzz. Not knocking these centimillionaires, I just didn’t click with them. Chopin’s The Awakening. What the…? English Literature class? So many forced reading assignments I’ve forgotten. I don’t think it was a genre problem, I just think it was stylistic.
Then I saw the movie The Hunt for Red October, and thought it would be cool to read the book. (This is the order that I still stick with even today… movie, then book. I can’t do it the other way around. My daughter argues with me on this all the time.) Tom Clancy’s style captivated me, and I read, what was at the time, the entire Jack Ryan series. I’m a voracious reader, reading nearly every day, but still favor non-fiction. A quick count of my Kindle library shows 45 fiction novels versus 110 non-fiction books that I’ve read at least once.
My greatest gift, or curse, is trying to analyze things. People fascinate me. Cause and effect fascinates me. “What if?” fascinates me. My favorite dictum is that life is a series of choices between two possibilities, and the writing equivalent is that writing a book is a series of answers to the question “what if?”
Sins of Our Fathers materialized out of asking the question, “What am I going to do when I retire? What if I write a book?” I had to do something, and writing seemed like a perfect fit. Not talent-wise, but being able to work from home in all weather conditions and even when you don’t feel well (boy, I had a lot to learn there.) So I set out to learn how to write. There were setbacks along the way, of course. I had to write a book while learning how to write a book. It’s like trying to build a house while learning how. You pour the slab and frame it up, only to learn that you need to take the frame down to repair the slab, and so on. Hopefully, when you pour the slab for the next house, you’ve learned how to properly.
I’m a perfectionist, which is hard when your job is production, which is largely how I view writing. You need to be able to let some things go… an acceptable level of mistakes. I’ve done the book, the cover (mostly,) the website, the trailers (videos,) and the ads… and I’ll be doing the covers and audiobooks myself from now on because I'm a control freak (there, Evelyn, I said it in public!) I’m still finding flaws in all these things I’ve produced and it drives me crazy. It’s definitely a learning curve for me.
The response to Sins of Our Fathers, the support I’ve received, has been humbling. I view the Antilles series as a marathon, not a race, and I’m hopeful that Becca Malone will continue to gather more fans as the series grows and readers get to know her. I know that I’m having fun getting to know her and her readers.
Sins of Our Fathers by Jeffrey Pentz
Book 1 in the Antilles Series
Some sins are better left in darkness.
Becca Malone is a fraud investigator freelancing in The Bahamas and searching for the truth behind her father’s disappearance twenty-five years ago. When Becca’s source leaves her with only a few clues, her plan to follow the trail of breadcrumbs through the Caribbean is thwarted after her small sailboat disappears in a ball of flames.
Sebastian Forde, a former Antiguan drug lord, is grieving a catastrophic loss for which he holds himself responsible. He bargains with God, whom he deems increasingly unresponsive, driving Forde to battle a sense of abandonment and his own declining mental stability. His seething rage tunnels his vision until, having shed everyone and everything that ever mattered to him, only the final goal remains.
Now, Becca has to learn how to stay alive, discover her father’s fate, and win over the man who stayed at her side through discovery and disaster. Join Becca as she explores the many faces of paradise in Sins of Our Fathers.
HALLIE: Jeffrey, congratulations on the success of SINS! I'm proud to say that we hail from the same little town in Louisiana! You reckon it's something in the water down there?
I got a kick out of your love of encyclopedias. What child of the 80's wasn't mesmerized by that series? It was awesome! And it had pictures!! LOL. I have to know though, since you are a movie-before-the-book kind of guy, what do you think of the Jack Ryan series on Amazon Prime?
JEFFERY: I haven't watched any of it, but I can offer an anecdote. My favorite Clancy book is Without Remorse, and I saw that it had been made into a movie recently. I hurriedly found the movie trailer and was immediately perplexed. None of the events in the trailer matched my memory of the book. I realize that film and books are different mediums, but if the Jack Ryan series on Amazon Prime was butchered similarly, I'd wager Tom has worn holes in his funeral clothes turning over in his grave.
HALLIE: I'm fascinated (and impressed) by the way you taught yourself to create covers, book trailers, ads, and even your website. I'm also impressed by your ability to create multi-dimensional characters. Let's discuss Sebastian Forde, the ''bad guy" in your novel. I honestly found him one of the most intriguing characters I've read in a long while. His brooding was attractive, rather than evil. His intense need for revenge seemed righteous, rather than corrupt. His power and influence came off as noble, rather than arrogant. At first. And then you started to peel away the layers, and even as you thoughtfully and expertly exposed his true nature, I felt empathy for him. I truly longed for his redemption.
I still do actually, and the way you left it...well, I feel like there is much more to learn about this character. Can you elaborate on your process in creating this provocative character? And give us a hint of what's coming in book 2 of the Antilles Series?
JEFFERY: Thank you for that wonderful praise for that character. He was really fun to create. I decided to create a character arc for both the protagonist and antagonist in Sins of Our Fathers. Becca, the protagonist, undergoes a bit of a Hero’s Journey, while Forde undergoes a negative change. I was determined to make him relatable and morally complicated. I started with the basic “bad guy who does bad things” and then asked why does he do bad things? The loss of his family was a good start. Then, he had to watch them die. Holds himself responsible. That’s a pretty good engine for the bad guy. What about his capability? He had to have wherewithal, influence, and smarts. I made him an orphan, a self-made cerebral and financial success, and benevolent. Everywhere I came up with a trait, I asked “what if?” He’s a bad guy. What’s as bad as it can get? Worship the devil? Okay, what if he’s fiercely Christian? And so on, until he was fleshed out.
His slow descent into madness is the resultant vector of the forces acting upon him: he wants his family back, tortured by dreams, wants vengeance to atone for his own culpability in their death, knows that he may not see then in Heaven if he does, and then holds God responsible. Eventually, he forsakes everything… God, friends, fortune, just to reach his final objective. He is alone, truly alone, with only this last mission to accomplish heading into the book’s climax.
The sequel to Sins (Book 2 of the Antilles series) finds Forde using his expertise to find the identity of a new player in the drug trade, working for the government. Becca has taken over her Uncle’s business and is doing quite well. Events transpire to put them back on a collision course, and they fight a new battle that results in some interesting new relationships that cast the die for book three.
HALLIE: I'm curious about your time as a law enforcement agent. You mentioned in your bio that the "what if" question triggered a lot of your creativity. I can only imagine the "fictional" scenarios that crossed your mind throughout your career. Care to share any? Or elaborate on that experience?
JEFFERY: I worked at a Federal Prison, so I've tried really hard to forget my time there lol. Seriously, I didn't think about any fictional scenarios involving work...I usually dreamed about places away from there. The most impactful question I asked was "What if a Caribbean drug lord systematically murders the descendants of a shipping magnate?" which became the basis for Sins.
HALLIE: Thank you, Jeffrey, for giving my readers a chance to get to know you and your work. Congrats on your retirement, as well as your new career. Best of luck with the Antilles series! Click to follow Jeffrey EVERYWHERE! Website, Facebook
Meet Ava Langley
Ava, in her own words...
Hello! I’m Ava Langley, an aspiring sixteen-year-old author. I’m from Indiana but in recent years have been in Kentucky. Right before I moved, I found my love for reading, which led me to the realization that I could bring my imagination to life by words. That was a very… magical moment for me. That moment brought forth the first spark of the novel I’m currently working on. Of course, since it’s been almost four years that this idea has been blooming in my mind, it’s changed and matured a lot. But I’m proud of where it’s landed. My manuscript is a YA high fantasy novel. It has romance, betrayal, magical gems, mythical creatures, a determined protagonist, enemies hard to defeat, wicked connections, a plague creeping over the land, and spirit animals. I hope this book will one day meet the shelves of bookstores, or possibly another book I’ll write in the future will. Because, as we all know, a writer’s mind never stops creating.
HALLIE: Ava, you are the most determined, disciplined, and talented young writer I know. I have no doubt that the next time I feature you in my newsletter, you will have a cover image to present!
Your short stories (included below) are fascinating. In Nights of Bane, you do a wonderful job of making the reader feel the protagonist's sense of outrage. Trapped in the castle where she was raised, the protagonist suffers nightly at the hand of the conquerors. Her heart breaks at the way the marauders have removed the family portrait and stripped away her papa's special draperies. But then, at the end, we see that she has a secret, doesn't she? Bravo!
Your detail and vocabulary is quite extensive for your age--quills, parchment, dungeons! Oh my! How did you learn so much about this genre? And when did you know this was the genre for you?
AVA: I think there’s always been something in me that’s been drawn to fantasy. Since, which this is quite funny in my opinion, but until three years ago, I hated reading. With a fiery, burning passion. But there was this one book I read for school, The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick. It sparked a different kind of passion in me. So the next time I went into the bookstore, I randomly grabbed a book off the shelf and it ended up being Nightshade by Andrea Robinson. With that as an introduction to YA, I started reading books such as The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, and Caraval by Stephanie Garber. I loved those types of books with how magical and special they seemed. So, that’s how I knew fantasy was the genre for me–it made my world so much more extraordinary and it ignited the hidden writer in me.
But since fantasy novels are normally set back in the day and I read so much of it, I’ve picked up on many vocabulary words over time. Almost all of my knowledge regarding vocabulary and fantasy is by reading the genre. I’ve heard this tip from many authors and I’m sure almost every person who writes has too, but it’s so very true. Read lots of books in the genre you want to write in because you’ll gain knowledge of it without even realizing. It’s the best research you can do when wanting to write in a genre you’re unfamiliar with.
HALLIE: That's wonderful! I remember being inspired by books and certain styles of writing at your age, and it sort of shaped the way I write today. It seems fantasy is definitely the genre for you. Are there any particular shows in the genre you enjoy? Do you watch Witchers? I hear that's all the rage. And what about Lord of the Rings? Harry Potter?
AVA: I’ve actually never seen Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. And now that I think about it, I don’t watch too much full-blown fantasy. I love Narnia, but that’s the only one that comes to mind. I do have some that have fantastical/supernatural aspects like Sweet Tooth, Roswell (the original, of course) and Outlander. Other than that, I haven’t watched a lot of fantasy movies or shows. Or at least ones I was in love with.
HALLIE: Outlander! Yes! Would you believe I've never watched it? Even folks my age love that show. Ha! Ava, how do you plan to pursue your writing career once you graduate from high school?
AVA: After high school, I plan to simply continue writing and hopefully get published. I know once I finish my current fantasy novel and get it ready to the best of my capability, that I’ll start to query. Then work on a new novel that I already have ideas for. There is always a little dream in me I could get picked up before or right around the time I graduate high school, though I know that’s a low probability and don’t have high hopes. But! I know that writing is the career for me, so I’ll keep working on it and take it one step at a time, letting it lead me. I love it too much to ever think about stopping.
Thank you, Ava, for spending some time with me and my readers. Good luck with your writing, and PLEASE, keep us updated on your success. Click to follow Ava on Instagram and check out her latest short stories. Myth of Madness and Nights of Bane.
Thank you to Elizabeth Jacobson, Jeffrey Pentz, and Ava Langley for being my featured guests this month.
As for me, I've been working away on Book 3 in the Shady Gully Series! This has, thus far, been one the most joyous writing experiences I've ever had. PAINT ME FEARLESS was emotional; WOLFHEART was intense; and this is ....well, it's EVERYTHING!
I cannot wait to tell you more. In fact, I'm so psyched about this book I may have to leak the characters I'm spotlighting ahead of time. Stay tuned.
Lastly, if you don't follow me on Facebook or Instagram yet, now is the time. On Friday, I'm going to introduce FRIDAY FREEBIES!
All you have to do to qualify is:
1) Follow me online
2) Be a subscriber of the FRIENDS OF HALLIE Newsletter.
3) Encourage a friend to do the same.
You, or the friend you sign up, will have a chance to WIN a FREE Audiobook of Paint Me Fearless. Or maybe one of Wolfheart.
Or maybe even an ebook of one or the other!
Speaking of Giveaways, GOODREADS is doing a giveaway of PAINT ME FEARLESS in February. You have until March 1st to enter for a FREE COPY. Go to Goodreads, enter Paint Me Fearless in the menu bar, and then scroll down until you see "Enter the Giveaway."
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