Monthly Archives: February 2021

The Story Behind the Story: Kolea by Russell Cahill

Russell Cahill’s stories about his Hawaiian ancestors always fascinated me, because they all had a touch of history, a touch of mystery, and a touch of the fantastic. Kolea’s story has a familiar grounding: a child of royal blood with a destiny to fulfill…but his destiny is not one that the reader may expect. (I have to state at this point that I was the copy editor for this story, so I got to be an early observer about Kolea’s journey!) 

Kolea: A child, born of royal blood, is spirited away and raised in isolation. Pursued by an older brother, he escapes and travels to new worlds but cannot escape his fate.

It’s hard for me to believe in magic. I am a product of two cultures. Mom was descended from people of Europe who came to North America in the 1600s. Dad was a Native Hawaiian. One set of grandparents were pragmatic Yankees. The other grandparents were closely related to the land, the sea, and the plants and animals of Hawai’i. They were comfortable with the unseen and were quite superstitious. I ended up with a degree in science and an itch under the skin regarding the supernatural. Writing Kolea allowed me to scratch that itch.

If you want to get close to the ancient culture of Polynesia, there is no better place than Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui. Stories of shapechangers, ghosts, and spooky happenings are everywhere. I was fortunate to be assigned as superintendent of the park in 1970. I rode horseback or walked through that crater at least once a month for the four years of my tenure. 

There is good reason to believe the ancient ones believed the place to be a sacred location. There is a lava tube purported to be the repository of the umbilical cords cut from infants. I have seen the skeletal remains of ancient people hidden well back in the lava caves high on the mountain. And the workers I supervised refused to spend the night in areas of the back country that had disturbing Hawaiian spiritual significance. 

On one of my treks, I was climbing the steep trail at Halemau’u when I spotted a pueo, a Hawaiian owl, hunting on the steep slopes. It flew back and forth and didn’t seem to notice me as I stood quite still. The bird flew directly over me, perhaps five feet over me, and when it was just above me it recognized me and did a little hitch, continuing its flight. The magical part was that we stared into each other’s eyes for what seemed a long moment and I saw its eyes flecked with gold particles. I instantly felt calm, as if I had had a discussion with the owl. That evening I decided that although my father’s family aumakua (an animal god who is your relative and protector) was a shark, the owl had assigned itself to me. I went home that evening and began jotting notes about the pueo. 

A few years later I was living in a wall tent in rural Alaska. My little family and I were building a cabin in the forest at Gustavus. My wife and I had a disagreement about where the cabin should be sited. She liked one location and I, another. In the middle of one night, I got up to relieve myself and walked to the site I had chosen. As I prepared, a short-eared owl, the same species as the pueo, took off from a tall spruce tree and, with a lot of noise, swooped down from its perch and flew right above me, screaming its call. 

I took the nighttime event as a sign. The following day, we staked out the new cabin on the site my wife favored.

I began writing. Each evening after working on the construction of the cabin and having dinner, I sat by an oil lamp with a notebook and pencil and told the story of a boy, adopted by a mystical hula dancer and her blind warrior companion. Stories told about the battles between Maui and Hawai’i warriors were fresh in my mind from readings, and discussions with Hawaiian people in Hana, Kipahulu, and Kaupo. 

The idea of a canoe voyage to North America evolved from readings about the probability of prehistoric contact between Polynesians and the indigenous people of the Americas. The characters were formed from first-hand observations of people, and from the classic warring families found in all literature. I translated my own adventures in Alaska and the west coast of North America into plot points. After my sojourn in the Alaska Bush, I put the penciled draft in a file and set it aside as new work opportunities came up. 

The draft sat untouched for more than forty years. One day, one of my grandchildren was in need, and I gave her some money. She asked, “What can I do for you, Grandpa?” She was a good typist. I retrieved the notebook draft and said, “Put this in a Word file for me.” A couple of weeks later, the first draft came up on my computer screen and I went to work on a new draft. I pulled in research material on Hawaiian voyaging canoes and other materials and completed a first draft.

With no experience in publishing, I was flummoxed. But one sunny day, my wife and I were having lunch at our favorite little seafood place in Aberdeen, Washington, and I saw a note pinned on the wall for the South Bay Writers Group annual meeting to be held the following weekend at the Tokeland Hotel. A publisher would be there to hear pitches from authors. I drove south to Tokeland and reserved the last room available in Washington’s oldest hotel. “Do you mind the haunted room?” I was asked. “Of course not. I’m a writer,” I said.

On the following weekend, a representative of Booktrope, a cooperative publishing venture in Seattle at the time, listened to my pitch and agreed to publish Kolea. Along the way, I learned about editors, proofreaders, cover designers and marketing people. After the book was published, Booktrope folded. I was rescued by Gwen Gades, the publisher of Dragon Moon Books in Red Deer, Alberta. Gwen had designed the cover for Kolea. She agreed to continue to publish Kolea. And that, good reader, is the story behind the story.

Russell Cahill is a San Francisco–born child of a mixed-race family. His father was a Hawaiian seaman, his mother a descendant of Pilgrims. A former national park ranger in Yosemite, Alaska, Washington DC, and Hawai’i, Russell now writes from his home in a forest north of Olympia, Washington. His fascination with the native cultures of North America and Polynesia inspired him to write Kolea, a story of early Hawai’i and a voyage to North America.

Story Behind the Story: Death by Intermission by Alexis Morgan

Alexis Morgan’s series about Snowberry Creek, and her amateur sleuth, Abby McCree, reminds us that there’s always murder in the most unlikely places. This Story Behind The Story is about the latest in Morgan’s Abby McCree Murder Mysteries and how characters can shape and grow. 

Cover of Death by Intermission by Alexis Morgan

What’s the theme behind your story?

The theme behind DEATH BY INTERMISSION is the importance of supporting the people you care about, both in good times and bad. 

What’s the logline?

DEATH BY INTERMISSION—It’s a blockbuster whodunit…

What were you thinking about or what was happening when the idea occurred to you?

I was trying to think of a very different location for a murder to take place when I came up with the image of someone sitting in a lawn chair just inside the tree line at a city park looking as if he’d dozed off. From there I needed a reason for both him and Abby McCree, my amateur sleuth, to be there in the first place. Since Abby is always getting “volunteered” to serve on committees in the town of Snowberry Creek, this was the perfect time for her to be in charge of the town’s movie-in-the-park night. 

How did the original idea change as you went along?

I like Abby to have a good reason for getting involved in solving a murder. Originally, it was going to be because she was in charge of the night’s festivities and that alone was enough to draw her into the investigation. However, as I started writing, I realized that wasn’t enough of a personal connection. To add additional depth, I had one of the chief suspects be dating Abby’s mother. In turn, he was trying to protect another possible suspect by withholding key information, which complicated the situation for everyone. That one change gave the story more depth and tension, especially regarding the relationship between Abby and her mother. 

How did you conceive of your characters for this story and how did they change?

This is the first time the reader meets Abby’s mother even though it’s the fourth book in the series. I’ve always pictured Abby and her mother being very close. But as the story unfolds, they have to confront their changing relationship. Abby’s life had changed dramatically since moving to Snowberry Creek, and she’s never realized that her mother isn’t happy about some of the choices Abby has made. Things get a bit rocky for them, but their relationship becomes much stronger in the process.  

Are you pleased with the results, or do you wish you had done anything differently in the story? Why or why not?

Overall, I’m pleased with how the story turned out. Abby and her friends have come a long way from where the readers first met them in DEATH BY COMMITTEE, Book One of the Abby McCree Murder Mysteries. Abby’s circle of friends has expanded, drawing in more people from both her past and her new home in Snowberry Creek. At times I wish I had created more in-depth backstories for the major characters before I started writing the first book. That would make their reactions to different situations more predictable. However, as a writer, I really prefer getting to know the characters over the course of the series just like the readers do.   

Who would play your leads in the movie if (when!) you make a deal?

I really love the idea “casting” my characters with real-life actors! I can just picture Abby, my plucky amateur sleuth, being played by Anna Kendrick. Tripp Blackston, Abby’s tenant and almost-boyfriend, is a former Special Forces soldier and would be played by Jai Courtney. Henry Cavill would make a perfect Gage Logan, Abby’s friend and the local chief of police. 

What else do you want readers to know?

I would like the readers to know that Zeke, Abby’s ninety-five pound mastiff mix roommate, is based on two of the dogs in my own life. My granddogs, Walter and Remus, are both bulldogs, so I have firsthand experience in dealing with the issues Zeke has with drooling and shedding. They are also both extremely fond of dog cookies.  I keep several flavors on hand for whenever they come to visit. 


USA Today best-selling author Alexis Morgan lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband. She is the author of over forty novels, novellas, and short stories that span a variety of genres. DEATH BY INTERMISSION is the fourth book in her first cozy mystery series, The Abby McCree Mysteries

Buy link

Here’s a link to the book’s page on my website.  It includes several buy links, the back blurb, and the first chapter of the book.

Story Behind the Story: My Sweet Enemy by Jenny Hartwell

Jenny Hartwell’s tale about pivoting to publish should be a familiar one to anyone who’s aspired to publish, whether it’s a novel, a short story, or even a blog post. And about chocolate. How could anyone complain about a love story involving chocolate?!

At a writing conference I attended a few years back, the entire panel of agents and editors announced to the crowded room full of eager authors that historical romance was a tough sell these days. 

Huh. Too bad I was pitching my historical romance to them the next day. 

After going nowhere slowly with my story of carriages, ballgowns, and duels at dawn, I returned home fighting despondency. What to write next? I took a long walk, thinking about the power of pivoting. Romcoms were just taking off. Could I pivot from writing about English ladies in the early 1800s to penning pithy tales of modern love? Could I make pop culture references? Could I be funny

The answer, surprisingly, was yes. 

Before I discovered this, though, I had to search the depths of my soul. What do I love? Truly, madly, deeply? Love enough to spend countless hours researching and writing and editing the topic? The answer came readily enough: chocolate. I loooooove chocolate. However, the sweet treat itself was not a plot. But what about everyone’s favorite chocolate story from childhood, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? What if I slammed it together with the breakout enemies-to-lovers romcom, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne? I returned from my walk invigorated, pivoting, and ready to leap into something new. 

It turned out, I adored writing contemporary romance. I love pop culture, and now I had an academic purpose for my subscription to People magazine. Including references to Taylor Swift, Star Wars, Axe body spray, the Hemsworth brothers, and Lord Voldemort was fun. And more important, it was funny. 

I had to modernize the story of the impoverished Charlie Bucket, turning my main character into Charlotte Beecher, a twenty-something chocolatier who’s out of work and getting desperate as her bills and student loans pile up. Thankfully, she wins a social media contest for one of five internships at a gourmet chocolate company, my spin on Dahl’s five golden tickets. The interns compete in a series of challenges with the winner earning a high-level job at the chocolate company. One of the other interns, Mister Tall, Dark, and Haughty, is all spreadsheets and number crunching, and when he and sunshiny Charlotte go toe to toe, sparks fly! 

Once I’d worked out my plot, I had some serious research to conduct. And by research, I mean eating chocolate. Studying chocolate. Making chocolate. Let me tell you, it was a tough gig. Luckily, I live in the same city as two gourmet chocolate companies, so I set up tours, tastings, and a truffle-making class. It was extraordinarily delicious and educational. I even met the eponymous owner of one of the factories, and I gushed to her—perhaps a bit too gushingly, now that I look back with the distance of time—about how I was writing a novel based on a factory just like hers with a female owner just like her. I asked her for a selfie. I rambled. I preached on the transcendent joy of her salted caramels. And…I’m lucky there were no restraining orders issued. 

Writing the book was both easy and hard. The dialogue flowed. I could have my characters swear. I didn’t have to research how long a carriage journey from London to Bath on dirt roads would take. But…I was also living in my house while it underwent a six-month renovation. Jackhammers and writing are not boon companions. I loved this story, though, so I figured out how to write despite the construction. I wrote in my car. I wrote on friends’ back porches while they were at work. I hummed along to the member of the construction crew who was fond of belting out Cher tunes while I typed away. And at last, my enemies-to-lovers chocolate factory romcom was done. 

There is quite a bit that happened in between typing The end and the publication of my debut, but that’s a story for a different day. My Sweet Enemy was released by Entangled Publishing on February 8. Being published and seeing my book out in the world, the result of my career-changing pivot, fills me with more transcendent joy than eating a salted caramel.

And that’s really saying something.  

Jenny Hartwell has a confession–she loves People magazine as much as Pride and Prejudice. Her fun, pop culture–adoring side shines in her contemporary rom-com novels set in a gourmet chocolate factory while Jenny’s Regency romances feature strong damsels and swoony lords. Her writing has won or finaled in numerous contests including the Golden Heart, The Emily, Four Seasons, Fool for Love, and The Catherine. Jenny lives with her family in the verdant Pacific Northwest. She loves movies, travel, and staying up late with a good book. And, of course, chocolate. Jenny is represented by Lesley Sabga of The Seymour Agency. 

Blurb for My Sweet Enemy

Sunny chocolatier Charlotte Beecher is unemployed, in student debt, and on the verge of hawking her beloved copper pots just to make ends meet. So when a gourmet chocolate factory chooses her as one of five candidates to help re-launch the company in their Charlie and the Chocolate Factory–inspired competition, Charlotte begins to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Fellow contestant Luke Wells complicates her plans to win by a landslide with his flow charts and marketing projections. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Haughty is all about the bottom line and is as bitter as she is sweet. And when he snubs Charlotte in the first challenge, misunderstanding or not, she transforms from cream puff to jawbreaker. Bring. It. On.

But when these two rivals find themselves distracted by delicious attraction, will they let their passion get in the way of winning the competition?

Buy links: 


Barnes & Noble:

Story Behind the Story: Aedyn Brooks and Dead Reckoning, Grave Intentions Series, Book 1

When I first wanted to introduce the Story Behind the Story post series, I was aware that sometimes the story itself springs forth in its entirety from a dream, a conversation, or even an image. And sometimes it comes from life, truly a “write what you know” situation. In Aedyn Brooks’s case, the story had its origins from a terrifying home life and learning how to cope with it. (I have to state at this point that I was the copy editor for this story, so I got to be an early observer of this fight of good against evil!)

Cover of Dead Reckoning by Aedyn Brooks

What’s the theme behind your story?

We’re often told “write what you know” when you first start writing. There are many good reasons for this philosophy, but mostly because it’s easier to write about things you’re familiar with than those things you don’t know and require research. 

I grew up in a very abusive home that not only spanned generations but held the belief that elders would always have the right to abuse younger generations. Most of my abusers are long dead. I never had a chance to have a critical conversation with them and ask them why me? Why did they feel they had the right to abuse me, and keep abusing me for most of my life? Out of the blue, about ten years ago, one of my abusers called me to tell me he was working through the 12-step substance abuse program and one of those steps is making amends with your past. He apologized and asked for my forgiveness. A lifetime of healing held in two little words: I’m sorry. He went on to explain how he’d been abused by other family members. Not that it excused his behavior, but sadly, it normalized it. He thought that was what was expected of him. Each generation continued this cycle—and my family wasn’t alone in this mentality or behavior. I found numerous news articles to validate that this is a silent, systemic issue throughout America, and possibly the world. I can’t say it loud enough that victims need to speak up and speak out—even through the threats. Abusers threaten, punish, and hurt their victims. It’s how they control them. It certainly was how I was controlled.

I can speak easily of the abuse I went through only because of the professional help I received. I’ll never be one hundred percent healed because we can’t change the past. What we can do is get to a place where the past doesn’t cripple daily function, dictate our future, and doesn’t limit our success.

What’s the logline?

Even the dead deserve justice.

What were you thinking about or what was happening when the idea occurred to you?

Other than abuse, I wanted to explore the issue of abandonment and how that can manifest in us as adults. My father was my only caregiver, having been abandoned by my mother when I was two weeks old. Unfortunately, he died in a logging accident when I was three. Children learn trust between the ages of three and four. My life was in incredible turmoil at that age and I still struggle with trust today, partly because abused children learn never to rely on others, and partly because where trust should have been developed in my brain, never happened. My older brother and I were passed around from relative to relative on my father’s side—each fighting for custody. For various reasons they were denied, but ultimately, my mother won custody. Why she fought for custody of us was never explained. Almost daily she mentioned how much she hated children, and we wore the brunt of her displeasure and anger. 

In Dead Reckoning, part of Sojourner “Joni” Smith’s backstory is that she suffers a severe injury and has amnesia. She wonders if her family misses her and is left feeling abandoned when no one steps forward to claim her as a missing person. Though it doesn’t stop her from forming strong relationships that become like family because unlike me, she also doesn’t have the baggage in her past to taint her future. There are days I wished that for myself. 

How did the original idea change as you went along?

When I write my rough drafts I throw in all the nitty-gritty evil details. In Dead Reckoning, I wrote Elsabeth’s rape scene by her family members, and a whole scene of how she died. I was able to put words to my own pain and that was cathartic for me to write. However, no one wants to read that in a romance. Also, it wasn’t needed to discuss the essence of what she’d suffered. I also didn’t want to trigger readers, given that one in four women have been raped in America. No one needs that when they’re reading for enjoyment. 

How did you conceive of your characters for this story and how did they change?

My character development is a whole process in itself. I knew that I wanted to write Joni but finding her a comparable hero took a bit of work. I use astrology and tarot to give depth to my characters and then study negative and positive traits from there. I also study professions and see how that can taint and develop someone into who they are. I also love developing complex belief systems, family dynamics, etc. I do a ton of upfront work on my hero, heroines, and villains. Most of it’s never put on the page, but I feel I know my characters well by the time I write their story.

Are you pleased with the results, or do you wish you had done anything differently in the story? Why or why not?

I cut the crap—or hope I did. LOL! One of the questions in my beta-reader list is there a scene that wasn’t needed? None of my previewers mentioned removing any scene or chapter. I worked five years at chiseling and molding this book into a capturing what was in my head and yet a page-turner for my reader. I really like to keep the reader experience in mind when I write. 

Who would play your leads in the movie if (when!) you make a deal?

If Theo James and Alexis Bledel played Zeke and Joni I’d be over the moon! Can we sign that contract today? I can picture SyFy Channel wanting to make my books into a mini-series. A girl’s gotta dream, right?

What else do you want readers to know?

One thing I probably could communicate better is that Dead Reckoning is a complete story in itself and it’s the first book in the Grave Intentions series. The second book, Ready or Not, brings in a resurrection angel to work with the new foundation that Joni and Zeke create at the end of book one. The third book, Devil’s Due, incorporates another key player needed for the foundation to gather key psychics and gifted beings to combat evil in the world. The fourth book, Sweet Revenge, was a purely indulgent book for me to write,, and I can hardly wait to share it with my readers. It’s a cross between the reality TV shows Amazing Race and Chopped. My fictional organization is Paranormal Intelligence Foundation. (Yes, I own the URL.) This foundation will go on to help people in future books in work.

Aedyn Brooks is an award-winning author who feeds her spreadsheet-addicted psyche by day (aka data-driven ninja), and crafts wicked paranormal romances at night.

After living most of her life in haunted houses, Aedyn decided to share her terrifying, and sometimes funny, experiences with ghosts by crafting Haunted Romances in her debut, Dead Reckoning, Grave Intentions series, which launched in November 2020. One thing Aedyn learned from an early age is that the dead can be your greatest ally, especially in your darkest hours. 

She lives in the Pacific Northwest suburbia with a postage-stamp sized yard, with one of her three grown children. She enjoys spending time with family and babysitting her new granddaughter. Being a grandmother is the bestest ever!

You can also follow Aedyn on FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest (another slight addiction) @aedynbrooks, or sign up for her newsletter at

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