Hi, I'm Katherine. Words have been a passion of mine for years. Books are my go-to way to relax. I am a hopeless romantic as well as a book, fashion and beauty fanatic. I am addicted to purple (even my electric wheelchair is purple). I live with Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and Hydrocephalus and am registered legally blind due to multiple visual impairments. I have been blogging (with the aid of assistive technology) since 2014 as I wanted a space for my musings on the Internet. Here, you'll find book, makeup and beauty product reviews writing-related posts as well as general chats about life. So feel free to join me. Because life is beautiful.
EVEN IF THE SKY IS FALLING Author: Taj McCoy, Farah Heron, Lane Clarke, Charish Reid, Sarah Smith, and Denise Williams ISBN: 9781335452559 Publication Date: May 30, 2023 Publisher: Canary Street Press 18.99 US | 23.99 CAN
About the Book:
For readers of Bolu Babalola’s LOVE IN COLOR and Dhonielle Clayton’s BLACKOUT, a collection of six stories filled with hope, humor, and heat that explore the chances a couple may take when they mistakenly believe the world is ending; for fans of Love Actually and all the best 90s disaster films that end in a triumphant kiss, with stories by Taj McCoy, Farah Heron, Lane Clarke, Charish Reid, Sarah Smith, and Denise Williams. When the global threat of meteor showers – exacerbated by an increasing amount of space debris in our solar system – causes widespread panic, a world-wide siren system alerting people to significant threats is developed. The plan immediately hits a rocky start when the US accidently launches the siren during a routine testing without being able to signal the all-clear, causing people to take immediate shelter. Each of these 6 stories forces two people – strangers, colleagues, crushes, rivals – to take cover with one another, exploring what chances a person may take when they mistakenly believe the world is ending. Spoiler: it’s a lot of confession making and kissing. Filled with joy, heat, and emotion, this collection also seamlessly incorporates issues impacting people of color in an authentic and genuine way.
About the Authors:
Taj McCoy is a law grad committed to championing plus-sized Black love stories and characters with a strong sense of sisterhood and familial bonds. Born in Oakland, Taj started writing as a child and celebrated her first publications in grade school. When she’s not writing, Taj boosts other marginalized writers, practices yoga, co-hosts the Fat Like Me and Better Than Brunch podcasts.
Farah Heron writes complex story arcs and uplifting happily ever afters while pursuing careers in human resources and psychology. Her romantic comedies and women’s fiction are full of huge South Asian families, delectable food, and most importantly, brown people falling stupidly in love. She lives in Toronto.
Lane Clarke has been in love with books since the age of two. Her stories feature Black culture and big-hearted characters with self-doubts and big dreams, who—with a little laughter and good friends—can accomplish anything. She currently lives in Northern Virginia and works as an attorney in Washington, D.C.
Charish Reid is a fan of sexy books and disaster films. When she’s not grading papers or prepping lessons for college freshmen, she enjoys writing romances that celebrate quirky Black women who deserve HEAs. Charish currently lives in Sweden.
Sarah Smith is a copywriter-turned-author who wants to make the world a lovelier place, one kissing story at a time. Her love of romance began when she was eight and she discovered her auntie’s stash of romance novels. She lives in Bend, Oregon.
Denise Williams wrote her first book in the second grade. That book featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a Ph.D. in education, going on to work in higher education. Denise lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
Where to Buy:
BookShop.org Harlequin Barnes & Noble Books A Million Amazon
ALL THE STARS “Willy Song, we are leaving this base and heading to the station in eight minutes, with or without you,” Halley growled through gritted teeth into her phone. She hung up before he could respond. This is the last time I allow this joker off base before a mission. The dry air kicked up dust in the breeze, but the September heat radiated off the tarmac outside of a small hangar. Halley Oakes was one mission away from being promoted from a NASA senior communications specialist to project manager, and it all depended on the success of this team. Based on those she’d been assigned, Halley had her doubts that her promotion was any closer than it had been a year before. More than once, Song had put her in a bind that left her with egg on her face in front of her superiors. He could complete most of his job, but not before making matters worse. She was sure someone had been joking when she read the team roster days before. “I’m here, I’m here!” Willy jumped out of an SUV that hadn’t come to a full stop with a cloth grocery bag, clanging its contents in one hand and a mission binder in the other. “Man, I hope we have time for a pit stop, because I think I had some bad shellfish last night, and a three-hour ride with me could be unpleasant.” He scrunched up his nose, waving a hand in front of his face comically until he caught the arctic glare of his superior. His wiry hunched form straightened, and he pushed his floppy dark hair back so it wouldn’t fall into his eyes. Ew. “What the hell is that you’re carrying, Song?” Willy Song was the tech specialist that no one chose for essential missions. Between his inappropriate jokes, his constant need to overshare and his record for accidents, there was no way he should be assigned to this detail. Of course, tell that to the chief—Song happened to be his only nephew. Song hesitated briefly before a sly grin spread across his face. “Have you ever tried a peanut butter stout, boss?” He held open the bag by its handles to show off its contents—a six-pack of beer and a bag of pretzels. He practically danced with excitement; his feet tapping the tarmac to the beat of a rhythmless drum. “It’s locally made at a brewery here in Boulder. It’s supposed to be amazing, with subtle hints of chocolate and peanut butter.” He chef-kissed his fingers as his eyes rolled back. “Ew, no, and don’t call me that. I like Oakes just fine.” Halley wrinkled her nose. Beer was never really appealing to her, and adding peanut butter wasn’t likely to make it better. She smoothed her hands over a self-imposed uniform of black cargo pants, work boots and a thin V neck sweater with a small NASA emblem embroidered high on the left breast. Her curves felt understated in this uniform, and her thick halo of curls was pulled back into her standard “work attire” bun. She pushed the sleeves up her forearms, wishing she’d opted for something short-sleeved in this heat and running through the inventory of other clothes in her go bag. “Everyone else here, boss?” Song eyed the black Escalade loaded with equipment for the installation. “Glenn is already in the truck. We’re just waiting on Simmons.” Halley checked her watch for what felt like the millionth time. Jake Glenn, their systems engineer, always arrived like clockwork. Lynn Simmons, a part of the protective detail, usually beat everyone there and would nap until it was time to move. Where is she? “Simmons? I thought she got reassigned for that detail in Florida?” He shifted his binder under the arm holding his prized beer so he could scratch his head before unsuccessfully trying to smooth his wrinkled clothes. Halley’s head snapped in Song’s direction. “What?” she barked. A twisting sensation pierced her gut, and she blinked hard before staring at him with laser focus. “She was reassigned? Who is her replacement?” Song’s eyes widened as if he knew more. “Umm…” Halley snatched her phone out of her pocket to go through her emails from the chief. Surely someone would have told her that her team assignments changed. Sure enough, Chief Henry had emailed her while they were in the air on their Colorado-bound flight from Andrews Air Force Base, outside of DC. She scanned the email, inhaling a sharp breath when her eyes fell on the last name she wanted to see. Griffin Harper. Seeing the murderous glint in her dark eyes, Song retreated to the SUV as Halley’s cell rang. Shit, it’s the boss. “Sir,” she answered on the first ring, her tone devoid of emotion. “Oakes, I sent you an updated roster while you were in the air.” The chief’s no-nonsense tone was enough for Halley to understand that there would be no talking her way out of these last-minute reassignments. She assumed he came out of the womb scowling. “Yes, sir, I saw the update.” Her mouth formed a straight line. Protesting would just piss off the chief, and Halley was trying her hardest to advance in her career at NASA—something she’d been focused on since she started out as a summer intern in grad school. It had taken a decade to rise through the ranks and gain the trust of her superiors, first by becoming a specialist, and finally having “senior” attached to her title. Halley had built a reputation of reliability and strong leadership, and she could feel that she was right on the brink of advancement yet again. She could taste it. Complaining about assignments wasn’t something that many comms specialists could get away with while still being assigned to lead missions. Over the years, Halley had become the chief’s go-to specialist on the team; he relied on her efficiency and quick thinking. He especially liked that she didn’t bombard him with questions on how to get things done. Her initiative was a constant topic whenever he had to dress down a slacker in their unit. There were colleagues who teased her for being a favorite, but no one could deny Halley’s work ethic. “This won’t be a problem, will it, Oakes?” Usually, Halley’s commanding officer wouldn’t have any knowledge of her personal relationships, but she and Griff had a huge blowout argument in the mess hall the last time they saw each other—right after he’d sent the text that ended their relationship. She’d gone after him to give him a piece of her mind, and when he had nothing to say in response, she blew up. The chief and several other senior officials were present. Over a year had passed, but Halley had never shaken her frustration at being led on by a man who promised the world when he ultimately wasn’t ready for an actual commitment or even to communicate his feelings like an adult. Because of her outburst in front of the senior team, her advancement had slowed, as if the higher-ups were waiting to see if she would rally or unravel altogether. “Not at all, sir. We will conduct ourselves professionally and make sure that the system is installed flawlessly.” Halley stood at attention, her voice firm, even though her insides were swirling. “Good. Has Song arrived?” Of course, he had to check up on his nephew. Sweat began to gather across Halley’s smooth brown forehead as she cleared her throat. She whisked it away with the back of her hand. “He has. He’s already in the transport vehicle. We’re just waiting for Harper to arrive, and then we’ll head for the base.” “Good.” His voice softened slightly, as if he’d stepped away from the earshot of others. He was constantly surrounded by a team of people monitoring any number of projects and emergencies. “Now listen. Song looks up to you, and he could benefit from your guidance, Oakes. Make sure that this mission goes off without a hitch, yes?” The firmness of his tone indicated there was only one right answer. Being on the chief’s bad side could mean a six-month detail in a place no one wanted to go. “Yes, sir. We won’t let you down, sir.” The phone disconnected, and Halley bit her lip wondering whether she would be able to keep her promise. Her shoulders rounded slightly as she fell deep into thought. The chief’s nephew had already shared that he planned to sneak contraband into the station, and Halley’s emotionally unavailable ex was on his way to distract her and bring back all of the feelings that she never processed. She sucked her teeth, brooding over the inevitable. Sensing movement behind her, Halley’s back snapped straight, and she waited for the figure to identify itself. His smell-good cologne gave him away first. “Hi, Halley,” the voice behind her rumbled with a gravelly bass tone that reverberated at her very core. “Been a long time.”
I learned the value of religion when I was at school and had Religious Education (RE) classes. The teacher taught the lessons in a fun way. I went to church on Sundays with my mum and sister.I practice religion and pray silently every day. Prayers make me reflect and make me focus and be calm.
It’s hard to find a wheelchair accessible church where I am. I believe God is all around me.
I was baptised twice: Once, when I was a baby and hospital staff held an emergency baptism for me and my identical twin sister Natalie, and again sometime after once I was home from the hospital.
Going to church held it’s own challenges for me: accessibility, and not being able to hold the hymnals or see the number of the hymn we were going to sing. I learned The Lord’s Prayer at school every morning.
I still practice religion in my own way by being kind to those who are kind to me, and believe in the importance of prayer.
I really like themed makeup. I was excited when an email about their new Little Mermaid makeup collection landed in my inbox. Lately, I’ve realized Kiko’s prices have gone up, but I wouldn’t mind buying something from this collection if there’s a sale sometime.
I’ve decided to post my Scribd reviews on my blog, too. This is the first one I’m posting here.
About the Book:
There’s just one accessory Annie Valentine can’t find — the perfect man!
Meet Annie Valentine: stylish, savvy, a multi-tasker extraordinaire.
As a personal shopper in a fancy London fashion store, Annie can re-style and re-invent her clients from head to toe. In fact, this super-skilled dresser can be relied on to solve everyone’s problems . . . except her own. Although she’s a busy single mum to stroppy teen Lana, and painfully shy Owen, there’s a gap in Annie’s wardrobe — sorry, life — for a new man. But finding the perfect partner is turning out to be so much trickier than finding the perfect pair of shoes.
Can she source a genuine classic? A life-long investment? Or will she end up with a mistake from the sale rack who’ll have to be returned?
Or maybe, just maybe, there’ll be someone new this season who could be the one…
I love how each chapter of The Personal Shopper starts with a description of what each character is wearing, where it’s from and how much it cost. Annie’s take on what people around her were wearing and what was happening around her were hillarious at times. I loved her daughter Lauren’s take on life too.
Annie has two would-be love intrerests: who will she choose?
The Personal Shopper is a dream book plot come true for me. I have reviewed one of Carmen Reid’s books, Worn Out Wife Seeks New Life, and adored it. Carmen Reid is one of my favourite authors.
The Personal Shopper was a real winner for me, as it has a great heroine (Annie) and her family were realistic. The characters were all very well fleshed out. The plot has perect pacing and I really felt at home in The Store. I felt like I was there. I am a real shopaholic, and it would be my dream to have a personal shopper.
Each character’s backstory was something I was eager to find out about, as well as their life ups and downs. There were realistic insights into aspects of life such as school experiences, social life with and without family, being a teenager, and house hunting or apartment hunting as an adult.
The Personal Shopper was utterly fun and enjoyable.
They say life flashes before your eyes when you’re about to die. But all she could see was regret.The people in Frankie Morgan’s life say she’s angry. Emotionally stunted. Combative. But really, who can blame her? It’s hard being nice when your clients are insufferable, your next-door neighbor is a miserable woman and the cowardly driver who killed your mother is still out living it up somewhere.Somehow, though, she finds herself at her very first anger-management group session—drinking terrible coffee and learning all about how “forgiveness is a process.”One that starts with a list.Frankie is skeptical. A list of everyone who’s wronged her in some way over the years? More paper, please. Still, she makes the pointless list—with her own name in a prominent spot—and promptly forgets about it…until it goes missing. And one by one, the people she’s named start getting hurt in freak accidents, each deadlier than the last.Could it be coincidence giving her the revenge she never dared to seek…or something more sinister?If Frankie doesn’t find out who’s behind it all, she might be next.
Describe THE REVENGE LIST in four words?
Twisted, surprising, gut-wrenching, original.How would you describe your latest book in a few sentences?
When Frankie Morgan loses her “forgiveness list” – the names of people who have wronged her in the past, and whom she could work to forgive – she thinks nothing of it. But as the people on Frankie’s list have increasingly serious accidents, Frankie’s in trouble. She wrote her own name on the list because her past self is the one person she’ll never forgive. If she doesn’t find out who’s behind the attacks, she might be next.
Q&A with Hannah Mary McKinnon:
What’s “the story behind the story.” Tell us about the inspiration for THE REVENGE LIST?
I can usually pinpoint exactly where the inspiration for my novels came from. Typically, it’s a news article (You Will Remember Me and Her Secret Son) or a radio segment (Sister Dear), maybe some daydreaming (The Neighbors) or a specific character (Never Coming Home).
With The Revenge List, it was after batting various plot ideas around with my agent Carolyn, and former editor Emily that a random idea popped into my head: “What if an anger management group therapy exercise went terribly wrong?” That was it—we all needed to know what the rest of the story was.
What did you have the most fun with, character or plot?
Both, because they’re intrinsically linked. I loved building Frankie’s history to figure out who had wronged her in the past, how it had shaped her life and was still influencing her in the present. Frankie’s a firecracker, and it was incredibly interesting to write from the perspective of a woman who struggles with anger and doesn’t always handle it in a way that’s expected.
Did any of the characters appear fully formed?
No, they never do, but Frankie’s character came together quite quickly once I’d decided on a rough premise. I knew she’d have a certain amount of anger caused by her past, that she might be construed as an “angry woman” and I wondered what it would be like to write from that character’s perspective – without her being angry all the time, of course, because that would be exhausting. I also deliberately placed her in a male-dominated industry, which I have a lot of experience working in.
Did the story end the way you’d initially thought?
Yes, it did. I had the ending in mind when I started outlining and it barely changed. It still gives me the shivers.Five facts readers don’t know about THE REVENGE LIST
The fictional coffee shop, Jake’s Cakes, originally appears in Sister Dear. It was fun to revive it as a little easter egg for anyone who reads both books.
I put Frankie in construction because it’s such a male dominated industry, but also because, I often went to construction sites when I was a kid as my dad worked as an architect. I still find them fascinating.
Like Frankie, I had a job at a grocery store when I was in school but thankfully nothing bad ever happened there.
I set the book in Portland, Maine because I’ve been there and loved it.
I modeled reporter Danika Danforth’s personality on my good friend Hank Phillippi Ryan. One reader told me “reporters aren’t that nice” and I replied, “Hank is!”
Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?
I adored writing the scenes with Frankie and Rico because I loved the brother/sister relationship and dynamic. I don’t have a brother, but if I did, I hope it would be someone like Rico as he was such a wonderful, caring man who clearly adored his sibling but wouldn’t put up with her nonsense, either.
Do you have a favorite character?
It’s got to be Frankie. I loved writing from her perspective – I found her so interesting and complex, including the fact that, even given her history, she’s still an optimist at heart. She became a great (fictional) friend.
What do you hope readers will take away from THE REVENGE LIST?
I always say I hope to surprise readers, and that they keep thinking about the book long after they’ve finished the final page. My ultimate goal hasn’t changed: it’s to entertain, to provide people with a form of escape and to leave them satisfied thinking, “I enjoyed that. It was time well spent! What else has Hannah Mary written?”PUBLISHING JOURNEY
At what point in your life did you realize that you were called to be a writer?
It wasn’t until my 40s when we came to Canada and my start-up HR company failed. I had a decision to make – keep working corporate or try something else. I plumped for the latter and I’m beyond thrilled I did. I love my second career so much and can’t imagine doing anything else.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published (or this book?)
I made a lot of mistakes before my first novel was published, including rushing to submit the manuscript to an agent before it was truly ready. After editing it for two years, taking creative writing courses, and reading a lot, I managed to secure representation. If I’d taken those classes and learned about the industry earlier, it may not have taken as long…but the rejections kept my feet firmly on the ground and made me more determined. In a FitBit meditation with Ceasar F. Barajas, I recently heard we could “think of rejection as redirection.” It really resonated with me.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing, if at all?
I’ve learned to trust my writing process. If I can get the bones of the story on paper, I’ll add layers and complexity as I go over the novel again and again in preparation for my editor’s eyes. I accept the finer details will come as I work. I’ll figure out plot-holes if I allow myself time to work through them. Just like most people who draw, paint, or write music or books, the first draft will never be my best work. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that. I’m glad I’ve accepted this because it stops me from being overly self-critical when I start a project. I also set myself deadlines and work hard to beat them.
What’s your favorite part about writing/being an author? What do you find challenging?
The camaraderie of the writing community is like nothing I’ve experienced elsewhere. Authors, agents, publishers, readers, reviewers—we all love books and it’s wonderful.
In terms of writing, I adore the anticipation of starting a new novel where everything is open, and the only limit is my imagination. I also love when I get to the editing part and think, “Yeah, there’s something here” — it’s always such a rush. What’s challenging? Pushing through the first draft and the edit thereof. I need cookies for both!PROCESS
How has your writing process changed since your first book published in 2016?
I’ve become a lot more streamlined because of deadlines. Also, I’ve figured out what works for me (plotting and structure) and what doesn’t (winging it), all of which goes a long way. Having written seven published and two upcoming novels means I have a good few years of experience in the industry, and I’ve learned to trust my instincts. When I find myself thinking, “Gah, this is terrible!” I remind myself I’ve said that about every previous books. That’s a lie. My husband reminds me of it each time and he’s right.
All your books are filled with many plot twists and turns. How much of the stories have you mapped out in advance, or does your writing style, take, well, twists and turns as you go along?
I love twists and turns, and the more books I write, the more I plot them. While detailed outlines make me more productive and efficient because I know where I’m headed, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll end up at the destination I mapped out. Things change as I write. I plot, but I’m flexible and still need my manuscript to surprise me as it evolves.
In The Neighbors, for example, the ending changed quite dramatically as I got closer to finishing my first draft. In Her Secret Son, the final chapters were different because I wasn’t happy with whom I’d planned to kill. Sister Dear and You Will Remember Me’s endings are close to how I’d imagined but more sinister. Never Coming Home and The Revenge List barely changed at all.
With all my books, more twists and turns appeared as I wrote. That’s another fun part of writing, discovering what your characters will do when you let them loose. I can’t possibly know everything from the beginning, nor would I want to.
What is your writing process like?
Extremely structured with plots, deadlines, and word-count targets. For The Revenge List, the “what if” idea came first, then Frankie’s character, followed by the storyline. I noodled the thoughts around as the main characters took shape. The next step was to write an outline. I started by jotting down the big picture plot points, which I used as stepping-stones to build and write the rest of the outline. I filled out personality questionnaires for my main characters to understand them better, and searched for photos on the internet to build a gallery. I also put a map of Portland together to work out who lived and worked where.
I wrote the basic manuscript that was a little over two-thirds of the final word count, then layered and developed until I was happy calling it a first draft, and sent it to my editor. She loved it (phew!).What kind of research did you do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning the book?
One of the characters in The Revenge List has appendicitis, which our eldest son had when he was ten, so I drew on that experience, which thankfully was far easier than my fictional scenario. I called in the experts for more in-depth medical advice, police, and court procedures, and how adoption in Maine works, which was all fascinating. Research is one of my favorite parts of writing a book—not only because it’s interesting to learn new things, but mainly because I get to speak with such brilliant and knowledgeable people.
I don’t do a lot of research before I write but tend to put placeholders for areas that need fleshing out and go back to them after I’ve finished my first draft. That way I’m not spending hours on facts that don’t make the cut, or getting sidetracked by facts which are interesting, but potentially irrelevant to the story.
What was the most unique research you had to do for a book?
Bet you I’m flagged by more than one government agency with my search history. For 2022’s book, Never Coming Home, one element was figuring out what Drano does to a corpse (spoiler: it’s not pretty), the generalities of hiring a hitman on the dark web, as well as technical aspects of spyware on cell phones. Like I said: flagged!
You often set your novels in Maine. Can you tell us why?
I prefer writing about places I’ve been as there’s only so much you can do online to visualize a town (which is why I make them up in certain novels, too). We have family in New Brunswick, and when we visit, we sometimes drive from Toronto via the United States, which takes us through Maine. It’s beautiful and I loved Portland in particular. I hope to return soon.
What’s the one element of a thriller novel that is a MUST?
Plot twists and secrets. I want to be surprised when I’m reading a thriller, although that can be said for any genre, so I guess you need to throw in a dead body or three somewhere as well.
Do you find it easier to write character and dialogue for the opposite sex because you are the opposite sex? (A woman writing a man’s part and dialogue for example).
I enjoy both equally although I do find when I write a man’s point-of-view I’m more direct. Nevertheless, one of my first questions is, “Whose story is this?” After that, to be honest, I try not to overthink whether I’m writing a man or a woman. The important thing is to give them a voice, develop their character and backstory, and make them seem as human to the reader as they are to me.Do you come up with the plot or the characters first, and how do you develop them?
It depends on the book. Generally, it’s an idea for a plot first. A “what if” scenario prompted by a radio segment, as was the case for Sister Dear, or a news story, like with You Will Remember Me. With The Revenge List it was the “what if an anger management therapy exercise went wrong” question that was the genesis for the story. It’s quite fascinating how an entire fictional world can be built from nine words. Gosh, I love my job.
How long did it take to write the book, and how many drafts do you usually write before publication?
The Revenge List took about two weeks to plot, plus four months to write and edit to the point where it was ready to send to my editor. Structural edits thereafter were quite minimal – maybe two weeks of work. I fully expect my next ten novels to kick me in the crotch because of this!
In terms of drafts, there’s the basic puke draft/edit, then I’ll go over it probably 7-10 times before it’s ready for my editor. After that we’ll do another number of passes to restructure if necessary, and smooth out the rough bits. I love working with my editor!
Do you read other fiction while you’re working on a book, or do you find it distracting? Do you listen to music while you write?
I’m always with a book in hand (or headphones in my ears taking my audiobooks for a walk) and it would be awful for me to not read when I’m writing. To me, books aren’t distracting at all, but music is. I need silence when I work. My preferred writing spot, at least to draft my initial manuscripts, is our spare bedroom with its dodgy Wi-Fi connection and a laptop. I leave my phone downstairs, so I’m not tempted to check emails, the news, or go on social media. My productivity at least doubles.
Do you have a go-to first reader after you feel your manuscriptis ready?
Fellow crime author A.F. Brady and bookstagrammer Sonica Soares have read quite a few of my recent novels before anybody else. They’re extremely insightful and give brilliant, candid feedback, which is exactly what I need.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Cookies! But seriously, it’s the first pass after the puke draft. It takes forever and it’s my least favorite part.
Finish this: “I can’t write without…”
A tidy desk! For me, a cluttered space = a cluttered mind. It makes me jumpy. I also need a huge jug of water.INSPIRATION
Where do you get your ideas?
I can pinpoint exactly how each book started. Time After Time is a story about a woman who’s unhappy with her life, which was me when we moved to Canada and my HR company crashed and burned, although the rest of the novel is fictional. The idea for The Neighbors came to me when two houses on our courtyard went up for sale, and I wondered who might move in. Her Secret Son stemmed from a news segment I saw while I was at the gym (probably wishing I were eating cake instead).
Sister Dear was a radio segment about a woman who’d found a wedding ring at a playground and was trying to locate the owner through social media. You Will Remember Me was inspired by the true story of a man who vanished from a ski hill in Lake Placid and showed up six days later in Sacramento with amnesia.
Never Coming Home was different – this one was character driven. I wanted to write a story from a male antagonist’s point-of-view, and Lucas literally popped into my head and said, “Ta-daa! Okay, I’m here, get writing!”
With The Revenge List, it was after batting various plot ideas around with my agent Carolyn, and former editor Emily that a random idea popped into my head: “What if an anger management group therapy exercise went terribly wrong?” That was it—we all needed to know what the rest of the story was.
Who or what are your literary influences?
Long-standing ones are Lisa Jewell, David Nicholls, and one of my closest friends, Jennifer Hillier. I’ll read anything they write.
Newer additions include Kimberly Belle, Heather Gudenkauf, Gilly Macmillan, Mary Kubica, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Caz Frear – there are so many brilliant authors it’s hard to name only a few.
Is anything in this book based on real-life experiences?
Heck no! There might be the odd detail here or there, but the rest is made up.
How do you market your work?
In collaboration with my publisher, HarperCollins who are incredibly supportive and have a fabulous team I can’t praise highly enough. I’m also very active on social media and love connecting with readers, reviewers, and bloggers. My author friends and bookstagrammers / book bloggers are fabulous champions of my novels, too. Their tireless enthusiasm is a balm for the writerly soul and I’m grateful to every single one of them. It really does take a village.
Did anything good come out of the seemingly endless pandemic?
Well…with online events I never have to ask, “Does my bum look big in this?” But seriously, one fantastic thing that happened is First Chapter Fun. Back in March 2020, when Covid first hit Canada, I was in a Messenger chat with a group of authors, discussing how we could help promote one another and give our books a boost. I half-jokingly offered to read the first chapter of their novels on Facebook and Instagram, and within a few days I had over 40 daily readings lined up and launched First Chapter Fun. I read for 53 days in a row (didn’t think the “must do hair and make-up” thing through very well), introducing viewers to a new novel and author each day.
In May 2020, I teamed up with my partner-in-fictional-crime, powerhouse crime author Hank Phillippi Ryan. We created a new Facebook group http://www.facebook.com/groups/firstchapterfun and http://www.instagram.com/firstchapterfun. We now read once a week, every Tuesday on both platforms simultaneously at 12.30 pm ET, and often have giveaways. All the previously aired episodes are saved and can be viewed at leisure. It’s a wonderful community where we share the love of books and introduce new and/or new-to-you authors twice a week. Our goal is to keep your “to be read” pile completely out-of-control and, or so we’ve been told, we’re succeeding. Hank and I have also become great friends and talk all the time, something for which I’ll be eternally grateful.
What kind of advice would you give to aspiring thriller READERS?
Try different sub-genres, of which there are many. Perhaps you love police procedurals, or psychological thrillers may fascinate you. Maybe you don’t want something overly graphic, so cozies might be to your taste, or alternatively you could go hard-boiled noir. I think some people have the impression thrillers are all blood, guts, and gore, but that’s not the case. There’s something for everyone. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read as much and often as you can and listen to audio books. I wrote an article about how the latter make you a better author here. Write, even if you think it’s rubbish, because an empty page is impossible to edit. Another tip someone once suggested was to skip ahead if I couldn’t get a grasp on a chapter or scene, that I should focus on another part of the manuscript and trust myself enough to backfill later. It was revolutionary to me, and it beats the heck out of staring at a blank page or shoving my hand in the cookie jar.
Also, I was advised to read my manuscript out loud. Every. Single. Word. Doing so helps avoid repetition, improves cadence, and zaps stilted dialogue. And, finally, share your work. It can be scary, but it’s the only way you’ll get feedback and improve your craft. Speaking of feedback: try not to take it personally. It’s unlikely lip service will get you where you want to be.
Tell us a little bit about yourselfand how you started writing.
Writing novels wasn’t on my radar until we moved from Switzerland to Canada in 2010. When we arrived, and my HR start-up company failed, it catapulted me into deciding what I truly wanted to do, and whether I wanted to reinvent myself. After a long while (with a lot of moping about) I realized the answer was to become an author, and I got to work.
My debut was a rom com called Time After Time (2016) a light-hearted story about paths not taken. After that I wanted to write grittier stories, and quickly transitioned to the dark side of suspense.
My thrillers are:
The Neighbors (2018) Her Secret Son (2019) Sister Dear (2020) You Will Remember Me (2021) Never Coming Home (2022) The Revenge List (2023)
The thriller for 2024 is done and I’m working on the one for 2025. It all does a great job of keeping me out of trouble.
NEWSFLASH: I’m branching out this year! My holiday romantic comedy, The Christmas Wager will publish as Holly Cassidy in fall of 2023. It’s about real-estate hot-shot Bella, who’s tasked with purchasing an old, failing Christmas store in the quaint little town of Maple Falls, which is nestled in the Colorado mountains. She thinks it’ll be easy…until she meets the owner’s stubborn but hunky grandson, electrician Jesse. Bella wants the store for next to nothing, Jesse refuses, and they end up competing in the town’s quirky annual Holiday Games. Sparks fly – as do snowballs – but will these rivals find love together?
I’m excited to take you on a trip to Maple Falls this autumn. It was such fun to go back to my rom com roots and I’m hoping to continue doing this in conjunction with my thrillers.
What career did you think you’d have as an adult?
I remember telling my dad when I was about thirteen that I wanted to own a company. Not a huge surprise considering I grew up in the eighties when Wall Street and shoulder pads reined supreme.
At age 26, when I became a shareholder of the IT recruitment company I worked for in Switzerland, I accomplished that dream and shifted the goal posts to becoming the boss. I was promoted to CEO age 35. I’ve always been very driven, which definitely helped with my writing career.
What would your job of choice be if you didn’t write books?
I worked in IT recruitment for fifteen years before coming to Canada and was the CEO for a pan-European company. Perhaps I’d still be doing that if I didn’t change careers over a decade ago. If I was told I had to stop writing, I’d have to find a job in publishing somewhere. I can’t imagine working in another industry now.
What is the first book that made you cry?
I have absolutely no idea, but the last one was Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier. It got right under my skin, and I’ll admit to shedding a few tears. It’s not something that happens very often.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Gosh, yes, absolutely. When I was in my thirties, we had three kids in 16 months (twins the second time around, I’m not an alien) and while my husband was a stay-at-home dad, I was the CEO of a European IT recruitment company. I was so busy, I don’t think I picked up a novel in five years, and I missed them dearly. I’m so glad reading books is such a large part of my job now. How do you start your day (a routine of sorts?)
Always with a cup of Yorkshire tea (milk and a tiny bit of sugar, please) and a hug from my husband (and kids, if they let me, lol).
Favorite band or music? Favorite book and/or movie?
I listen to all kinds of music but I’m useless at remembering the names of singers or bands. Impossible to choose a favourite book, but one of my favourite movies is Inception because it’s so utterly brilliant. The other is still Love, Actually. I watch it every Christmas when I’m wrapping presents, know most of the words and absolutely adore it. Nocturnal Animals and Arrival haunted me. They’re both excellent.
Place you’d like to travel?
I’m looking forward to visiting my family and friends in Switzerland. I can’t wait to get back into the mountains.
What is something about you that people would surprise people?
I only attended school in English for three years, from age 8-11. The rest of my studies were in German and French, so I never took English literature (sorry, Shakespeare)! Oh, and my maiden name is Abplanalp, a very traditional Swiss-German name that has a story about a baby, a crib, and a landslide (yup!) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abplanalp
What are some things you enjoy when not writing?
I read a lot, as one might expect, and love being whisked away into the worlds other authors create—thrillers, romantic comedies, or otherwise.
I love getting outdoors for a hike, I’m a huge fan of the movies (I love the trailers!), I have a home gym with a water rower that’s a great workout and incredibly peaceful.
We have three teenage boys, so my husband and I spend time with them as often as they’ll let us. Watching films or playing board or card games as a family are some of my favourite things to do. There’s something deeply comforting about us having a laugh together and hanging out. Oh, I cook too, and love to bake. I make a mean lemon cheesecake, and yummy wholewheat bread.
If you were to collaborate with an author, who would it be and why?
It would be interesting to work with another author on project, however, and while I don’t have anyone specific in mind, it would have to be someone who plots their stories. I have a lot of trouble writing without an outline, and not knowing where I’m headed. I’d get very antsy, and I think it would compromise things.Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you for your continued support. Readers, reviewers, bloggers and bookstagrammers are so generous and creative in everything they do for the book community. It’s truly a wonder to behold and they are magic!
What are you working on now?
My holiday romantic comedy, The Christmas Wager, publishes as Holly Cassidy in the fall of 2023. It’s about real-estate hot-shot Bella, who’s tasked with purchasing an old, failing Christmas store in the quaint little town of Maple Falls, which is nestled in the Colorado mountains. She thinks it’ll be easy…until she meets the owner’s stubborn but hunky grandson, electrician Jesse. Bella wants the store for next to nothing, Jesse refuses, and they end up competing in the town’s quirky annual Holiday Games. Sparks fly – as do snowballs – but will these rivals find love together? I’m excited to take you on a trip to Maple Falls this autumn!
Another thriller will release in 2024 and I’m unbelievably excited already. We don’t have a title yet but it’s about the rise and demise of an all-female pop-rock group called The Bittersweet, and the lengths some of the members go to boost their fame. After all, aren’t rock bands potentially worth more dead than alive…? I can’t wait to introduce you to my brand-new protagonist, drummer Vienna. I’m now working on the outlines for my romantic comedy for 2024, and my thriller for 2025. I hope I don’t mix up the plots (although…!). BIOS & SOCIALS
About the Author:
Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing. While her debut, TIME AFTER TIME, was a rom com, she transitioned to the dark side thereafter. Her suspense novels include THE NEIGHBORS, and bestsellers HER SECRET SON, SISTER DEAR, YOU WILL REMEMBER ME, NEVER COMING HOME, and THE REVENGE LIST. In addition to her thrillers, Hannah returned to her romantic comedy roots, penning THE CHRISTMAS WAGER as Holly Cassidy, and which will release in the fall of 2023. Hannah Mary lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons. Connect on Facebook and Instagram @hannahmarymckinnon, and on Twitter @HannahMMcKinnon. For more, visit http://www.hannahmarymckinnon.com
The sharp sound of a high-pitched scream filled the air. A noise so unrecognizable, at first I didn’t register it had come from deep within me, traveling up my throat in stealth mode before bursting from my mouth.
The remnants of the yell reverberated around the car, forcing their way into my ears and penetrating my skull, urging me to do something. Survival instincts kicked in, and I fumbled with the seatbelt, my other hand grasping for the door handle. The need for the relative safety that solid, stationary ground would bring was so intense it made my stomach heave. A loud click of the central locking system meant my captor had outsmarted me again, obliterating my immediate plan to throw myself from the moving vehicle.
When I looked out the windshield, I knew there was no time to find an alternate escape. The end of the road—the edge of the cliff—announced by signs and broken red-and-white-striped wooden barricades, had been far enough away seconds ago but now gleamed in the car’s headlights, a looming warning yards ahead. I couldn’t comprehend what was about to happen, couldn’t do anything as the vehicle kept going, splintering planks and racing out the other side with nothing but air below. I let out another scream, far louder than my first, the absolute terror exploding from my lungs.
For the briefest of moments, we were suspended, as if this was a magic trick or an elaborate roller coaster. Perhaps, if I were really lucky, this was all a dream. Except I already knew there were no smoke and mirrors, no swirling track leading us through loop-the-loops and to safety. It wasn’t a nightmare I’d wake from with bedsheets wrapped around my sweaty body. This was happening. It was all terrifyingly real.
As the car continued its trajectory, it tipped forward. The only thing to stop our momentum was whatever we were rushing toward, obscured by the cloudy night skies. Pushing my heels into the floor, I tried to flatten my shoulders against the seat. My hands scrambled for the ceiling to brace myself, but I flopped like a rag doll, my loosened seatbelt tearing into my shoulder.
They say your life flashes before you when you’re close to death. That didn’t happen to me. Instead, it was all my regrets. Choices I’d made. Not made. Things I’d said and done. Not said. Not done. It was far too late to make amends. There would be no opportunity to beg anyone for forgiveness. No possibility of offering some. As the finality of the situation hit me full on, I turned my head. The features of the driver next to me were illuminated in a blueish glint from the dashboard lights. His face had set in a stony grimace; his jaw clenched so tight he had to have shattered teeth. But what frightened me the most were his eyes, filled with what could only be described as maniacal delight. He’d said we were both going to die. As the car hurtled to the bottom of the cliff, I closed my eyes and accepted he was right.
MICKEY CHAMBERS SHAKES IT UP Author: Charish Reid ISBN: 9781335453556 Publication Date: June 6, 2023 Publisher: Canary Street Press 18.99 US | 23.99 CAN
About the Book:
For readers of Talia Hibbert, a witty, contemporary love story with high emotional stakes and a multicultural cast, about a widowed bar owner who, upon returning to college at 42, inadvertently hires the woman who turns out to be the adjunct instructor of his online writing class to help tend bar at his failing establishment; for fans who love grumpy vs. sunshine. Mickey Chambers is a 33-year-old adjunct instructor with a sunny disposition despite her chronic illness and dwindling bank account. When she finds out a local bar is hiring in a hurry, she throws her hat in the ring. Has she ever worked at a bar? Nope! But there are a lot of things Mickey hasn’t done before and after years of her youth spent ill, she is willing to try anything once. Especially if it helps her cover her medical costs for the summer. Diego Acosta, a 42-year-old bar owner, needs help in a hurry. Since his wife, Lucía, died five years ago, he’s been running The Saloon by himself. But with only a skeleton crew and the pressures of returning to college, Diego fears he might be running his late wife’s bar into the ground. Between rowdy college students, one final English class, and an upcoming music festival, Diego accidentally hires his writing instructor in a panic to keep the bar afloat. When Mickey brings her cheerful attitude to The Saloon, Diego balks at the changes: new cute cocktails, karaoke nights, and her pretty smile. It’s been so long since he’s had feelings for another woman, he wonders if a relationship with her is even possible. Mickey is trying to avoid a messy entanglement, but she’s ready to embrace everything life has to offer, including the grumpy Diego.
About the Author:
Charish Reid is a fan of sexy books and disaster films. When she’s not grading papers or prepping lessons for college freshmen, she enjoys writing romances that celebrate quirky Black women who deserve HEAs. Charish currently lives in Sweden.
Where to Buy:
BookShop.org Harlequin Barnes & Noble Books A Million Amazon
Plink, plink, plink… Mickey Chambers’ heart stuttered as she held her breath. Each prescription pill she dropped into different days of the week was an ominous warning of finite resources. When she got to Saturday and found a nearly empty bottle of her thyroid medication, she had to do quick math in her head. To refill her prescriptions, she’d have to visit Dr. Curtis and get bloodwork done. Another expense… She’d been counting pills for most of her adult life. But at thirty-three, it was getting hard to pay for them. At her kitchen counter, Mickey carefully spilled the remainder of her medication on to a place mat and slowly separated them. Two weeks. She quickly started on the mood stabilizer next, counting with the same slowness, and making note of how few were left in the bottle. Three weeks. Any gaps in medication could be bad news for her hormone levels, knocking her flat on her ass. This was going to be a hellish summer if Mickey couldn’t fund the medication for her hyperthyroidism. Her teaching load had always been somewhat precarious, but this was the first time she worried. Hargrove University’s English Department had always made room for her, but they had also hired more adjuncts like her. Other part-time instructors who needed to grab up as many classes to cover their bills. She gathered her medications and placed them back on the top of her refrigerator before checking her cell phone again. She was expecting a call from the department chair today with confirmation of her summer schedule. So far, Mickey only had one online class. Because she’d taught a few distance-learning courses before, Mickey had a slew of class plans ready to be taught online. She’d need to update a few PowerPoint presentations from last year, but she counted on her Food Studies and Culture course to be easy to navigate. Now, if Lara could just give her a heads-up on a Comp 101 or an American Lit, she’d have extra syllabi for those as well. But alas, no missed calls. Mickey sighed as she tucked her phone in her skirt pocket. No point in waiting around her apartment when she needed to be at her parents’ home for Sunday dinner. This was the first dinner she’d shown up to since a hectic finals week and logging grades, so she missed them. She grabbed her purse and locked up before running into the Columbus, Georgia, heat. Even in late May, she felt the blast of the outdoor furnace that frizzed her curls and made her under-boobs sweat. She blew out another frustrated sigh. The heat was an annoyance for any average Georgian, but for someone with her condition, these summers were hell. When she got on Forest Street, she tapped out a quick message to her mother, letting Rita Chambers know she was on the way. Mickey made a quick loop around Lakebottom Park, admiring the people who could stand jogging in the bright sun and catching a glimpse of her favorite brick-red bungalow on the corner of Cherokee Avenue. She loved how it stood out from the surrounding houses with its delicate white trim and shutters and large wraparound porch. A couple years back, two rocking chairs used to sit near the door, now only one remained. The owner also seemed to neglect the spread of kudzu vine clawing its way up the west side of the house. Mickey noticed the changes and it made her sad. Her mind quickly went back to the road toward her parents’ home. Through the shaded boulevard of dogwood trees, Hargrove students were already walking to the downtown area, ready to tear it up. She drove past them carefully, trying her best not to hit the pregame wobblers. When she reached her parents’ house, she parked her car in the driveway behind her brother’s Beemer and walked past the pecan saplings piled up in the yard. Mickey’s father must have been amid a landscaping project. Her mother would object to Virgil Sr. lifting more than necessary, but she’d let her parents argue about that. She checked her phone once more and found no new messages. Mickey closed her eyes, trained a smile on her face, and readied herself for dinner with her family. As she stepped through the threshold of her childhood home, she called out, “I’m here, let the festivities begin!” Her little brother, Junior, was the first to reply. “Girl, ain’t nobody waiting on you.” Mickey laughed as she hung her purse in the yellow foyer her father had painted earlier in the year. Judging by the smells coming from the kitchen, she wouldn’t have waited on her either. She found her family eating dinner in the bright and airy living room, using the collapsible TV trays while her mother’s lovely dining room remained untouched. “Baby, fix a plate and join us.” Her mother pointed her fork toward the kitchen. “Thanks, Mama.” “Michelle, when’s the last time you had that car looked at?” her father asked apropos of nothing. Mickey bit back her grin. “Last time I was here.” Virgil Sr. shook his head as he scraped at his plate. “Lemme change that oil before you leave. How them tires lookin’?” It didn’t matter how she answered, her father would just examine the entire Honda Civic before she left the house. Even after a week of working for Columbus Public Works, he still needed to come home and tinker around with something. “I’ll let you have a look,” Mickey said on her way to the kitchen. If it was hot outside, Rita’s kitchen was an inferno. Her mother’s cast-iron skillet had put in the work that day, producing fried chicken, fried pork chops and corn bread. Side dishes covered the counter like a small buffet line, with a roll of aluminum foil and Styrofoam plates sitting on the end, serving as to-go plates for Mickey and Junior. A bottle of Ardbeg scotch sat near the refrigerator with a yellow sticky note pressed to the glass. If there was one thing she could count on her brother for, it was a free bottle of booze. No doubt, an end-of-the-semester gift. She smiled as she picked it up and inspected the label. She and Junior tried to get together as often as possible to try different spirits and share their opinions, but lately they’d grown too busy. He with his start-up in Atlanta and her constantly grading papers. As expensive as it was, his little reminder of simpler times touched her. While she fixed her plate, Mickey listened to her parents give a familiar rundown of the Columbus, Georgia, happenings for Junior, who now lived in Atlanta. “You remember Celestine on the West Side,” Rita said. “Henry Richard’s sister.” “Uhh…” “Taught at the dance school back in the nineties. Volunteered at the soup kitchen?” “Mama, I can’t remember,” Junior said. “Well, she passed a couple weeks back,” their mother went on. “I went to the visitation and saw her granddaughter, Layla. I didn’t know it, but she took over the dance school recently. You remember Layla? Real pretty girl…” “Maybe?” “Henry still working at Wilson’s Paper?” their father interjected. “Sure is,” Rita said. “Coming up on twenty years. Oughta be retiring soon.” When Mickey returned to the living room, she sat next to her brother on the sibling-designated couch, facing her parents, who sat in their own cushy recliners. On the television, an action movie played with the volume set low. “Anyway,” Rita said, “you oughta let me introduce you to Layla. She’s such a professional little lady teaching those kids and I heard she was single…” Junior made a noncommittal noise before stuffing his mouth with fried pork chop. Rita switched gears and turned her focus on her other child. “Michelle, my favorite teacher! Are you feeling good? Have you taken your medications?” “This morning, Mama,” Mickey said, trying to keep her smile up. Every time her mother laid eyes on her, she asked the same questions. “Do you have enough for the month?” Mickey nodded, trying not to worry about the number of pills she counted out earlier. “I get my refills on time.” “Is that Obamacare still working for you?” her father asked. “‘Cause Roy said he’s paying an arm and leg over these prescriptions.” Mickey eked out a strained smile. “It’s fine, Daddy. The ACA plan I’m on is okay.” “Are you teaching this summer?” Junior asked, steering the conversation away from Mickey’s health. She gave him a grateful look. Since she was first diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, her parents had dropped everything in their lives to make sure she was well taken care of. Now, at the age of thirty-three, they hadn’t quite stopped. “I am,” she said, quickly changing gears. “I’m still at Hargrove, in the English Department.” “They had a hell of a busted pipe by that athletic center,” her father said. “I told Roy, they gonna have to dig up some of that parking lot that goes to Seaver Avenue.” Her mother ignored her husband, who routinely rambled about construction. “Are you going to be busy this summer? How many classes will you have? Will you have to be on your feet in the classroom, or can you teach from home?” Mickey followed her brother’s example and shoveled mashed potatoes in her mouth to avoid her mother’s interrogation. She hoped it would give her time to figure out a good enough lie about her unstable unemployment. She nodded. “Mmm-hmm.” Her parents understood that she taught at a university. They bragged on her to everyone they knew, from the cashier at Winn Dixie to Monique at the salon. What they didn’t quite grasp was what nontenured track looked like at a place like Hargrove University. While associate professors could use their summers for scholarship and traveling to conferences, adjuncts scrambled to find all the classes they could to make ends meet. Mickey loved teaching and her students…but she had the sneaking suspicion that her love for the job was being used against her by the university machine. She wasn’t making nearly enough money for the work she kept doing—the grim evidence hit her every time she paid her bills. She swallowed the lump of mashed potatoes. “I’ll be fine,” she lied. As soon as her phone vibrated in her pocket, Mickey would know for certain. “Sorry, I gotta take this.” She quickly excused herself from the living room and took her call in the kitchen. Her boss started off on the wrong foot immediately. “Hey, Michelle…” she said in a contrite voice. Mickey’s heart dropped. “Hey, Lara.” “I’m sorry,” Lara said. “I had hopes for English 200, but there weren’t enough students for the Registrar’s Office to sign off on it. And then I only had 101 left, and I know you just taught it…” “No, no, I get it,” Mickey said. “Matt needs a class too.” “I tried to split the leftover classes as fair as I could,” Lara said. Her boss sounded so close to tears that Mickey had no choice but to let her off the hook. The availability of classes wasn’t necessarily her fault. She couldn’t help the fact that the administration had tightened up on summer course offerings. “So, I’ve got the Comp 102,” she said with an upbeat voice. “You do! Luckily, it’s the condensed early summer version; just four weeks. And you’d really be doing us a favor.” Doing them a favor made Mickey sound heroic instead of an underpaid professional who didn’t receive health-care benefits. “Of course, no worries. Listen, Lara, I gotta let you go,” Mickey said. “I get it,” Lara said. “Michelle, I’m so sorry. You’ll be okay?” Even though she didn’t feel like coddling Lara’s feelings, she still lied, “I’ll be fine.” “Okay. We’ll talk later?” “Of course,” Mickey said brightly. By the time she hung up, her mind was already on the next problem. What did the money situation look like for the next two and a half months? A quick calculation of savings told her she could handle rent—that always came first. Then came medication. Her savings account would take a hit, but it could cover those necessary pills. She had a roof over her head, but food and utilities were a different story. “Was that work?” She jumped at the sound of Junior’s voice behind her. Mickey could lie to her boss and her parents, but her brother would always be a tough sell. He may be five years younger than she, but he’d had to grow up fast when she was at her sickest. “It was,” she sighed. “Are you going to need help this summer?” he asked. He didn’t mean any harm, but it stung to be so far behind her brother, who graduated school on time, who found a career at an appropriate time. Meanwhile, Mickey’s constant absences due to illness meant flunking out of high school. She didn’t catch up to her peers until a proper treatment plan was put in place. Getting her GED, earning a bachelor’s and finally a master’s degree, in literature, gained her employment…just not a steady career in her thirties. “Please don’t tell mom and dad,” she whispered, glancing toward the living room. “They still see me as a sick teenager: reminding me to take my meds, offering me money they don’t have.” “You need to come work with me and James,” her brother suggested as he rubbed his beard. His dark brown eyes focused on the stove behind him and narrowed. She could tell his computer-programmer mind whirred with a plan. “If you lived in Atlanta, I could help you get set up with a little apartment nearby. We could finally start the whiskey podcast…” “You know I’d love to do the podcast,” Mickey said with a chuckle. “But I don’t want to move to Atlanta and I don’t want to work for my little brother doing—what are you doing?” Junior rolled his eyes. “Coding the MedPlus app. We’re still trying to find a decent marketing manager… You could be it?” Mickey grabbed her brother by the hand and dragged him to the kitchen patio door. “Let’s talk about this outside,” she sighed, hoping her parents weren’t listening. In the backyard, she finally felt relief from the stifling heat of the house. “How long are you going to keep working for that school?” Junior asked, facing the setting sun. The vibrant red shined on his deep brown skin as he squinted his dark eyes against the light. He took his coloring and height from their father, while Mickey’s pecan-brown skin and short, chubby stature mimicked their mother. She didn’t know the answer to that. “I don’t know. I guess I’ll teach until I find something else I’m good at.” Sometimes she woke up in a cold sweat, wondering why she’d chosen literature and composition as areas to study. The job market was rough for even those who had doctorates. What had felt like a comfortable job was quickly becoming an albatross around her neck. Anytime she tried to think about another vocation, her heart pounded and her brain froze. “I know I’m really good at organizing and planning, but those skills feel too vague to become a…career.” “Well, you’re good with people—always friendly and helpful. I wish I knew how you stay so damn cheerful,” he said with a chuckle. “A bunch of spoiled-ass freshmen in English class would drive me up a fuckin’ wall.” “Oh, it’s not them,” Mickey sighed. “When I step foot in the classroom, they respect me, they listen. Hell, they don’t even realize I’m a part-time lecturer. My students think I’m a scholar like everyone else.” She certainly didn’t feel that way when she left the classroom. Since she didn’t attend department meetings, many of the tenure-track professors barely knew her name. “Can I be honest with you?” Her brother nodded. Mickey blew out a sigh. “Teaching was accidental. After the bachelor’s degree, I didn’t know what to do with literature studies, so I continued and got a master’s degree. The first job I got was teaching English and I just stuck with it. I like doing it, but without a doctorate degree, being an adjunct is a permanent internship. It’s an aspiration job that will never become a career for me.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “It’s a hamster wheel masquerading as a noble pursuit.” Quiet blanketed the back patio as Mickey fought to keep her shit together. That was the first time she’d spoken the truth to another person. “Got it. So, you’re spinning your wheels at Hargrove.” Junior said in a serious voice. Mickey kept her eyes on the horizon ahead of them. Anything to avoid her brother’s piercing stare. “I’ll need to make some real changes come fall.” “For real though, if things don’t work out in Columbus, you can stay with me. I know MedPlus is still young, but James has a couple investors lined up. You’re a writer. I could get you in on the ground floor.” Mickey nodded. “I hear you, and I’ll keep it in my back pocket.” While Junior’s job offer was a lovely gesture, she was reluctant to accept it. Her family had done too much as it was to help her. Her parents had given up their time, getting the runaround from heath professionals. And then their money to send her to doctors and specialists. Junior even helped her with her college applications and her move to Athens for her master’s program. Living with her brother, while working for him, seemed like taking a step backward. The patio door slid open. Their father stuck his head out and looked between the two of them. “It’s too hot out here for Michelle to be standing around,” he said with a frown. “Y’all come in here and get a cold drink.” Mickey shot her brother a look that said, See? Junior smirked as he shook his head. “Coming, Pop.” As she followed her brother back inside the house, she hoped that she could continue pretending things were fine. She adjusted her face, forcing the smile that people were accustomed to, and tried to forget about the ever-present money worries. Positive attitude, Mickey. She wouldn’t get anywhere feeling sorry for herself.
At 36-years-old, Casey Scott appears to have it all: a booming career as a civil rights litigator, a loving husband, and two sweet young children. But she also has epilepsy, and her worsening seizures threaten to destroy the life she toiled to build. When her doctor says she is likely to die if her seizures are not controlled, Casey is at a crossroads: will she choose her career and lifelong aspirations, or her family and health? The decisions she makes affect her marriage, children, and future in ways she could never expect. Told by Casey and her husband, Uncontrollable is an emotional roller coaster that examines both what happens when the life we may be forced to live is not the life we planned to live, and the compromises we make to survive in the face of adversity.
Praise for Unconrollable:
“UNCONTROLLABLE is UN-PUT-DOWN-ABLE…A brave and harrowing novel that will sweep readers up, UNCONTROLLABLE reminds us all that life and love are so often founded on a fragile, but persistent courage. A touching, hopeful read that tackles tough subject matter with a skilled and confident hand.” —Alisa Kennedy Jones, bestselling author of Gotham Girl Interrupted: My Misadventures with Motherhood, Love, and Epilepsy.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Sara Staggs does a wonderful job of creating a believable story with a powerful protagonist…It is almost a coming-of-age story that will be loved by many.” Readers’ Favorite
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Sara Staggs has created a compelling story that tackles complex themes with sensitivty and nuance…Well written, incredibly interesting, raw and unique, Uncontrollable is a book readers are not likely to forget.” Pacific Book Review
About the Author:
Sara Stagg writes: “I write fiction and creative nonfiction. I have been published in several literary journals, the BrainAblaze blog, and the Huffington Post. I attended the Yale Writer’s Workshop, and won the Globe Soup 2021 Summer Fiction contest.
My debut novel Uncontrollable is coming out in May 2023.
I practiced civil rights litigation and have always loved writing. I can be found exploring the outdoors, reading, bike riding, and (of course) writing anything and everything. I live in Portland, Oregon, with my husband and two children.”
I have personal experience of living with permanent disabilities. I have Cerebral Palsy and Hydrocephalus. I’m married but don’t have children. Casey and Jonah have 2 children and Casey lives with epilepsy.
I was pulled into the story right from the start and was gripped by the ups and downs of Casey and Jonah’s life,
It’s true that living with a chronic health condition that has huge effects on your life and those around you and that it can test relationships. There can be good and bad days and living with chronic disabilities means you can go from feeling good to not so good in an instant and it can take time for you to feel better again.
Uncontrollable is a rollercoaster ride I was glad to be taken on. It’s real, gripping, and emotional. It stayed with me long after I finished it.It’s a great way to spread awareness too.
Thanks to Sara Staggs and Coffee and Thorn for my eARC in exchange for an honest and voluntary review.
I’ve bought a lot of face masks in my life, but until last November I had never bought one from Primark.
Lots of things attracted me to this mask. I know clay is great to absorb excess oil. I’ve bought regular clay masks and white clay masks but never pink clay. It also has lotus flower extract and the ability to gently exfoliate the skin.
I was very eager to try this and didn’t hesitate to search for it in the store. It has original metallic pink and silver packaging. It cost 90 euro cents/ 80 pence, which is brilliant value for money for a 15ml/0.50 oz face mask.
The pink colour is so pale, but the texture is good as it’s creamy and smooth. It felt comfortable when on. It is a mask that dries on the skin.
My face felt soft afterwards and I didn’t notice the exfoliating ability of the mask since there are no exfoliating grains.
I love a lot of fruits but here are my favourites:
Pineapple: I find this refreshing in the summer and a good fruit choice to help with a healthy diet.
Melon: I find melon a filling fruit that’s also very tasty.
Strawberries: I’ve always loved strawberries. Just the other day, my husband surprised me with strawberries. I then told him about my memories of the Pick Your Own strawberry fields near where I grew up.
Coconut: I’ve always liked the delicate taste of coconut although I haven’t eaten coconut many times in my life. Coconut milk is refreshing.
Watermelon: This is my number one fruit choice on very hot days and it’s just so refreshing and a great way to get hydrated since it’s mostly water.
You must be logged in to post a comment.