Vetrix (Vetrix Series Book 1)

Two alien species. One threat to Earth.
But who is the real threat and who can be trusted?

Twelve-year-old Flipper didn’t believe in aliens – until he was kidnapped by one.

When he wakes up one morning on the planet Vetrix he is trapped in the midst of an inter-planetary war. As Flipper struggles to survive and find a way back to Earth he discovers he may be a descendant of one of the warring species and that his intervening in the war may be his destiny, if destiny is decided by a computer program.

On Earth, Allison begins having dreams that turn out to be real experiences. When she watches a purple man disappear with her cousin, Flipper, no one believes her. Allison’s best friend Josh agrees to help and together the two sixth-graders begin their own investigation that leads them to the truth behind the Roswell Incident of 1947 and current alien activity on Earth.

As they try to figure out how to expose the secret colony of aliens and their plans to destroy the human race, Allison attempts to use her dreams to locate and rescue Flipper.

Purchase an autographed copy of Vetrix:

Watch the Book Trailer
Read the First Chapter

Book 2: Earth
Book 3: Zentron
Book 4: Sevitan

The original cover from 2017:

Vetrix (Flipper Book 1) by [Bush, Bill, Bush, Blake]

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February 2024 Storytime Blog Hop

Once again it’s time for a fun adventure. Enjoy my story below, then follow the links to other stories of participating authors in the blog hop.  Leave us comments.  We love hearing from you!

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This is the 12th installment of GRIT’s adventure. To start at the beginning for context, start with Grim Failure.

First Real Assignment

They weren’t kidding when they said to report to administration immediately following my hearing. I barely managed to read the details and still make it to my assignment on time. I really didn’t want to start off my regular gig as a reaper by missing my first soul. Though truth be told, arriving on time didn’t guarantee anything with my record.

I made it, though the scene turned my stomach. An older man, several days unshaven, lay on the couch in a dark room, barely breathing. His eyes were wide and empty and his mouth opened like he was stunned. The room was filthy, littered with trash, crawling with bugs. His cell phone buzzed on the coffee table, just out of his reach. Beside it sat several needles. A rubber band still wrapped his arm and a red puncture displayed his last hit. I glanced in his file and confirmed that his death was due to an overdose.

That’s why administration had assigned me this particular victim. I couldn’t intervene; couldn’t do anything to save him, and even if I could have, I didn’t have time. Within seconds his body stopped breathing and his soul stood before me, not at all shocked by his predicament.

As if it knew what had happened, a baby began to babble from another room. I looked at the dead man, wide eyed, and read the shame on his face.

“You here for me.”

It wasn’t a question but I nodded, then frantically scanned the file and let out a sigh of relief when I didn’t see a mention of the baby. There was only one death today. The baby would live.

“Can you help?”

“No. you’re dead and there’s nothing I can do but deliver your soul for judgment.”

“I mean the kid.” He pointed to the room where the baby’s talk turned to crying.

“He…she…”

“She,” the dead man confirmed, his face full of guilt.

“She’s not going to die,” I said, thankful for the knowledge she would live because I wanted to help. “Someone will find and take care of her.”

“You don’t understand.” He paused long enough I thought I was supposed to understand from his statement alone. He finally continued, his voice full of remorse. “I stole the girl a few hours ago. I was going to sell her for a hefty payday. If you don’t do something they’ll be here soon to traffic her. Now that I’m not full of drugs I can’t live with myself if that happened.”

I really wanted to point out that he could no longer live with or without himself as he was dead, but even the Grim Reaper school humor was lost on me because of the seriousness of the situation. It couldn’t hurt to help the girl out, could it?

It was my first professional full-time job and I had my assigned soul. I could, I should take mister druggie (now former druggie) to Stan, fill out the paperwork, and then go celebrate my new position and first successful job without any hiccups. Plus, I wanted to tell my parents the good news.

The baby wailed, making it hard to concentrate. What was there to consider? He didn’t have to live with himself, but I had to live with myself. Did I think I could fulfill my duties as a reaper for the extent of my career without bending a few rules? For whatever reason I liked people. I wanted to help. Although I knew I couldn’t prevent every death, I also knew that I couldn’t ignore every suffering. I had to figure out a compromise and this seemed like a simple one without any negative consequences. If I helped the baby I would be improving her life situation, not preventing her death. It was likely that no one would ever know what I did. And even if it was discovered, it would be years down the road when she would have met her natural death given her current situation. I shuddered at the thought of that baby being sold and raised to serve whoever purchased her.

I dialed 9-1-1 on his cell phone.

Continue reading GRIT’s adventures:

GRIT – Part 1
GRIT – Part 2
GRIT – Part 3
GRIT – Part 4
GRIT – Part 5
GRIT – Part 6
GRIT – Part 7
GRIT – Part 8
GRIT – Part 9
GRIT – Part 10
GRIT – Part 11
GRIT – Part 12

Check out the other stories in the blog hop and leave us comments.

A Whole New World by Barbara Lund

Eye of the Beholder by Chris Makowski

What If by Katharina Gerlach

Subject: If You Don’t Hear From Me Again by Gina Fabio

Percival’s Bane: The Demon and The Void by Juneta Key

Rabble Rouser by James Husum

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Old Testament Organization

The 39 books of the Old Testament are divided into 5 major sections:

  • The Law or the Pentateuch (5 books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
  • History Books (12 books, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther)
  • Wisdom Books (5 books, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs)
  • Major Prophets (5 books, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel)
  • Minor Prophets (12 books, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)

It isn’t necessary to memorize these categories, but it can be beneficial to know what kind of book you’re reading in order to best understand its message.

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Covenant of the Old Testament

The word testament means covenant. Thus the Old Testament means the old covenant.

After God leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, He takes them to Mount Sinai and gives them instructions, including the ones most of us are familiar with—the Ten Commandments.

That’s the context for Exodus 24:8, where we read, “Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’”

This is the culmination of promise God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who later had his named changed to Israel.

All of the Old Testament should be read in light of this covenant and Israel’s history.

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Indoor Plumbing in the Old Testament

Did you know that there’s a story in the Old Testament that mentions an indoor bathroom? And that’s not all.

Judges 3:12-30 tells the story of Ehud a left-handed Israelite and Eglon, the king of Moab who had power of Israel. The story calls Eglon a very fat man. You’ll see why in a moment.

Judges 3, versus 20-25 says this:

20 Ehud then approached him (Eglon) while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, 21 Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. 22 Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. 23 Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.

24 After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, “He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace.” 25 They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.

Because Ehud was left-handed, he was able to sneak his sword into a meeting with the king and then kill him while he was using the bathroom in his palace, and then Ehud left his sword inside of the large man.

Still think the Bible’s boring?

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The Short and the Long of It

Psalm 117 holds two distinctions in the Bible. Can you name either?

The first has to do with its location. Psalm 117 is the middle chapter of the Bible. There are 594 chapters before Psalm 117 and 594 chapters after it.

The second distinction? Take a look at Psalm 117 (you don’t even have to read it) and the answer may come to you. The chapter only has two verses, making it the shortest chapter in the Bible.

The longest chapter of the Bible? Psalm 119 with 176 verses. It’s all about the Word of God.

The middle verse in the Bible is Psalm 118:8, which, interestingly enough states, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.”

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Anyone Can Read the Entire Bible

Admittedly, the Bible is a BIG book, or rather, collection of books. The Bible contains 66 books divided into chapters; a total of 1,189 chapters to be exact.

Thinking about reading the entire Bible is intimidating, especially for someone who has never done it. But no one, not even God, expects you to read it all in one day.

It might help to know that by reading just 3 chapters a day, you can read through the Bible in 396 days. Increase your daily reading to 4 chapters on 31 of those days and you can finish reading the Bible in a year.

According to one source, it takes the average person 74 hours and 28 minutes to read the whole Bible. To finish in a year, that’s less than 7 hours a month, or just over 12 minutes a day. And let’s be honest—if you start skimming through the genealogies like many people do, you can shorten that time.

So even though the thought of reading the Bible can be scary and overwhelming, breaking it down and using a reading plan for guidance can make one resolution that all followers of Christ should have an achievable goal.

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Mixed Up Christmas: When Christmas Magic Fails

Christmas Magic has never failed…until today.

Delivering presents on Christmas Eve takes preparation, hard work, and most of all magic. Everyone knows that, especially Terrance.

As Santa’s main helper, he’s seen uncountable successful deliveries, so when Rudolph drinks the wrong potion and can’t fly, Terrance is sure they can still hand out the gifts on time.

But he soon discovers that everyone is affected. Will Terrance, Santa, and Rudolf overcome all odds when Christmas Magic goes awry.

Purchase

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October 2023 Storytime Blog Hop

Once again it’s time for a fun adventure. Enjoy my story below, then follow the links to other stories of participating authors in the blog hop.  Leave us comments.  We love hearing from you!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Grim-Training-644x1024.jpg

This is the 11th installment of GRIT’s adventure. To start at the beginning for context, start with Grim Failure.

The Final Verdict

I had received notice last night to appear before the court first thing this morning. We were less than two days after the earthquake. They hadn’t wasted any time making a decision about my future.

I entered the large domed courtroom that felt like overkill for me, the seven judges, and the lone observer. Samantha sat in the front row, to my right, flashing me an encouraging smile. I nodded in appreciation. I know she was trying to be supportive but honestly, her presence made me feel worse. The one person who had been kind to me was about to witness my lowest and most embarrassing moment—being stripped of my reaper responsibilities and likely demoted to a permanent desk job. That’s if I was lucky and didn’t receive punishment for negligence of clear protocol.

The judges sat in a semi-circle, elevated I’m sure to lord themselves over the lower class—in this case, me. I felt every bit the miniscule lowly nobody they viewed me as. The older lady in the center peered above her glasses and called my name.

I stood, my wobbly legs barely able to support my weight. Slowly, as if I could delay the inevitable, I approached the podium, encased within the semi-circle.

The door opened behind me and in the large, mostly empty hall, the door’s creak and shuffling of footsteps echoed. I watched as a short figure dressed in a long dark coat with the hood pulled down far enough that the dim lighting made it impossible to see their face. Obviously one of the higher-ranking reapers here to amuse himself with the destruction of a former up-and-coming youngster. I guess when you constantly deal with death you come up with odd and obscure ways to entertain yourself. Maybe this guy enjoyed a morbid sense of enjoyment.

The visitor had received my attention but not that of her majesty on high. After eyeing me for an uncomfortably long time, she looked down and read from a prepared statement.

“You have been summoned here today to receive final judgment for your Grim Reaper in Training period, your subsequent probationary period, and the results of such actions.”

I tried to swallow but my dry throat caused me to lapse into a coughing fit. I apologized once I regained control and wanted to shrink even more under the glare coming from the seven judges.

Final judgment? I gripped the podium to keep myself from collapsing. Those words carried so much weight. I wanted to tune out the rest but forced myself to focus on the statement.

“The court has taken into account the subject’s academic as well as professional record, and listened to the testimonies of co-workers—both peers and those in seniority positions, as well as administrative personnel. Our decision, while not unanimous, is final and not available for appeal.”

While hearing the judge announce that an appeal wasn’t an option would normally have bothered me, I couldn’t help but feel a little giddy. I wanted to ask her to reread the last part, where she announced the decision wasn’t unanimous. That meant at least one of the judges didn’t think I was the worst of the worst. With my recent track record I had to take the victories where I could.

I had no intention of appealing their ruling. Whatever they threw my way I had deservedly earned.

“As of sundown last night you are no longer a reaper in training. It is mandated by this panel that you be promoted to a full-time Grim Reaper with all the benefits thereof. You are to report immediately to administration for your first assignment as a Reaper. You will report directly to Stan in all matters regarding your Reaper responsibilities until such time as this panel rules otherwise. This verdict is final and binding. We are dismissed.”

The judge slammed down her gavel and the judges exited single file. Samantha clapped and squealed with delight, then gave me a hug while I stood unmoved, stunned at what I had just heard.

“I’m so happy for you.”

“That…I…What just happened?”

Samantha beamed, smiling from ear to ear. “I told you I owed you my life. You said the most important thing to you was working as a reaper so I convinced my uncle to pull a few strings. You earned this with your bravery. Stan just made sure the judges recognized that fact.”

Stan. She must have a strong pull on her uncle to convince him to help me. Even in helping me though, he had himself set up as my superior so he would always have leverage over me. Still, I couldn’t let that sour the fact that I was going to be, no, I was a real, fully commissioned reaper. I didn’t know what to say.

“Thank you.”

“Like I said, I owe you my life. If there’s ever anything else you need, find me. Or ask Stan. He’ll take care of you.”

After Samantha left I sat for a minute, gathering my strength (my legs still felt weak) and trying to process the last few minutes. I felt a mix of relief, fear, and anxiety. What would happen if I continued to screw up? Would the panel revoke their decision? Would Stan expose my incompetence? I suddenly felt like I had even more pressure on me than before.

The light dimmed as a shadow swept over me. I had been so lost in thought that I hadn’t noticed the approaching footsteps, even in the empty, quiet room. Standing above me was the hooded reaper that had entered earlier. With all of the excitement I had forgotten about him. When I looked up I could see inside the hood. It wasn’t a reaper. Or a he.

I stood excitedly. “Sheila!”

I tried to hug her but she put up a hand and whispered. “Shh! Nobody can know I’m here.”

Was she that embarrassed to be seen with me? I whispered back. “I’m sorry. Why the disguise?”

“My dad is friends with several of the judges. I can’t risk him knowing I was here.”

“He still hates me.”

What flicker of hope I had felt that she might be here to resume a romantic relationship diminished when she nodded.

“He’s mad that the judges promoted you to a reaper. He tried to talk them out of it but apparently you have someone with a lot of persuasion. Plus…” she scanned the room and once satisfied, dropped her voice even further. “Because the investigation was able to question the souls that tried to drag you and Samantha to Hades, they uncovered some corruption that was targeting Stan and a few of the higher-ups. It’s all hush-hush.”

That had my head spinning and created so many questions. Who knew about the corruption? Is that why I was promoted? Was Sheila’s dad involved?

“You said your dad didn’t want me to become a reaper…” I don’t know how to ask if he was involved and that’s why he wanted me punished.

Sheila, like she always has, read my mind. “He thinks it’s great that your actions exposed the conspiracies. But he thinks it was just luck on your part and that you don’t deserve to be a full-time reaper. Plus, he thinks if you’re working in administration I’m less likely to be interested.”

I wanted to ask if she was still interested but I knew it didn’t matter. “I miss you.” I knew it wouldn’t make a difference but it was true. “You were the only one who believed in me.”

She shyly glanced toward the courtroom door. “She was pretty.”

“Who? Oh, Samantha. Yeah, I guess so.” It wasn’t that I hadn’t noticed, it’s just that Samantha seemed more like the older sister type than a potential dating prospect. Besides, when we parted, nothing was mentioned about us ever seeing each other again.

“I wish you the best. I have to go.”

She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and hurried away.

I wanted to run after her but knew it was pointless. I wanted to sit and wonder about how my life had suddenly changed in the last few minutes. I wanted to go home and tell my parents the good news about my promotion.

But I had to report to administration. I had a reaper job to do!

Check out the other stories in the blog hop and leave us comments.

Snakemouth by T.R. Neff

Ritual by Gina Fabio

Truth Speaker by Barbara Lund

A Furry Problem by Vanessa Wells

The Boon by Juneta Key

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Author Interview: James Quinlan Meservy

Biography

James Quinlan Meservy loves literature!  His favorite genre to read is classic literature (Charles Dickens is his favorite author).

He lives in Southeast Idaho with his wife and children, and spent his childhood moving all across northern Utah. He considers his home town to be Mendon, Ut, a small community near Logan, Utah in the Cache Valley.

Tell us about your book, The United: The Realm of Light Book 1.

TJ Parkinson and his best friends, Blaze and Byron, are camping when Blaze goes missing. The only clue they have to Blaze’s disappearance is an old pencil sketch of a wolf. TJ and Byron need to figure out the meaning of the sketch, and find Blaze before it is too late.

    Do you have a plan for the rest of the series (# of books, next publication date, etc.)?

    At the current time, August 2023, the Realm of the Light has 4 published novels: The United, Denizens Among Us, Perfectly Evil, and Shades of Mortality. 2 companion novellas: The Viscount of Sternboard, and Cross of Roses. Also an anthology of Realm of the Light short stories, Within the Shadows. I do plan on writing Book 5 of Realm of the Light at some point in the future, but I do not have a set timetable for that release.

    How/why did you start writing?

    My writing journey is a little different from other authors. I did not always want to be a published author. I had a couple short stories that would not leave my mind, and a couple characters who would not stop talking to me until I wrote them down. So, when I was about 25, I decided to take the stories and form them into a novel. After a few years, a lot of research, and several drafts, I began to actually enjoy the writing process, and here we are.

    What has influenced you the most as a writer?

    Honestly, I think what has influenced me the most as a writer is my connections with other writers, whether that be through personal friendship or social media interactions, or just reading the works of other authors. I often look at, talk with, or read another author’s work and think, “I can do that,” or “I want to try that.”

    What is your favorite time of day, and why?

    When I was 20, I suffered a concussion that literally knocked all curvature out of my spine, and I have been dealing with post concussive syndrome ever since. My most frequent symptoms are chronic headaches and chronic migraines, so my favorite time to write is whenever my head does not hurt.

    What is your favorite aspect of writing? What is the hardest part of writing for you?

    I think my favorite part of writing is creating a new world and seeing how my characters react to and interact with their world.

    The hardest part of writing for me is the marketing and promotions of books that have already been written. I would love it if after a book is properly edited, has a cover, then the book magically gets the blurb and magically shows up on ads and other promotional places when I hit “publish.”

    What writing advice has been the most beneficial for you?

    To read. To read everything. To read books that are in your preferred genre, books of different genres, and as you read, learn from the author. One of the single most influential series I have read is Wheel of Time. I did not enjoy Wheel of Time. But, somewhere around Book 5, I was talking with my wife and other authors, and decided that I can learn how Robert Jordan built his world, even if I am not a fan of his works, and I have a been a student of Jordan’s ever since. Let me be clear, I never became a fan of Wheel of Time series, but I did become a huge admirer of Robert Jordan’s writing style.

    What does your writing process look like? Do you have a routine? What is your strangest writing quirk?

    My process is bit unique. As I mentioned in a previous question, I have chronic migraines. And one of my biggest triggers is mental excursion. Right now, my routine is that I read scripture to clear my mind and help me focus, than I turn on my PC, open my word document, and set an alarm for 30 minutes. And I write. After my alarm goes off, I leave myself a comment or a note about what I am working on, and turn off my computer.

    30 minutes a day is not my ideal, but when I hold my time to just 30 minutes a day, I am able to write every day and not trigger migraines, headaches, or other lingering symptoms of my post concussive syndrome.

    How do you start your stories (character, plot, setting, etc.)?

    How do I start a story? You know, I am not really sure. I guess I have an initial idea, and as I think on the idea, I start dreaming about it. After I have a dreamt about the setting and characters, I start outlining a loose plot and begin writing.

    What does success look like for you as an author?

    How I look at success has changed over the years. As I regain my health, I am certain my definition of success will change, but for now, every day that I am healthy and clear minded enough to write, it is a small victory

    Is there anything additional you want to share with readers?

    Thank you for your patience with me. I am actively writing, but my process is slow as I focus more on recovering from my recent head injuries, and I appreciate your understanding and patience.

    Website

    Book Locations: Amazon

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      Author Interview: Donna Marie West

      Biography

      Donna Marie West is a Canadian educator, translator, author, and freelance editor. She has published some 500 drabbles, short stories, and non-fiction articles in a wide variety of Canadian and American magazines, web sites, and anthologies. She loves the unusual, unexplained, and mysterious, and often finds ways to weave these themes into her stories.

      Tell us about your book, The Mud Man.

      Around ten years ago, I read The Man in the Ice, a nonfiction book about the body of a Neolithic hunter discovered in thawing ice in the Ötztaler Alps in Europe. After that, I found myself noticing news articles about discoveries of ancient bacteria and viruses and even the bodies of frozen animals like wolves, horses, and mammoths in thawing ice or permafrost soil in Siberia and other northern locations. Even more amazing, some of the bacteria and viruses, once thawed out, proved to be alive and well. I started to think, “What if a frozen human was found? What if they weren’t dead?”

      The Mud Man is the story of Dom, a man who lived 9,500 years ago and who, following his infection from mutated bacteria, was preserved frozen—yet alive—until his discovery by archeologists digging in northern British Columbia.

      As he recovers from his near-fatal ordeal and learns to communicate with his caregivers, Dom tells an incredible tale of his life as a prehistoric Native American. Eventually, he unwittingly reveals the source of his miraculous survival, something that promises unimagined breakthroughs in the fields of medicine and human longevity. Yet the question remains: will he be able to adapt to life in the modern world?

      What other books have you published?

      In 2017, I co-authored a collection of horror-themed short stories and poems called HAUNTED HORROR with New Zealand author John Irvine. In 2020, my first novel, NEXT IN LINE, was published by an indie publisher that subsequently closed its doors, so that one is currently looking for a new home. THE MUD MAN is my second novel.

        Do you have a set writing schedule (time, place, method, etc.)?

        Not really. I write when I don’t have any other work, or when an idea comes to mind that I have to write down before I forget it.

        What are you currently writing or what will be your next project?

        I’ve actually been doing a lot of editing for other writers lately, but I want to give a final revision to the sequel to NEXT IN LINE when I have time.

        How/why did you start writing?

        As far back as elementary school—back in the dark ages before the Internet, computers, or even electric typewriters—I loved reading and learning stuff and writing about it.

        I took creative writing courses in high school and later, enrolled in writing and editing courses by correspondence.

        I started writing seriously about twenty years ago, at first mostly about horses, as that’s where my expertise lay, but gradually expanding to paranormal subjects and Earth mysteries, which interest me immensely. Eventually, I branched out into fiction, publishing numerous short stories in a variety of anthologies and magazines, before trying my hand at novels.

        What is your favorite part about writing? What is the hardest part for you?

        Believe it or not, I like all the research that comes with writing both fiction and nonfiction. I also enjoy the revision process, improving my work until I’m (mostly) satisfied with it and feel it’s ready for public consumption.

        What is the best advice you ever received as a writer?

        To be honest, there isn’t one thing that stands out. One thing I’ve learned, however, is the importance of knowing how to revise and edit one’s own work. Also the importance of beta readers who will give you an honest opinion and often suggest things you didn’t think of.

        Your biography says you’ve published over 300 writing pieces. Are those fiction, nonfiction, or both? Tell us about them.

        I’ve published around 500 short pieces, actually, both nonfiction and fiction in magazines and anthologies, and I’ve even done some content writing for a couple websites. I like the learning process that goes with writing a variety of things.

        What is your favorite time of day?

        I don’t really have one, although I do like taking a few minutes of quiet time when I can.

        What does success look like for you as an author?

        I think success, to me, is when I know that readers have enjoyed something I’ve written, and maybe even learned something too.

        Is there anything additional you want to share with readers?

        Only the obvious: I do hope that everyone reading this will take a chance with THE MUD MAN and follow me as NEXT IN LINE and its sequels become available.

        Website: I don’t have a website, but I can be found on the Quebec Writers’ Federation Hire a Writer directory as well as Facebook (Donna Marie West – Author and Editor).

        Book Locations:

        Amazon.com

        Amazon.ca

        Goodreads

        Excerpt

        “We discovered him yesterday morning,” the student said with a grin. “We’ve been working ever since to dig him out.”

        They hurried another ten minutes along a deep, narrow chasm between two jagged outcroppings of rock. Several squares typical of archaeological exploration had been cut into the soil beneath the carpet of moss, but they seemed for the moment to be of no interest. Two students knelt almost reverently around a two-metre-long trench dug out of the thawing permafrost soil. Professor Sutherland, standing behind them, was taking photos with a compact digital camera.

        A human body lay on its back in an almost metre-deep trench, its left leg bent beneath it, arms folded across its chest, head turned slightly to the right. Though it remained caked in mud, it appeared to be a man of average height with shoulder blade-length hair, wearing the tatters of a leather shirt and trousers, and what looked like a sealskin moccasin on the visible foot.

        “He’s amazing,” Veronica murmured, her heart racing and eyes glued to the emaciated body.

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