Tag Archives: Black Rose Writing

ROGERS PARK – Reluctant Anti-hero Saves Himself

rp_rogers-park-cover-201x300.jpgAn absent father. A murder. A witness. A romance. These are the events that define AP English teacher Brian Casey’s life. After having a bag of trash dropped on his head in a Rogers Park alley, Brian meets Rachel and her grandmother. Brian and Rachel strike up a romance and all seems well, but Brian is battling a pill addiction. When he wonders, high, onto the pier and witnesses a murder, Brian’s life is turned upside down.

Mark Pople‘s Rogers Park had me from the first page. The story is quick-paced with plenty of twists that kept me questioning the connections until the very end. Pople’s characters are complex and believable, as is his dialogue, which keeps the reader turning pages. Brian Casey, Pople’s antagonist, starts out a mild-mannered school teacher and transforms into a reluctant anti-hero, saving the lives of those around him out of necessity, rather than out of a sense of nobility. In a world of millennials and Gen Xers fraught with self-absorption, Casey is forced from his comfort zone through circumstance of events. Is it wrong to say that part of the enjoyment while reading was watching him squirm in discomfort at his situation?

Rogers Park is one of the best books I’ve read this year. With a tone leaning toward the literary, realistic characters, and a fast-moving plot, Pople has constructed a contemporary story about overcoming regret and loss in modern-day Chicago, that won’t disappoint.

Mamabear gives this book:


Note: I was gifted an eCopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

WICKED CRIES by Michelle Areaux

Wicked Cries full coverFor 16-year-old Sadie Sanders, dealing with the dead is growing tiresome, especially when they expect her to play messenger to the afterlife. Her constant struggle to mend teenage broken relationships and translate last wishes seemed to be her biggest problem.

Up until recently, Sadie had been able to juggle her double life without anyone detecting she was not only an average high school student, but a messenger to the dead as well. Even after a close call at the local teen night club, Sadie was able to keep her secret hidden.  But when her father decided to move her family clear across the country from sunny Los Angeles, California to gloomy Salem, Massachusetts, Sadie wondered if the move would be the fresh new start she needed to leave her old, wicked life behind and become a normal high school girl.

Only Sadie was wrong, dead wrong.  Once in Salem, Sadie finds a hidden journal from Elizabeth, a once persecuted witch who documented the last few days of her terrifying life. Desperately wanting to push the journal aside and begin her new life, Sadie finds herself haunted by Elizabeth, but this time is different.

Elizabeth desperately needs Sadie’s help to clear her name, but one man attempts to destroy Sadie’s journey to uncovering Elizabeth’s truth.

Sadie’s only goal, to make it through high schpol without another deadly adventure.

She may be in for a rude awaking her senior year.

Buy Wicked Cries at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and on Black Rose Writing.  

About the Author:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMichelle Areaux  is a wife, mother, and seventh grade language arts teacher.  When she’s not playing with her boys or teaching, she writes. Her passion for writing stems from reading everything from The Babysitters Club series to The Outsiders. She strives to write fiction that her children, students, and grandmother would enjoy.

Michelle earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Kentucky and teaches in Lexington, Kentucky.

Follow Michelle Areaux on Twitter.

“Rogers Park” by Mark Pople – Excerpt

Britbear’s Book Reviews welcomes fellow Black Rose writer Mark Pople, with an excerpt from his novel, Rogers Park.

About Rogers Park:

rogers park coverA shortcut led to the longest six weeks of Brian Casey’s life.

A high school English teacher and self-proclaimed Alfred Hitchcock junkie from a broken home, Brian has spent his entire life in Rogers Park, the bowels of North Chicago. He longs for a Hitchcockian revenge on the father who deserted him as a child.

Turning into the Farwell-Pratt alley on a bitter February afternoon, little does Brian know that the decision to take this particular shortcut will set into motion a chain of life-altering events. The first link in the chain is a trash bag thrown from a fire escape. The final link is a choice: forgive his father or watch him die. The links between – kinked and tangled, as happens when chains are kept in closets with skeletons – include addiction, F. Scott Fitzgerald, plagiarism, blackmail, and murder.

Rogers Park is a novel about the long road to forgiveness and the harrowing journey one man must endure to reach this destination.

Buy Rogers Park on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Black Rose Writing.

Excerpt from Rogers Park by Mark Pople:

Consequences be damned. The son-of-a-bitch must die.

Wait, let me try again.

I’m going to kill Daddy and I don’t care if Mommy gets mad.

Yeah, that’s probably how I said it. But I can’t be sure. My six-year-old-child voice eludes me twenty-four years later.

I didn’t say those terrible words out loud, but that didn’t matter. I thought them, like a grownup. Damn, I was proud. I understood that Big Bird and Elmo deserved credit for teaching me sharing and warning me about stranger-danger. But the theory that murder could be a viable solution to problems? I came up with that one all by myself.

He’s so advanced for his age. That’s what the neighbors always said.

The resolution-by-murder epiphany came to me the afternoon my brother Jonathon knelt beside me in our Rogers Park condo. I’d never seen his eyes so misty, his usual smile so unusual. Something was wrong. The Guns N’ Roses backpack our mother gave him for his eighteenth birthday was slung over his shoulder. The zipper strained to contain the bulky contents.

He tousled my hair. “Don’t worry, Brian. I’ll see you again little buddy. Be good. And take care of Mommy.” Then the part I remember most clearly: “But when you can get out, get out.”

He pivoted on a knee and flipped his middle finger at our father who sat with his back to us swirling watered-down scotch and ice slivers in his highball glass. Jonathan stood a moment and looked at the back of the balding head.

Our mother stood by the front door, a feather of a final blockade. Jonathon wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and moved toward her. He whispered something in her ear, brushed a tear from her cheek before kissing it.

He was gone.

* * *

Three years later my father left. He didn’t bother with the kiss.

My mother never remarried. “Why would I do that?” she asked me recently. “Men are a bunch of shits. All they do is leave.” A pause followed this remark, allowing 900 miles of interstate separating us to pave with guilt.

Once again I’d been reminded. I hadn’t yet killed my father.

I still live in Rogers Park, the bowels of North Chicago. Unlike some city neighborhoods boasting park as part of their names, this urban enclave actually has a so-called park, although in February it’s a lonely place. The brown grass is crisp and brittle, frosted white. Bare trees silhouette a faint horizon where Lake Michigan, dressed in grey, mingles with grey sky. At the eastern edge of this winter wasteland is evidence that humans once roamed these parts. A cement wall, graffitied by the city’s best, drops to a crumbling sidewalk running parallel to the Lake Michigan shoreline. This is the point where the park — and I use the term loosely — becomes a beach — and I use the term loosely.

From this wall, take a stroll fifty yards east and you’ll find yourself in Lake Michigan, not where you want to be in February. Stroll half a mile west and you’ll find me, Brian Casey, emerging from the elevated Morse Avenue train station. You can’t miss me. I’m the guy squinting into the wind, the idiot without a hat. I have a satchel-style briefcase slung over one shoulder, a gym bag full of sweaty basketball clothes over the other, and an unwritten novel in my head. Yeah, I’m a true renaissance man.

About the Author:
mark pople photoMark Pople is the winner of the Houston Writers House 2014 novel contest.

Born in Cambridge, England and raised in Pittsburgh, Mark’s literary sensibilities were most inspired by his brief stay in Rogers Park, a northern enclave of Chicago. He now resides in Houston.

Like his novel’s protagonist, Brian Casey, Mark is no stranger to the English classroom. His years spent teaching high school English in Houston, while thankfully not as eventful as those of Brian, served to whet his appetite for written words, occasionally even those of his students.

Mark is currently working on his second novel, South of the Calvary Curve.  He is a member of HWH and is active on Facebook. His email is mpople6@gmail.com.

Here’s where you can read more about Mark Pople and his writing:

| Facebook | Website |

“Redemption” teaches we are capable of rising above hardship

redemption coverIn Redemption: A Parson’s Gap Story, author Samantha Charles pens a gripping tale about Lindy Harrington as she comes to terms with her past, present, and future. After escaping her abusive husband, Lindy returns to Parson’s Gap, the town of her birth, where she is reacquainted with the people from her youth, in particular, ex-boyfriend Kit, friend Grady, and her father, a less than ethical preacher who uses coercion and might to do what he thinks is the Lord’s work. While there, Lindy uncovers clues that indicate the accident best-friend Sara was killed in was no accident, and the murderer is still alive and well and living in Parson’s Gap. Sara’s murder is not the only secret the small town harbours, and it’s not in Lindy’s character to shy away from the truth.

Abused, first by her father and then by her husband, Lindy emerges as a strong, female narrative voice, who refuses to give up her quest until the ghosts of her youth have been exorcised. Though Lindy’s story meanders between high and low, the conflict is compelling. Charles creates an air of mystery throughout, driving the reader to continue reading to discover the truth, alongside Lindy. Besides Lindy, the most interesting character is Lindy’s father, Reverend Carver, whose puritanical façade is pitted against Lindy’s realism. Though Carver preaches redemption, it is Lindy who sets out to achieve it, and she does, emerging victorious in the battle against her father’s warped sense of values, social prejudice, and the fallout from family secrets brought to light.

At times a page turner, at times a sleeper, my main criticism for Redemption is that it sometimes tries to do too much. Among the themes embedded in the novel include incest, homophobia, racism, black market adoption, abortion, religion, infidelity, and abuse. While reading I was unsure if this was a story about a woman’s struggle for self-determination, or a murder mystery, or something else entirely. Many of my reviews include a text-to-text comparison, but I can find none here, which is a good thing, I think, as it serves as testament to Charles’s originality. Samantha Charles’s Redemption: A Parson’s Gap Story, though the characters (save Lindy) are somewhat stereotypical, tells a powerful story against the backdrop of a setting made vibrant to impart the message that all of us are capable of rising above hardship in order to create ourselves anew.

Mamabear gives this book


Note: I was gifted an eCopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Read a guest post by Samantha Charles, “Shattering the Silence“.

A Captivating Window into Time

Journey_of_an_American_Son_full_cover-3_copyIn Journey of an American Son, Ben Albert marries Catherine, goes to war, loses his left hand, and finds himself caught in an international web of deception, intrigue and murder. In this book, John Hazen employs a technique of dual narrative, following Ben’s story and Catherine’s in separate chapters. When Ben is framed for murder, Catherine must step in and take charge of the investigation in order to prove her husband innocent.

I liked Journey of an American Son. Though the dual narrative is awkward at first in that it tells of the journey of the so called “American son” in third person and his wife, Catherine, in first person, the choice to do this begins to make more sense midway through the novel when Catherine emerges as the true protagonist. In following Catherine, Hazen is able to portray the role of women in society just after the turn of the century with interest. But Catherine is no ordinary early twentieth century woman. Rather, she is a modern woman transplanted into an early twentieth century world, which is what makes her character so interesting.

Though I enjoyed Hazen’s novel, and found myself often immersed in the pages, I do wish there was a better balance between narrative and dialogue throughout. I would have also liked for the story to be a bit more streamlined to eliminate the overlap in narrative and the repetition throughout as a result of the dual narrative format.

That aside, Hazen’s Journey of an American Son provides the reader with a captivating window into a time when the economy was less global, people used snail mail, telegrams and land telephone lines to communicate, and, outside of fingerprinting, there was no such thing as forensics.  Hazen’s story documents the rocky path one immigrant family travels while trying to attain the American dream in the New World. In Journey of an American Son, whether or not the Albert family ultimately meets that elusive dream is subject to the reader’s interpretation.

Mamabear gives this book


Note: I was gifted an eCopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Interview with author John Hazen

Hello and welcome to John Hazen, author of Journey of an American Son, for an interview in today’s author spotlight.

From Amazon’s book description:

Journey_of_an_American_Son_full_cover-3_copyIn 1920, the chance to travel to India on a business trip is a great boon for a smart and talented young man. Until he wakes up in a Calcutta jail, framed for murder.

Benjamin Albert is a brilliant rising star at his firm, a war hero and a loving husband and father. But when his own government turns its back on him and leaves him to rot in prison 8,000 miles from home, his wife Catherine must take matters into her own hands and battle a ruthless and unscrupulous corporation abetted by a corrupt colonial government.

Timeless issues like racism, anti-Semitism, nationalism and women’s rights are exposed during Catherine’s race to save Benjamin.

Buy Journey of an American son on Amazon and Black Rose Writing.

Buy John Hazen’s suspense-thriller Fava on Amazon and Black Rose Writing.

Buy Dear Dad by John Hazen on Amazon.

Hi, John. Tell us about your inspiration for writing Journey of an American Son.

The inspiration for Journey of an American Son literally fell into my lap. Some time ago, my wife and I were going through some boxes and came upon a diary my grandfather had kept on a business trip he took from Boston to Calcutta India in 1920. I remember my grandmother telling me about the trip and the set of teak wood elephants he had brought back that she prominently displayed in her home for years. This, however, was a day-by-day accounting of the journey. As you can imagine, such a trip back then was rather arduous involving trains, steamers and even rickshaws as he worked his way across Canada, across the Pacific to Japan and then around the rim of Southeast Asia. The diary itself is rather dry—my grandfather was a somewhat puritanical New Englander after all—but it did have the occasional nugget to keep it interesting such as an encounter with a group of lepers and being on ship with a silent film starlet. Reading through the diary planted a seed in my brain that this would provide an ideal setting around which I could build a story.

Sounds like a wonderful premise for a novel. All of your novels are based in historic times: Fava deals with events on 9/11; Dear Dad, the 1960s and 1860s; Journey of an American Son, the 1920s. From where does your interest in history come?

To tell you the truth, I never really thought about where my love of history came from; I can’t remember not having it. I recall sitting through World and U.S. History in high school where, while some of my classmates were bored out of their skulls, I sat there taking it all in and writing copious notes. If I had to pinpoint a source, I’d have to say my parents, my father in particular. He was a nut about the presidents and their times. Both of my parents would also talk about our personal history as ancestors on both sides came to America in the 1600s.  My father was especially partial to the story about his great-grandfather who was killed in the Civil War, three days after Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

Did you have to do much research when writing Journey of an American Son? What was the most interesting thing you discovered?

I had to do a fair amount of research to try and make the feel for the times accurate. The book spans a generation, starting in the ghettos of Eastern Europe, through the immigrant-clogged streets of America to the Far East and colonial India. Having the diary helped a lot, but I had to do a lot of extra reading to provide authenticity to the book. I think the most interesting things I learned that I didn’t know before pertained to colonial India and the First World War. What I knew about colonial India I’d gathered from the film Gandhi and, while I’ve always been a bit of a fanatic when it came to the Civil War and World War II, I was rather uninformed when it came to the Great War. It’s always fun for me to learn about new historical eras.

Do you ever have to travel to scope out a location for a scene? Describe one such trip and what you learned from it.

My wife and I have traveled throughout the years and I try to weave in my observations and experiences into my writing. Our favourite place on earth is Paris and you’ll find Paris scenes gleaned from our travels in both Fava and Aceldama. I’m sure Paris will find its way into my future books. I can’t say that I ever set out to a place with the idea that it would someday be a part of one of my novels. Rather, I’ll observe wherever I may be and store incidents and observations for later use in my books.

Back to Journey of an American Son. How would you classify it with respect to genre(s)? Why do you choose to write in this genre?

All of my novels, including Journey, would be categorized as suspense, more specifically historical suspense. It just seems to be the genre I’m most comfortable with. There are times I think I’d like to shift gears and try something a bit lighter, but overall I’m generally a serious person and this genre fits my personality. I also want my books to be something more than just a “good read” (which coincidentally many people have advised me they are), but I like them to have some deeper meaning. Journey, for example, even though it’s set in the 1920s tackles timeless issues that we still grapple with, such as racism, anti-Semitism, women’s rights, nationalism and immigration. For me, the genre of historical suspense provides me an opportunity to get this across.

What about the main character(s) in Journey of an American Son? What makes s/he/them so special?

Whenever I can, I like a character to have characteristics of someone I know. It tends to provide authenticity. The main character of Journey, Benjamin Albert, is an amalgamation of the personalities of my father, my father-in-law and my grandfather. His parents, Molly and Harry Albert, were created from various stories my wife has told about her grandparents. Other characters, Ben’s wife, Catherine, for example, come completely from my imagination. I also like to create people that I would want to know. Catherine is one of my favourite all-time characters, mainly because of the way she grows throughout the book. Several people have told me that they appreciate the strong women characters I present in my books. Well, I believe that Catherine is one of my strongest. It’s not that she starts off weak, but even as her world crumbles around her, she becomes a force to be reckoned with.

Tell us about Aceldama and Fava 2, your next projects. From all of your books, why choose Fava as the one with which to write a sequel?

Aceldama is actually the first novel I wrote, over a decade ago. But when I couldn’t get any takers from the publishing or agent worlds I just kept on writing. For some reason I shelved Aceldama as I self published Dear Dad and then Black Rose Writing agreed to publish Fava and then Journey. It’s time to dust off Aceldama and get it ready for publication. A summary of Aceldama is:

After returning from a romantic trip to Paris with Anna, his wife, Tim Harrington’s life slowly ebbs away. His doctors are baffled. Anna comes to believe an ancient curse may be the cause.  Desperate to save her husband, against all logic, she embarks of an extraordinary journey that leads back to Paris and across the centuries to a Roman soldier, a twelfth century sailor, a French Revolution-era nun and a mysterious unseen man. Ultimately, armed only with love and conviction, Anna comes face-to-face with a power far beyond her—or anybody’s—comprehension.

I’d like to say that I completely planned that Fava would be a series but unfortunately I’m not that organized. It just happened that some of the plot and character lines were left open enough at the end of the book that a follow-up book seemed natural. Also, the lead characters—news reporter Francine Vega and FBI Special Agent Will Allen—lend themselves to ongoing adventures in the spirit of Bones and Castle.

Speaking about the book world, what have you found to be the most powerful tool when publicizing your books and building your author platform?

I have to admit that I’m absolutely terrible at publicizing and promoting myself. I have a website that is desperately in need of updating and revamping. I’m trying to get a presence in social media by building up Twitter following and have joined numerous Facebook groups. I also appreciate forums such as the one you offer here to get my name out there. However, a part of me is naively old-school and I’m still counting on the quality of my work to carry the day, but alas, I do realize that the books aren’t going to sell themselves.

Since you mentioned it, do you prefer to read (old-school) hardcopies or(newfangled) eBooks and why?

All-in-all I love the feel of a book in my hands and the physical act of turning pages. But, given that much of my reading is done during my commute to and from work and I’m going to have an iPad along with me anyway, eBooks have a certain appeal in that I’m not having carry the additional weight of a book in my bag.

Is there anything else you’d like for us to know that wasn’t covered in this interview?

Nothing really. I just want to thank you, Elise, for the opportunity to chat with you today.

My pleasure, John. I’m looking forward to reading the books.

Here’s where readers can learn more about John Hazen and his writing:

| Website | Facebook | Twitter |

John_HazenJohn Hazen came to writing novels relatively late in life, but once he started he hasn’t looked back. Degrees from Rutgers, The New School and New York and NYU buttress a lifelong passion for learning and a love of history. Inspired by Lynn, his wife of over thirty years, he pursued the dream of becoming an established author and is now working on his fifth book. John and Lynn love to travel, and the experiences of those travels find their way into his writing. John’s reading tastes are eclectic, ranging from histories to classic novels to an occasional piece of modern trash. His absolute “must reads” are Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time.

Interview with author Mark Love

Britbear’s Book Reviews would like to welcome fellow Black Rose author Mark Love and his novel, Why 319? to today’s author spotlight.

Why 319Summary from Goodreads:

There’s a serial killer loose in Metro Detroit, but nobody knows it. Three female victims have been discovered in motel rooms in different suburban cities that surround Motown. These deaths have not captured the media’s attention. The only connection is that each body is found in room 319 and the killer leaves the taunting message “Why 319?” on the bathroom mirror, written with the victim’s lipstick. The nude bodies have been cleaned and neatly arranged. All personal items are gone.

Now an elite squad of detectives has entered the scene. It’s up to them to take over the investigations from the police force and solve the riddle. The detectives know that time is not on their side. If the public learns there is a serial killer at large, will panic set in? Will they be able to figure it out before the killer strikes again?

Buy Why 319? on Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and Black Rose Writing.

Thanks for joining me today, Mark. What was your inspiration for your last novel?

I’ve always wanted to do a story about a serial killer and the investigation. It was during a brainstorming session with my son, Travis, who also likes to write, when the idea started to take shape. There were many revisions over the time it took to come up with a story that I was satisfied with. That’s where Why 319? came from.

It’s really cool that you and your son brainstorm like that.

What was your favourite chapter (or part) to write and why?

My favorite segment was when I wrote from the killer’s point of view. Since the majority of the story is told from the protagonist, Jefferson Chene’s, perspective, it was a challenge to make that transition. But I’ve had some great feedback on it.  One reader said those sections gave her shivers. I’ll take that compliment anytime.

It’s always fun to think outside the box like that and pen something so far removed from our own perspectives. How about some of that outside the box thinking now? What would your protagonist think about you?  Would he or she want to hang out with you, the author, his creator?

I’m sure Chene has more than a few questions he’d like to get answers to. Chene was an orphan, abandoned at birth and raised in a Catholic orphanage. His name comes from the intersection near downtown Detroit where he was found. So the chance to kick back and learn more about his background would definitely drive him.

Do your characters try to create ever more convoluted plots for you?  Or do you have to coax them out of your characters?

(Laughs) Oh, they definitely like to make the plots more twisted and challenging! I don’t work with an outline. I have a basic story idea in mind and maybe one or two key characters. I put them in motion and then just run alongside and see what they do. Some of the turns they suggest lead to major plot changes. But I think the result is a much better story.

My writing process is similar, so I know what you mean. Looking forward, What are your current projects?

I’m working on a sequel for Chene.  The main characters from Why 319? are clamoring for more attention.  I’m also trying to work on a prequel for the Jamie Richmond romance-mystery series (Devious, Vanishing Act and Fleeing Beauty).

What other books are similar to your own?   What makes them alike?

I think Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch novels are similar to Why 319? Like Bosch, Chene has his internal demons but is driven to solve the mystery.  To him, every victim matters regardless of their status in life.

While we’re on the topic of other books, which writers inspire you and why?

As a kid I was hooked on the novels of John D. MacDonald, who wrote the Travis McGee series.  McGee wasn’t your standard hero. He only worked when he needed the money or when it involved someone he was close to. Once the case was done, McGee went into an early retirement mode, enjoying life. MacDonald could coax the reader into the story quickly and throw enough curves at you that you never knew what was coming. Other writers who remind me of him include Elmore Leonard, James W. Hall, Greg Iles, John Sandford and James Rollins. I take inspiration from them to keep writing, keep polishing the story.

Still on the topic of books by other authors, what is your favourite book and why?

Stephen King’s The Stand.  I started reading this epic one evening after work and became so engrossed in the story that I didn’t blink until about three o’clock in the morning. I managed to get a couple of hours of sleep before going to work. Later during the day, I was waiting in line at a fast food restaurant when someone behind me sneezed three times. That was the warning sign in the book that someone had the disease that was wiping out humanity. Then next thing I knew, I was in my car with a death grip on the steering wheel.  Since I started writing, it’s been a goal to capture someone’s imagination as well as he grabbed mine.

One of my favourites, too.

Why do you write?

I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. Being able to entertain the readers by writing an engaging story, creating characters and conflicts they can identify with or relate to is not easy, but it’s something I’m driven to do. It’s important to me. I think everyone has talents. Mine is to write a good story, to take you along for an adventure.

Where do those ideas come from?

(Laughs) Inspiration comes from everywhere and nowhere. I’ve gotten ideas for a story from conversations I’ve overheard, from watching people interact in a restaurant, from hiking on a trail or riding a motorcycle down a country road.

What about building your author platform? What’s your view on social media for marketing?

I’m behind the curve on social media and definitely need to catch up. So many people are on it, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest and more, that it’s a great way to reach a larger audience. I just need to find the time to get busy with it.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Check out new authors. There are many talented people out there, working with smaller publishing houses who have written great stories.

Truer words were never said, Mark. Thanks for investing your time to do this interview. One last question: where can readers discover more about you and your work?

| Blog | Facebook | Amazon Author Page |

Interview with author Joe Swope

Please join me in welcoming fellow Black Rose Writer Joe Swope to Britbear’s Book Reviews. Today I interview Joe and his novel, Pleasant Valley Lost for my author feature. 

swope pleasant valley coverFrom the Amazon description:

Set amid the turbulent times of the late 1960s, Pleasant Valley Lost chronicles the last days of a family dairy farm condemned to destruction by a federal dam project. As the family struggles to find a new home and build their future, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moves into Pleasant Valley, ruthlessly destroying a community and its history. Pleasant Valley Lost is based on the true story surrounding the author’s childhood farm. Originally part of the estate of Pennsylvania’s fifth governor, the farm had been in the Swope family since 1939 and was located in one of the most fertile areas of the region. Pleasant Valley Lost also recounts the family’s long- suffering devotion to baseball and the Philadelphia Phillies. Following many years of losing seasons, the Phillies finally provided cause for celebration when they claimed their first World Series title in 1980. Today, Pleasant Valley and the Swope farm are submerged under the Blue Marsh Dam.

Buy Pleasant Valley Lost by Joseph J. Swope at Black Rose Writing.

Welcome, Joe.

Your website describes Pleasant Valley Lost as “a work of narrative non-fiction, a family memoir written in the format of a traditional novel”. What inspired you to write about this topic?

Our historic family farm, handed down from my grandfather to my father, was originally part of the estate of Pennsylvania’s fifth governor. Our farm was in the heart of Pleasant Valley, an agricultural community with roots that dated into the early 1700s. In the early 1960s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designated the area as the site of a federal dam project. The Corps allowed the area to hang in uncertainty for more than a decade, but when they did begin the condemnation and acquisition proceedings, they did so ruthlessly and heartlessly. The Corps did their best to erase the history of the community. I’ve been trying to find the right way to tell this story for more than 30 years. Finally, in 2013, a local gallery ran an exhibit on the lost landscape beneath the Blue Marsh Dam that drew record crowds. At that point, I finally found the voice I needed to tell the story this region deserved.

Your homepage displays some amazing photographs and paintings. Can you talk a little bit about the selection process for the graphics on your site?

I’ve been really fortunate in locating the images that represent the Pleasant Valley region. The watercolor painting of our farm, which is also on the cover of the book, was done by a local artist in the early 1970s when it was clear the area was doomed to destruction. The painting has graced my mother’s living room wall for more than 40 years. There’s an aerial photo of the farm, which I didn’t even know existed until the gallery exhibit.

I also have a pretty extensive photographic background, and it’s come in handy. A number of photographs from the farm were in pretty bad shape until I copied and enhanced them. I also took a number of original images as part of my master’s degree project on the American independent farmer, and they’re represented on my website as well.

Your story sounds like an incredible personal journey. What about the characters you created. Are they fictional or based in reality? Talk a bit about the character you describe as a “mentally-challenged handyman”.

Adam was indeed real. He came to our farm at about the same time I was born and lived with my parents into the 1990s. Adam is an amazingly complex character and represented one of the real challenges in writing my book. He was incredibly strong, gruff and rough-hewn, but capable of surprising acts of kindness. There’s a scene in the book – which is based on a real incident – where my younger brother is attacked by a hive of bees far from the farmhouse. Adam carried him from deep in the fields to the house, reassuring him the entire time.

The real difficult aspect of portraying Adam was his language. When my 81-year-old mother read the first draft of my book, she asked: “Can you use words like that in a book?” Then, she acknowledged that “Adam never did say a sentence without swearing.” Adam’s profanity – in both English and Pennsylvania Dutch – was an integral part of my childhood and his relationship with my family, especially my father. You just can’t realistically portray Adam without swearing  nearly every other word. It may become a sticking point with some readers, but there was no other way to paint a realistic picture of him.

It’s great that you stayed true to his character.

You describe the late 60s and early 70s as “turbulent times”. What did you experience during this time (besides the events chronicled in the book) that lead you to describe the time period this way?

My parents weren’t particularly political, but there was no way to escape the realities of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Nixon and Watergate, the suburbanization of America that led to the decline of the inner cities . . . there was no escaping the cataclysmic shifts taking place in the United States and across the world. It was the first time that the definition of what was “right” was subject to argument, and it seeped through every part of society: in school, in church, at home. Pleasant Valley Lost isn’t directly about these cultural shifts, but they are used as a backdrop to the events occurring in our community.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? What’s the first thing you remember writing about?

I was fortunate to discover my love of writing early. As early as sixth and seventh grade, my writing skills began to shine. By eighth grade, I had fully learned the power of words. We had a demerit system in our school, and one of our teachers would come into class and read off a list of students with the number of demerits each had received. It was a ridiculous number – some received 30 or 40 demerits at a time without explanation. So I wrote a parody story for the school newspaper that turned the demerit system into a race, listing the leaders and their strategies for winning. The story got censored, but the system got changed. That was when I knew I could make a difference with words.

Talk a bit about your career as a public relations professional, educator and writer and how (or if) it’s influenced your writing.

I always wanted a career where my writing skills played a major role, and the public relations profession has been the perfect avenue. One of the best things about a public relations career is that I never have two days that are the same. I think my career as a PR professional and my adjunct university teaching efforts have influenced my writing in complementary ways, since in many cases I’m teaching at night what I practice during the day.

A couple of specific lessons come through in my writing style. First, be clear and to the point. There’s an old journalistic axiom that says: “The Declaration of Independence, the first chapter of the Book of Genesis and the Gettysburg Address are all less than 1500 words.” In fact, the Gettysburg Address is less than 300 words. You can say a lot in a short amount of time.

Second, bring your scene to life. You very quickly learn that the man wasn’t driving a car fast. Instead, a 37-year-old clean-shaven white man with medium-length brown hair was driving a red 2007 Chevrolet Impala at over 80 miles per hour. Details are everything.

Third, satisfy the reader with an appropriate ending. I’ve always found that I can’t write a story without having the beginning and the end. I’ll figure out the middle along the way.  But too many great ideas go unfulfilled. One of the things about journalism and public relations is you tell the end of the story up right up front. You tell readers what happened, then go back and explain why in the trusty inverted pyramid style of writing. I don’t write my books that way, but it does remind me of the importance of the ending!

That’s great advice.

You recently posted on Facebook that your publisher, Black Rose Writing reported that Pleasant Valley Lost has shattered all of the previous pre-order records for sales on their website. What marketing tactics did you use that helped you to accomplish this amazing feat?

While my campaign was a solid public relations campaign, I really didn’t do anything remarkable.  The biggest thing that contributed to the success of Pleasant Valley Lost is that it has tremendous appeal to those who remember the area before the dam. As I mentioned earlier, the gallery display in 2013 attracted record crowds and had to be extended three weeks to accommodate the demand. One of the great things about Berks County, Pennsylvania is that its residents take great pride in local history, and a number of people have thanked me for this contribution.

That being said, I launched a Facebook author page, a website and promoted Pleasant Valley Lost on Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Google+. One thing that most people don’t recognize about Google+ is that it significantly helps your search ratings on Google (marketing secret revealed!).

I had bookmarks printed and distributed them freely, trying to enhance word of mouth. I shot a short video trailer that I’ve received a lot of compliments about as being genuine and heartfelt. That’s on YouTube and linked to all my other social channels.

I also have a good relationship with a number of local media, and I received coverage on the local community access channel as well as a chain of weekly newspapers. The biggest boost, however, was a section-front story in the Reading Eagle, the daily newspaper in Berks County. They focused on the local history angle, and the story came out three days before the book’s release. The tremendous coverage served as an amazing catalyst for the launch of the book.

That’s amazing. I think the print media and press are great tools that so many of us either forget about, or have difficulty accessing.

Another of your Facebook posts says it took you two years to see Pleasant Valley Lost from start to finish. Describe your writing process for us.

I have to ruminate on my story for a long time before I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). As I mentioned earlier, I have to know my beginning and ending before I start, plus some vague direction of how I’ll get from A to B. I have a lot of handwritten notes laying all over the place, then I finally sit down and start writing. One of the things I discovered in writing a book was there was too much to keep in my head (old age, I guess), so I started doing a chapter outline, which grew and grew as the book progressed. It kept me on track.

The thing about Pleasant Valley Lost is it actually took much longer to write than two years. I started writing about Pleasant Valley in my freshman year in college, and there’s a couple of lines from that initial essay that made it into the book. I did a lot of research on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an Environment Science class, and more when I wrote my master’s degree project. After graduating from college, I wrote several pieces on the Blue Marsh Dam for local newspapers and magazines. I started a book numerous times, but never could get very far.

After the gallery exhibit, which actually used a number of materials I had collected, I started again. I made two major decisions that made the book work. First, I decided to write in first person (which I NEVER do!) to give the story the intimacy and emotion it deserved. Second, I compressed the time frame to focus primarily on 1968 to 1972. The book actually extends to 1980 (the dam was completed in 1979), but the major action takes place in four years. It took me 37 years to get it right, but I finally had a vision that worked!

What research did you have to do while writing Pleasant Valley Lost? What is the most interesting thing you learned as a result of your research?

I actually needed to do a ton of research. As I mentioned, I had extensively researched the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and discovered that Pleasant Valley was not the only victim of their voracious appetite to flood America. They have left a string of questionable dam projects that have destroyed communities across the country.

In writing the book, I had to go back and research the events of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a history-changing time – the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy; the election of Richard Nixon as president and the subsequent Watergate scandal; Vietnam; the civil rights movement; the first Moon landing . . .All these things happened in the timeframe of my book.

The second thing that took some work was the cultural changes across the country. There’s one scene that depicts New Year’s Eve 1968 leading into 1969. Who was on TV that year? Guess what, it wasn’t Dick Clark. It was Guy Lombardo and his big band. When did suburban shopping malls begin to carve into the shopping meccas of the inner cities? My mother is a devout Catholic – when did Saturday night Mass start? Again, all these things came into place during that timeframe, and I tried to get as much right as possible.

What’s next for Joe Swope, author? Tell us about your current work in progress.

Well, as usual, I have multiple projects and not enough time to tackle them. I’m working on a children’s book , something that I’ve always wanted to do since I have six kids ranging from ages 5-24 I can’t draw a stick figure to save my life, so I’ve recruited my oldest daughter, an artist and architect, to illustrate it.

I’ve also been approached by a publisher of professional books to consider writing a book on public relations practice for beginners. I’m on the outline stage of that project.

I have a fantasy book in various stages of construction and a pretty solid outline for a science fiction novel. Fantasy and Sci-Fi have always been my first loves, so at some point, I want to re-visit those genres.  I also have an idea of a re-telling of the Arthurian legend.

Finally, I’d love to re-visit Pleasant Valley one day and write a prequel. I’d call it Pleasant Valley Alive and show the community while it was flourishing, before the entrance by the Corps of Engineers. But I have to interview people soon. Most of the people who remember Pleasant Valley at its height are in their 80s and 90s, and won’t be around forever. My uncle will turn 97 this spring. He’s still sharp as a tack. He’d be a great resource.

So all in all, I have enough projects for the next 10 years. Now just to find the time.

Best of luck with Pleasant Valley Lost and all of your future endeavours, Joe. How can interested readers discover more about you and you work?

| Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Pinterest |

Amazon Author Page |  Goodreads |

About Joe Swope (from Amazon Author Page):

swope author picJoseph J. Swope has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since high school. Swope has enjoyed an award-winning career in public relations spanning more than 30 years in both higher education and corporate settings.

He is currently the Communications Manager for UGI Utilities, Inc., a natural gas and electric utility based in Reading, PA. Swope has also served as an adjunct faculty member at Alvernia University since 1982.

Pleasant Valley Lost is Swope’s first book, and it chronicles the last days of his historic family farm before its condemnation and acquisition for a federal dam project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Swope farm and the rest of Pleasant Valley eventually became the Blue Marsh Dam in 1979.

The story also documents the family’s long-suffering devotion to the woebegone Philadelphia Phillies of the late 1960s and early 1970s, a loyalty that finally paid off in a World Championship in 1980.

Swope is a lifelong resident of Berks County, Pennsylvania, and he and his family reside outside Bernville, just a few miles from the Blue Marsh Dam. He never visits the complex.




“Why 319?” is Well Written and Structurally Sound

Why+319+eimageDetective Jefferson Chene is on the trail of a serial killer. His only clues are the bodies of the killer’s female victims, all found sprawled on the beds of hotel rooms numbered 319, the cryptic message “Why 319?” written on the bathroom mirror in lipstick. Can Chene and his task force find the killer before they find the next body?

I liked Mark Love’s Why 319? Detective Chene is tough and vulnerable at once. His relationship with partner Meagan is endearing and believable. Love’s prose is easy to read and descriptive. The story is interesting by way of a police procedural in that it doesn’t read like an episode of CSI, but in a good way. In CSI (in most police procedurals on television, in fact), the team always interviews the perpetrator at some point in the investigation. By contrast, Why 319? may be a more realistic glimpse into police investigation, especially when the killer’s agenda is nothing personal with respect to the victim. Undaunted, Chene and his task force slowly collect and piece together the murderer’s puzzle. I wasn’t surprised by the killer’s identity, mind you, but rather, by the story-web Love weaves in order to reveal it.

When reading for review, I often form my opinion of how many gummies (or stars) I will ultimately award the book long before I finish. This opinion always wavers as I read, sometimes several times. For the first 2/3 of Why 319? I was set to give it five stars. Then the narrative changed inorder to give the reader 2 or 3 glimpses into the mind of the killer. As a writer, I understand why Love might want to do this–to show the murderer sweating as the police grow near, taunting and chiding them all the while–but in this case, Love should have resisted as the scenes, though brief, were out of place and unnecessary to Chene’s narrative; Love should have found an alternate route for imparting this information.

That observation aside, I recommend Why 319?, especially to those avid mystery and police procedural junkies. If you are a fan of CSI, Criminal Minds, Stalker, and the like, you will not be disappointed by Why 319?

Mamabear gives this book:



Note: I was gifted an eCopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Shattering the Silence

Britbear’s Book Reviews is pleased to welcome fellow Black Rose Writer Samantha Charles, author of Redemption: A Parson’s Gap Story, for a guest post entitled “Shattering the Silence”.

redemption cover

From the Amazon book description for Redemption: A Parson’s Gap Story:

Lindy Carver Harrington loses her unborn child during a violent altercation with her husband. On the same day, her closest friend Sara careens off a mountainside to her death. Lindy is devastated. Imprisoned by grief, and paralyzed by fear, she is easy prey to her husband’s abuse. She is unable to summon the strength to fight back, until now… A brutal confrontation forces Lindy to choose to either end her husband’s life, or save her own. Escaping, she returns home to Parson’s Gap to rebuild her shattered life. Still haunted by the cryptic message Sara left moments before she died, Lindy becomes determined to answer the voice from the grave and unravel the mystery surrounding Sara’s death. On a perilous journey into the final days of her friend’s life, Lindy’s quest for truth will expose shocking secrets that will shake a small southern town to its roots. Confronting the demons of her past, she strips away layers of lies buried beneath the magnificent mountains she calls home. When the past and present collide, the truth may set Lindy free, if she can only live long enough to take her last shot at redemption.

Buy Redemption: A Parson’s Gap Story on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes,  and Black Rose Writing.

Shattering the Silence by Samantha Charles


Domestic violence has taken a leading role in the national news of late. The media spotlight has focused on celebrities who abuse girlfriends too, most recently, a renowned football player who publicly attacked his fiancé. There have been so many reports of domestic violence in the National Football League that the industry has taken a proactive role supporting organizations like NoMore.org, having their players speak out against violence against women. I applaud the NFL’s conscientious reaction to what seems to be a growing problem in professional sports and in fact, it seems the silence has been shattered. Women who may have suffered in silence in the past are beginning to speak out against their abusers, but those who experience this world steeped in violence first-hand sometimes never recover. The physical wounds may heal, but the emotional and psychological scars many times never fade.

An alarming number of women have personally suffered from abuse while others grow up watching someone they love undergo horrific abuse. Most remain silent in fear of retribution or are ashamed of the cruelty they’ve tolerated, feeling as if somehow they are responsible for the violence perpetrated on them. Domestic violence can become a pattern that repeats from generation to generation, as if allowing oneself to suffer physical abuse, or in many cases, repeating the behavior of the abuser, is a tradition passed along from mother to daughter, father to son. In some cultures, abuse is a normal way of life. Women live in constant fear and sometimes the threat of death while atrocities go unheeded by a populace who looks the other way.

My goal as a writer is to entertain, enlighten, and always leave readers with a memorable journey that will enrich their lives in some manner. I am committed to sharing the rich, sometimes dark, diverse heritage of what it is to be a woman. Domestic violence, particularly spousal abuse, is a topic I am passionate about, and is one of the central themes in Redemption: A Parson’s Gap Story, the first in a series set in a coal mining community nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. The protagonist, Lindy Carver Harrington, loses her closest friend to a fatal accident on the heels of losing her unborn child after she has been violated and viciously attacked by her husband. Devastated, she succumbs to her husband’s brutality, and remains trapped in a violent marriage. A year later, her marriage has turned lethal. Finally finding the courage to escape before she ends up dead, Lindy goes home after ten years of self-imposed exile determined to rebuild her shattered life.

Like Lindy, I grew up as a minister’s daughter in a slow-paced small town in Virginia. Socio-economic influences, religious beliefs, and, in some cases, isolation from the rest of society play a key role in the values and principles of these small towns. In some cases, these elements of this culture continue to enable a local legacy of violence that is now being exposed as a national epidemic.

I think we all probably have certain experiences and relationships in life that influence who we are, and what kind of person we become. These influences indelibly carve into our psychological make-up, and I draw on those elements of my life to build the worlds I create. My intention is to take readers places they’ve never been and to celebrate strong female characters who are determined to overcome a legacy of violence in a world where sometimes merely survival is the ultimate goal.

National Domestic Violence Hotline http://www.thehotline.org/ 1-800-799-7233

Here’s where you can learn more about Samantha Charles and her writing:
charles redemptionAbout the author:

Samantha Charles is a native of the Southeastern United States. As a writer, she enjoys sharing the rich, diverse, and sometimes dark, traditional heritage of the Appalachian Mountains. Samantha’s debut novel, Redemption, is the first of a series set in Parson’s Gap; a small coal-mining community inspired by the people and places she grew to love as a child. Her work explores the social and cultural issues, both good and bad, that permeate the southern region she calls home. When she is not busy creating new worlds, she teaches English at a local college. Currently, she is hard at work on Salvation, the sequel to Redemption.