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In The Spotlight: Talya Rotbart


I am named after the heroine of a dime novel that my mother read while pregnant with me. Maman’s own childhood and schooling ended in France under Nazi occupation. Nightly, when I was growing up, she read to me, impersonating all the storybook characters with gusto. Like a spell, her narrative voice was entrancing. My imagination was fired up.

As an adult, I see potential children’s books almost everywhere I turn. For me, the act of writing is engrossing.

My earliest children’s books were written for family and friends. Then, helping my husband, Dean, research and write a nonfiction biography of a Canadian couple, I fell in love with the true-life childhood escapades of Dean’s adult protagonist, Riyaz Adat. I had to turn his capers into a series of children's books.

Riyaz, a free spirit, was raised by Ismaeli Muslim parents of Indian descent in Tanzania. School proved too confining for him, so one time, the nine-year-old and a couple of schoolmates played hooky — walking, hitchhiking, and train hopping hundreds of miles on their own from Dar es Salaam to Mt. Kilimanjaro. Thus was born The Adventures of Riyaz series and its first installment, The Boy Who Answered

the Call of Kilimanjaro.

Each book immerses readers in the magical world of Tanzania, with its expansive parks, natural wildlife habitats, tropical rainforests, savannas, and a rich inheritance of multiculturalism and culinary delights.

The first book in the Adventures series has been translated into multiple languages, including an English/Swahili version that is being used to teach English to students of an impoverished school in Arusha, Tanzania.

All my stories draw a moral conclusion. It is thrilling for children to read about characters making mistakes just like they do. We all learn and grow from our blunders.

My latest book project is about a boy who loves soccer so much that without permission, he takes over his neighbor's prized backyard garden as a soccer field and winds up crushing many of the plants. He is surprised that his neighbor doesn’t accept his standard “get-out-of-trouble” apology word, “sorry.” My character, Marco, ultimately learns what a sincere apology is and

what he must do to make amends. I can’t wait to have it come to life.

The search for a talented local illustrator is on. Writing and publishing a book is a team project, and I am fortunate to have one. My son, an educator and historian, has a great time editing (my English is still “creative” after all these years). The layout and design are made by my very talented daughter, who is a professional photographer and book designer. And I continue to collaborate with my husband on both adult nonfiction and children’s volumes.

To my fellow dreamers and authors, keep writing; don’t stop, even if the majority of your stories only serve to delight you, as do mine. It’s the journey, not the destination.

In the Spotlight: Laurel McHargue


Ever since I was old enough to remember my wild and colorful dreams, I’ve told stories. I love the thrill of that smile, that raised eyebrow, that tilt of head telling me my tale is engaging.

After pursuing three semesters of literature and art at Smith College in Massachusetts (my home state), I craved bigger, broader challenges. The United States Military Academy at West Point offered more experiences than I could have imagined.

Upon graduation, my thirteen years as an Army Officer continued to provide story fodder, as did my years of teaching in the public school system after my children were older.

When my mother handed me a shoebox filled with letters my father wrote to his family while deployed with the Army during WWII, I knew the time had come to ditch paid employment and write books. Although I have yet to finish the book inspired by Dad’s letters, I committed myself to writing stories about life, real and imagined.

As my list of published works continues to grow, I’m excited about the stories I have yet to write. I thrive on fun challenges, so I’ll be writing in as many different genres as I’m inspired to for the rest of my life. And as long as I can make one person smile, laugh, cry, or cringe while reading my work, I’ll know I should keep writing. 

My debut novel–“Miss?”–is based on my first year as a 7th grade language arts teacher in a school that was shut down at the end of that year (I didn’t break it). It took me seven years to pull out my notebook of daily bullet points from that stressful year, and another year to create the novel based on my notes, but it was a labor of love that helped me believe I could do more.

Since that first (loosely fictionalized) novel, I’ve written several more, all inspired by people and dreams and the magical atmosphere surrounding me in Colorado. I’ve learned that although people say I write well, I know I can always improve. Writing communities, workshops, contests, conferences, and critique groups have helped me improve my craft.

I’ve also learned that creatives must have tough skins. Once a work is published, it belongs to consumers, and some consumers will never be completely satisfied. One negative review can invalidate twenty glowing ones if an artist/author allows it to, so don’t!

My story (and stories) will continue to evolve as I experience new things and challenge myself; there are worlds and genres I have yet to explore. My current WIP will take readers into a future where a Military Academy in an undersea metropolis will challenge more than our hero.

Thanks for your interest in my work!

In The Spotlight: Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer


I didn’t want my path to be different. I wanted normal. As an undergrad in English, I thought that meant I’d get a master’s in literature, become a poetry professor at a college, publish in literary journals and live happily ever after with poetry at the center of my life.

Now, in my mid-fifties, I’m so grateful the path I thought I wanted kept rejecting me. I didn’t get into the literature programs. Instead, I entered an English Language and Linguistics program and learned about the science of language. Burned out, I didn’t go on for a PhD. Instead, I fell in love and moved to a mountaintop above a tiny resort town almost three hours from the nearest college. I got a job as a journalist and a substitute teacher, and I wrote poems for pleasure. Then I was a magazine editor who wrote poems for pleasure. Then I was an organic fruit grower who wrote poems for pleasure. Then a social worker for early childhood who … wrote poems for pleasure. The short of it: poetry stayed with me as a passion. I took classes, taught classes, made lots of poetry friends, organized poetry festivals, wrote grants to bring poets into the schools, sent poems to journals where they were mostly rejected, and I kept reading and writing poems. The practice of writing poems every day began in the peach-growing era. It was a dare— could I do it for thirty days? I doubted it. That was February, 2006. Eighteen years later, I still write daily poems. And the most remarkable thing has happened. I’m not a professor. I don’t work at a college. But I live happily with poetry at the center of my life.

In The Spotlight: Jean Manthei


I’ve written two books now: ​On Gratitude​ and ​Photography and Schizophrenia​ and I’m completing one called ​Psychological and Emotional Currency​​.

I use a lot of photography with my writing and had developed an idea of photo recovery art which uses photography to work with complex ideas in recovery as well as with respect to illness.

I never let disability and this dread disease of schizophrenia keep me from going to college and graduate school and practicing in the field of AOD counseling for 30 years. I never let it keep me from publishing my books.

My hope for my books is that they help other people with this disorder know they can work hard, stay in treatment and stay on meds and stay in school and realize quite a few accomplishments and eventually contribute to society and maybe even write their own story in a book. I have an account where all the royalties go into it to eventually help other people with schizophrenia fund projects or books.

As for me I have my dog Bokeh—who is a Golden Retriever for my Golden Birthday without cigarettes. We hang out together and she is a special confidant. I snap pictures and write and my real work is as an AOD therapist. Despite my disability I work with cognitive behavioral approaches to addiction. I’ve had decades of my own treatment and I believe that if you do any kind of work as a therapist you also need to do your own emotional work.

I worked on developing a playful, humorous website

and encourage you to check that out. I just joined Colorado Author’s League and I look forward to meeting some of you. Heal well, heal responsibly, Jean Manthei, MA, LPC, CAS.

In The Spotlight: Adam Gaffen


It’s an honor to be featured here.

As a science fiction author, the question I’m most frequently asked is how I come up with my ideas. That’s fair; after all, I write stories which push the boundaries of what is possible and what might never be. How do I get there?


I read.

I think that every author begins as a reader, and not just a casual one. No, authors are those kids who would rather curl up with a book than go out for recess. The kids who sit under their blankets at night with a flashlight, turning page after page. The kids who beg for just one more story before bed.

Authors are obsessed readers who, at some point, said, “Hey! I wonder what would have happened if...?” And off they go.

That’s what happened to me.

Right after high school, I dove head-first into Robert Heinlein’s books and the universe he’d created, including the idea of a “Future History” which provided a framework for the stories. Intrigued, and working from a point in history fifty years after Heinlein, I started my own version.

Now, fast-forward twentysomething years: I’m working on a story that starts with a minister trying to kill the bride at the wedding. I need a world to put this story in, and I happen on a map I’d drafted for my timeline.


Add in some details, inspired by Heinlein and others, and I have the beginnings of what is now a nine book universe.

So that’s it. How do I come up with my ideas? I ask the essential question, “What if…?” and follow my imagination from there.

Of course, it helps that I have characters who are insisting I give their voices a place to be heard. Kendra Cassidy, in particular, is extremely vocal about her need to be freed upon an unsuspecting populace.

Hi, Kendra here – no, it’s not some nefarious reason that I keep telling Adam these stories! According to my wife, we have to get our history into your fiction so that the two timelines are more nearly aligned, since we share a common origin point. I’d give you more details, but she’s the genius in the family. I’m just the dreamer. Anyway, I’ll give this back to Adam now.

See what I mean?

With characters as insistent as Kendra, Aiyana, Diana, Mikall, Nicole, and more, how can I possibly say no?

It’s been a pleasure being here today. I’d love you to drop by the website, pick up some free books, and subscribe to Kendra’s monthly newsletter. You can do that at You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Threads as @adamgaffen.

And the next book in the Cassidyverse? Should be out in 2024!

In The Spotlight: Jo Fontana


My journey as a writer has been an unusual one. I started writing when I was in junior high. Initially I wrote poems. Afterwards, I delved into short stories. I wanted to write horror but was surprised to learn that wouldn’t be my main focus. Instead, I discovered that I’m a genre-fluid, hybrid author.

As an adult, the urge to write was always there even though my college major was in another discipline. I began writing again while my daughter was still in elementary school after she begged me to make up stories about a stuffed green monkey I had bought her. After a while, I began putting the stories down on paper for her to read. Those stories developed into a limited-

run children’s book series published by a small local press.

Afterwards, I wrote more short stories and one of them, “The Plant Lady,” won first prize in a local contest. Later, I began developing what was to become my first novel. This was a story I had fermenting in my head for several years. Sometimes those stories become trunk stories. I had no idea then, that this would become my debut novel, Gods of the Bay. It was also a finalist in the 2021 CAL awards.

The craziest adventures I have been on come from journeys my characters must embark upon to heal themselves or their worlds, and they are ones that I would never have experienced on my own. Even though I plot my work, the characters usually begin to awaken and then tell me what the story should be. This happened when I created the world of the Bruised Lands which is the setting for my young adult fantasy series. The protagonist and I argued during most of the writing of the books because sometimes even though you want your characters to be better people than you are, they still have flaws. And some of those flaws can be something you’re not comfortable with, but since I was given the advice to write what scares me, in the end, the character won the argument.

Several years ago, I had to learn another language for my other profession. It was so important for me to be able to learn it or my performance would be woefully inadequate, that I finished an associate degree. In order not to regress too much, I’ve begun working on several bilingual projects. I’m grateful to have the ability to combine my skills with my passion to create

interesting stories.

Please visit for more information.

In The Spotlight: Jeanette Minniti


When I entered a graduate program in Journalism with an emphasis in public relations at the University of Colorado in Boulder, my focus to further my career was on the marketing aspect of the degree. And indeed, marketing did play a significant role in my success during the remainder of my career. However, the rigid research discipline of my journalism degree piqued my interest and seemed to drive the focus of my writing toward historical fiction as I moved toward retirement. Thus, the idea for my first manuscript began to unfold and weave its way onto the page during a series of creative and novel writing classes. But my story's completion had to wait until after my retirement, at which time it became my top priority.

My first novel, THE ONLY WAY HOME, a historical fiction, action-adventure story set in 1933 during the Great Depression, found its way to publication in 2021. Through a learned appreciation for the value of the accuracy of facts, I found it exciting to see the story unfold during the ongoing research phase of story development. Every writer knows the anxiety of facing the empty page in front of them as they sit down to write for the day and the balancing act of fitting in the many priorities and must-do tasks in our busy lives. So, I was thrilled to receive the 1st place Historical Novel award from the Colorado Authors League and additional awards recognitions for my first novel.

In writing about the enjoyment of the research element of creating a story, I am excited to now be at the point of focusing on two years of reading, studying, and searching out lesser-known information in the area of espionage and military techniques used during World War II for my next novel.

The most priceless aspects of being a published author are interacting with other authors, enjoying their excitement about the writing process, and learning from their experiences and knowledge. The depth of information related to writing, marketing, and publishing seems endless at times but is energizing, and it is what I find most valuable in networking with authors.

I remember attending my first writers' conference and feeling overwhelmed by the many-faceted aspects of the writing business. Areas a writer must take on and learn about that move us beyond the joy of putting the words on the page and watching a story unfold. But it is that lifelong learning that I most covet in being in and around the writing world. 

In The Spotlight: L.R. Braden


Technically, the first book I ever published was a pop-up book that I made as a visual aid for a research project in the ninth grade. I meticulously wrote out my thoughts in rainbow markers and embossed glitter, constructed elaborate movable parts to enchant my audience, and bound the whole thing in the panels of a repurposed shoebox stitched together with twine.

Obviously that book didn’t become a bestseller (though I did receive an A from my very impressed English teacher).

I’m not sure why, but it never occurred to my that “writer” was an actual career when I was younger. It never crossed my mind that there were real people writing the books I gobbled up by the dozens or that, one day, I might be one of those people. Authors were like gods, mysterious beings who created whole worlds for us mere mortals to inhabit. I wrote stories and essays for school, of course, but my daydreams, like most of my thought, stayed locked away in my head.

As an English major in college, I read hundreds of books. Classic, contemporary, avant-garde. I learned to dissect and discuss them. What I didn’t learn was how to write them. I didn’t take a single creative writing class in the five years I spent earning my two degrees. Books were something I read, not something I wrote. I was a black hole of literature, constantly expanding the landscape of my imagination without ever releasing anything.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties and happily married with a baby on the way that it occurred to me to write down the daydreams in which I’d spent so much of my life... that what was entertaining to me could be entertainment for others. One afternoon, while I was reading Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, I was struck by the most world-altering thought: “I could do this.” That’s all it took. Suddenly all the daydreams in which I’d romped for my entire life weren’t just dreams. They were stories. I opened my laptop and started typing.

My debut novel, A Drop of Magic, published in 2019. In four short years that passed in the blink of an eye, I’ve published eight urban fantasy novels and three short stories. Since publishing my first book, I’ve achieved the coveted “#1 bestseller” status on Amazon, won some awards, and grown a lot in my craft and confidence. For all that, my goal remains the same as it was in that light bulb moment: I want to write fun stories that people will enjoy.

I write worlds people can get lost in, worlds you might mistake for your own but for that little something extra. I write characters who feel and fail, but always come back fighting. I bring the extraordinary home and make you believe it could be true. At least, I hope I do.

You be the judge: Check out my newest book, Personal Demons, published Sep. 29, 2023.

In The Spotlight: Victoria Wolf

Victoria Wolf

When I had the idea to start a business I knew nothing about, I remember thinking, “I hope I can make this work!” Now, 32 years later, I look over my long career and business with astonishment. I have been a graphic designer and business owner for more than half of my life. 


The early years were tough yet rewarding. Not only was I teaching myself design skills with every new project, but I was learning to run a business. There were successes, and of course, there were failures, and the latter proved the best education any growing businessperson could hope to find.


For the bulk of my career, I focused on small businesses, designing logos, websites, and many other brand elements. In 2016, I was starting to feel a bit weary and thought there was nothing left in design that would excite me and entice me to keep designing for another 15 or so years. But I was wrong.


I was presented with the opportunity to design something I had never designed before— a book cover. I was skeptical at first, worried that I didn’t have the “design chops” for such an endeavor. Again, I was wrong.


Seven years and over 300 book covers later, I am loving my design business again. Along the way, I added interior formatting/design, eBook formatting, and author websites to my services. It is a joy, and an honor to work with authors, helping them bring visual life to their words. I would have never predicted this career turn for myself, and I think that makes it even more rewarding.


In 2020, I wanted to write that book I always told myself I would write. I worked with an amazing writing coach and editor, and Perpetual Conflict: A Journey of Art and Redemption was born. My writing journey taught me that writing is not an easy task, and when you write a memoir such as mine, it brings with it a significant emotional element.


Perpetual Conflict is centered around the first three months of my “teaching myself how to paint” experience. Each chapter focuses on a specific painting, the artistic and emotional issues that arose as I painted, and explores aspects of my life and how they relate, or sometimes explain, to those issues. It’s a raw and honest glimpse into my psyche that will hopefully inspire others and help them to see they are not alone.


I didn’t set out to write a book for catharsis, clarity, or change, but leaned in when I saw it was the path the writing wanted me to take. I am grateful for the experience and clarity the writing process gave me, and can honestly say I am a different person because of it.

You can check out Victoria's book cover designs at WolfDesignAndMarketing

In The Spotlight: Mark MacAlester


Mark MacAlester, whose pen name is Mark Mora, served in the US Army, worked for the US Navy, provided emergency communications support during disaster responses for almost 20 years (and still does on occasion), and ended up in cybersecurity. A strange, but very rewarding, career path.

Since the days of NASA’s Apollo program and the original Star Trek (in syndication), he has loved Science and Fiction—especially when those two passions come together. At the age of six, inspired by the Apollo Moon landings, by his father, and by his grandfather, he became an avid reader of science and history, particularly astronomy and World War II. Writing military, space-based Science Fiction stories stems directly from those early years.

By the age of nine, Mark had still not read any fiction on his own, and had never even seen a comic book. He was always reading science and World War II history books and biographies. His 5th grade teacher, frustrated by this for reasons Mark will never know, “forced” him to read the original Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH—and he’s been hooked on science fiction and fantasy ever since. This love turned into the life goal, now realized, of publishing a novel of his own. His novels Andromeda Rhoades Liberation: The Local War (Book 1) and Andromeda Rhoades Firestorm: The Local War (Book 2) are available on, and his next novel, Andromeda Rhoades Tranquility: The Local War (Book 3), will be published later this year.

He plans to publish many more.

Mark Mora is a pen name, but it’s also special. He’s adopted. “Mora” was his family name at birth. As was the practice at the time, his birth certificate was reissued under his adoptive parent’s name, making him appear to be their natural child. When he turned 18, the adoption agency provided him the paperwork where he discovered his original name. Using the pen name “Mora” is a tribute to the culture of his birth.

Mark is boring, and he’s the first person to admit it. He still loves studying many fields of science (but never had the math skills to become a scientist) and history from around the globe and throughout the universe. He currently lives in Colorado with his wife and three children. For more on his books, visit his website at:

In The Spotlight: John Wilker

Walker, John

John’s earliest memory of being a story teller is the third grade when he won the Puget Sound Young Authors competition with a story about Ziggy (Yes, the one from the comic strip) saving the world with a clever lie about the Space Needle and rain. Copyright law wasn’t until 5th grade.

From that point on he never stopped telling stories. It wasn’t until much later (MUCH. LATER) that his story-telling moved to the next level with the release of his first book in 2018. His Space Rogues series grew from that first release to a ten book series with spin-off series already two deep. It’s his best-selling series.

Where Space Rogues is a universe of snarky aliens, his Grand Human Empire series focused on a universe where the good and bad guys are all humans. 

When he’s not writing rip-roaring space adventures, he’s writing action adventure thrillers set in real places with a fun twist under the pen name J. Beckett.

Right now he’s wrapping up the second Rogue Enterprises book (The Space Rogues spin-off series) after the successful launch of ‘Seeds of Change’ the 4th book in the Grand Human Empire series. 

Next? Well, he hasn’t decided. He’s due to visit his Pen-named adventures, but has this nagging idea for a new series, so maybe that’ll be next. 

John’s been an indie author from the start, making his work available on all platforms, everywhere. He loves being able to write the stories he wants, the way he wants, and hear from his fans directly.

Some of his best writing takes place in a noisy brewery down the street from his house. He finds that the creative juices flow best with a good beer and noisy room.

He lives in Denver with his wife Nicole, their dog Paco and their foster dog, Princeton. In the warm months he enjoys gardening, enjoying a beer on a patio and camping. In the cold months he counts the days until the warm months.

Learn more about John and his books at

In The Spotlight: Todd Fahnestock

Todd Fahnestock

Todd Fahnestock has spent the last twenty years developing a unique style of writing in the epic fantasy genre: fast-paced yet still providing the depth of character and world-building that epic fantasy readers love so much. He calls it “edge of your seat epic fantasy.”

He was published by a number of traditional publishers such as Tor, HarperCollins, McMillan, Daw Fantasy, and TSR in his journeyman days. He has worked with small print presses during his years of honing his voice, and he is currently loving the indie life where he is gets to connect directly with fans. He’s spent the last six years driving all over the United States going to comic cons and putting his books into the hands of readers. One of his favorite things to do is meet fans face-to-face and talk about story.

Todd has multiple series out in the world, and he is currently working on the fourth book of the Eldros Legacy, a multi-author, shared-world mega-epic fantasy series where he is one of the four founding authors. Todd’s part of the story follows an orphan gladiator named Khyven the Unkillable, who suddenly finds himself involved in a world-wide war with thousand-year-old giants who have returned to claim the lands of Eldros. With the help of a magical elf whose hair glows in the dark, a dethroned queen, a mage with ADHD, and a miniature demon who vanishes in the dark, Khyven and crew set out to save Eldros from

certain destruction.

He’s also working on the third book in The Wishing World series, a middle grade portal fantasy that took Denver by storm back in 2016. Once these projects come to fruition, he’s hot to get started on the seventh episode of his bestselling, award-winning Tower of the Four series. There are a few fans who have begun to threaten bodily harm if he doesn’t…

And lastly, he’s got this itch of an idea. A single epic fantasy story. No trilogy. No never-ending series, just one book. A tome of a book that will begin a sweeping adventure, carry it through to the very utmost of ends, and then finish like the crashing of a wave that sends a thin sheen of denouements up the beach before it fades back. We’ll see how that one works out…

He loves being home with his two children and his wife. His kids are academic wonders and less-than-amused by his dad jokes. His daughter will be off to college this fall and his son is entering his senior year in high school, which puts Todd and his wife Lara securely in the soup of Empty Nesters Syndrome. Please send chocolate!


Todd’s greatest fear is that his wonderful life will somehow change. His greatest hope is that his wonderful life will somehow change. No matter what else happens, he’s always itching to get back to the keyboard and tell one more story. Todd is always working on the next book. Like the carrot in front of the proverbial donkey, he dangles his revered pieces of fiction—Ender’s Game, The Pillars of the Earth, The Martian, and so many more—as his incentive to keep reaching, keep trying, keep creating.

He longs to craft that singular story that someone, someday will hold to their chest and treasure forever. That is his idea of success.

Visit Todd at

In The Spotlight: Andrea Spoor


Did I enjoy reading as a child? No. And yet I wanted so badly to enjoy reading. Everyone in my family loved to read. Every couple of weeks we went to the local library to check out books. I dreaded those trips. Why didn’t I enjoy reading? Because whenever I sat down to read, I lost focus.

When I was in the first grade, I was diagnosed with a mild form of epilepsy which caused me to have what I then called spacey spells. Reading challenged me because when I had a spacey spell I couldn’t remember where I left off and where to begin again. Reading often left me feeling frustrated and impacted my confidence.

I’m a big believer that there is a gift in every challenge. The gift I received as a child who had unique struggles with reading was discovering that I could write! If I had a spacey spell, I would look at the words I wrote and pick up where I left off. Every sentence was followed by a blank space that invited creativity instead of frustration. When my parents bought me a diary - the kind with the little lock and key - I was hooked! I couldn’t wait to write in my diary every night before I went to bed.

In my diary, I wrote about everything! I would journal the day’s events. I journaled about dreamy things like the boy I had a crush on. Sometimes I wrote of the drama between friends who had crushes on him too. I recorded things that I wanted to do when I grew up like becoming Shamu’s trainer, a teacher, or a professional ballerina. It’s funny that writing wasn’t on the list! I wrote of family vacations and exploring places like the Redwood Forest where the giant trees filled me with awe. With every entry, I wrote stories of growing up. My diary was a friend and constant companion, and this friend ignited my passion for writing. 

After losing my job when the company I worked for sold, I saw an opportunity to do more of what I loved. I combined my background in psychology and communication with my love for writing. Today I’m an award-winning author of an empowerment book for teenage girls called That’s So Diva! A teen girl's guide to loving herself and living beautifullyThat’s So Diva! Guides girls to the authentic power they have within. It empowers girls to develop genuine confidence, embrace their gifts, use their voice, make healthy choices, and experience more happiness. I’ve also written a booklet How to Talk to Children About Divorce. And, I am working on two more books I plan to release in 2024.

By the time I was a junior in high school, I outgrew epilepsy. As an adult, I love to read and look forward to reading a new book every couple of weeks! I also continue to write in a journal. It’s remains my favorite way to end the day!

In The Spotlight: Jodi Bowersox

My writing career began on a very serious note around the age of 5: "Life is a cookie with some ketchup and cake, and we all stick around for it to bake." Profound, no?

I then set about working my way into a journalism career--I was the news reporter for three different 4-H clubs. They kept re-electing me because I actually enjoyed doing it.

Alas, my profundity at age 5 would fade as I delved back into poetry in Jr. High. ALL of these poems have been burned. I wrote slightly less terrible poetry in college, then hit on something I would do off and on for the next 20+ years--writing for the stage.

I started off with a play I wrote for my senior theatre project--Chosen--a fresh take on the Nativity story that focused on Mary and her possible thoughts and fears. Soon after my two boys made an appearance in the world, I began attending a church that was all too happy to let me write for them, and I wrote numerous children's productions and skits for women's events. I eventually compiled these all into one book: Chosen and other productions, programs, and skits.


You can't have children (and cats), though, without coming up with a couple of stories. After getting back into watercolor painting, I tried my hand at illustrating a fictional story about two real cats and called it, of course, A Tale of Two Kitties. My second children's book, The Stubborn Princess, came from who knows where, as I do not have any princesses in my life, stubborn or otherwise. My younger son Tracy did the drawings for that one, and I did the watercolor.

It was my mother who encouraged me to try writing novels. A big romance reader, she read every romance in her tiny small town library and then reported to me that she was just sure I could write better books. I didn't give it a whirl until she was gone, but I think she'd be proud. I'm about to publish my eighteenth novel, and a number of them are award-winners.

I have done what any reasonable person would tell you not to--write novels in multiple genres. Under the big umbrella of Clean Romance, I've written Contemporary Faith Fiction, Suspense, Time Travel, and Humorous Sci Fi. What can I say? I like variety!

I returned to Children's Books last summer and got stories, songs, and poems I've had laying around for years illustrated. Three of these are my Sing-a-Story books for birth to 3-years-old, created from songs I made up for my boys when they were toddlers. Another is Going Home, an Early Reader book about a young boy who has to go back to the city after a summer in the country. The last is my pride and joy--a book simply called Cats--filled with twenty watercolor cat portraits painted by moi, illustrating a fun poem about the nature and activities of our feline friends. I couldn't get this one done with Print On Demand (long story) so I have TONS of them! If you're a cat lover, please (I'm begging you!) please buy one and rescue me from a sea of boxes!

You can find out all about my books, art, and other creations at

In The Spotlight: Barbara Stafford



Wow, that sounds easy! When my older sister and I asked Mom to teach us how to cook as young children, that was her response. My sister nodded and headed toward the kitchen with cookbooks to plan a meal. My takeaway, on the other hand, was that Mom couldn’t read! We were raised on Hamburger Helper and TV dinners. She couldn’t cook so it was clear that Mom couldn’t read! I kept that secret to myself for years until the truth came out….she just didn’t like to cook! Well, the cooking gene clearly skipped a generation and my sister and I still love to cook! We all still laugh about our mom, now age 90, who CAN read! As she’ll tell you, her favorite thing to make is reservations!

Fast forward a few years, I am now an award-winning author of two cookbooks! My husband encouraged me to write them. He heard our friends ask for my dinner party recipes and menus after having them over. It only made sense to him that I start a cookbook with complete dinner party menus, so I did. Venturing down that path, I realized how much I love appetizers as I put two into each dinner party menu. That was the brainstorm for the second cookbook.

I am a home-cook who loves food and who has taken and taught many cooking classes over the years. I don’t believe a person can own too many cookbooks. I love to create meals with many colors, textures and flavors to make the food both interesting and beautiful. We eat with our eyes first! Being invited into a home is special and food is a beautiful way to share time together. Finding out a guest’s food preferences and allergies are key to making a dinner work.

Ask before the date! This I learned the hard way when I had prepared a beautiful beef tenderloin meal…for a vegetarian! Oops!

Becoming an author was a circuitous route. I majored in Psychology in college, then earned a degree in Dental Hygiene and have worked as a Dental Hygienist for, gulp, 39 years now! Healthy teeth make the meals taste better. I love my day job and am also passionate about food and all it has to offer. Self-publishing has been an eye-opening challenge. I thought the biggest job was writing a book. I have learned a lot about marketing and business these past few years and continue to learn. The culinary journey continues with my willing husband, who is happy to try all my cooking experiments. Like my mom said, “If you can read you can cook!”

Barbara Stafford, author of Eclectic Entertaining – Complete Dinner Party Menus for Busy

People Who Like to Cook and Eclectic Entertaining – Small Plates & Dainty Desserts

In The Spotlight: Judy Kundert


Every author's journey is different. Samantha and the Legend of the Whispering Trees, a middle-grade novel, was the first book that started my writer's life. So many authors have a moment or person who inspired them. Mine was a Commercial Music Producer who came to Universal Recording Studio in Chicago to record his commercial jingles. One day as he was leaving the studio, he turned to me and said, “I had a dream about you last night - you should be a writer."

Then, I moved on from Universal Recording to a new employer at an advertising agency. One cold winter night after work, I was walking down Michigan Avenue, and a copyrighter from the agency stopped me on the street and then he said, "you should be a writer."

After receiving these two messages, I decided to explore writing and signed up for Screen Writing class at Columbia College, Chicago and received a third prompt to become a writer. My instructor was Paul Max Rubenstein, a former Walt Disney employee and co-author of Writing for Media. He gave me continual encouragement for my writing journey. The outcome of the class, my screen writing script became the source for my first women’s fiction novel. After I journeyed from Chicago to Denver, I joined a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s critique group led by Mary Ann Kersten, a very talented inspiration for many Colorado authors.

Now I love the wonders of being a writer. I can research and explore new worlds, new ways to look at life, and new ways to share my discoveries in my children’s books and my women’s fiction novels. And I hope my books bring wonder to my readers.

My personal life influences my writing. My first women’s fiction is an outgrowth of my stewardess life in the 1960s.

Here is a Kirkus review for my first women’s fiction novel Sky Queen:

"Kundert paints a vivid portrait of Katherine's flight attendant world. A thoughtful and sensitively observed tale with a heroine whose adventures are worth following."

And my middle grade novels are my ideas about life to entertain and inspire middle grade kids to see wonders in the world.

Here’s a portion of Bestseller’s review for my new middle grade novel, Abigail and Sego’s Magical Train Ride:

“Abigail and Sego’s Magical Train Ride is a time warp story roller-coasting throughout the Transcontinental Railroad to the present time of 1976 while intermixing lifestyles, events, and influential people of both times. Adding supernatural assistance helps to explain the past in their current time while fulfilling a family’s lifelong dreams. Abigail and Sego’s Magical Train Ride

is a delightful romp for those of us over the half-century mark. Numerous references to people and events of a prior time are enjoyable to remember, such as Nancy Drew books, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Polar Express Line, Ted Nugent, Moon River, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and many references to our country’s western expansion.”

In The Spotlight: Shannon Lawrence


My writing career has followed a different path than many others. It has certainly not looked like the trajectories presented at writing conferences as the norm.

I started out writing novels because that was the only path presented at the time, but I quickly found that I enjoyed the process of short stories: writing them and submitting them. It’s a roller coaster system, where a quick turnaround time is beneficial. Got a rejection? Turn that puppy around and submit it elsewhere. You can’t get published if you’re always sitting on your stories.

When I ventured out to my first writing conference, I left feeling deflated, but inspired and determined at the same time. At this conference, I got torn apart by an agent notorious for being what she called “honest,” but what I now know as unnecessarily nasty. I volunteered at the conference that year, and was hooked on the feeling of community, so I kept doing it year after year.

Those years taught me a lot about the writing world, about agents and editors, and about community. They also put me in a position to be there for new authors getting their first eye-opening experiences about what the writing world really looked like, and I thrived on passing that along and being there to lift them up after they were knocked down.

During those years, I shelved that first novel, wrote a second novel, and submitted short stories to various markets. I also introduced the idea of short stories being a valid part of an author’s experience to that original conference, as well as others. I was suddenly being invited to speak at conferences and to appear at events, when I’d thought that would never happen until I was a published novelist. Those first few events I almost tip-toed in, afraid someone would tell me I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t a real author since I was only published in short story markets, but that never happened. Instead, I found I was accepted like everyone else, and even that people were curious about my path and short stories, in general, because they simply weren’t well covered at writing conferences. Everything I had learned about short stories had been self-taught. That was an ongoing problem for others, as well. I felt there was no reason that should be so.

Since then, I’ve self-published several short story collections and a non-fiction book on the business of short stories, as well as formulating new workshops, with the hope of giving aspiring writers another path for their own writing careers. I’ve continued speaking on that topic and others. My short stories led to me winning a scholarship from the Horror Writer’s Association last year, which I’ve used to help continue my writing education by attending conferences and online workshops.

Going forward, I intend to continue honing my short stories, but also return to the novel form. I fully believe in always learning and growing in one’s career, and that applies here just as much as to my day job. Short stories have allowed me to play and learn in multiple genres; novel writing is my next playground.

In The Spotlight: Laurie Weiss


My career as an author is inextricably combined with my 50-year career as psychotherapist, management consultant and coach. My portfolio includes 13 self-help books, several ebooks and numerous professional and public articles. My focus is to make complex information accessible to anyone. My work has been translated into German, Chinese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Arabic and Italian.

I have been published by traditional publishers, co-operative publishers and independently. Currently, I publish under my own imprint, Empowerment Systems Books. I know of over 62,000 sales but stopped counting some time ago.

These facts astonish me as does most of the trajectory of my life. Starting out with an undergraduate degree in biology, chemistry and English literature, I expected to work for a few years and settle down and raise children. It did not work out that way. I have been blessed with and taken advantage of extraordinary opportunities.

I have studied with masters of psychotherapy, spirituality, consulting, marketing, copywriting, and pretty much anything else that caught my interest. Along the way I earned an MA in Psychology and a PhD in Health and Human Services. I have traveled extensively and taught professionals in 13 countries. And I didn’t plan any of it very much in advance of it happening.

I do have a wonderful husband (62 years), children and grandchildren.

My unexpected writing career started because I was invited to share some of the exciting things I was learning and teaching. I wrote short articles, published in organization newsletters and journals. I also wrote a chapter in another professional’s book.

I did learn to write clearly in High School and won a state essay contest as well, but I certainly had no illusions that I was or would become an author. I asked one of my favorite authors and teachers to write a book expanding her work and she told me “You write it.” I didn’t.

Writing was still difficult and painful. Then, in an amazing 3-hour workshop, I learned to discard most of the rules I had ever learned about writing and write to find out what I was thinking. Wow! The search for a publisher of my first book resulted in a 2-inch-thick file of rejection letters.

One of my trainees, an aspiring psychotherapist who worked as an editor, proposed that we exchange my training for her reviewing the manuscript with me. I owe the skill she helped me develop to the huge success of

my first published book, Recovery from CoDependency: It’s Never Too Late to Reclaim Your Childhood. The book we edited together was published next as I Don’t Need therapy, but Where Do I Turn for Answers?

12 years ago I intended to retire but was sidetracked into learning, teaching and ultimately writing about an exciting new European process for rapidly releasing stress, anxiety and other barriers to enjoying life. I am still involved.

Winner of the 2022 Summer Reading Contest: Virginia White


Looking Through the Rearview Mirror and to the Road Ahead

How does a struggling young reader end up constantly reading? What’s more, how does this struggling young reader end up as an author? Love of stories and determination make that happen.

What are my current writing projects?

First of all, I want to finish Thorns, Thistles, and Love, my great grandmother’s pioneer journey through Kansas and Nebraska. It has been a labor of love and a huge learning curve for me.

Secondly, launching Paxton Plays the Piccolo, a picture book that my oldest daughter and I wrote, is what we both are eager to see. It should be out soon. A portion of the sales will go to the Larimer County Animal Shelter.

Thirdly, I am wrestling with a few ideas for a Tulip’s Disappearing Act sequel, a new Little Honker book, or using a few memory sketches from Anna’s story for kids. As usual, I keep thinking of “what about” possibilities.

What lead me to my particular writing projects?

Moving and sorting through boxes gave me the idea for my Little Honker series. I discovered a short story that my youngest daughter wrote called, “The Cat That Went Honk,” and I asked her if I might play around with the idea. I combined that with the memory of our female Siamese cat giving birth to six kittens on our bed. Thus, my Little Honker series began.

My father-in-law’s veterinarian practice, my sister-in-law’s creativity, and skunk research assisted me in creating the Margie series. Skunks do much more than provide the famous Skunk Perfume! They are myopic, hence the spray when frightened, but also excellent for the environment.

Writing with my Creative Writing students gave me the idea for my critter series. It also gave me the idea for Tulip’s Disappearing Act when I remembered “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” and wrote the poem called “The Bridge” about a trick I played on my younger brother. Our trip to Norway was the perfect way for me to flesh out that story.

The Pandemic gave me the idea for Mixing Up Some Happiness because everyone was cooking favorite recipes at home. The book is filled with yummy and creative ways of giving you a little comfort when you need it. I received more submissions than I ever imagined and have loved trying them out! The stories submitted with each recipe make you want to just sit down and

read the recipe book like a collection of short stories.

What are my biggest challenges?

Marketing is a huge challenge for me. I am not very good at it and find that it takes much time away from family and writing. In spite of this, I did win awards for both my Margie books, all of my critter books, and Tulip’s Disappearing Act. You have to enter a contest to get an award and I failed to do that with my Little Honker books.

This state is wrapped in talent and I feel fortunate to be a part of such an amazing group. Because I am constantly reading and writing, I seek out this state’s talent to inspire me.

Matthew J. Meagher


My name is Matthew John Meagher, and I have an MFA in Creative Writing from Regis University. I specialize in first-person YA, and my target audience is typically older high school to adults. I compose narratives that are accessible to every reader, but content for any age, and my readers follow me for this reason. My narratives approach societal challenges, such as demographical contention, familial hurdles, LGBTQ+, PTSD, and substance abuse. I also incorporate contemporary language.

It seems to work, as I am the 2021 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Book Awards Winner in Best Juvenile/YA for my novel, “Irish Town.” I am also a Colorado Author’s League Award Winner. “Irish Town” has been distinguished as a favorite in the New York City Big Book Awards. Recently, “Irish Town” won first place in the Readers Views Literary Awards. I have been published twice with short stories as well in both 34th Parallel Magazine (2020) and Fterota Logia Magazine (2021). I have a new publication published in 2022 with Solstice Literary Magazine. 

I have over 6,000 followers across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You may inquire about my reviews on my website at​

Matthew John Meagher



Facebook: Matt.Meagher.12

Tik Tok: mattmeagher0 

Iona Morrison


Life has a way of creating new avenues for us. After raising my three sons, with time on my hands, I had the desire to reinvent myself. Along with that desire came the long-held goal to write a book. A dream I had tucked away many years prior.

           When my husband went out of state to work for ten months, I began an online writing class through the University of Connecticut called Breaking into Print. The course took me through the elements of fiction and non-fiction. I thought for sure I would write a non-fiction self-help book. What I found was that I loved writing fiction. This gal who never watched or read a mystery found herself in a genre where she had never dared to go before. It fit with my personality and who I’ve always been as far back as I can remember. The teacher told me in that class that my stories had legs and he recommended that I try the novel writing class. So, I did.

           I began writing my first book The Harvest Club in that class. A story idea that was handed to me by the custodian on a new job when she told me, “You know we have a church ghost here.” My imagination went to work and the element of the paranormal and romance seeped into my mystery. I was off and writing.

           Mary, one my teachers, had a way of encouraging me while slapping me upside my head. She could criticize my writing and have me laughing at the same time. Now that’s a real gift. Encouraged by her when the book was finished to query on it, I took the chance. She gave me the name of a few publishers to query and submit my manuscript to. I accepted a contract with The Wild Rose Press.

           Though my books are romantic fantasy fiction I have a real method for why I write the stories I do. In my own strange way, I answer the question through my heroes what would happen if we were aware of what really is happening around us. In the process I touch upon subjects that are important to me.

           Writing fiction has been eye opening for me. It allows me to tell the human story in a way that I can envision it while making me more aware of my human connection and the world in which I live. A kind of therapy, if you will, it helps me come to terms with what I see happening around me. Through fictional characters I can deal with tough subjects in a way that is hopefully entertaining, and the story becomes a part of me in the process. I lose myself in the writing and find myself there too.

           When I’m tempted to believe I haven’t accomplished anything I remind myself that I have ten books, two novellas, and book eleven due out this year all in the past eight years. All my books have finished in the top ten in the Critters Readers Poll. Key to the Past, and As the Page Turns were both finalists in the CAL Awards in 2021 and 2022 respectfully. Searching For Closure, won a Book Excellence Award, was a CAL Award Winner this year and received a Firebird Book Award. I’ve made the Amazon Best Seller List which is a short window in time. I’m no diva when it comes to my work, I am a member of CAL and look forward to meeting more of you.

            I’m grateful for any recognition my books get, I’m most thankful for the readers who read them and tell me what they think. I’ve found that I simply love to paint a story using words. From the the first line to the end, I’m hooked and can’t wait to see where my characters will take me. Iona Morrison, Mystery Writer

Jim and Stephanie Kroepfl

Jim & Stephanie Kroepfl

We often think of the quote, “If you want to know what something really does, watch it when it isn’t doing anything.” We always knew we would write, but about ten years ago, we found ourselves with time on our hands and a window to do just about anything we wanted. So, what did we do? Stephanie started a novel and Jim went back to college to take English courses. Not quite the going-to-graduate-school or living-abroad ideas that we always thought we’d do when we had the chance.


Then, after years of running up to our cabin to write on the weekends, we finally moved up to Grand Lake and wrote as much as we could. Short stories, novels, and articles filled our days, and we pitched literally hundreds of agents.


Finally, our debut YA novel, Merged, was published by Month9Books in late 2019, just before the Covid epidemic. It was such a bittersweet time. Soon after our book came out, all the bookstores and libraries closed, book festivals and writers conferences were canceled, and schools weren’t allowing any author visits. But we learned how to connect in new ways with Zoom. All of a sudden, we could meet with people from all over the country, which was wonderful since we live in such a remote place.


We also discovered that awards are a good alternative way to promote your book. When Covid shut everything down, we decided to enter Merged into as many contests we could. To our surprise, Merged has won over twenty awards, including the CAL award for Childrens/Juvenile Fiction. Each award came with a promotion opportunity.


The question we get asked most is how do we write together. We live near a lake up in the mountains, which takes about 45 minutes to walk around, which is the perfect amount of time to brainstorm. Then, we storyboard our novel with colored index cards on a big corkboard. Each card has a few words about a scene or chapter, and we note the significant story points: inciting incident, plot point one, the midpoint, plot point two, and the black moment. When the board is about half filled with index cards, we start writing. Stephanie writes in the morning and Jim writes at a coffee shop in the afternoon. Once the first draft is written, we take turns editing it. After twenty revisions, we often don’t recall who originally wrote what.


We love to speak and are excited that conferences and festivals are back. Our most recent talk was on Creating Memorable Characters. We learned so much writing it, and had the best time when presenting it for the first time at the recent Northern Colorado Writers conference. We can’t wait to put together the next one.


Our next project is a middle grade contemporary novel that takes place in a small mountain town in Colorado. This seems to be the story with nine lives. It was our third manuscript that we had written years ago, and it had been rejected by over ninety agents. We decided to do one more round of edits and go out one last time. We must have finally gotten it right, because we got three offers of representation. The novel didn’t sell right, but our agent went out with it again this year and found an interested publisher. So, if you believe in a story, don’t give up.


Of course, writing organizations are essential for a lonely activity like writing. We’re sure we wouldn’t’ still be at it if not for the support and camaraderie of the writing groups we’re involved with. We’re members of CAL, SCBWI and Northern Colorado Writers, and Stephanie is currently on the Colorado Authors League Board. Getting involved is a wonderful way to find your tribe and stay motivated.



Wendy Terrien


Like many authors, writing has long been a part of my life. When I was young, I remember wanting to write my own story after reading The Ghost of Dibble Hollow, and I did just that. In retrospect, I realize my story was a bit too close to the original – ghost of a boy on a farm who needed assistance from his living cousin. I did hand write the entire story, so clearly, I was committed to my project, but writing as a career wasn’t encouraged.


Years later, before I was grown-up-serious about my writing, I wrote a fairy tale as a gift for my mom’s birthday where I used elements from her childhood – her friends and family members, pets she shared her life with, activities she enjoyed, foods she loved, etc., incorporated into a fantasy world. I remember the thrill of the story coming together, how it almost felt like magic, and I adored every minute. The story is even more special now since my mom has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Those memories have a special place to live on.


But still, I set writing aside as a “someday I will” thing I’d do again. Being laid off from a job about fifteen years later was the trigger that helped me rediscover my passion for creating stories. I embraced the time I had and dove into learning everything I could about writing and publishing, including attending my first writers’ conference: Pikes Peak Writers. The education was stimulating and the people I met were amazing. Even though it was all new to me, I felt like I belonged.


The idea for my first book came from a television show where they mentioned “Chupacabras” and “cryptozoologists.” Not knowing what those things were, and being the curious type, I Googled the terms, went down the relative rabbit hole, learned a ton, then started musing on how creatures like Big Foot and, yes, Chupacabras, could live amongst humans without being discovered. From there, The Rampart Guards was born, the first book in my Jason Lex urban fantasy series. Good things can come from watching television.  (Click for a free and easy download of The Rampart Guards, if you are so inclined.)


There are now four books in the Jason Lex series with the fifth and final book to be finished later this year. Right now, I’m writing my first psychological thriller with a female serial killer and I’m exhilarated about how this is stretching me in a new direction. It’s a great challenge, a lot of work, and I’m excited about how the story is developing.


Writing feels like a gift to me. The adage is true – hard work doesn’t feel like work when you’re doing something you love. In fact, it feels like magic.


Bruce Most named 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

Bruce Most 2013 close up

By Doug Hawk

Congratulations to long-time CAL member and past CAL President Bruce Most for being selected to receive CAL’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bruce joined Colorado Authors’ League in 1979, and his contributions to the organization cannot be over-looked or minimized. Beginning immediately after joining, Bruce spent many years serving on the CAL Board, holding positions as president, vice president, historian, and several terms as the CAL Awards chair. Back in the days when CAL held monthly luncheons, summer picnics and the annual Awards Banquet, Bruce was always present, always involved and always willing to do what needed to be done.

Bruce has had an enormous impact on CAL well beyond his active participation on the board and his long writing career. He is a friend to all. He interacts with other writers on an honest and open basis and is an unwavering voice for reason, unity and inclusion. Always available to offer advice and encouragement, Bruce is frequently the first to greet a new member, quick to introduce them to others in the organization and never disparages or belittles another writer’s efforts. 

Bruce is one of those courageous writers who built his career as a freelancer without the benefit of a “day job”. Following his stint in the U.S. Army as a public information writer stationed in Alaska, he immediately began working as a freelance writer. A stranger to the corporate environment, Bruce spent his career working from his home office. He was editor of the Journal of Financial Planning, a publication of the Financial Planning Association. In that capacity, he wrote more than a thousand articles on a wide variety of topics within the arena of consumer financial planning. Subsequently, many of these pieces were included in The Encyclopedia of Financial Planning.

Additionally, during his career Bruce freelanced articles to national magazines including Parade, TV Guide, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Travel & Leisure and American Way. It was to the latter that he sold a profile of past CAL President and long-time member the late Clive Cussler. He also ghost wrote the self-help book, THE POWER OF CHOICE, an opportunity that arose from his connections as a CAL member.

In the 1990s, Bruce published two well-received mystery novels, BONDED FOR MURDER and MISSING BONDS, featuring tough-as-iron bail bonds-woman Ruby Dark. His 2015 mystery novel, ROPE BURN, received high praise as well as a CAL Award for best genre novel as did MURDER ON THE TRACK, his first Joe Stryker mystery novel set in post-World War II Denver. It was followed by a sequel, THE BIG DIVE. In addition to his novels, three of his nonfiction articles were recognized for CAL Awards. 

Besides his CAL membership, Bruce is a long-time member of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. 

On his website, Bruce has a particularly insightful observation: “Writers without readers is like wine without alcohol.”

Bruce will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at CAL’s annual awards ceremony on June 19th.

Watch Bruce's Lifetime Achievement Award Video

Becky Clark


I came to the writing game kind of late. It never occurred to me as a kid that I could write books. I was an avid reader, but as God is my witness, I did not make the connection that a real person was behind each of my beloved Nancy Drews. (As an adult, I’m real-life friends with someone who wrote some of those and her name is not Carolyn Keene which would have blown my widdle mind.)

When my kids were very young, I had a home daycare. In an effort to keep my brain from turning to mush, at naptime I’d race to my Mac Classic with the postage-stamp-sized screen and tap out personal essays a la Erma Bombeck. On a whim, I sent one off to a magazine and they sent me back $50. I was hooked.

My kids were always avid readers and we had regular trips to the library, toting home an obscene number of books each time. But one time my son was disappointed to find he’d read all the historical fiction for kids. I helped him search, but he was right … he’d read it all. As we were leaving, he looked up at me with plaintive eyes. “Why don’t you just write one, Mom?”

So I did.

That was in 2001 and I was hooked again.

In addition to this middle grade historical fiction, I wrote a middle grade time travel romp that I describe as “Quantum Leap meets Peabody and Sherman.” I wrote a YA mystery series with a synesthetic main character who was in the marching band and tasted music. I wrote some middle grade and YA standalones, one of which I’ll revisit and republish in the adult mystery realm because it’s a fictionalized version of my grandmother’s story that I want to explore further.

But I left the kidlit world behind me and have been happily ensconced in the adult mystery genre ever since. I’m firmly in the hybrid author universe, publishing mysteries both traditionally and independently. At this time I have two Dunne Diehl novels, three Crossword Puzzle Mysteries, and four Mystery Writers Mysteries. I’m working on a new 15-book (!!) crossover series featuring the mother of my protagonist in my Mystery Writers series. Overzealous? Perhaps. Fun? Absolutely.

I also have some nonfiction under my belt: some cookbooks, a guide for parents to help their reluctant readers advance and enjoy reading more, and a book about my writing process, EIGHT WEEKS TO A COMPLETE NOVEL—WRITE FASTER, WRITE BETTER, BE MORE ORGANIZED, which was lucky enough to win the prestigious Colorado Authors League 2021 Award of Excellence, something I’m supremely proud of.

So, when someone says, “Why don’t you just write one?” go ahead and say yes.

If you’re interested in sampling my funny mysteries, I have FICTION CAN BE MURDER downloadable for free at

GaGa Gabardi and Judilee Butler

GaGa Babardi & Judilee Butler

Once upon a time in a small mountain mining town high in the thin air of the Colorado Rockies, two old ladies got their future determined! It was a Saturday morning in the fall of 2019 at the Leadville Mining Museum. The Chaffee County Writers Exchange gathered in an “off limits to the public" dusty, cluttered, unused room to write creepy mysteries in the setting of the museum’s historical context. And write they did. Two mysteries were created and these newbie writers were encouraged by the talented folks at the table to blend the tales into one powerful short story. The characters were born, the setting jelled, and the yellow brick

road was laid. 

With that, Judilee left the country for France. The reality of distance hit. Ugh. Now co-located at hundreds of miles apart, we’ve been forced to use technology to enable our writing, editing, and overall collaboration. Thankfully the world has Google. And then there’s FaceTime for the body language when one of us is not pleased. We owe a huge thank you to Laurel McHargue who introduced narrative arc. GaGa called Judilee, "Have you ever heard of this?"; Never too late to learn albeit a slower process than it was for us fifty years ago. LOL

When we won the honor of a spotlight article for CAL, we were at a loss as to what to say about a writing duo who had no plan to become published authors at seventy plus years. It’s important to note that sometimes life deals us the cards for new adventures IF we are open to what is the 'illogical." Not planned. Not studied. Not

expected. Not trained. Just go with it. If we fail, what happens? We'll go to the next chapter. Check that box.

The genre of light mystery was determined on that fateful Saturday morning in the museum. Our nervous energies crackle and the upshot is humor. If the reader gets a chuckle, so much the better! Move into other genres? You bet. If we live long enough (always reality lurking), we want a prequel for the Phoebe Korneal series, then a swipe at romance, and a light perspective in chick lit. We both appreciate the historical settings along the Rockies. The characters there are beckoning, "Come closer."

We are faced with the usual struggles of any writer, but there are two of us to double up the "overthink" on every detail. We've published Books 1 and 2 in the Phoebe Korneal series, The Last Hurrah and The Last Slide. To complete the trilogy, we are working on Book 3, The Last Line. Thanks to Covid, we discovered a mutual love of storytelling but then go forth to creatively overuse the words and, that, and she, she, she along with random commas. What's the world without editors?

A grandson was born in 2012 and GaGa began. Thanks B. As Jean Gabardi, (seated in the picture) I hail from the Midwest. Thanks to Ma Bell, I retired out of telecom equipped with two Master's Degrees and did another career in teaching—illogical! We reside in Buena Vista and Manitou Springs.

In 2019, Judilee was created out of Judy Butler. I am born, raised, and retired on the East Coast. With an undergraduate degree, I began teaching in elementary education. After completing a Master’s degree, I did an illogical jump into a marketing career in technology and retired from IBM. We now live in Buffalo, Wyoming,

and Melbourne, Florida.

We are somewhere on the learning spectrum and thanks to CAL the curve is lessened, the learning deepened, and the fun continues. 

The end. . .or is it?

Jennie MacDonald

Jennie MacDonald

When Jennie MacDonald encountered the homonyms "to," "too," and "two" in first grade, she could hear the difference between them and knew she loved words. She soon completed her first book, a collection of stories dazzlingly titled Yummy Pumpkin Pie and Other Stories (which included the showstopping “The Story of Jewelry”). It still holds pride of place in a box somewhere in a basement cupboard. A family friend gave her a set of Oz books, "and that has made all the difference," as Robert Frost said. Love for words and for reading have combined with interests ranging from fairy tales to astronomy to archeology to eighteenth-century Gothic literature to result in a writing habit devoted to the beautiful, the fanciful, the eerie, and the scientifically informed. 

Now a world traveler and PhD with a house full of books, Jennie's also an award-winning author and photographer. Her poetry, short stories, and photographs have been featured in many literary journals. Her plays have been produced locally and nationally. Other publications include academic articles and an edited collection concerning 18th and 19th century Gothic literature, theatre, and visual and material culture. Current projects include a Gothic novel, eerie children’s stories, and a radio play series.

John Keats remains a profound historical influence, as does Ann Radcliffe, Horace Walpole, Emily Dickinson, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, L. Frank Baum, J.R.R. Tolkien, Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Shirley Jackson, and Richard Peck. Contemporary favorites include Philip Pullman, Alan Bradley, Christopher Fowler, Kate Atkinson, Kate Morton, Tana French, Lauren Groff, Neil Gaiman, and Amy Rowland. Jennie's deeply committed to the natural world and a lifelong Hubble Space Telescope fan (she can’t wait to see what the James Webb Space Telescope discovers) and loves learning about curious things, like "Mummy brown,” a color of paint valued by the Pre-Raphaelites, which was made from the flesh of ground-up Egyptian mummies. She shares Edgar Allan Poe's birthday of January 19th, and that might explain a lot.


She was once asked, “What makes a great novel?” Her response: “A great novel partners with the reader as a host, a companion, and a magician who never reveals everything but expects and requires the reader to be an active participant. The story and characters need each other and develop in compelling ways. A great novel has expectations and elevates without intimidating. The style and language are sustained for the duration, and the conclusion is absolutely gratifying but leaves a glimmer of the unknown for the reader to savor and delight in.”

Jennie is currently reading All The Lives We Ever Lived by Katharine Smyth.

Virginia White: Winner of the 2021 Summer Reading Program

When I wonder how I went from a struggling reader to guiding AP Literature students toward success on the exam to becoming a published author, I realize it was sheer determination and hard work, both inspired by my parents.

As a kid I loved stories. Reading them was a challenge because I was never taught phonics. Through trial and error I taught myself what I could and eventually found myself reading with a flashlight under the covers after it was “lights out.”

My confidence in reading and writing can be attributed to Mr. Kloefkorn during my sophomore year in college. When I received an A on my original short story and he told me that I should submit it to The Flintlock, Wesleyan’s literary magazine, I decided I might actually have strength in my writing. By my senior year, I decided I wanted to write stories for children. I wanted them to be fun as well as educational.

I was armed with what I thought would be the answer for struggling readers after I received my Master’s Degree. Boy, was I wrong. The students taught me! I had two classes of “Leisure Learners” who did not want to take English, a four-year requirement. Trial and error again and then one day a student came in and said. “I think you’ve got it, Mrs. White.” Yea for me.

I developed the class further and put it into two more schools. I moved on to teach World Humanities, Creative Writing, AP Literature, and Freshman English. I became the English Department Coordinator in two schools. I was hired to develop an English curriculum at Eaglecrest High School before we actually moved to Colorado.

The idea of writing my own poems and stories began with the reading of both. Use of language intrigued me. Words gave me a vision. I wanted to be able to create a vision with my own words.

Not only does reading inspire me, but I love to observe—people, actions, dialogue, any details that develop a character or a scene. I wonder what goes on inside a person’s head or inside a house. What IS that story?  What is the motivation for characters to do what they do?  My imagination has a good time with possibilities. 

Ideas come to me in the shower, in the car, right before I go to sleep, when I watch a movie, when I read –anything! I jot ideas down, let them simmer, and then I play with various scenarios until something clicks. The best time for me to express those ideas is early morning. It’s quiet and I feel refreshed. 

There is something inside me that urges a story. After I play with a number of “what ifs,” I flesh  out the “what if” I think works the best—again and again until I feel it is a good fit. I try them out on others and make changes if I think that is the best avenue. It pleases me to know that my words and ideas have made a positive impact upon the reader.

Besides reading and writing, I enjoy spending time with my family and three rescue cats.

Virginia has lived in South Dakota, Nebraska, South Carolina, Nebraska again, and Wyoming before settling in Colorado, where she has lived with her husband Warren for 31 years. She taught at Eaglecrest until 2002 then transferred to Cherry Creek High School before retiring in 2008. She has two daughters and three grandchildren. She won this opportunity for a spotlight in our newsletter and on the website by reading the most pages of books by CAL authors during our CAL Summer Reading Program.