Sarah Maury Swan is a dynamic personality who has the can-do spirit that allows her to achieve her goals. Becoming an author and connecting with other authors is one of her passions. With the help of her friends Julie McKeon who runs the New Bern Farmers Market and Michelle Garren Flye owner of the Next Chapter Book and Art Store she has put together close to 40 authors and vendors for our third Author Sunday!
Also at this event you will find David Smith, a retired Marine, husband and proud father who converted a 1998 school bus into a food truck. Meet the Burger Bus! Craft burgers and more to delight your palate!
If you’re thirsty try Sippin’ Sunshine with an array of artisan teas and lemonade brought to you by New Bern native Nicole Houston. Nicole is wife, mother and entrepreneur. She has a Master’s in Public Administration but found her calling in making people smile with her tasty drinks. She is right at home at the Author Sunday because she loves to read!
If you’re looking for your next favorite book or a gift for the upcoming holidays, come out to the New Bern Farmers Market Sunday, October 29th, 1 to 4 pm.
Many authors will have more than just books for sale and some will share excerpts from their books during reading sessions.
Welcome Jessica to my Creekside Café. I am excited to get to know you better! From your bio I learned you were a tattoo artist in New York and then backpacked your way around Europe, now that sounds like a few interesting stories right there.
Jessica: Hello Sherri! Thanks for having me on.
I tattooed for three years, working my way from an apprenticeship to becoming a full-fledged tattoo artist. Ultimately the industry was a bit rough for me, but it was a good learning experience. As for stories, I do have a silly anecdote. One coworker’s young daughter named their dogs Chaos and Discord. They got out occasionally, so passersby would see this big biker guy running down the street shouting, “Chaos! Discord!” which was probably alarming for those not in the know.
As for backpacking through Europe, that was a lot of fun. I saved for two years to afford the travel expenses and time off work, but it was worth every penny. If you ever want to backpack on a budget, I highly suggest finding opportunities to work for room and board. The WorkAway app connects volunteers with hosts. For half of the trip, my homebase was a hostel in Budapest, where I ran the front desk part time. From there, I could travel to other countries whenever I had a couple of days off.
Sherri: Your debut novel, Stem & Stone was released in September, and you have another book coming out in January but it’s not a sequel, is that correct? Will you have a sequel to Stem & Stone?
Jessica: You’re right that Light Step, the January 16, 2024 release, is not a sequel to Stem & Stone. They do take place in the same universe though, and I have another novel I’m working on that ties them together. I also have a sequel for Stem & Stoneoutlined but it’s not a project I’m working on at the moment. There are some other manuscripts I’d like to finish revising first.
Sherri: What inspired this unique story? Tell our audience how this idea came about and why you chose to write young adult fantasy versus adult fiction. Your upcoming novel is adult fiction, we’ll talk about it in a few minutes, but tell us about Stem & Stone.
Jessica: I was reading about J.R.R. Tolkien when I first began conceptualizing the plot of Stem & Stone. He’d set out to write a fable, and that sounded like an interesting project. Stem & Stoneis more my contemporary fairy tale, than a fable though.
The first draft was for me, and while I researched a great deal to flesh out the characters and setting, I didn’t give any thought to how the story would be marketed, once published. It was several drafts later when I began seriously thinking about getting the story out to a wider audience. While learning about the querying process, and what defines the age brackets novels are marketed to, I realized my story didn’t cleanly fit into any age category. Petra, the protagonist, is eleven, which would indicate this as a middle grade story. However, there were some scenes that parents might deem inappropriate for today’s children.
I altered the story to better fit the middle grade market, but those changes understated the themes. Finally, I ran in the other direction, leaning heavily into the darkness. Due to the inclusion of violence and gore, Stem & Stone is for young adults or older readers. I prefer writing fiction for adults because nothing needs to be softened.
Sherri: Now, your upcoming novel, Light Step is a bit different, an adult fabulism, (I had to think about the meaning of that for a minute.) Why the change in genres? What are you hoping readers get from Light Step and how does this differ from Stem & Stone other than the reader’s age?
Jessica: I’ve found I don’t have strong preferences regarding the genres I write. I keep a running list of potential plots and delve into whichever seems most promising, until that draft is complete. I have many manuscripts on the backburner, awaiting revisions, and they include paranormal fiction, epistolary horror, an attempt at a family saga, etc.
Fabulism and magical realism are my favorite genres to read though, and I’ve found that my adult protagonists often have a more contemporary, grounded, setting than my younger protagonists. I read a lot of fantasy when I was growing up so that’s probably a factor.
Haruki Murakami’s novels have a dreamlike quality and that’s what I hoped to achieve with Light Step, whereas Stem & Stoneshould be unsettling.
Sherri: You are a graphics artist and I see that you and Victoria Moxley worked together to design the cover of Stem & Stone. How was it working with a partner to create your cover? What does the cover convey? How does it help a reader find your book in a sea of other YA dark fantasy books?
Jessica: I went to college for graphic design, and while I enjoy the more illustrative aspects of the industry, I found that the majority of graphic design jobs provide less creative freedom than I desire from a workplace. So I’m more of a commercial artist, and sometimes a fine artist, than a graphics artist nowadays.
When Victoria and I first discussed the book cover for Stem & Stone, I explained how, because digitally illustrated covers have flooded the marketplace, I have a preference for tangible illustrations. I love paper craft, and provided an inspiration Pinterest folder showcasing book covers using this medium, but stated that I was open to other mediums. I sent her a picture of a paper craft illustration I’d made of the St’Avgull, a magical flower that serves as a portal in Stem & Stone. She found the craft to be of quality and suggested we use it in the cover design.
Sherri: Have you been to Iceland? What was your experience like? Or why did you choose Iceland for the setting of the beginning of your story?
Jessica: I haven’t been to Iceland yet but it is absolutely a goal! Culturally, they allow for the possibility that elves exist, so it seemed like the perfect setting for a fairy tale. Their government protects sites of supernatural significance so when I eventually visit, I plan to tour some of those.
Sherri: You published your book with Tea With Coffee Media, what was your experience like? If another writer came up to you and asked about publishing with Tea With Coffee, what would you say to them?
Jessica: I’ve had a very positive experience publishing with Tea With Coffee Media. Aside from how (very) professionally they conduct all official business, they also host monthly marketing lessons for authors, which I’ve greatly benefited from. Whenever a writer mentions they’re looking to publish, I suggest they check out Tea With Coffee Media.
Sherri: You are a fantastic artist. Do you design covers for other authors? Does your art factor into your writing? Is there a connecting theme between your writing and your visual art?
Jessica: Thank you! I haven’t designed book covers for other authors but I would be open to the idea, if an author contacted me proposing a project. My art background has factored into some of my writing. One of the back-burnered manuscripts has an artist as the protagonist, but I’ve also found that I tend to be precise when describing colors and textures. And, of course, I enjoy making illustrations to accompany my writing.
Sherri: How long have you been writing and when did you know you wanted to be a published author?
Jessica: I always wanted to be part of the literary world, but growing up, I didn’t think I had the stamina to finish writing a book. With a passion for art, I went into graphic design planning to become a book cover designer after graduating—which didn’t exactlypan out. I was living in Albany NY, which isn’t quite a publishing hotspot, and as a non-driver, I was very limited in where I could work.
I wrote my first novel in the summer of 2012, when I was working at a resort, right before entering my senior year at the College of Saint Rose. The story was a mess but it proved to me I could at least meet the word count. From then on, I had the idea that I might one day publish but I wasn’t actively looking into how to go about doing that. I wrote Stem & Stone in 2018, as my NaNoWriMo project, and I began seriously querying it in 2020. It was the third novel I’d written.
Sherri: What are you working on now? Do you have anything else planned?
Jessica: Right now I’m about to jump back into revising Soul Walker, my paranormal fiction. It’s the story that ties Stem & Stone to Light Step and it’s been in the works since 2016. I’d like to see it completed and out in the world.
Sherri: If you enjoyed my chat with Jessica then you can follow her on social media, the links are below and check out her debut novel, Stem & Stone. If you are looking to publish, promote or for book editors or formatters, check out Tea With Coffee Media. https://teawithcoffee.media/
I will be at the Fish and Farm Festival in Aurora Saturday, September 9th. Come by and visit if you’re in town and if you want, you can buy a book. Remy’s Dilemma, the final book in the Harrell Family Chronicles is available along with all of my backlist. Come on out and join the fun. Food vendors, crafters, musicians, games, tractor pull and more. I had so much fun last year. I can’t wait.
After the festival, books will be available at the Blue Crab in Aurora, The Next Chapter Books in New Bern, and as soon as I can get there, the Riverwalk Gallery in Washington. If you want a signed copy of any of my books, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, $16 per book in continental United States.
If you prefer ebooks, my Harrell Family Chronicles are on sale for $1.99 each, don’t miss your chance to get them for this low price. (Regular price $3.99 each)
Do you like Horror Movies?
Carnival of Darkness starts Friday, September 22nd at Raised in a Barn Farm, and continues through Saturday at the historic Turnage Theater where the Haunted Pamlico will be showing submissions to their Carnival of Darkness film competition. With hundreds of film entries from all around the world, live action entertainment, awards and attractions, the Carnival of Darkness starts the haunting season with a true carnival experience. If you love spooky and things that go bump in the night, you won’t want to miss this event!
In honor of my friends at Haunted Pamlico I’m giving away a free ticket to the Carnival of Darkness weekend to one lucky winner, a $25 value. To get your name in the drawing, all you have to do is post a review of any of my books and email me a link to the review(s). The review has to be current 2023. It can be on Amazon, Goodreads or Bookbub. Each review will get another chance to win.
The drawing will be Wednesday, September 20th. The winner’s name will be given and they will be able to pick up their ticket at the event. Good Luck!
Sorry I’ve been absent lately. I have been trying to finish the last book in the Harrell Family Chronicles series, Remy’s Dilemma.
This book should have been out before now but sometimes life gets in the way. No excuses but I do think it will be worth the wait. I hope you agree.
Dive into the town of Leeward one more time and get your goodies at Goodie Galore Bakery. Roxanne and her business partner, Kendra have opened their bakery and are making a sweet impact on the town.
Get you grub at Hole in the Sky Pub where the beer is out of this world. Ethan quit college to brew beer but don’t worry, who needs a fourth degree.
Janie and Mike are finally tying the knot if their wedding doesn’t go up in flames.
If Sothy doesn’t run away, she might make a success of her new craft store.
Remington Harrell is the oldest of the Harrell siblings and the one expected to fix everything. Whether it’s a friend accused of murder or saving the local phosphate plant there’s nothing he can’t do, except relationships. After his last girlfriend threatened to kill his sister and sell her child on the black market, he’s been a little apprehensive about dating. With cyber-attacks on the phosphate plant escalating along with threats to the employees, Remy worries his family and friends will be the next targets. When he realizes the threat comes from someone in Sothy’s past. They must team up to stop the cyber-attacks. But if Sothy isn’t willing to share her secrets, can Remy trust her with his heart?
Welcome BT Harris to my daydream. If I ever get rich, I’d like to have a readers and writers café on the waterfront of my hometown where I can drink coffee or something stronger and talk about books and writing all day long.
What is one of your dreams if you get rich?
BT: One day I hope to start my own nonprofit charity organization called Igor’s Children, which will help mentally ill minors get the treatment they need, including medicine and doctor referrals.
Sherri: That’s a lovely dream and one that is definitely needed.
You recently published your second novel, what was your inspiration? How did you come up with the idea for Beyond Olympus?
BT: The idea came from a very intense and vivid dream. I fell asleep over exhausted, and I was listening to Buddhistic chants and hums. I dreamt I was flying through space and eventually became a star. I woke up and wrote down the contents of the dream and started writing a story the next day.
BT: A graphic novel sounds like an interesting idea, but we will wait to see how well the book is received.
Sherri: Your main character Kristina is an astronomer and Buddhist. What else can you tell us about her? Why is she being entrusted with such cosmic importance?
BT: Kristina is the first human since Buddha himself that had this remarkable potential for growth. Others have tried to learn from Umun (our Sun) but failed to prove themselves completely. These failed students, as we know them, are the ancient gods.
Sherri: I read on your social media that you are also a poet. Which came first, poetry or prose?
BT: I started with both. Most of my early stories are in poetic stanzas. My first book was actually completed thanks to a massive epic poem I wrote to guide me.
Sherri: Do you think poetry helps you write better fiction? I’m always amazed by the way a poet can say so much with so few words.
BT: Oh, certainly. I would not be surprised if there are many smaller forms of writing that writers can practice their skills while trying to finish their first draft.
Sherri: What is it you love about writing fantasy? Do you enjoy creating worlds, unique characters or using magic, or is it something else?
BT: Moreso, the escape into a world where even I have difficulty navigating. A character will speak to me saying that this is over our heads. ‘You mean this is far too much fun for the both of us, let’s bring some enemies in.’
Sherri: It is said that all artists are a bit broken because only the imperfect can create something that will touch your heart. Writing became a way of expressing myself that I wasn’t able to do in real life. Has your writing helped you as well?
BT: No one is completely whole and no one is perfect. Some of us feel on a deeper scale, but who better to quote than Socrates when he said, “The real philosophers are those who love to see the truth.” If I was to broaden his statement to the emotional understanding. If we learn to recognize what we feel inside of us, and how appreciative we are of those who see as much, our hearts can be touched in a remarkable way. Sometimes I am afraid to admit the more I develop a character, they become one of those people I learn to appreciate.
Sherri: When I published my first book, I was terrified and sometimes, I am still afraid, but I make myself do it anyway. Were you afraid to publish your new book? How did you overcome your fears?
BT: I was not afraid to publish. I was afraid of what may come afterwards. There is no overcoming fear, no matter how strong you feel. By accepting the fear, you carry it with less weight.
Sherri: How was it working with Tea with Coffee Media? What was your favorite part of working with TCM? What was your least favorite part? How was it different than when you self-published by in 2015?
BT: TCM was the best experience I had when it came to publishing. My favorite is sharing the responsibility of the book than feeling smothered by all the control through self-publishing.
Sherri: What advice would you give a young author on the verge of publishing their first novel?
BT: Never, never, never, quit. Take a break if you need one. Enjoy life if you think you should grasp it. Just don’t quit.
Sherri: Thank you, BT for sharing your author journey. Best wishes for your writing and the success of Beyond Olympus. If you enjoyed this interview, you can find BT’s book links and social media links below.
Welcome Back Michelle Garren-Flye, author, poet and owner of The Next Chapter Books and Art Store.
Bio: Michelle Garren-Flye is the owner of The Next Chapter Books & Art, editor of The Next Chapter Literary Magazine, a multi-published author of romance, children’s books and poetry. In 2021 she was named the Heart of the Pamlico Poet Laureate. Her recent poetry projects include Learning Curve (December 2023), Hypercreativity: Poems, and 100 Warm Days of Haiku, all part of her Poetry Diaries series. Michelle’s other works include UnSong, Far and wee, and HourGlass, an adult comic book based on her poetry.
Sherri: Welcome back to Creekside Café, Michelle. Michelle is the owner of The Next Chapter Books & Art store in New Bern, North Carolina where I have my books for sale. She is also the Heart of the Pamlico Poet Laureate, where, as the Chairperson of the Pamlico Writers’ Group I was able to see her growth and her competition.
It’s good to have you back. You have accomplished so much since we last spoke, your poetry project and literary magazine, what else have you been up to?
Michelle: Hi Sherri, and thank you so much for having me here. I love any chance to talk about poetry and my store. I’ve mainly been working on poetry projects, expanding the reach of the bookstore and the literary magazine. As far as poetry goes, I’ve now published five books, four of which are illustrated, and a graphic novel based on my poetry. I’m having fun learning and experimenting with different forms of poetry, too. My next project, which should be out later this month, is called Learning Curve, and it’s 50 illustrated villanelles, which was a totally new form for me when I started.
Sherri: Because you have so many projects going on I’m going to ask this question in three parts. What are your plans for the store, your writing and the magazine?
Michelle: Well, the store is of course my main focus. I want the store to be a sort of hub for the literary arts community in Eastern North Carolina. I also welcome other arts like visual and musical. The literary magazine is sort of a way for me to reach out and show people visiting our area what a wonderful area this is artistically. That’s why I want to include all types of art in it from photography and paintings to poetry, essays and short stories. As for my writing, I plan to continue writing poetry and experimenting with different forms. So far I’ve learned a lot about haiku (in 100 Warm Days of Haiku), sonnets (in Far & wee) and villanelles (in Learning Curve). I want to continue challenging myself.
Sherri: You are a seasoned author with several published books and one of the hardest things about being a self-published author is marketing, what are your top three things for getting the word out about your books?
Michelle: The best thing you can do is be available for people to meet. So my store, mainly, for me. I’m really excited about the Authors’ Sunday Book Festival at the New Bern Farmers’ Market on November 20, too. I’m seldom able to participate in festivals like this one because they’re always on Saturdays and I’m at the store. Other than that, I’d say social media, particularly Instagram. But you’ve got to be willing to push these boundaries, too. Record a short reading or otherwise talk to potential readers online. I think TikTok is going to become really important, and I haven’t quite gotten brave enough to try that one. And third, update your blog regularly. Which you are definitely better at than I am!
Sherri: Of all the endeavors you’ve attempted, what was the hardest or most difficult to accomplish? What is the one you are most passionate about?
Michelle: This is a tough one. I think it’s my bookstore for both of those. I want it to be a successful business that will support itself and me, and that’s a tough ask of a bookstore. But I am passionate about preserving it. That bookstore has become a part of me, and as uncertain as this world is, I’m going to do my best to make sure it continues.
Sherri: As a mother, business owner, author and your work with the community, how do you juggle everything? What is your one self-care must have that helps you keep your sanity? (I know, you’re a writer, sanity is not guaranteed.)
Michelle: Sanity most definitely is NOT guaranteed. The one thing I decided about a year and a half ago was that as important as the store is for me, I would put my children first. Their schedules, their needs, their well-being has to come first. So I keep what I call “mom hours”. I keep fairly regular hours (10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to allow for picking my daughter up from school during the week, 10-3 on Saturdays), but it’s not always the hours people want me to be open. I hear a lot of “You’re never open”, but I can’t help that. Until the store reaches a certain point, it will not pay me to hire anyone else, and if I’m worrying about my kids, I can’t put my whole heart into running the store. So, to take care of myself and them, I have to keep my priorities straight. I also take a lot of warm baths.
Sherri: Other than your children, what has been your proudest moment? You’ve accomplished so much in a short amount of time. Choosing one thing might be difficult.
Michelle: Wow, that is hard. I am proud of being the Heart of the Pamlico Poet Laureate, of course. I am proud of all my books and my store. Every literary magazine I put out seems to be better than the last. I think, though, that what I am most proud of is that I continue to learn what I don’t know. In poetry, publishing, bookselling, running a business, even being a mom, there’s so much I don’t know yet, but I’m still capable and willing to learn.
Sherri: What would you tell a young or not so young writer who is thinking about giving up?
Michelle: Don’t bother. If you’re a real writer, you’re not going to be able to give up writing. It may never pay your bills, and you’ll probably always have to have a “real” job, but writing isn’t something a writer can give up.
Sherri: Thank you Michelle for being with us again. It is always a pleasure visiting with you. If y’all enjoyed our interview, you can find Michelle at The Next Chapter Books & Art at 320 South Front Street in New Bern. She is also one of the featured authors at the Book Festival Sunday, November 20th, at the New Bern Farmers Market 421 South Front Street, New Bern, NC.
What attracts you? Like anything else from choosing a spouse to picking out a new outfit, the first attraction is what we see. Book covers are the same. We reach for what appeals to us visually? The pretty ones get chosen first. Isn’t always the case? Not with people maybe, we’ve all met those characters who didn’t attract us at first but whose personalities pulled us in, but let’s face it, we don’t often get that option with books. With a book, we are choosing it based on book reviews, personal recommendations, or its cover. Online you have a thumbnail view amid a crowd of similar books. In a book store you might have more time to choose. You can look inside but first you have to pick up that book.
What makes you pick up the book?
So, what catches your eye? Is it color, a sexy man-chest, an embracing couple, fire and smoke, or something else entirely? I have a friend who doesn’t like the cartoon-looking covers, they turn her off immediately. I like them. Two different mind sets. Two different opinions. I adore Penny Reid’s Winston Brother series covers. They look like cross-stitch. Now, at first, they did make me hesitate. I expected something sweet and old fashioned, but after hearing an interview with the author I realized the cover was misleading. I tried my first Bearded Romance and was hooked. So, do I love the covers because I know the stories and associate them with her series, or have they grown on me? Would I like this same style on someone else’s stories?
When I asked my friend, Susan McIntyre about doing the cover of my book, I showed her the picture I had in mind and before I knew it, she’d painted it. I loved it. As I finished the book, I realized as much as I loved the picture she’d painted, it did not reflect the character in the story. My character, seventeen-year-old half-Lakota, Winnie, was not as sophisticated. While not exactly innocent, Winnie had the hopeful outlook of the young and invulnerable. She was also not completely white. I wanted to honor that. Looking through Deposit Photos I found some lovely Native American women, but they were too old (in their twenties), and the girls were too young. I sent pictures of my granddaughter who is half Cambodian to Sue and asked if she thought she’d represent the Native American character. I thought the representation was beautifully done and hope that by using a woman of color it honors and not detracts from the Native American.
As I was doing the research for this book I was surprised by the number of Native Americans, many Lakota, who performed in the wild west shows. Some of whom were considered prisoners of war and had to have special permission to travel off the reservations. But that is not today’s topic. I will return to this another day.
For me, it was important to honor the history and the character, but does this cover sell books? You have to admit the artwork is stunning, but does it tell the story? Does it represent the book? While I was brought to tears as soon as I saw the picture and it wasn’t even finished, after I really looked at it, I wasn’t sure if it fit the story. The character felt too young. The book, while it has a young protagonist, Winnie is seventeen, it wasn’t YA (young adult genre). But after preparing the cover and putting it on the book and sitting with it a while, I realized the artist had captured the essence of the story, Winnie’s hopeful innocence and undefeatable outlook.
Will the cover sell the book? That remains to be seen. But I believe people will pick it up, especially in print and look at it and that’s the first step in attracting a buyer, and that is the job of the cover. Like pretty wrapping paper on a package or a sharp-dressed man (or one in a kilt) we often check out the package first and before discovering what they have to offer.
What do you look for in a book cover? Have you ever bought a book just for the cover? Show me. I’d love to see what got your attention.
Humans resist change… why? Are we preprogramed to want the familiar? As cavepeople, we took comfort and refuge in the familiar. If everything stayed the same, we stayed alive. But in modern times why are we still resisting change? Whether it’s changing our hairstyle or leaving a dead-end job, most of us put up with the out-of-date style and the hated job because we fear change. Or maybe we’re too lazy to make that change. I mean, really, change means we have to make an effort to do something different.
I don’t like change. Familiar is easy and requires less effort. Pull the hair up in a ponytail or wrap it in a headband, it’s easier than trying to decide what style I want. But recently I made a change…I changed genres. This wasn’t a quick change. I’ve been taking classes for several years and planning this story and series for just about as long. Switching from romantic suspense to cozy mystery doesn’t seem like that big a difference, but when you go from contemporary to Victorian era, and make your main character a teenager, well, that is a rather BIG change.
Something different means research, a lot of research, preparation, planning, and extra effort—at least that’s what I discovered when I decided to switch genres. For the past year I’ve been studying the cozy mystery genre. I discovered some great YouTube videos, one of my favorite authors to follow is Jane Kalmes, the Fiction Technician https://youtu.be/GNR0g60m0EI. I also researched the Victorian Era, everything from how to build a forge to a lady’s dress, to inventions and killers of the era. YouTube is a great place to start but when I needed information on steamer ships, I had to pull out the big guns and go to my friend, HCRW President, Cyn Haden who is a naval historian. I only needed one tiny piece of information to make my story believable, but I needed to check my facts before I could go any further.
How resistant to change are you? Are you adventurous or do you like the status quo? What do you do to combat boredom and shake things up?
sherrilhollister.com/Suspense She Writes Bookstore Dismiss