Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Welcome Jim Hartley

Join me in welcoming Jim Hartley to Highlighted Author.

Hello, Jim. If you would, please, tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a former computer programmer, but as the job market in that area changed, it proved better to go to a semi-retired status. And then, suddenly, there was time to get serious about writing. I had tried once or twice earlier, but never seemed to be able to concentrate enough on it. When I did get into writing, after a lifetime of reading lots and lots of Fantasy (I had dozens of Oz books as a kid) and Science Fiction, it is no surprise that this is what I write.

You’re an accomplished writer with an array of published works. Your stories have come out in e-zines and anthologies in addition to the novels you have written. Which do you enjoy seeing published the most?

I started out writing mostly short stories, and sending them to various markets. Of course, seeing your work published anywhere is nice, but I have always had a fond spot for anthologies. But now I am moving into spending more and more of my time working on longer, novel-length, stories, and I find these more satisfying than the short pieces. I won’t drop short stories entirely, but I do plan to concentrate mostly on longer works.

How do you go about writing a piece? Do you do a lot of planning and plotting, or do you catch an idea and let it flow onto paper?

The word everyone seems to use for the way I work is “pantser,” I do the stories by the seat of my pants. When I get everything I have figured out down on paper, I lean back and say, “Well, what happens next?” I usually have some kind of idea where things are going to end, but that can change if a good idea pops up. I tend to work by scenes, running a scene over in my mind until it’s ready. And if I find what I’m writing now calls for some changes to earlier parts of the story, no big deal, I go back and fix it.

Is there an area you like to visit that inspires you, or do ideas come to you at all moments?

I can’t truly say where ideas come from, just about anything can inspire a story. I like to listen to music while I write, often what I would call “oldies” (40’s and 50’s), and the titles and/or lyrics of some of those songs have led to stories. I have one book, Teen Angel, which came from the song of the same name.

When did you first realize that writing was going to become such a big part of your life? Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote? The first person to notice your talent and encourage you?

My first attempt at writing was at age 11 when I sent a story, typed on both sides of a single sheet of paper, to one of the most prestigious magazines around. Rejected, of course. I did a lot of technical writing for my job and for graduate classes, and I found it fairly easy. When I decided to get into fiction, my first sale was a story called Alien Hunt to the magazine Sterling Web (long since out of business).

Out of all your writings, which is your favorite and why?

I think the book Magic Is Faster Than Light, which we are going to talk more about in a minute, is my favorite of everything I have done so far. Somehow it ends up in a very satisfying way. I imagine that sooner or later I’ll do something I like better, but for the moment it’s in the top spot.

What are you working on now?

I have two projects under way right now. One is This Wand for Hire (yes, I stole the title from an old movie), a sequel to The Ghost of Grover’s Ridge which came out last September from MuseItUp, one of Muse’s first books. I thought maybe it was finished, but I was told, “No, work on it a bit more,” so I’m doing that. The second thing I’m working on is a Sword-and-Sorcery story, titled Princess on a Quest. Of course you never know when some other idea may pop up, hollering, “Write me! Write me!”

Your latest work, Magic Is Faster Than Light, will release through MuseItUp Publishing. Where did the idea for this story come from?

This is actually a strange story. I was doing a little flash piece about a witch who wanted to be an author, and I had to give her some titles of stories she was submitting. I used the title Cauldron to the Stars, described as using a magic potion (Cauldron, get it?) to fuel a starship and travel faster than light. It was just going to be a “throwaway” but I couldn’t get it out of my mind … it was too good to waste, so I sat down and wrote it as a short story, and sold it to an anthology. But the idea still wouldn’t let go of me, and next thing I know I expanded it to novel length and submitted it to MuseItUp. Lea, the publisher, took it, but she was worried about confusion between the short story and the novel so we changed the name to Magic Is Faster Than Light. This book is a kind of mixed genre, what I like to call “Science-Fiction Flavored Fantasy,” and when people ask about it, I tell them, “Once upon a time, there was a spaceship full of witches …”

Will you share an excerpt with us?

Here is one of my favorite passages from the book, when Megan Bradley discovers that not only is her daughter Kendra a witch, but she is one too!


“Kendra, where are you going?” asked Megan Bradley one day when they had been in the camp about a year, “and when will you be home?”

“I’m going to a special witchcraft class, Mom. Don’t know when I’ll be home, there’s a Sabbat after, could end at midnight, might last until dawn.”

“Kendra, you’re not old enough for that. And besides, it’s terrible for a nine year old girl to be out that late. I forbid it.”

“Jeez, Mom, what are you going to do, call the cops? Report me to Social Services? Oh, wait, there are no cops–or social workers–here, are there? Too bad. But if you’re worried, come with me.”

“That’s silly, I’m not a witch.”

“You really are, you know. I saw the machine when they picked us up last year, you were way up in the orange. You just keep denying it. Our teacher says we should bring in anyone who tested that high. C’mon, it’ll be fun together.”

“Oh, shit, why not? Nothing else to do.” She hollered toward the other room of their apartment, “Mike, I’m going out with Kendra. You watch Julian and Susan.” She and Kendra walked out the door together.

Kendra’s prediction about her mother’s abilities proved correct. Megan found the class interesting, and when they got to actually trying spells, she followed the directions carefully and watched the small plant in front of her turn invisible. Kendra looked over, gave her a thumbs up, and said, “Way to go, Mom!”

Megan’s second spell worked equally well, and after her third successful spell, the teacher, a woman named Philistia, came over to Megan and said, “Congratulations. You are doing very well. Are you going to be staying for the Sabbat?”

“I really don’t know much about it. Am I allowed to? Should I?”

“You just qualified for the first part of the Sabbat, until midnight, with those three spells, Megan. The later part, midnight to dawn, is restricted to those with advanced powers.” She paused. “Or to those invited, sponsored, by an advanced witch.”

Megan pointed across the room to where Kendra was now sitting. “I’m here with my daughter Kendra, and she said she might be staying all night. Does that count?”

Philistia raised her eyebrows. “You’re Kendra’s mother? Well, she is certainly staying all night. Nine years old and far more powerful than many of the adults here, it’s amazing.” She caught Kendra’s eye and gestured her to come over. When Kendra got there, Philistia asked, “Are you sponsoring your mother for the second part of the Sabbat?”

Kendra looked at Philistia and said, “Well, duh! Why do you think I brought her?” Then, turning to Megan, “You are staying, Mom, aren’t you?”

Megan just nodded her head in agreement. She found the Sabbat interesting, and only encountered one moment of doubt. Sometime after midnight, the leader announced that the next part of the celebration would be performed sky-clad. Megan looked over at her daughter and asked, “What’s that?”

“Sky-clad? It means nude. Undressed. Time to strip, Mom,” said Kendra, as she started to remove her clothes.

Megan looked around and saw that everyone was undressing. She blushed a bit and hesitated. “Do we have to?”

“Yeah, Mom, you heard the leader,” answered Kendra, who was now, like many of those around her, completely nude. “Peel ’em off.”

Megan blushed more, then slowly, hesitantly, began to undress. By this time almost everyone was completely undressed.

Philistia saw Megan’s discomfort and came over. “Sorry, I should have warned you about this, but most of us in the after-midnight group have been doing it for so long we just don’t think of how it might affect a newcomer.”

Megan, by now also completely nude, clung to the remnants of her self control. It wasn’t helped when her nine year old daughter looked at her and said, “Gee, Mom, your blush goes all the way down to your boobs!”

Thank you so much, Jim, for being with us today.

Where can your readers find you?


You can purchase Magic Is Faster Than Light at MuseItUp Publishing.


Welcome Rochelle Weber

I’m pleased to welcome Rochelle Weber to Highlighted Author today.

Welcome, Rochelle. Tell us about your latest book.

Rock Crazy was just contracted by MuseItUp Publishing.

Katie McGowan is a spoiled brat with bi-polar disorder, and she doesn’t always take her meds. Her husband, Scott, is growing tired of her mood swings and violent tantrums. He decides that the Moon is the best place to divorce her and force her to face her disease, as women are safer there than any place else in the solar system. So, he does not tell her that he has already paid for her ticket home. She is space-sick and stranded on the Moon.

But Katie’s weepiness, fatigue and constant nausea are not due to space sickness or her disease-they’re caused by the little person growing inside her. When he learns of her pregnancy, Scott offers to take her back, but Katie doesn’t believe he loves her for herself. To make matters worse, her doctor tells her she has to discontinue her bi-polar meds during her pregnancy. How will she and her baby survive her violent rages and suicidal tendencies? How will she ever learn to trust Scott, again? She’s going crazy on that God-forsaken rock, the Moon.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

It was very cathartic for me, as I’m bi-polar and I went through menopause without hormone treatment. I ended up on the locked ward at the VA a few times.

Do you live in the mountains, desert, forest, lakeshore, city, or _____?

Or pretty well sums it up. I live at the end of the suburban commuter train lines that run out from Chicago. When I was a kid, this was a picturesque resort area for boaters and horse people, but now it’s being gobbled up by urban sprawl. The yuppies are having their kids and moving as far from the city as they can get, so “million dollar shacks” are going up all over the place out here.

What genres and authors would we find you reading when taking a break from your own writing?

I mostly read hard-core sci-fi, like Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, David Weber, Lois McMaster Bujold. I finally read a book by Nora Roberts because she seems to be the guru and I read the Twilight series and the Undead books. I like mysteries-Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, and John Grisham. And you can’t forget J. K. Rowling. Yes, I’m a Potter-head. People who say the middle of this newest movie dragged don’t know how much plotting and hiding was cut from the book.

When writing your description of your hero/ine what feature do you start with? Eyes, age, hair color, personality, name, etc?

I guess I start with personality and then try to figure out what they look like. Annie Peterson looked like me and Jake looked a lot like I imagined my Uncle Pete would have looked when he was younger. Katie McGowan looks like my youngest daughter, but with curly hair. Kristen Jensen has brown hair and blue eyes simply because I’d already used blonde and red hair. Don’t know what my next heroine will look like next-maybe long blonde hair and brown eyes like my granddaughter, Beth.

If I was a first time reader of your books, which one would you recommend I start with and why?

I’d start with Rock Bound, which is a free read on my web-site. I began to write Rock Crazy and decided to write a paragraph or two about some of the background characters. They took over and became their own book-Rock Bound. It’s the story of a dictator who takes over the US, and sends his political prisoners to the Moon as slave labor for his mining company. Jake Johnsrud saves Annie Peterson’s life when her husband is killed, and they end up as slaves together. How will Annie get over her love for Paul and allow Jake into her heart? How will they even survive on that God-Forsaken rock, the Moon?

What do you hope readers take with them after reading one of your stories?

I hope they’ll have come to care about the characters and want to read more about them. I was really worried that Katie was too spoiled and too bitchy to be sympathetic, but Lea Shizas at MuseItUp Publishing said Rock Crazy was “very interesting, different and in places heartbreaking” when she accepted the book for publication, so I guess I managed to make Katie somewhat likeable. 😉

A biography has been written about you. What do you think the title would be (in six words or less)?

I have a can cozy that says, “Crazy, But Not Stupid.”

If you came with a warning label, what would it say?

Warning, highly explosive.

Picture yourself as a store. Considering your personality and lifestyle, what type of products would be sold there?

I’d be a hot tub store with lots of warm, bubbly floor models you can test. Oh, yeah- Share water anyone?

What is the one question you wish an interviewer would ask you?

How do you distinguish between writing what you know and writing fiction? When I started my first writing class at Columbia College Chicago our first assignment was to write a “How To.” I thought they meant within the context of a story. After all, it was Fiction Writing 101. I wanted to write how to bake my favorite Christmas cookies and without a story it was just a recipe. So I asked my professor the above question and he said, “Write it the way you wish it was.” So, my Uncle Pete’s farmhouse got remodeled and acquired a basement with a hot tub in it. My marriage worked and my kids sat still and helped me bake cookies and I taught them how, working the recipe into the story. It turned out I was the only one in the class who actually wrote a fiction story with my how-to incorporated into it and called it “How To Bake Cookies.” At any rate-write what you know, but you can embellish. And if you’re writing something you don’t know, do your research. If you’re writing about a town you don’t know, look at a map. A US Road Atlas doesn’t cost too much, or just use Google Maps. There are even maps of the Moon. Rockton is 19 degrees North, 29 degrees East, inside Mt. Aragaeus. I can show it to you on a map.

Rock Crazy
Champaign, Illinois
June, 2063

They were on Earth, at a bar near Champaign, Illinois, part of the Chicago metropolis, which had sprawled across the Midwest and even down to Cairo, Illinois, where it merged with the equally sprawling Greater Memphis Area. They were there to sing karaoke, and Katie McGowan was “sober,” as usual. She was on too many medications to mess with alcohol.

She didn’t remember, later, what the woman said that triggered her. She didn’t remember deciding to react. She just remembered the hot, red rage. And the split. She watched herself do it as the Voice kicked in.

You can’t do this, It said. This is inappropriate behavior.

Katie tried to stop herself, but she couldn’t. Her arm rose, as if of its own accord, and poured the pop on the woman’s bleach-blonde, over-processed head. The woman came off the stool and shoved Katie. She flew across the room, seemingly in slow motion. Of course she threw her right arm out to break the fall, and she still hit her head on the floor. But the pain in her wrist was worse than the headache.

I told you not to do it, The Voice said. Now, at least stay down. Don’t try to fight her. You’ve already lost.

Katie lay there gasping for breath, smelling the old, stale, spilled booze and beer that had seeped into the floor. Someone helped her up. It was Scott, her husband, and she was in his arms, holding her wrist. The woman wanted to come after her again, but people restrained her.

The screaming started. Katie cowered in Scott’s arms screaming and screaming and screaming, while The Voice told her to stop acting this way, and people tried to restrain the angry woman with pop dripping from her soggy bangs.

“Get her out of here!” the manager demanded.

“Looks like her temper matches her red hair,” she heard someone comment.

Scott half-carried her outside. She was hysterical and still screaming. The other woman followed them out to the car.

“What the fuck’s wrong with you, you crazy bitch?”

Katie couldn’t answer. All she could do was scream. Just scream. No words, just that high-pitched wail that was a good octave above any note she ever managed to reach when she sang.

Now why can’t you reach this pitch when you sing? The Voice asked. Stop it or you won’t be able to sing at all. Ever again.

She threw herself across the hood of the sky-car, feeling its warmth. She kept screaming, and the pain flared in her wrist again. Her throat was sore and her voice was going; gone. The screaming subsided and she began sobbing, hoarsely. Damn it. Her physical voice really was gone! The Voice was merging into the background, but now her mother was there. Linda Snodgrass had been dead for over five years, but she still appeared and yelled at Katie.

“You stupid bitch! I told you ladies don’t fight. What the hell did you think you were doing?”

“I don’t know why I did it, Mama. I think I broke my wrist,” she mumbled.

“Serves you right.”

“I’m sorry, Mama. I’m sorry.”

“Quit whining or I’ll give you something to be sorry for.”

Her mother faded away, and she started hearing what was going on around her again.

Scott was there, and the manager and the woman who had shoved her, as well as several bystanders but all she could do was cry and say, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“Who’s she talking to?” the woman asked. “She really is fucking crazy!’

“Katie’s bi-polar,” she heard Scott explain.

“Get her out of here!” the manager yelled.

“I’m so sorrrrrreeeeeee,” Katie wailed hoarsely. Someone stayed with her while Scott went back inside to get her sweater and his keys. She was powerless to stop this stage, as well. The sobbing and apologizing would go on for another hour or so. It was part of the pattern. She would apologize to everyone she met. And she would cry until she dehydrated herself and ran out of tears.

Scott came out of the bar and handed her sweater to her. She reached for it with her right hand and dropped it. He picked it up and put it across her shoulders. Then he unlocked the sky-car and helped her into it. Tears streamed from her green eyes down her freckled face all the way to the hospital. Scott was oddly supportive this time. Katie wasn’t sure whether it was because she’d gone off on someone besides him for once, or if it was because he’d personally been administering her meds and he knew she was taking them this time. And she’d still gone off.

Visit Rochelle’s web site to get your free copy of Rock Bound!