Book Review: “How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness”

I don’t often read dystopian novels because of the claustrophobic doom that often hovers over them. But I’m glad I received an advance reader copy of Jessica Bell’s newest novel, How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness, because the end is so bright.

You’ll find my review below and on Goodreads.


Jessica Bell’s newest novel, How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness is a philosophical tour-de-force dressed as a dystopian journey that brandishes elements of classics such as “The Hand Maid’s Tale” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

Twenty-year-old Icasia Bloom lives in a world overtaken by one ruler, the enigmatic Governor Jacobson. He’s instituted rules that force people to find purpose and happiness in their employment. If they don’t do so by a certain age, they’re terminated with no hope of having their souls joined together with those of loved ones in a technologically-based afterlife. More disturbing, to keep the population stable, girls are artificially impregnated by the age of 15 and then sterilized, including 20-year-old Icasia, who has a 5-year-old son.

Icasia lives on the edge of this rigid society by being a Tatter, or someone who earns a living bartering favors for food and other goods, as in tit-for-tat. Rather than marry either her son’s sperm donor or another man of her choice, she forges her own path with her parents’ support. She doesn’t believe she possesses a passion for any kind of profession, until one day when she meets Selma, the owner of a newly-opened bakery.

Icasia is swiftly drawn into the drama surrounding Selma’s husband, who receives a letter stating he faces imminent annihilation without salvation because he hasn’t found the happiness and fulfillment the government requires.

Ever resourceful, Icasia plunges in with one strategy after another in her attempts to help Selma save her husband. Each effort drives Selma further down a philosophical path of what it means to be human until she finds the source of her own happiness, an epiphany that saves her and those she now loves.

Wrapped in the guise of a gritty world where the government ties a pretty bow around death and pressures people to the point of breaking, Icasia’s story inspires intense thought about human existence and the incredible power we possess to create our own happiness.

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Now available via Amazon and all other online booksellers.

If you love Mary, review her story on Goodreads, Amazon and BookBub.

For a full list of reading and workshops, visit my website.

“Winter Light” Book Club Offer!

Buy now!

Thanks, everyone, for your support over the past 6 months in making Winter Light a 2021 Gold Medal IPPY Winner in Young Adult Fiction! Mary Donahue loves you all, even if she’s too cool to show it.

In thanks, I’m offering 1 FREE Kindle copy to any book club that chooses the book for discussion. As always, I’ll be happy to join your book club discussion if that’s something your members would enjoy.

Thanks to Virginia Andrade McPherson, Kelly Spring and others who’ve already chosen my book!

And thanks to Amy Huynh-Chaplick for buying 10 copies to gift to friends.

I appreciate all of you!



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An essay about fear — its affect on humans and who uses it and why — just published in Spill It!

Now available via Amazon and all other online booksellers.

If you love Mary, review her story on Goodreads, Amazon and BookBub.

For a full list of reading and workshops, visit my website.



“Winter Light” Earns 2021 IPPY Gold Medal

Buy now!

I just learned Winter Light won a Gold Medal in Young Adult Fiction in the 2021 Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPY). A virtual awards ceremony will take place June 30.

I’d like to congratulate the other winners in this 25th awards event. I’d also like to give a huge thanks to Vine Leaves Press and all of you friends and readers!

Review: “Truth Like Oil”

By Connie Biewald

Preorder now, publication date of May 25, 2021


I fell in love with Nadine Antoine on the first page of Connie Biewald’s Truth Like Oil, a sentiment that only grew stronger the deeper I sank into the story of an immigrant mother’s plight to keep her two young adult sons on the straight-and-narrow in a foreign culture.

Just watching the exhausted Nadine climb the stairs of her apartment building in Cambridge, MA, after her long shift as a nurse’s aide, I knew immediately she’s a woman who will do anything for her two sons, one a senior in high school and the other a freshman in college. Moreover, Nadine does so without the warmth and loving support of the family and friends she left behind in Haiti, which she fled in her teens due to the actions of a lascivious uncle.

Though Nadine is better off financially in the US, she’s emotionally and spiritually isolated and feels she has no one to consult when her youngest son, Chance, edges toward the life of a street criminal. And though her older son, Henry, is the vision of young man on his way to an upwardly-mobile life, he struggles in isolation similar to that of his mother, caused by being one of the few black students in the elite Midwestern university that offered him a scholarship.

Her sons’ escalating angst forces Nadine to look to others for help.

The author’s ability to interweave conflicting cultures; portray a mother’s willingness to do anything to save her kids; and build two unlikely friendships that arise when Nadine cares for a white woman recovering from a stroke: all make this a story one to savor like the “bannann peze,” or fried plantains, Nadine makes for her sons.



View all my reviews

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An essay about fear — its affect on humans and who uses it and why — just published in Spill It!

Now available via Amazon and all other online booksellers.

If you love Mary, review her story on Goodreads, Amazon and BookBub.

For a full list of reading and workshops, visit my website.

Review: “Go: A Memoir about Binge-Drinking, Self-Hatred, and Finding Happiness”

On sale now!

As you know, I’ve been exploring the world of memoirs of all kinds, none of which are more poignant than those surrounding childhood and disruptive family dynamics. The memoir of Jessica Bell — singer, writer, publisher, designer — is among those.

I just posted the following review on Goodreads, but wanted to share the piece here, knowing only too well how many of us have struggled with sizable demons and appreciate hearing about those like Jessica who emerge from the fight both stronger and happier.


Tense and Intense Honesty

To read Jessica Bell’s memoir “Go” is to wish you could save her, even though you suspect by her rebellious nature she wouldn’t change anything about her life. That if asked, she’d say every moment in her colorful, yet chaotic youth made her the dynamic person she came to be.

With unbelievable courage and honesty, Ms. Bell, the singer of Keep Shelly in Athens, tells of every twist in the road of growing up the daughter of Erika Bach, who with her second husband, Demetri Vlass, formed two iconic indie bands in Australia during the 1980s and 1990s (see Hard Candy).

Just as her mother doesn’t conform to the ideal of a suburban mum, so the author doesn’t fit into normal kid society from the moment she enters school. In heartbreaking detail, the author goes on to describe the various agonies that befall her, from bullying to rape, binge-drinking to suicidal thoughts.

What really makes her adolescence intolerable, though, is the pain of growing distant from her beloved mother, who falls prey to an unintended painkiller addiction she eventually kicks. Of the many dramatic moments in the book, those between mother and daughter are the most touching. Fortunately the tightness of their early bond proves strong enough to keep them reaching for one another during the darkest times, giving testimony to the resiliency of human connections despite great duress.

The book ends on the high note promised by the title. When the author finally finds her niche among the high school theater and music crowd, her life shifts from aimless and abusive to one dedicated to music, writing and the same creativity that flowed through her home since birth. From there the book launches toward optimism of the kind only borne from acknowledging the cold, hard truth of the part we play in our own demise.

I’m so glad Ms. Bell had the courage, spirit and strength to fight through the hard times to one day shine her bright light on the world!

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An essay about fear — its affect on humans and who uses it and why — just published in Spill It!

Now available via Amazon and all other online booksellers.

If you love Mary, review her story on Goodreads, Amazon and BookBub.

For a full list of reading and workshops, visit my website.

2-Memoir Giveaway!

Yesterday I sent out a newsletter offering a Kindle copy of these two fantastic new memoirs. Recommend your favorite memoir(s) below and I’ll add your name!

I know so many great authors who write great stories that I often offer giveaways via my newsletter, so consider subscribing!

Read my Goodreads review of Gina Troisi’s memoir, The Angle of Flickering Light, and my Goodreads review of Scott Gould’s Things That Crash, Things That Fly.

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An essay about fear — its affect on humans and who uses it and why — just published in Spill It!

Now available via Amazon and all other online booksellers.

If you love Mary, review her story on Goodreads, Amazon and BookBub.

For a full list of reading and workshops, visit my website.

Las Vegas Writers Conference 2021: April 8-10

Register now!

VIA LAS VEGAS!

Las Vegas Writers Conference (virtual)
April 8 – 10
Register now!

Four years ago I had the pleasure of traveling to Las Vegas to present two workshops at the Las Vegas Writers Conference hosted by the Henderson Writers Group. Hundreds of people attended to learn from dozens of agents, writing coaches and authors.

The conference will be virtual this year and the organization has again invited me to speak.

Here’s what I’ll be presenting. I’ll also be participating in The Blue Pencil sessions, 15-min. meetings where authors can ask about anything related to writing.

I hope you join us!

Flaming Good Dialogue: How to Create Unforgettable Characters Through Exchanges That Singe

11 a.m. PST Sat., April 10

You think you’ve got fantastic, unique, bestselling characters? You’ll have to prove that to readers, not only through your characters’ actions, but also by what they say, how and when they speak almost as important as what words they use. In this workshop, you’ll not only learn how to sidestep the most common dialogue pitfalls, including why characters all too often wind up sounding alike, but also how to employ the five techniques that will make your characters unique and eminently believable.

The Little Red Riding Hood Dilemma: What Kind of Publisher to Aim for, Big, Medium/Small, Self

9 a.m. PST Fri., April 9

10 a.m. Sat., April 10

Over 2 million books a year are published annually in the United States alone. That intense competition pushes authors toward three avenues: publication through a big publisher, a medium or small publisher, or self publishing. This workshop will offer the advantages and disadvantages to each, while helping participants form a concrete path for their current project that includes resources for pursuing that route.

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An essay about fear — its affect on humans and who uses it and why — just published in Spill It!

Now available via Amazon and all other online booksellers.

If you love Mary, review her story on Goodreads, Amazon and BookBub.

For a full list of reading and workshops, visit my website.

“Ever Rest” by Roz Morris

Book Review

I just finished reading Ever Rest, Roz Morris’ new novel due out June 3, 2021 (available for preorder). A fantastic read! Below is my Goodreads review of this literary book club treat.

Roz is the author of two previous novels — My Memories of a Future Life and Life Form Three — as well as the memoir Not Quite Lost and the book for writers Nail Your Novel. Besides being a writing coach and instructor, she’s a ghostwriter for bestselling authors.

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Ever Rest by Roz Morris is the kind of book you sink into and emerge from in a state of wonder. This beautifully written story steeped in the majesty of music and mountains is balanced on the riveting concept of a rock star, whose presumed death after an accident while climbing Mt. Everest, casts a years-long pall over the many lives he touched when young and famous.

Twenty years after Ash’s disappearance, his former girlfriend, Elza, a once young and beautiful dancer, is now an artist whose boyfriend has little concept of the celebrity that continues to follow her as fans worldwide keep her former lover’s memory alive. Ash’s bandmate, Hugo, the musical genius behind the duo known as Ashbirds, is the man who talked Ash into climbing Everest. Now he’s a climbing guide who eschews fame and wealth.

Following these people, along with and another five characters on the periphery of Ash’s inner circle, creates a wonderful tension akin to that evoked by Daphne du Maurier “Rebecca,” where the once grand lady of the manor continues to rule with the power of a ghost ever-present in the lives of those who walk beneath her portrait. While not as dark as that classic novel, this story captures that sense of purgatory where each discovery of a corpse on Everest reignites passions about the idol’s death while disrupting the lives of those closest to him.

The question quickly becomes, will the now forever enshrined by tragedy and mystery rock star ever really rest and give the living peace? Hence the brilliant title that creates foreboding as the pressure builds with every new body found on the famous mountain; a threat of avalanche exacerbated by an eccentric investor who wants to draw Hugo back into the rock scene and see the Ashbirds live on.

The story seamlessly moves amongst the viewpoints of the various characters while producing prose that brings the narrative alive with rich, authentic details and sensory descriptions that convince you you’re in the room with these people, whose lives, and demons, are so real.

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An essay about fear — its affect on humans and who uses it and why — just published in Spill It!

Now available via Amazon and all other online booksellers.

If you love Mary, review her story on Goodreads, Amazon and BookBub.

For a full list of reading and workshops, visit my website.

Dialogue Workshop March 20, 2021

“YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SAY?!”

For me, dialogue makes or breaks a book. Cliche dialogue typically indicates cliche characters. What do you think?

If you’re a writer, help is on the way via the 2-hour online workshop I’m teaching this Saturday in which I’ll combine lessons in character development with dialogue. If you know a writer, pass on the news! I’ll post the description at the bottom.

The Road to Flaming Great Dialogue Starts With Growing Great Characters!
9 a.m. PST (11 CST, 12 EST)
Sat., March 20
only $15 for non-members
hosted by the North Texas RWA

I hope to see you there!

CLASS DESCRIPTION

There’s no way your character can authentically voice a fabulous comeback, desperate plea or brilliant courtroom argument until you know exactly how s/he operates! Through discussion and writing exercises in which you’ll actively work on your own characters and scenes, Martha Engber, author of GROWING GREAT CHARACTERS FROM THE GROUND UP will first explain how to grow your characters, whether for a memoir, novel, screenplay or other project. Then she’ll teach you the secret to fantastic dialogue that leads to exciting, unforgettable scenes where your characters truly speak for themselves!

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An essay about fear — its affect on humans and who uses it and why — just published in Spill It!

Now available via all online booksellers.

If you love Mary, review her story on Goodreads, Amazon and BookBub.

For a full list of reading and workshops, visit my website.

Interview with… Martha Engber

Annalisa Crawford - Blogging with My Fountain Pen

It’s the third Monday of the month, we’re zooming towards spring, and Martha Engber is here to share her writing life with you.

Martha’s second novel, Winter Light, was published in October 2020 by Vine Leaves Press. She’s also the author of The Wind Thief, a novel, and Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up. She’s had a full-length play produced in Hollywood and over a dozen short stories, essays and poems published in anthologies and literary magazines such as the Aurorean, Watchword and the Berkeley Fiction Review. A Chicago native, she now lives in Northern California with her husband, bike and surfboard.

Welcome to the Fountain Pen, Martha! Tell us a little more about yourself.

On Christmas morning when I was four, I glanced up from where I sat on the floor to see my grandma come through the kitchen door. My eyes went from her huge…

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