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Author Jessica McHugh Discusses the Making of YA Coming-of-Age Series “Darla Decker Diaries”

This 3-part (for now) series will soon move to Round 2.

Jessica McHughAuthor Jessica McHugh has dropped by to talk a little bit about her writing of Darla Decker Hates to Wait, the first book in the new young adult coming-of-age series called the Darla Decker Diairies. Early reviews are nothing short of stellar, so if you’ve not yet discovered this edgy new series, with Book 1 out and Book 2 coming soon, now is the perfect time. And now, we’ll let Ms. McHugh tell you how this entertaining series came to be.

Breathing Real Life into a Fictional Young Girl

It began on April 12, 1989 with blue markers and heart stickers. Like a lot of girls, I kept a diary while growing up. Seven, actually. I spilled my heart and soul on those pages from the time I was seven years old until sixteen or so—about boys I “loved,” classes I hated, girls who annoyed me, punishments I received, and my great concern over discovering my brothers were (GASP) smoking cigarettes! Despite being afraid my family would sneak a peek at my diary, I was pretty honest with the pages—if you can’t be honest with your diary, who can you be honest with?

As I organized my Writing Hut one day, I stumbled upon those childhood diaries. Browsing through the silly entries and outlandish illustrations, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat to base a series of YA books off of these? And to be as honest as these entries?”

Of course, I couldn’t do that. In late 2010, I was already slaving away on revisions for my Tales of Dominhydor series, editing my historical fiction Verses of Villainy, writing my novel PINS, and getting ready to oversee the production of my play Fools Call it Fate. Plus, after Dominhydor, I swore I’d never write a series again.

But once the title Darla Decker Hates to Wait popped into my head, I was doomed—or blessed, depending on the day. I was a huge Ramona Quimby fan when I was younger (I even have a Ramona Quimby diary!), but I wanted to raise the age and the edginess a bit. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t banish the idea to write a Judy Blume-esque series focusing on the frank nitty-gritty of growing up. That meant talking about French kissing, smoking, shoplifting, divorce, death, masturbation, and more, from the time Darla is eleven to when she graduates high school.

I tried to talk myself out of it, but Darla Decker quickly forced her way into my heart. In February 2011, I surrendered, and announced that I would write the series.

I’m afraid I’ll spoil you if I talk about too much, but rest assured, there’s lots of life on the horizon for Darla and her friends. I know basically where this series will go (and end), but if anything, these books have taught me to expect the unexpected. The first instance of that involved creating Darla’s circle of friends. I’d plotted out Darla Decker Hates to Wait to the fifth chapter before I began writing, believing a character named Nate Young would be Darla’s nemesis. Yet as I continued to weave the world of Shiloh Farms and Fairmount Middle School, Darla and Nate convinced me that they were meant to be friends. Best friends, even. That unexpected development led to one of the most enjoyable duos I’ve had the pleasure to write. Since I’m currently editing the third book Darla Decker Shakes the State, and writing the first chapter of the fourth, Darla Decker Plays it Straight, I can assure you that Darla and Nate only get more entertaining as the books go on.

Using my diaries and personal experiences, I’ve created an honest world in which Darla dwells. Not only are her thoughts and fears evident, an entire community functions in the background, from parents and teachers to classmates and neighbors. Writing a series as quickly as I’ve written the Darla Decker Diaries allowed me to immerse myself in this universe, in the hearts and minds of every character, no matter how small. I’ve felt their joys and sorrows, and honestly, it makes me wish I’d paid more attention to those background folks when I was Darla’s age. It’s a little painful, actually, because I have to be her age again as I write these books, and she doesn’t notice them any more than I did.

Ignorance is bliss—until it isn’t, and Darla will have her rude awakening, like most of us do as we grow up. Still, as protective as I am of my little Darla-ing, I must admit I’m also excited to run her through the pubescent wringer.

Darla Decker Hates to Wait by Jessica McHugh

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3D-DarlaDeckerHatesToWaitPatience is not Darla Decker’s strong suit. Surviving sixth grade is tough enough with an annoying older brother, a best friend acting distant, and schoolwork. After adding instructive kissing games and the torturous wait for a real date with her biggest crush, Darla is perpetually torn between behaving like an adult and throwing temper tantrums.

Games of flashlight tag, and the crazy cat lady roaming Shiloh Farms in a “demon bus,” serve as distractions during her parents’ quarrels and her anxiety about show choir auditions. Yet the more Darla waits for her adulthood to begin, the more she learns that summoning patience won’t be the hardest part of being eleven.

A frank and funny look at the path to adulthood, Darla Decker Hates to Wait begins a journey of love, loss, and the nitty-gritty of growing up through Darla Decker’s eyes.

Darla Decker Takes the Cake by Jessica McHugh

3D-DarlaDeckerTakesTheCakeComing December 1, 2014.

A week at Camp Wakonda is exactly what Darla Decker needs. Having said goodbye to sixth grade and her best childhood friend, she’s ready to create new memories and meet new people. Unfortunately, entering summer camp on a whopper of a lie and a fight with a fellow camper isn’t the best way to begin.

Aided by her schoolmate Nate, Darla navigates the twists and turns of life at summer camp while pretending to be Wakonda’s only “undercover counselor.” Despite the lies, older guys, bullies, and breakdowns, Darla discovers the truth about friendship through the mayhem and magic of camp.

A frank and funny look at the path to adulthood, “Darla Decker Takes the Cake” continues the journey of love, loss, and the nitty-gritty of growing up through Darla Decker’s eyes.

Illustrator Luke Spooner on “Emlyn and the Gremlin,” a New Children’s Picture Book

New Series of Children’s Picture Books

Bio_Pic-Luke_SpoonerLuke Spooner recently dropped by at Soapbox Press to discuss the soon-to-be-released Emlyn and the Gremlin, the first installment in a new series of children’s picture books illustrated by Luke and written by author Steff F. Kneff.

He offers some interesting insights into the book, his creative process, and more. Please stop by and check out the Soapbox Press article.

While you’re at it, go ahead and grab your copy of Emlyn and the Gremlin today (purchase links below). It doesn’t “officially” launch until Monday, but…. Shhh! It’s available now.

Luke Spooner

Luke_Spooner_IllustratedLuke Spooner a.k.a. ‘Carrion House’ and ‘Hoodwink House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that peaks his interest.

Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, for which he has won awards for literary and artistic merit, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility – as well as being something he truly treasures.

Emlyn and the Gremlin — Now Available at:

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3D-EmlynAndTheGremlin“Mummy, that Gremlin snuck through in the night!
She tiptoed inside when we turned out the light!
She opened my jewel box and tried on my hat.
How can you trust such a Gremlin as that?”


Emlyn is sure a Gremlin sneaks into the house at night. In the morning, she finds her room a mess, with gadgets and glitter strewn everywhere. Moose, her Great Dane, should be guarding the house, but he’s so afraid he hides in his fort!

Emlyn’s mums insist Gremlins aren’t real, but one day, Emlyn overhears the truth… and then she meets Gremlin for herself.


The Emlyn and the Gremlin series is a collection of beautifully illustrated, kid-centered books, each containing a fun rhyme scheme and humor for both kids and adults. These gorgeous books introduce the concept of a two-mum family in a natural and subtle way—the perfect books to add diversity to any home, library or store!

The hardcover (case laminate) version of this book has been produced in high-end premium color & finish, giving it a distinctive quality.

Be sure to check our the rest of this great series AT THIS LINK.

Author D. Robert Pease Discusses the Making of Epic Fantasy “Shadow Swarm”

This new epic fantasy is off to a great start!

Bio_Pic-DRobertPease_v2_300dpi_760x790Author D. Robert Pease has dropped by to talk a little bit about his writing of Shadow Swarm, the new epic fantasy that is off to a roaring start. Early readers are loving it and spreading the word, and we wanted to do the same. As part of this, D. Robert Pease is hosting a raffle on Facebook (linked below), so be sure to check that out. And now, we’ll let Mr. Pease tell you how this entertaining book came to be.

Bringing an Epic Fantasy to Life

Of the four(ish) books I’ve written, Shadow Swarm took the most effort, by far. I have a blog post dated June 3, 2007, and in that post I state that I had been writing what was then called Crimson Swarm about two or three years. I had actually written the post just after I finished the first draft. So, here we are in July of 2014, meaning I worked on it (off and on) for approximately ten years. That’s a long time to spend in one imaginary world.

I wrote the first drafts for all my other books during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and then edited for about a year afterwards. I’m not exactly sure what this comparison means, but I poured much of my heart and soul into this book, to be sure. I wrote a total of about thirty blog posts during the editing and rewriting phases of Shadow Swarm. It’s a fun exercise for me to look back and see my process along the way.

I posted little sketches, and detailed drawings of various locations and scenes (click the images to enlarge).
SS_Addlemort SS_ChambersOfWaiting SS_Voormarg SS_WarCouncil
SS_MapOf course there was a map, and I talked about creating a calendar to keep track of the days. There’s a post about languages I created for the book. High Aerodore is more of a code where I switched out letters for other letters, and changed the orders of words to make something that sounded pretty cool. I actually created this back in high school, so I guess you could say I worked on this book for almost thirty years.

Through the editing and rewriting phase I was a member of an online critique group called The Silver Griffin. This group of writers was invaluable in really helping me hammer out the story and prose. We were all at various stages of completion and experience but I’m convinced the story wouldn’t be near what it is now without their help. I highly recommend this approach, especially on your first book or two.

Several friends read through early drafts (and ripped into it good at times). I even shopped it around to a few agents, getting great feedback from one of my dream-agents, Kristin Nelson. Then the world of publishing changed with the self-publishing revolution, and I decided to go a new route. Eventually I did end up with Evolved Publishing, more of a hybrid small press than the traditional publishing company of the past. Much of what I do now, in terms of control over my career, is very similar to self-publishing, but I have great editors (Marissa van Uden and Lane Diamond) and a publisher behind me ready to lend support and ideas when the need arises.

I hope if epic fantasy is at all your thing, that you’ll give Shadow Swarm a try. To help push you over the hill of indecision, I’ve set up a raffle with a giveaway for a free signed hardcover version (U.S. only please) and a $50 Amazon gift card. Click the link below, and while you’re at it, I hope you’ll pick up an eBook version to read while you wait to see if you won the hardcover (and doing so will give you 10 more chances to win.)


Shadow Swarm by D. Robert Pease

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3D-ShadowSwarmAberthol Nauile doesn’t know that he once led legions in a war that had raged since the dawn of time, against an enemy that could not be killed. He doesn’t know that he rode on a dragon with his father, or that his mother died while giving birth to him. He doesn’t know that he once saved his great, great, great grandfather by defeating the black enemy on the slopes of a volcano.

Aberthol doesn’t know that he beheld the creation of the world, as his grandfather eight generations before took the planet, ravaged by a war of the gods, and began anew.

All he knows is that he awoke in a coffin deep within a tomb, and now the whole world thinks he is their savior. All he really wants to know is his name, and why he keeps hearing voices in his head.

In the Spotlight at Evolved Publishing: Megan Harris, Editor

Getting Our Books to the Quality Level We Demand

As a publisher, we pride ourselves on the quality of the books we publish, a subject we discuss often (as recently as yesterday), because it’s so important. We also take great pride in the quality of the team we’ve assembled. Every great team starts with the people—quality people produce quality work—and editor Megan Harris has been an integral and valued part of our team for a couple of years.

Bio_Pic-Megan_HarrisEvery book is approached from multiple perspectives before we publish it—great story revised and polished by the author, professional formatting for every version of the book, a great cover, and of course, concise editing from the editor (or team of editors). For some of our most critically-acclaimed books, this is where Megan has come in.

Megan has become the go-to editor for a few of our authors, developing strong working relationships with them. Her attention to detail, her training and skill, her easygoing professionalism, her absolute commitment to deadlines—all of these make Megan the kind of editor with whom authors love to work.

They also make her the kind of editor that makes a publisher smile, comfortable in the knowledge that such critical work, where quality is considered Priority #1, is in good hands.
Just get a gander at the books in which Megan’s deft eye has raised the level of quality, ensuring a great and enjoyable experience for the reader.

Desert_Rice_300dpi_2x3_Comp Desert_Flower_300dpi_2x3_CompThese extraordinary books by Angela Scott have a cumulative average rating of 4.73 stars (for 82 reviews) at Amazon, and Desert Rice has won multiple awards from the literary community.

Megan’s contribution to these books helped to make them what they are. While we always recognize the talent of the author, and their being the most important spoke in that wheel, we also know they every writer needs an objective and skilled editor, like Megan, to help make the books the best they can be.
Hannahs_Voice_300dpi_2x3_Comp Carry_Me_Away_300dpi_200x300These remarkable books by Robb Grindstaff have a cumulative average rating of 4.62 stars (for 81 reviews) at Amazon, and while they haven’t yet garnered any awards, we fully expect that they will (that’s how great they are). It’s just a matter of time.

It helps, of course, to work with an author as talented and as skilled as Robb Grindstaff (a qualified editor in his own right), but don’t let that fool you. Robb would be the first one to tell you that Megan’s detailed work helped him identify issues to which he himself was blind. No author is capable of being truly objective about their work, and whatever their skill, having an editor like Megan on their side is a big plus.
Spirals_v2_300dpi_2x3_Comp Stones_300dpi_200x300This journey into ancient American Indian culture by Ruby Standing Deer has a cumulative average rating of 4.75 stars (27 of 32 reviews are 5 stars) at Amazon. Spirals is a sequel to the award-winning Circles, and the first book in the series in which Megan jumped in to edit. She also edited the upcoming Stones, releasing on July 21st.

Editing a series like this provides an extra challenge for Megan, who must attune herself the unique dialects and word usage of an ancient culture, in order to create an authentic American Indian historical novel. This requires a great deal of cooperation between author and editor, who must often struggle to find an acceptable common ground. Ruby and Megan have struck that balance, and readers are loving the end result. This series remains one of our most consistent sellers, and it’s almost all through word of mouth—the surest sign that everyone involved in the project did their job well.
WhispersOfTheDead_300dpi_200x300This paranormal suspense thriller by C.L. Roberts-Huth is just the first in the series of Zoe Delante Thrillers. It hasn’t been out for a long time, but has a cumulative average rating of 4.60 stars for its first 20 reviews at Amazon. Early response has been strong, indeed, and we’re expecting good things from these books.

This series marked the 4th for Megan, and once again took her into a new genre, with its own conventions and challenges. As always, Megan rose to the challenge, helping to produce not just an excellent, entertaining book, but once again building a solid and no-doubt long-lasting relationship with the author.
And of course, we’ll have more great books coming your way with Megan’s help.

Megan Harris, Editor (A Bio)

Since she could read, Megan has been interested in writing as a career. Almost every day of school, she would bring a book to read in between breaks from some of her favorite authors. Many of her teachers encouraged her, and some still do today since she has kept in touch with them. Megan began to write stories in second grade, first about her day-to-day life, and then later about characters she made up.

In high school, Megan pursued journalism, starting first in the prerequisite course leading up to taking newspaper classes, and then she later moved up the ranks from writer and assistant section editor until, as a senior, she was the paper’s editor-in-chief and oversaw a staff of thirty writers, editors, and photographers.

While her college educational path moved her towards political science, international studies, and Spanish as subject matters, her heart remained on writing. She continued to contribute to her college paper as a copy editor before joining the student government association as a residence hall representative for two years. Still, the siren call towards the written word beckoned.

When Megan began working as a freelance writer in 2011, her father was battling advanced stage cancer. She had reconnected with him after four years of estrangement only the year before. He came to her wedding at the end of 2010, which was the first time she’d seen him since 2007. Megan was looking forward to seeing him before she and her husband moved back to Missouri at the end of 2011, as he lived in Wyoming with his family. He was proud of her accomplishments and for pursuing her life-long passion of writing, and she was happy to speak with him more often, while still hopeful his condition would improve.

Sadly, in July 2011, her father passed away just days before his 44th birthday. Megan made it her mission from then on to continue taking on projects he would have been proud to see her complete. Her passion for writing moved into other areas, such as editing and social media management. With each project, Megan began to heal while still wishing he had been there to see all that changed over the years.

Today, in 2014, Megan now has another motivation for her work: her daughter, Adalynn, born in the fall of 2013. Between juggling full time work, freelance work, and being a new mom and wife, Megan has a lot on her plate, but she continues to move forward and pursue what she loves despite the struggles she’s endured. While life may throw new challenges and changes in her path, the written word remains constant and steady through her life.

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