Monthly Archives: March 2007

BOOK BEAT 37 – M.B. Weston

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   March 28-April 3, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

For Michelle Weston, a fourth-generation Floridian, Naples has been home for all but the first year of her life. She grew up and graduated from Naples High School (in 1994) as Michelle Brundage, married her husband Greg in 1996, and finished her BS in Accounting at the University of South Florida in 1997. Weston worked for several years as a land development accountant, beginning at Bonita Bay Properties, before deciding to follow her dream of becoming a writer. Now, writing as M. B. Weston, she has published her first novel, A Prophecy Forgotten, which has just been released by ArcheBooks Publishing. 

Because Weston loved fantasy fiction from childhood, she had no hesitation about plunging into this field. When I asked her if there was any part of the bookstore aside from the fantasy section where her book might be shelved, she said “Young Adult.” In fact, by test marketing the book, Weston discovered that while adult readers enjoyed it, the story had an especially strong impact on young adult readers. She even tried it out on her local church youth group, for which she is a volunteer leader, and they loved it.

So, even though this book was not conceived of in terms of the young adult category, Weston’s affinity for young adults somehow came through in it and she is perfectly happy to have something that will appeal to these readers – the same readers who enjoy Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings (about which she remembers doing a book report when she was thirteen).

Michelle Weston is not only interested in young adult readers, she is also interested in motivating and teaching young writers. To that end, she has formed a young writers group within the Naples area chapter of the Florida Writers’ Association. Weston loves speaking to youth and knows how to hold the attention of adolescents. But whatever the age of her audience, she wants to help others to value and develop their writing talents.

It does not take long to discover that for Michelle Weston the spiritual life and her church are very important. Religious motifs can be found in her novel, but she would prefer that readers discover them for themselves rather than have them announced. It is fair to say that there is warfare in A Prophecy Forgotten –  good and evil are in vivid conflict. Jokingly, Weston says it’s kind of like J.R.R. Tolkien meets Tom Clancy.

The promotional description reads as follows: “A Prophecy Forgotten tells the story of Davian, a battle hardened major in the special operations division of the cherubian military. While Davian is on assignment deep in enemy territory, he is called back and sent to Earth to guard seven-year-old Tommy—a boy who has been prophesied to save Earth. As Davian guards Tommy, he discovers that some of his fellow soldiers are plotting to kill the leaders of his homeland and take power. He must find a way to return home and warn his government before the traitors can succeed.”

One of the most enjoyable parts of the creative imagining that goes into writing Weston’s kind of fantasy novel is making up the rules for the fantasy world. How does it operate? How is it different from the world we all share? In this case, inventing the appropriate weaponry for the warriors was part of the challenge and part of the fun.

When we sat down together, Weston was anxiously awaiting the appearance of this first novel, its launch date having been postponed a bit. (By the way, if you want to meet with her, suggest a coffee shop.) Already, however, she is well along on its sequel: Out of the Shadows. Together, and perhaps with additional titles, these form “The Elysian Chronicles,” which Weston calls “a para-dimensional fantasy series.” The first volume is now available from and will soon be available from major online and traditional booksellers.

Weston knows that it will be hard for her to establish herself in such a competitive arena, but she is committed to taking on the inevitable marketing responsibilities. To help generate interest in her work, she has developed a website with her targeted audience in mind. Visitors to will find it connected to a newsletter and a blog. The blog can be reached independently at And the Elysian Chronicles merchandising is underway, beginning with t-shirts. A talented speaker and motivator, Michelle Weston is ready to talk to your writing group or club. Anyone can contact her via the website.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at

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BOOK BEAT 36 – Marian Hersrud

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   March 21-27, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

After Marian Hersrud had attended a couple of short story workshops given by Hollis Alpert at The Phil some years ago, Alpert prompted her to get to work on a novel. Marian didn’t have a clue about where to begin, but before long she realized that her experiences in Sturgis, South Dakota, the home of an enormous motorcycle rally, would provide her with plenty of local color and plenty of intriguing characters. Her first effort, Sweet Thunder, came out in 2002. Last year, she published Spirits and Black Leather, a sequel to the earlier work, prompted by her own curiosity and by the urging of her readers who wanted to find out more about those quirky characters’ lives.

Marian grew up in Minneapolis, attended Carleton College, and graduated from the University of Minnesota, where she concentrated in English, French, and History. She and her husband were married during World War II, after which they moved to Morry’s tiny home town of Lemmon, South Dakota. Here, Marian raised four children and began her involvement in local and state activities, which included serving on the State Board of Regents and helping to develop and four-year medical school at the University of South Dakota. 

When she and her husband moved to Sturgis in 1977, Marian was at first dismayed by the noise and dirt and inconvenience of the motorcycle rally. She did not feel any particular closeness to motorcycle culture. But over time, she became fascinated by it and got to know those who were part of it – a colorful assortment of characters who came from every walk of life and every part of the country. She also experienced the town’s tension between the upheaval of playing host to a major sporting event and the economic benefits that the event brought to the community. Disruption and profit seemed to go hand in hand. And both have grown as the rally swells a very small town to half a million people for the week-long annual event that combines about twelve different competitions.

Marian and her husband have had connections to Naples for about twenty-five years, first as visitors, then as short-term renters, and more recently as homeowners and half-year residents. Soon, they intend to make Naples their year-round home.

After Marian took Hollis Alpert’s advice and started her novel, it took about four years for her to write it and bring it into print through AuthorHouse. Finding it impossible to persuade an agent, and therefore a trade publisher, to take on Sweet Thunder (the fictional name for Sturgis in her first book), she decided to self-publish through the print-on-demand route. This choice made it difficult for her to place her book in bookstores (because print on demand books cannot usually be returned to the publisher), but such obstacles have not blocked Marian from building her readership. She has recognized and accepted the fact that her fictional enterprise fits into a niche market, and she has found ways to reach that market – including signing events at campgrounds and Harley-Davidson outlets. I imagine that the book is available at almost every store in Sturgis!

In both books, the perspective is that of television newspersons covering the event. To get it right, Marian had to seek advice from broadcast professionals. She also had to know about everything from American Indian lore to motorsports clothing to Sturgis area street cleaning and traffic control problems. So, for Marian, research is a necessary preliminary to imaginative writing.

Networking is also important to Marian. She has benefited from being part of the Southwest Florida chapter of the Romance Writers of America and also the International Women’s Writing Guild. She thrives on learning from others and on the mutual support found in a dynamic community of writers.

Spirits and Black Leather was an easier project for several reasons. Because Sweet Thunder began as a collaboration that didn’t work out, that stumbling block was avoided on the sequel. Also, Marian now knew her characters so well that they virtually told her what they were going to say and do. This time out, Marian dealt directly with a printer, Pine Hill Press of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and is very pleased with the resulting product.

Marian’s next two projects are a cookbook and a novel about a Miami crime reporter who moves to Maine. Meet Marian Hersrud and other local writers on April 12 from 6:30 to 8:30pm when they will be signing books at the Coconut Point Barnes & Noble in Estero. Meanwhile, catch up with her at

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at

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BOOK BEAT 35 – Wickham Books South

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   March 14-20, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

Remember walking into the neighborhood used book store and browsing the shelves for hours? Perhaps the establishment was also a coffee and dessert shop, with tables scattered about and a couple of chess boards. There was good conversation, a bulletin board for items of local interest, and perhaps a golden retriever sprawled near the doorway. The place was similar to those run by the independent dealers in new books, and many shops combined new and used stock. Such places are vanishing, but customer service can still be had in today’s internet used book trade. Just visit with Bill Wickham. 

Bill and his wife moved to Naples in 1990, when she signed up as the administrator at Lely Palms. Bill had been an urban planner, but after a few years in Naples he decided to follow the family business located in Duxbury, Massachusetts and start a used book outlet in Naples. Wickham Books South opened in 1993, and it continues to offer shelves of out of print and rare books at its retail location in the Treasure Island Antique Mall at 950 Central Avenue. Those shelves hold only a small fraction of the 13,000 titles in Bill Wickham’s inventory, all of which are listed online and warehoused in his home. Visits with Bill are by appointment, though sales at Treasure Island can be processed by other merchants who share the mall.

When Bill began, the online dimension of the used book trade was in its infancy. He did most of his business by scouring the pages of AB Weekly, the trade publication, and checking the thousands of wanted items listed by dealers against his inventory. Then Bill would send them quote cards, listing his price, and from there a deal would be made or not. The whole process could take a month before a customer received the book. But from the very beginning, Bill entered his stock into a computer file, and as the internet part of the business burgeoned, Bill was ready. Now, those 13,000 books available through Wickham Books South are computer searchable. 80-90 percent of Bill’s sales come from his internet presence, and about 15 percent of those sales are shipped overseas. 

Like others in this business, Bill offers his inventory through online dealer networks. As a member-subscriber to and, Bill makes his books available to shoppers who plug a title into a search box. If he has that book, the shopper will find out the condition and the price along with the terms of sale – and also the condition and price of competitors’ copies. To look only at Bill’s inventory, one clicks on the “Bookstores” tab and then enters Wickham Books South (or searches further by clicking the “W” tab). Now you are shopping in Naples from wherever in the world you connect to the internet. Of course, this service comes at a cost to its members – not only the monthly subscription fee, but also a piece of each transaction made through the listing network.

Bill believes that specialization is not as important as it used to be. While he lists Travel, Florida, and Military as featured categories in his large stock, he doesn’t really think of himself as a specialist – except when he is in Miami. Then Florida titles loom large.

Each November, Bill rents space in the Antiquarian Books Corner at the Miami Book Fair. He enjoys a very profitable weekend, with many shoppers and a relatively small number of dealers. Not only does he sell a good number of books there, but he also plants the seeds for future business with people who walk through, grab a business card, and contact him later.

Even Naples residents first find Bill through the internet. Then they may engage him directly to help them fill their book requests. He doubts, given the economics of the business today, that it pays to have a large, separate store and fixed business hours. Those days of a clean enough, well-enough lighted place to browse, actually heft and examine lovely old books, listen to music, beat your friend at checkers, have some java and a croissant, and catch up on neighborhood gossip are over. The space at Treasure Island Antique Mall allows Bill to maintain a presence in the community and to keep his home a private place. Also, by networking with other dealers at Treasure Island, Bill finds out about estate sales and other sources of inventory.

A seller is first a buyer. For Bill, the excitement is in finding new stock. The fun of detective work and the joy of discovery are key pleasures. In this regard, Bill Wickham is like all booklovers – including those who look to him for their out of print and rare book needs. You can reach him at 774-5519 or send email to  

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at

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BOOK BEAT 34 – Kristy Kiernan

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   March 7-13, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

Five years ago, Kristy Kiernan’s grandfather – a natural story-teller – mentioned to her that he regretted never having written anything. This observation made Kiernan realize that she did not want to reach eighty-two with the same regrets. After all, she had wanted to write since she was a child, but it had been a goal postponed over and over again. Now she was ready. Four manuscripts later, she had a book contract with Penguin’s Berkley imprint – and on March 6 the trade paperback of Catching Genius reached the book stores.

Kiernan admits to being addicted to research. Once she committed herself to a writing career, she scrutinized all the websites about writing and publishing and, in effect, gave herself an internet education. A good one. While working on her first manuscript, Kiernan was also learning about query letters, agents, and so forth. Chat rooms helped, too. All along the way, she was mastering her craft. The first manuscript went nowhere and Kiernan insists that it will never see the light of day. It was practice. The query letters kept going out while and after she wrote her second book-length manuscript. This time, she secured a top-notch agent: Anne Hawkins. 

So now Kiernan had a manuscript that major editors at major publishing houses would take seriously. But while it received “great rejections,” it did not click. The encouragement spurred Kiernan on. While Hawkins did not like Kiernan’s third manuscript, she prompted her to develop another idea that the two had discussed – a book about sisters. When the fourth manuscript was completed, Hawkins loved it and started sending it out. Catching Genius sold on the first round. It was purchased by the Penguin Group’s Senior Editor Leona Nevler, a major player in the book industry. Now for some high drama. Nevler passed away before the contract was concluded. Luckily, Jackie Cantor, an executive editor at Berkley/Penguin, was equally committed and the deal went through.

Kristy Kiernan arrived in Naples sixteen years ago. A store opener for T.G. I. Friday’s, she came down here from Clearwater to open the local restaurant. At the same time, her fiance’s family was looking for a Florida base for their New England art gallery. Once they chose Naples at Kristy’s suggestion, she never went back to Clearwater and settled here with her husband. The place is the well-known Marine Arts Gallery at Venetian Village. (Hint: when you enter the Gulf Coast town called Verona in Kiernan’s novel, see if it reminds you of another Gulf Coast town named after an Italian one.)

Kiernan daydreams a lot. She always has. One day, sitting on her patio, she began playing a mind game, inventing two-word combinations of words that wouldn’t ordinarily fit together. The phrase “Catching Genuis” popped into her head, and the novel in large part developed from exploring this strange, evocative juxtaposition. This kind of mind-gaming is the way a poet often begins, and it perhaps explains the qualities that best-selling author (and former critique partner) Sara Gruen notes in characterizing Kiernan’s narration as having a “lilting and luminous voice.” Tasha Alexander has also praised Kiernan’s “lyrical prose.”

The buzz about the book is already strong. It has been chosen as an Ingram Reading Group Selection, along with new titles by established authors. Laudatory comments have already appeared in BookPage, Publishers Weekly, and in Harriet Klausner’s well-respected online reviews. Just to give you a taste of the book and one reviewer’s perspective, I’ll quote from BookPage: “Florida author Kristy Kiernan’s stunning debut explores the lives of two sisters who were very close as children but drifted apart as they moved into adulthood… Connie and Estella’s poignant journey back toward the friendship of their youth will resonate with readers. Catching Genius is simply mesmerizing, not only because it expertly captures the unbreakable bond between sisters. The novel also explores the many facets of very real characters, breathing life into the seamlessly plotted storyline.” Another fascinating element in the book is Kiernan’s adept handling of an alternating point of view

Who does Kristy Kiernan read and recommend? The list would include Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Jodi Picoult, author of My Sister’s Keeper. Like Kiernan’s, these books are centered on family relationships. She is also a big fan of Pat Conroy and Anne Rivers Siddons.

With Catching Genius in print, Kiernan is now well along in the research stage of her next novel, Matters of Faith. You can keep up with her by visiting, and you can keep up with some her writing friends by visiting

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at

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