Author Spotlight: Justin Dennis

Today I’d like to welcome Justin Dennis to my first Author Spotlight!

Justin wrote Through the Portal, which was the book review that was highlighted in yesterday’s post.  It is always interesting to get more insight into an author’s motivations and thought processes in developing their work. Take it away Justin!

Cege: How long have you been writing?

Justin: I’ve been writing ever since I can remember, honestly. I used to just dream up random stories, draw pictures of strange creatures. Turns out I’m a terrible artist, but I could actually tell a story! I wrote some short stories in junior high, and then the beginnings of a novel in high school, but Through the Portal was my first full-length novel. Writing has always been my passion, and it felt amazing to finally pull together this book: a collaboration of everything I had ever dreamed of or imagined.

Cege: Who are your major writing influencers?

Justin: Definitely JK Rowling and Philip Pullman. Christopher Paolini as well, the author of the Inheritance Cycle, because he wrote at a young age as well and created a fantasy world too. Rowling because the Harry Potter series had the most intricate, wonderful plot of anything I have ever read, and Pullman because he wrote poetically and described everything beautifully, while also dreaming up incredible worlds and creatures.

Cege: How did you develop the story concept for Through the Portal?

Justin: It really began in pieces, as Callisto was a world with its own inhabitants before Jem and Oliver found their way there. So it took a lot of planning of the history and future of Callisto before I decided on having Earth kids venture over. Then I wanted to make statements about independence, about relationships, about war and peace, about friendship and loyalty, about everything, so I designed scenes to lead them through this world while portraying important lessons and dropping just the right amount of hints as to what will be in books two and three.

Cege: Are any of the characters based on you, or someone you know?

Justin: Hm, that’s a good question. All of them have pieces of myself, small things brought to extremes, but no character is fully myself or anyone else. Pretty much everyone just popped straight out of my mind!

Cege: Who is your favorite character in the story?

Justin: I really like Sierra because she’s a strong, independent person capable of so much and has so much to prove throughout the trilogy. She’s really an outstanding person, and without her, none of this adventure would’ve been possible. But of course, like any writer, I love all my characters.

Cege: Through the Portal is set in Callisto, a parallel world to Earth.  How did you develop the topography Callisto and its six regions?

Justin: Well I wanted the terrain in every region to be instantly recognizable and unique to the inhabitants, and so I brainstormed all the different kinds of landscapes that I could use and denoted one to each region that fit the personality of the region. For instance, Lurians are very introverted and keep to themselves, so it snows heavily in Luria and is very cold, hence the people stay inside by themselves. Another interesting fact about the six regions is that each is named after one of the noble gases. Well… except for Luria, which replaced Krypton, simply because I didn’t feel I could steal that from superman.

Cege: You created a lot of new and interesting people, places, and animals that only exist in Callisto and the other world Kelados. How do you decide on names for your creations and keep track of all of them?

Justin: Oh jeez, I have a hugeeeee list, trust me! There are actually a lot more creatures that inhabit Callisto than I was able to squeeze into the book. Some of the people have names that relate to something in their personality. For example, Afflatus is a word that means inspiration or the imparting of knowledge, because Jem sees him as knowing everything and he is an important teacher to Jem. I named Callisto after Jupiter’s moon, which is thought to possibly have life on it. Kelados is derived from Enceladus which is one of Saturn’s moons, also thought to possibly harbor life. There is a lot more behind the names of everything and I’m constantly scheming up new creatures and names that will find a place within the next couple books.

Cege: Will we see more of Kelados and learn more about its zombie inhabitants in future installments?

Justin: Most definitely.

Cege: There seems to be a romance brewing between Jem and Sierra.  How do you approach writing that plot line knowing your target audience is younger readers?

Justin: Well it certainly entails being careful with the language I use and the situations that crop up, but I actually enjoy writing about them because I see it as an opportunity to teach younger kids about relationships. A major thing Jem and Sierra have to battle with is dependency, and both have to learn to be independent without the other. I think it’s a truly important lesson for readers to learn, and I love having Jem and Sierra to demonstrate that. It’s definitely not a simple boy falls in love with girl story.

Cege: When can we expect to see the next installment of Jem’s adventure?

Justin: For sure, it will be out by Summer 2012, although I’m working really hard to get it out by the Spring. So hopefully within the next few months.

Thank you Justin for hanging out in the Cege Smith universe!  I wish you the best of luck with all your writing endeavors!

Connect with Justin:

Justin’s Blog:
Justin’s Twitter:!/justindennis4
Justin’s Facebook Page:

Buy Through The Portal:


Barnes & Noble:

Book Review: Through the Portal by Justin Dennis

I am delighted to have the chance to offer book reviews here on the blog! From time to time, I will also feature author interviews and giveaways in addition to their book review. First up is a YA Fantasy from author Justin Dennis. Be sure to check back tomorrow for my interview with Justin!

Book Title: Through the Portal

Author: Justin Dennis

Type of Book: YA Fantasy

Book Description

What’s the worst part of falling through a portal to another world and not being able to get back? When the first person you meet almost gets you killed by a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon. Luckily, Jem and Oliver, two boys who were about to start their first year in high school, are saved by Sierra, a farm girl who is itching to get out of her small town. Together, the three of them set off on a quest to defeat the evil Veroci Regime that is stealing all the magic from the world, but can they do it before the Dragon catches up with them?

Cege’s Review

The one thing that I want to clarify right from the get go is that this is Jem’s story through and through. Although his best friend Oliver is an important supporting character, Through the Portal is all about Jem.

When we first meet Jem, he’s a quiet, smart, put-upon young fellow who is living his life in the shadow of his wealthy, gregarious, impulsive best friend Oliver.  And it’s Oliver’s hijinks that get them both accidentally sucked through a portal into a parallel world to Earth called Callisto.  Once there, the boys quickly learn that Callisto has been slowly falling under the rule of the Veroci Regime and that isn’t a good thing.

All people in Callisto are able to use magic (but only if a magic source is available to them-which is part of Veroci’s evil plot to control Callisto.)  As Jem and Oliver become more at home in Callisto, they decide that they want to join the rumored rebellion and fight against the Veroci Regime.

Jem is joined by a young farm girl, Sierra, who has her own reasons for wanting to get away from where she has grown up. After an unfortunate incident forces their hand, Jem, Oliver, and Sierra set off to find the rebels.  This adventure takes them through many of the regions of Callisto, where they learn more about this strange world they’ve fallen into, and Jem becomes more and more wedded to his new life.

Through the Portal is the first book in a planned trilogy by the author, and introduces us to the main characters who will likely be integral parts of the future books while laying the groundwork for what looks to be an epic battle between the Callisto rebels and the Veroci Regime.

I know from my own writing that telling a story here on Earth can be difficult enough- creating a whole new world with its topography, inhabitants, native creatures, etc. can be mind-boggling. I felt like the author handled this well and did a nice job of giving us the important details without going overboard.

The action throughout the story is well-paced. Jem visits almost every region in Callisto, and each one has its own unique culture.  He and his friends have to do some fast thinking to avoid getting caught by the Regime, but at the same time they are just kids trying to figure out their next move.  So they need help along the way, and sometimes their forward progress required some time standing still to learn some valuable lessons.

We also have a fledging romantic subplot brewing between Jem and Sierra. It’s evident throughout the book that they are drawn to each other, but they have to deal with their own individual growing pains. The author handles this delicately and really offers up the promise of more to come without being overt about it.

My main critique of the story is that the plot wasn’t what I expected it to be.  From the description, you might hazard a guess that this was a going to be a “coming-of-age, best friends” kind of story where we see the growth of not only Jem and Oliver individually, but of the bond of their friendship.  That wasn’t the case at all.  Oliver is relegated fairly early on to a supporting character, and Jem takes the forefront for the remainder of the book.  That doesn’t deter from this book having a solid plot, but it did distract me for a period of time.

The second thing that threw me off a bit was that although I think the author intended in some places for us to see Jem as becoming more assertive in his thoughts/actions,  he came across instead as immature and whiny.  (Of course, he is a teenager so that lends credibility to the character.)

There are some minor spelling/grammatical issues throughout but nothing that detracts from the storyline.

The book ends on a high note. Jem and Sierra have just fought a major battle and won, and finally found their way to the Callisto rebels. But it’s clear that this is just the beginning and the author has a lot more in store for us, so I will read the next installment.

Cege’s Rating:


Buy Through The Portal:


Barnes & Noble:

Connect with Justin Dennis:

Justin’s Blog:
Justin’s Twitter:!/justindennis4
Justin’s Facebook Page:

*Reviewer Disclaimer: I was provided a complimentary copy of Through the Portal for review.*

The Soul Garden Is Now Available!

I’m learning a lot about how to balance my writing/production time with all of the regular things that happen in life.  I do hold a “day job” currently, and so all of tasks and activities that go along with being an author (writing, reading, promoting) happens during my off-time, which not so long ago was “personal” time.  I’ll write more later about my lessons learned and how I’m adapting, but needless to say all of the holiday fanfare messed with my anticipated release date for The Soul Garden.  I wanted to release this on Dec. 17th, and instead it went live late last night (9 days late).

I can’t beat myself up too much though because it’s out there now and frankly I think it’s awesome. Here’s the description:

“There was Before and then there was Now. Do not grieve the loss of Before. It was a wicked time when people turned away from the Light, and for their sins they were punished. Rejoice in the Light and Rejoice in the Now for it is your salvation.”—A History of the Territory of Malm, Authorized Version

As punishment for mankind’s horrible deeds in Before, infants in the Territory of Malm are born soulless. These infants are safeguarded from society until the day of their soul implantation, when they are ensouled and finally become completely human.

The Territory of Malm has been ruled by the Office of Souls under the watchful eye of the Head Master for over one hundred years. While the territory has grown and prospered, some Residents have started to chafe under the carefully controlled procedures that govern every aspect of a Resident’s life, including procreation. But they have little choice; there are only a limited amount of souls available, and the Office of Souls controls soul distribution.

Soul Implantation Day 3675 starts out like any other day, but follows the paths of five different people who are destined to meet in the courtyard of the Fountain of Souls to witness a soul implantation ceremony that goes terribly awry and the beginning of an epic struggle between good and evil.

The Soul Garden is the Prequel to the upcoming Twisted Souls series.

You can download The Soul Garden for FREE right now from Smashwords.  If you’ve never visited Smashwords before, you have the option to download different file versions so you can view the book on your PC, on your Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, iPad, iPhone, etc.  It will be available shortly on Amazon, but until Amazon figures out the price match, it’s $0.99 there.

As always, if you do download one of my books and enjoy it, I would LOVE it if you would post a review of it from wherever you happened to download it (and you can be honest- I can take it!).

Happy Reading!

Experiments: Life’s Natural Spice

It’s really easy to fall into a rut.  The “same ole same ole”.  We want to be comfortable.  We like the familiar. So more often than not, no matter what we say we want, we’ll gravitate toward and maintain the same ole regular routine.

It’s not our fault.  It’s the way I think we were built.  There’s probably some research somewhere that has been able to correlate our inability to change routines that aren’t productive or healthy for us to our ancestors’ experiences as wandering nomads who never had enough to eat and were never able to secure a safe place to call home. (I haven’t looked, but it seems like you can always find a statistic somewhere to support whatever argument you are trying to make.)

I boil it down to this: change is damn hard.

There is no sugarcoating it. When you decide to wrestle with attempting a significant change, you have to suck it up.  Be uncomfortable. Get a little angry. And somehow stay motivated until you reach the promised land of “you like it” (I have to say that is a bit of a myth when it comes to some things for me).

I tell you this because I want you to know that I don’t think I have some profound secret to making everlasting change.  I struggle daily just like everyone else.  Some things have worked (committing to my morning pages) and most everything else has not. So I devised a plan (through my morning pages) to accomplish a couple of my goals at the same time:

I decided to experiment.

I’ve experimented before- mostly with some kind of diet/exercise routine, but I know from experience that every time I set out on this new path I get all excited and pumped up.  I visualize my success and feel thrilled thinking about crossing the finish line.  I smile more often and feel more relaxed because I am DOING something.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with some really cool things that have worked.  And honestly- most don’t.  (Go look up the statistic on Einstein’s failure rate. There is an actual book on his failures!) Experimenting keeps things interesting.  It adds a little needed sizzle to life. And if you keep an open mind, you can learn a lot.

My latest experiment is getting up earlier to exercise (a 20-min program) and write my morning pages in the actual morning. (Although I have been doing them, I often find that I’m writing later in the evening.)  Day 1 was a successful.  Because I have to travel early on Day 2 (tomorrow), I might run into some issues, but that remains to be seen.

Plus the biggest benefit: experimentation is FUN.

What have you experimented with lately?

Photo credit: fdecomite

The Power of Color

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to the red, white, and black color combination.  It’s funny how I even when I try to consider another combination, I’ll see something like this and it resonates.

This is it.

It isn’t even a question anymore. When I was looking to update my site template, I immediately stopped looking as soon as I found this one.  It just felt right.  It feels like me. It feels like home.

When I was 16, I got a job at a local hardware store. When you spend hours and hours of your life in a retail environment, at some point you start looking for things to buy to curb your boredom.  (Needless to say, that year my mom received a pretty slick toaster oven for Christmas.)

But one thing the store also sold was paint, and I had finally reached an age where my parents granted me creative freedom over my room.  It already had this crazy red shag carpeting when we moved in.  I found a black comforter bed set, and shiny black curtains with red tie backs to match. The only thing that was missing was paint on the walls (they were a stark eggshell white).

I bought some red and black paint and spent a weekend painting the biggest wall in my room (now I know that I was creating an “accent wall”.)  I originally intended to do a black and red checkerboard, but after a few measurements I quickly realized that was going to be a huge PITA.  So instead I broke the wall into 4 quadrants with two red and two black opposing squares.


I cringe now to think how my parents felt when they went to sell our house, but someone bought it even with my crazy accent wall.

The wall was the way that I expressed myself then, and they are colors that I feel help express my emotions now.  Red, black, and white are bold colors.  Someone who uses them isn’t afraid of anything, and that’s how I want to feel, even if sometimes I don’t.

This palette reminds me to be strong and fearless.  It inspires me.

So it wasn’t any surprise that even without any guidance from me, a variation ended up on the cover of Edge of Shadows.

Do you have a color palette that finds you even when you aren’t looking? What colors are “your” colors?

Photo credit: Stella Blue