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:

The Art and Science of a Newbie Book Launch: Planning

I’ve been a planner since way back.  I didn’t need to take the Myers-Briggs to know that I have a strong preference towards data-based decisions and am very time-oriented. I experience a high level of stress when I leave the house without my watch on.  I am constantly thinking about how to best utilize my time and maintaining an efficient schedule.

Yes, I’m that person.
So it may surprise you a bit to know that I fell into my book launch schedule more than I actually planned it.  I think that is because I recognized that there were a lot of things that I didn’t know, and if I set my expectations too high and some went off the rails unexpectedly, I’d be in trouble.
I had to strike a balance between planning and being able to remain nimble.  Here’s where I landed on the things that I identified as “necessities” in the plan and how it worked out.
  • Timeline: I decided to bring Edge of Shadows"" “>Edge of Shadows still hasn’t been accepted into Smashwords Premium Catalog which is a requirement to get it distributed to B&N, Sony, and Kobo among others.  And once it’s accepted, it can take up to another week to before it’s submitted as Smashwords only distributes to those outlets once a week.  I definitely need to take this into consideration before I publish my next novel.
    • Gathering the Troops: By far the biggest complaints I’ve seen on the self-publishing front from readers are either a) lack of editing or b) poor cover design.  I knew I was going to have to invest some cash and hire these out.  So I had to make some decisions fast. Outcome: I posted for an editor on eLance the day I made the decision to publish, and selected my editor, Christine LaPorte from the 40+ bids that came in.  I found Scarlett Rugers through the Nano site and she was running a scary good promotion on cover design that I snapped up. Both delivered on time with no problem.
    • Sounding the Horn: Book promotion is supposed to start well ahead of the actual live date of the book.  I had this site up and running, but it wasn’t current. I had a Facebook page set-up, but I didn’t even have 25 fans yet to be able to customize my URL. I had let my Twitter handle languish in favor of my other one given my most recent area of interest.  I knew this was by far the area that needed the most work. Outcome: I’ve been spending a lot of time here, and will continue to do so to grow my fan base.  This is mission critical, so there’s no other way.  What I need to do though is be very careful not to let my book promotion take away from my writing time.
You don’t have to have a complete business plan drafted to self-publish a book.  But I do think that you do have to have realistic expectations of what you can do with the time and money you have available.  It is your job and your reputation that you are putting on the line, so it’s worth the time to slow down and flesh a couple of the finer details out.
(photo credit andyp uk)

The Art and Science of a Newbie Book Launch: Beginnings








Has this ever happened to you?  One day you woke up and said to yourself, “Self- I want to publish a book.”

You could have many reasons behind that simple desire. Maybe you’ve had a story brewing deep down in your gut for what seems like ages.  Maybe something happened to you in your life that you always wanted to put down in writing so that it would be remembered forever.  Perhaps you simply wish to leave something of yourself behind forever.

Whatever your motivation, it all starts with that simple expression of intention that you sent out to the universe.

I was 12 when I declared that I wanted to be an author. I could give you my laundry list of excuses why it hasn’t happened yet, but it doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t take the necessary action to make that dream a reality until recently.

Oh, I wrote a book.  I’ve written two novels in fact and I have three more in varying states of completion.  But what you discover is that the actual writing of the book is only about 40% of your overall journey to getting your work into the hands of any reader.

After that, you enter this confusing realm of book publishing and it is very easy to get good and stuck right there.  In fact, that’s where I’ve been for the last three years or so.  But not for much long.

Next week I’m launching my first novel, jetheriot)