My Top Story Picks for Halloween

It’s coming. Costumes, bowls full of sugar, and (if you are like me) hiding out in your house spending time in a great Halloween story.

A lot of us have our go-to spooky tails, but what if you don’t? Here are my top picks for movies and books for this weekend.

NUMBER 5: Harry Potter

Whether the movies or the books, adventures in Hogwarts make for a lovely selection for your end of October reading/watching pleasure.

NUMBER 4: Blood for Blood 

As talked about last week, Blood for Blood is a fantastic novel that addresses the question: Can a vampire be saved?  A great tale to hide out with that isn’t too far into the spooky realm.

NUMBER 3: Amish Vampires in Space

Amish Vampires in Space. Need I say more?

Yeah I will say more because this book is absolutely awesome and if you like sci-fi you should totally go get it and read it. Really. Do it. Then get the sequel Amish Zombies from Space and read it.

NUMBER 2: The Birds

Ah yes. The movie my mother cannot stand and my sister has sworn not to watch again.  One of Hitchcock’s finest if you ask me. So great there’s even a Barbie doll for it. You think I’m kidding?

Not kidding.

There is really only one other movie that I can say tops The Birds for perfect Halloween night viewing, and it is the one I watch every year. Presenting my top pick…

NUMBER 1: Arsenic and Old Lace

I. Love. This. Movie.

I cannot tell you how much I love this movie.

Yes, I am a strange person.

Some people may say:

But I simply say:

Do you have stories you go to during Halloween? 




Author Interview: Ben Wolf on Blood for Blood – PLUS WINNER ANNOUNCEMENT

Hi all! Today is a most special day here in Storytopia as we are honored once again by a visit from the amazing Ben Wolf! He’s here today to talk about his award-winning novel, Blood For Blood.

Without further ado, we head into our interview!

          In one sentence, tell us about Blood for Blood
Blood for Blood is the story of what might happen if a vampire got saved and tried to start living his life for God.
What was the inspiration behind the story?
I’ve always been a fan of vampires and their lore, but the story idea is actually one I stole (with permission) from a fellow writing friend. He was talking with me about how ironic it would be for a vampire to get saved and then have to endure life as a Christian among other Christians and their religious symbols, practices, etc. I loved the idea so much that I hijacked it and wrote the novel in the course of only a few months’ time.
What demographic would you say it is best suited for?
The target audience is new adult. That’s a fancy way of saying the age group that grew up with Harry Potter when it first came out and is still reading great fiction because of it. I’d say that mature 12 or 13-year-olds would get it, but it’s really meant for the YA age range up to folks in their late 30s/early 40s who like vampire stuff.
 You recently won an award for Blood for Blood – tell us about that!
I was honored to win the Oregon Christian Writers 2015 Cascade Award for Best Speculative Fiction Novel. I was up against some stiff competition, and I was thrilled just to be nominated, but I’m even more thrilled that I won. I really think it’s a great book, and I’m happy to see it get some recognition. It’s also validation that I should keep writing.
What is your goal for this book? What do you want people to take away from it?
Great question. Aside from just being wildly entertaining, this book should impact two different audiences in two different ways. The first audience is folks who feel like they’re not good enough for God, or that they’ve done too many wrong things, or that they’re too sinful to be good enough for God. Blood for Blood‘s message to them is that God can meet you wherever you’re at and He’ll love you through it all.
The second audience is Christians. This book should serve as a reminder that Christians are always representing Christ with our actions. If we do something awesome, that represents Christ in an awesome way. If we do something stupid–well, let’s try not to represent Christ that way. How we treat people matters, whether they’re different from us or not. We need to be cognizant of our choices in this area now more than ever, and that’s a message that Christians everywhere need to hear more of. It’s something I need to be reminded of every day.
 If you could give a copy of Blood for Blood to any one living person, who would it be?
If this means that they’re guaranteed to actually read the book, I’d probably send one to Oprah. Yeah, it’s shallow (hey, we all need book sales, right?), but she’s got a huge platform and I think she would be a good person to help me get the message–especially that second part I mentioned above–out to the public.
What do you put on your waffles?
Butter and maple syrup. I would consider adding bacon, because it’s bacon, but otherwise just the butter and the maple syrup is good enough for me.
The character of Raven is unique and complex. How do you think people can relate to him? How do YOU relate to him?
I’m glad you think he’s unique and complex. That’s a huge compliment to me. One of the areas where I struggle the most is in creating leading characters who aren’t flat and boring, actually, so I’m glad you thought he was cool.
I think people will relate to him in his uncertainty. I know I certainly do. Raven is uncertain about his new faith from the very beginning and throughout the entire book until almost the end. The moment he finally decides to really go for broke and surrender EVERYTHING to God is the key moment in his faith development.
I’m like that, only it’s a daily struggle. I am constantly fighting against surrendering to God, even though I should do it and need do it. I think a lot of American Christians are like that as well. We tend to think that we’ve got it under control, and we’ll just call on God when we get into a bind. But that’s not what God wants. He wants an ongoing relationship, not one of convenience. I struggle with this personally, and I definitely can learn from Raven’s story and character in this way.
If you could spend the day with one of the B4B characters, which would it be?
Oooh, tough one. I think I’d benefit the most from hanging out with Luco. My hope would be that he’d rub off on me in a  good way. He could mentor me a bit in my faith.
Did the story take a lot of research? Tell us about that process. 
It took a decent amount of research, yes. It’s set in the late 1800s, so i had to do a lot of reading to get a grasp on what life was like back then. Fortunately, I had just finished writing a historical western novel set in 1849, so I was already pretty familiar with the timeframe, although Blood for Blood occurred post-Civil War.
As for the vampire stuff, a lot of it was stuff I already knew. As I said above, I’ve been a vampire fan for awhile (I actually played Dracula in my high school production of Dracula, and that was awesome), so most of my research functioned more to confirm my vampiric knowledge rather than to learn stuff that was new.
What authors have influenced you the most?
Frank Peretti is responsible for me falling in love with reading and also for inspiring the desire within me to write. Robert Liparulo and Ted Dekker furthered that drive, and Randy Ingermanson and James Scott Bell both contributed a ton with their excellent work on teaching the craft of writing. More recently, Stephen King has become something of a favorite of mine.
What is your Halloween costume?
It’s highly likely that I’ll be going as Wolverine for Halloween this year. Gotta get some more mileage out of those claws.
So…. Are YOU a vampire?
Not that you know of. ;^[
Have you had a chance to read Blood for Blood yet? What do you think of it if you have? Have you read any other vampire novels? 
Don’t forget to stop by Amazon to get your copy today – the 99 cent sale ends TONIGHT!
My sister has done the honors, looked away, and pulled a folded piece of paper out of my cadet hat with The Princess Bride pin on it.  
And the winner is….

Congratulations, Firiel! I’ll be contacting you shortly!

Thanks to everyone who entered, and for everyone who has stopped by!

Story Exploration: Blood for Blood – Plus a GIVEAWAY

My first encounter with Blood for Blood was at this year’s Realm Makers conference. It was in the bookstore and I noticed as I browsed that Ben Wolf had written it. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “He writes novels not just magazines. And Tosca Lee wrote a blurb for the front of it! That’s so cool!” And then I went on my way because my wallet was running on empty.

A few days later, Blood for Blood won the OCW Cascade Contest, and Ben’s excitement was contagious.

 Image used with Permission from Ben Wolf

Not long after that, I was over the top delighted to WIN A COPY IN A DRAWING!!!!!!!!!  Winning things is just thrilling is it not? It just made my excitement to read the story skyrocket. (My excitement levels skyrocket frequently over many things, books being a very frequent contributor.)

It is HERE!

I didn’t really know what to expect when I started reading. But once I stepped on the roller coaster, it swept me away on a wild ride that left me gasping. (Literally. I gasped several times through this book).

Why I Liked It:

Blood for Blood tackles head on the question of whether a vampire can be saved. It doesn’t shy away from spiritual depths, nor is it preachy. The conversion scene is not corny in the least. It is realistic. That is something I really appreciated, because so many people are turned off at the slightest bit of preachiness. Ben handled it with well executed grace.

I loved the characters, the suspense, the plot.  The story is real, and the emotions poured into it really rang true with me. I related to the characters, identified with them. Particularly Calandra. I could relate to some of her guy problems 😛

Raven, the main character, was especially intriguing. Being “inside” a vampire as he’s struggling and changing was, well, thrilling. He had victories and horrible failures. Also, he falls in looooooooooove and it’s so adorable! Just wait until you get to this one scene! *fangirl moment of happy squeals and deep gasps and staggering back in painful, agonizing shock*

This story is strong and powerful with an ending that I never saw coming and all in all I just really think you need to read it.

What I Didn’t Like About It:

This isn’t exactly a dislike, more like a disclaimer. When Raven recounts the tale of how he became a vampire, things get intense. He’s seduced by a female vampire and once she’s got him super close and into passionate kissing, he gets bit.  Ben handles this scene very well in that the emotions and feeling of the scene are painted as wrong. It left me with a heavy, gross feeling. Which was, for the purpose of the story, necessary and I would guess intentional.  It is followed shortly thereafter with another kissing scene, the feeling of which was totally different (truuuue the characters doing it weren’t exactly supposed to be, but I was routing for it the whole time and it was a moment of YES WE HAVE VICTORY!!!!!!)

Along with that disclaimer I’ll give a note that this story is geared more toward New Adult than YA, mainly, I think, because of the disclaimed scene.

So. Sold on reading it? Check it out now on Amazon Kindle for only 99 cents until Saturday, October 24th.

Have you Read Blood for Blood? What were your thoughts? If you haven’t, will you be adding it to your To Be Read list?



I am very excited to announce to you a GIVEAWAY for YOUR VERY OWN SIGNED AND PERSONALIZED (if so desired) COPY OF BLOOD FOR BLOOD!!!

How do you enter?

Simply leave a comment below telling me one reason you’d like to read Blood for Blood. On Friday I’ll draw a name and announce the winner!

Good luck! 😀

Story, Emotions, and Weirdness

I had a plan for this blog. I think it’s still here somewhere, but a large chunk of it has completely crumbled. That chunk is reviewing or “exploring” the stories that I read and watch. Several unpublished Story Exploration posts sit in my dash staring at me with dull eyes.

Because that is what they are. Dull.

I’ve figured out that writing reviews simply isn’t my thing. Not the way everyone else does it. But I still haven’t quite figured out how I do it.

You see, even though I know the mechanics of story and how it works and what makes it work, when I approach a story as a reader/viewer, I don’t so much come away with “Oh my gosh this plot who didn’t work because xyz” I come away with “This story made me feel and had meaning to me because abc but lacked meaning here at xyz”  I know why, but trying to convey that to an audience doesn’t work, because I am an emotionally driven individual.

So when visiting The Storytopian, Story Exploration posts may not always be that great. Sometimes they may very well be just me rambling about the book without saying much. But I am going to try to streamline for you my feelings, what triggered those feelings, and why I think the book is worth reading.

It may be kind of weird.

But this is who I am. That weirdness is just part of me.

Author Interview: Ralene Burke on Bellanok: The Reluctant Savior

Good morning, world! Today we’re welcoming my dear friend Ralene Burke, who has recently released her first book! It’s part one in a  series called Bellanok.

Welcome, Ralene! It’s a delight to have you with us today!  Let’s get started. In one sentence, tell us what Bellanok is about.

Bellanok is a haven for myths and legends . . . until a demon finds a way in.
Tell us how Bellanok came to be.
You know, I don’t honestly remember. I just remember the first scene I wrote kept pestering me as I was working on another novel. Finally, I had to put the other novel aside for a bit and crank out the entire first scene before I could move on. After that, I put Bellanok aside for about a year before I came back to work on it.
What is it you hope readers will take away from Pt. One and the story as a whole?
The whole story emphasizes God’s ability to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things. In Part One, Brian deals with impatience and loss of purpose, and how when God says go–well, you have to go.
You have a great cast of characters – tell us about some of the non-human ones.
Well, one of the main characters is Fauna, the Fairy Queen. She’s young and inexperienced as a queen, but she’s always open to the Creator’s guidance. In fact, she struggles with not being able to hear him when she leaves the island. But, in spite of everything, her optimism and trust allow her to push through.
Her guardian on her journey looks human, and he’s anything but. Short-tempered, prejudice against humans, impatient . . . Roman has a lot of issues to work on. You’ll have to read the story to find out who he really is.
*laughs because I know who he is* 😀
Did you have a favorite character while writing? Are they still your favorite? Why?
Roman was the most fun to write because he’s so the opposite of my personality. He’s often the comic-relief, though that’s never his intention. As Brian is finding himself, though, he’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine.
I can’t wait to catch up with Brian in Part 2!
Waffles or Pancakes? 
French Toast? 🙂 Okay, if I have to choose, I love pancakes . . . with dark chocolate chips.
 What’s your favorite book you’ve read this year?
Oh, so many good ones to choose from. I think my favorite was probably The Sunken Realm by Serena Chase. Or Heir of Hope by Morgan Busse.
To give readers a liiiiitle bit of a preview here… What can we expect from Part 2?
Well, we’ll be learning about a new world, one that’s new even in the eyes of the inhabitants. Lots of things are changing . . . and then there’s the constant drumming.
Constant drumming?? Like in Doctor Who?? :O 
Are you secretly a fairy? 
A fairy never tells. 🙂
If you had the chance to spend the day with the Doctor or hanging out in Rivendell, which would you choose? 
Um . . . ah, who am I kidding? I’d spend the day with the Doctor. And have him take me to Rivendell.
How many parts in all do we have to look forward to? 
There should be 5 parts in all, each releasing about a month apart.
I can’t wait! 😀
 Any parting words for us? 
Stories are so much more than words on a page. They are an escape, an opportunity to learn and to experience new things. Lose yourself in a story, become someone new. You’ll come out stronger, smarter . . . changed.
Also, you can find Bellanok on Amazon for only 99 cents!
YAY! Be sure to check that out, everyone, you’ll be glad that you did ^_^ 
Thanks again to the marvelous Ralene for being with us today! 

Whether she’s wielding a fantasy writer’s pen, a freelance editor’s sword, or a social media wand, Ralene Burke always has her head in some dreamer’s world. And her goal is to make it SHINE! She spins fantastical tales to encourage people to SHINE BEYOND. She has worked for a variety of groups/companies, including Realm Makers, The Christian PEN, Kentucky Christian Writers Conference, and as an editor for a number of freelance clients.

When her head’s not in the publishing world, she is wife to a veteran and homeschooling mama to their three kids. Her Pinterest board would have you believe she is a master chef, excellent seamstress, and all around crafty diva. If she only had the time . . .

You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.
Have you read Bellanok: The Reluctant Savior yet? If so, what are your thoughts?  And do you like dark, milk, or white chocolate better? 

Story Exploration: The Hive

Following on the heels of yesterday’s fabulous talk with John Otte, today I’m going to be giving you my thoughts on The Hive!

This was my most anticipated book of the year. And that is saying something ’cause let me tell ya, there have been some amazing books to come out/I’ve finally gotten my hands on.  It all began one fateful day when I opened Enclave Publishing’s e-mail announcing their fall releases. As soon as my gaze fell on The Hive, my jaw dropped and I got goosebumps. At that moment I knew I had to read this book. I knew nothing of the plot, the age range, or even the author at that point (Okay, yes, I knew who John Otte was, I just hadn’t read any of his works yet).  There have only been two books that have affected me in this way, and that’s this one and Amish Vampires in Space (Which we will talk about later 😉 )

A few months passed, and then at the Realm Makers conference I had a blast fangirling over the cover with Steve Laube. In fact most of my appointment with him was spent in this way, and along with it came a sneak peek at the back cover copy! In that moment, I was more sold than ever.

So imagine the speed with which I signed up when John announced the launch team! A chance to read it early AND proclaim it to the world? Heck yeah!

And then, finally, it was time to read.

Two days later I had consumed the entire book.

Wow. Just wow.  This story was fantastic and it did not disappoint me. The characters were unique, real, and relatable. The plot was well crafted, executed, and held interest throughout. The biggest complaint that I had was that the world seemed vague to me, like I was missing a little piece of something that would make it all become clearer. Turns out The Hive is a sequel to Numb – a fact I didn’t realize until a couple weeks ago 😛  But don’t let that deter you from reading! The Hive stands on it’s own just fine.

So what’s the story all about?

A cyborg, recently cut off from her people, the Hive, discovers that she is pregnant. Convinced it must be a rare mistake on her people’s part, she locates a remnant of the child order file that contains one name: Scorn. Desperate to make her way back to the Hive, she sets off to find Scorn in hopes that they can take her back and make things right.

A teenage master hacker is trying to leave behind his messy past mistakes. But when a knock out gorgeous cyborg girl lands on his doorstep claiming she’s carrying his child, his past catches up with him.

Together, the two have to navigate their way through the dangerous territories of space, all the while being hunted in all directions for the life the cyborg holds. Everyone is clamoring to get the baby first. But… why?

Want to know more? Pre-order your copy now!


Author Interview: John W. Otte on The Hive

Welcome friends! Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing the epic John Otte, author of The Hive, Numb, and Failstate!!! I’m super duper excited, so let’s get started!

Hi John! Thanks for joining us today! How are you?
I’m doing pretty good. A little nervous about how The Hive will do when it finally comes out, but still pretty excited.
Excitement is filling the air today! So, first off, tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I am a Minnesotan through-and-through, even down to rooting for sports teams that I know will inevitably let me down. I went to Concordia University in St. Paul, where I majored in theatre, and then went on to Concordia Seminar in St. Louis where I studied to be a Lutheran pastor. Right now, I live in South St. Paul, Minnesota, with my wife and two boys. I like to say that I’m a pastor, husband, father, writer, and geek, but not necessarily always in that order.
What is The Hive about in one sentence?
The Hive is the story of a pregnant teenage cyborg who is being chased by two powerful intergalactic governments so she can save her baby.
Can we all say, EPIC? Where did the idea come from?
You know, that’s a really good question and I’m not sure I can really answer it. Some book ideas (like Failstate or Numb), I can remember every step of where the story came from. But sometimes, I honestly can’t remember. I think it was as simple as asking myself “What happens next?” I wanted to tell another story set in the same storyworld as Numb, so I started thinking, “Given where the world was when I left it, what would happen next?” And I kind of focused on one very minor character from Numb and sort of spun it all out from there. I won’t go into more than that, mostly because there’d be big spoilers for both Numb and The Hive. But once I had a glimmer of what might happen next, Zain and Scorn and all the rest came tumbling together.
What is the purpose of this book? (Who do you want it to reach and why?)
I had originally thought of The Hive as being a YA book (hence why both Zain and Scorn are teenagers), but when I showed it to my long-suffering and intrepid agent, she pointed out that it was missing some foundational elements to make it a true YA. As a matter of fact, I was planning on doing a major rewrite of the first half of the book to bring some of those missing elements into it. But before I could really do that, my Failstate books kind of took off, and then, next thing I knew, I was talking to Steve Laube of Enclave Publishing about releasing The Hive as is.
As for what its purpose is, I hate to play the spoilers card, but if I get into the overarching purpose, I’d have to kind of ruin the end of the book. So…I guess people will just have to read it. LOL!
*laughs with glee because I know the ending already*
Waffles or Pancakes?
Ooooh, tough call. I’m a fan of both breakfast items. But if I have to choose, I would say waffles, simply because I’m a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
6. Tell us about this cover – because it is INCREDIBLE!
I know, right? I’m absolutely floored by how it turned out! This cover is all Steve Laube. When I originally pitched him the idea, I described it as my “pregnant teenage cyborg” book (which was a nickname the project got at an ACFW Conference many years ago). That sparked his imagination, and at one point, he told me that he could already see the cover: a pregnant woman cradling her stomach with a cybernetic arm. He just knew that’s what the cover was going to be, and his excitement for it was infectious. When he sent me the artwork, I nearly fell out of my chair.
No kidding! The first time I saw it, I got chills!
Why do you think people should invest in this story?

Because it’s awesome?

Oh, wait, you’re looking for a serious answer…

Okay, because this story touches on a subject that’s near and dear to my heart. And unfortunately, I once again can’t say why because of spoilers. Gah! Plus there’s also the fact that there’s very little science fiction out there in the Christian market. I think that’s a void that needs to be filled. And plus, I think it’s an enjoyable story with some important points to be made about the dignity of human life and the nature of the Church.
Do you have a favorite part of the book?
Do I have to pick? Okay, my most favorite part has to be the dialogue between Scorn and Hopkins, his apartment’s AI, right after Zain finds them. I really like the way that scene plays out and I’m especially glad I could sneak some silly humor into it.
Ah, that scene was great. Definitely one of my favorites.
If you had to choose between a sword fight with Aragorn or a fist fight with Captain America, which would you choose?
I’m fighting either Aragorn or Cap? Wow. I’m going to lose so hard.
But if I have to choose, I’d pick a sword fight with Aragorn. I actually did some sword fighting with padded weapons when I was in the Seminary. That’s not saying much, though. My nickname was “Speedbump.” I could only slow someone down, not stop them.
Who is your favorite character in The Hive and why?
Another tough choice! I’d have to say Jim. I just like him and his gruff attitude. I think it’d be interesting to crawl around in his backstory for a while and see what makes him tick.
That is something I would be very interested in seeing.
Which character was most fun to write?
That’s easy. Hopkins the apartment AI. I just loved his wry sense of humor and I giggle every time I read his scenes.
He is absolutely amazing, I love him 😀
Do you have any parting words of wisdom for us?
I’m the last person who should be doling out wisdom because I have so little of it to begin with. LOL! But I think my favorite bit of wisdom is this: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” What He has figured out for us is usually a whole lot better than what we could ever dream up on our own.
Be sure to go follow John on Facebook and Twitterand watch for The Hive coming to you on October 16th!