Interview with Linda Naughton

I’m happy to welcome software engineer, paramedic, and author Linda Naughton. Today, Linda shares her creative journey and new release, Blackout Trail.


What was your inspiration for this book?

I’ve always been a fan of disaster movies—Armageddon, Twister, and The Day After Tomorrow to name a few. William R. Forstchen’s novel One Second After introduced me to the EMP survival genre. An electromagnetic pulse takes down the power grid, leading to a complete collapse of society.

I really enjoyed those stories, but most of them (at that time, anyway) were about preppers or ex-military folks who were well-equipped for an apocalypse. I wanted to tell a story about regular people. People who were in over their heads and just trying to do the right thing in a world turned upside down.

What is the best part of being an author? The worst?

Knowing that a story you wrote resonated with someone is a great feeling. I write stories for myself first, but it’s gratifying to see others enjoying them too.

On the flip side, it’s nerve-wracking to put a book out there after pouring so much effort into it. Will anyone even read it? What if they all hate it? Accepting criticism is part of the job—you’ll never please everyone—but it can still provoke anxiety and imposter syndrome.

Which authors have inspired you?

As a kid, I read a lot of sci-fi stories by Robert Heinlein. I really loved his straightforward writing style and tightly written plots. I am also a huge fan of Jennifer Roberson, especially the Tiger and Del novels. She has a way of really getting into her characters’ heads and making them feel like three-dimensional people.

What is your favorite quote?

I’ve always liked this one from Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This resonates with me both as an engineer and a writer. Your first draft or first prototype isn’t the final destination. You just have to keep refining it until it’s right.

Besides writing and reading, what are some of your hobbies?

I’m a lifelong gamer. These days it’s mostly video games with my kids, but I’ll always have a soft spot for table-top role-playing games. My first paid writing gig was actually doing freelance work for the Shadowrun RPG.

What are you working on next?

I am currently working on the sequel to Blackout Trail. The first story stands alone (no cliffhangers here), but I get attached to my characters and feel like there are more stories to tell with them.


Doctor Anna Hastings is no stranger to disasters, having spent much of her career as an aid worker in conflict zones around the world. Yet when an electrical phenomenon known as an EMP brings down the power grid, Anna faces catastrophe on a scale she never imagined. She must learn what it means to be a doctor in a world deprived of almost all technology.

As the blackout causes planes to fall from the sky, Anna crosses paths with devoted father Mark Ryan in the chaos at the airport. Mark convinces Anna to travel with him and his seven-year-old daughter Lily to their family’s cabin in remote Maine. There Mark hopes to reunite with his wife, and find a safe refuge from a society on the brink of collapse.

Journeying across a thousand miles of backcountry trails, they will face a daily struggle against nature. Their biggest peril, though, may come from their fellow survivors. As Anna grows closer to Mark and Lily, she resolves to see them safely home. But can she hold onto her humanity in a world gone mad?


I had just enough time to scoop Lily up and pull her to my chest before the wall of water hit us. I’d been knocked flat by ocean waves countless times before, but this was different. The wave hit low, sweeping my legs out from under me and then carrying us downstream. The shoreline zoomed by, branches and debris swirling all around us.

“Daddy!” Lily cried, squirming in search of Mark. I tightened my grip, fearful of seeing her swept away by the churning torrent of water. I couldn’t see him either. Hopefully he was just upstream from us, in my blind spot.

The creek didn’t seem that deep; I felt my leg smack against the rocky creek bed a few times. I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t get my feet planted. The fast-moving current just bowled me right over every time. Once, we went under and came up sputtering. I worried that our backpacks would sink us, but Lily’s was small and mine surprisingly buoyant.

Over the roaring of the creek, I heard Lily cry out in terror. It was a heart-wrenching sound, but at least it told me she wasn’t drowning. I scanned the shore for something that we might be able to grab onto, but nothing came within reach.

“Anna!” Lily’s shrill cry caused me to snap my eyes forward. A tree had fallen across the stream, and we hurtled towards it.

“Hold on!” Her arms wrapped around my neck so tightly it almost choked me. When we were nearly upon the tree, I twisted my body sideways, trying to shield Lily from the impact.

Buy Links

Amazon | Paperback (wide)

Author Bio and Links

Linda Naughton has been writing stories for as long as she can remember. She is the author of several novels, children’s books, and the blog Self-Rescuing Princesses. A proud geek and gamer girl, she enjoys sci-fi, disaster movies, and role-playing games. She is a software engineer, paramedic, and mother of two.

Website | Twitter | Facebook


Linda Naughton will be awarding a $15 Amazon/Barnes & Noble gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour. Find out more here.

Follow Linda on the rest of her Goddess Fish tour here.


Excerpt Tour: Matching the Marquess

I’m happy to welcome USA Today bestselling author Darcy Burke. Today, Darcy shares her new release, Matching the Marquess.


Benjamin Nash, Marquess of Creslow, must marry, for he is the last of the family line. Desirous of a business arrangement instead of a love match, he hires a matchmaker, but on the way to the May Day festival where he will meet her, as well as his matches, he encounters an alluring lady who may suit him perfectly…

After her husband’s death left her a pauper, Rebecca Sweet relied on family for help and in return guided two of them to successful marriages. Engaged with her first real client, she plans to present him a gaggle of young ladies eager to wed. But when she realizes the marquess is the same dashing gentleman she met on the way to the festival, the task becomes far more complicated. Attraction simmers between them, however Nash wants a loveless marriage and Rebecca would only wed again for love. She must find him a bride before she loses her heart forever.


The swarm of young ladies was trying even Nash’s patience. He could typically charm and flirt all night long. Doing so, in fact, was what he was known for. But this unfettered and unabashed attention by so many directed completely at him was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. On the London Marriage Mart, or even in London outside of the Marriage Mart, people were much more discreet with their attention. Usually.

Apparently, it didn’t matter that he’d tried to make himself less attractive. He hadn’t helped himself by being gregarious at first, but now he stood with his arms crossed in an attempt to keep the masses away. It still wasn’t enough. He set his lips into a deep frown.

“What’s wrong, my lord?” asked a fresh-faced young lady with round brown eyes.

Before he could grunt in response, Mrs. Sweet arrived outside the press. Their gazes met, and he sent her a silent plea. She threaded her way through the young ladies, tilting her head this way and that as she murmured things he couldn’t hear. He could only see her lips move. And what lovely lips they were.

When she at last reached him, she gave the young ladies a bright smile. “Forgive us, but Lord Creslow is due to speak with someone.” She clutched his arm and guided him through the throng.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “I was growing most desperate.”

She steered him out of the ballroom and into an antechamber where refreshments were laid out on tables. “I could see that.”

“There were just so many of them. I’m slightly embarrassed. Typically, I can hold my own. However, I’ve never been beset like that. I’m used to some decorum in London.”

“You are not in London, as you’ve learned.”

Author Bio and Links

USA Today Bestselling Author Darcy Burke loves history, her family, and cats (not in that in that order). She’s published over fifty captivating, compelling historical and contemporary romance novels and novellas. It all started with The Magic Swan when she was 11 years old, a happily ever after about a swan addicted to magic and the female swan who loved him—with exceedingly poor illustrations. She still has plenty of ideas and writes (it seems) constantly in between hanging with her family, playing games, listening to the Dave Matthews Band, bingeing period TV shows, and chilling with her seven rescue cats. Join her Reader Club at

Facebook: Darcyburkefans | Facebook Group: DarcysDuchesses | Instagram | Pinterest | Twitter | Goodreads | BookBub


Darcy Burke will be awarding the first two books in the Wicked Dukes Club series (One Night for Seduction and One Night of Surrender) – US winner’s choice of ebook or print, and international winner ebook only, to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour. Find out more here.

Follow Darcy on the rest of her Goddess Fish tour here.

10 Interesting Facts about Sgt. Winston Windflower

I’m happy to welcome best-selling author Mike Martin. Today, Mike shares interesting facts about the protagonist of the award-winning Sgt. Windflower Mystery series and his new release, All That Glitters.

1. He’s Cree from Pink Lake, Alberta

Windflower is a Cree from the fictional community of Pink Lake Alberta. People ask why did I make him Indigenous? I didn’t make him anything. That’s the way he came. Windflower came out of the fog one night in Grand Bank, Newfoundland and started talking to me. I just wrote down his story.

2. He likes to eat

This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s read any of the Sgt. Windflower books. His favourite foods are mostly meat and fish. And desserts, especially chocolate peanut butter cheesecake. Food is an important element in the Windflower books because they give a break in the police action, an opportunity to visit with friends, and sometimes a chance to reveal clues or additional details about crimes or criminals.

3. He likes to cook

Almost as much as he likes to eat, Windflower likes to cook. His specialities would be grilling or barbequing. Anything from steak to ribs to pork chops. He also loves to cook fish and makes a delicious fried cod with garlic mashed potatoes and maple Brussel Sprouts. And scrunchions. Small pieces of fried fatback pork that are sprinkled over the cod fish.

4. He likes to pick blueberries

He could spend hours picking any kind of berries, but blueberries would be his favourite. For him, he enjoys the quiet, meditative action of picking berries. Being outdoors in nice weather and being close to Mother Earth. And he loves all the baking that comes out of the berry crop. Sheila, his wife, makes a blueberry buckle that he could die for.

5. He likes Shakespeare quotes

Windflower and his friend Ron Quigley had an instructor at the RCMP training college who loved the Bard. He inspired these two young RCMP cadets to learn and practice quotes. They picked up the habit and carried it into their professional careers together. That’s why quotes are found all through the Windflower books. One that pops up a lot is ‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here’. Pretty apropos for police work.

6. He likes classical music

He didn’t always like classical music. More of a classic rock guy. But his friend, Herb Stoodley, turned him on to this type of music and he loves it now. Every so often Herb gives him a CD and he likes nothing better than to play it when he is travelling by himself on the lonely highways in Newfoundland.

7. He likes trout fishing

Another passion that he picked up from Herb Stoodley who is a master fisherman. Herb takes him all over the area to find the best fishing ponds and the biggest fish. They even go sea trout fishing in the rivers that run directly into the ocean. Those are some of the biggest and tastiest trout that Windflower has ever eaten. He grills them on the BBQ, by the way.

8. He likes walking and hiking

Windflower loves being outside. Even in the winter. Even in the rain, drizzle and fog that is often the weather in this part of the world. He especially likes walking on the many trails in the area and over the barrens and rocky hills overlooking Grand Bank. The view from the top is spectacular.

9. His pets Lady and Molly

Windflower and his collie Lady have a love affair ever since he rescued her after her original owner died in a car crash. They are constant companions on their daily, and nightly, walks around Grand Bank. He loves Molly the cat, too. But isn’t so sure that love is reciprocated. But he keeps working on that relationship and finds that morsels of salmon always help.

10. He loves Newfoundland

One characteristic of Windflower that would be apparent to anyone upon meeting him is that he has a great love of Newfoundland. He liked the community of Grand Bank right from the beginning, fell in love with Sheila at the same time and then grew to love the people, the food, even the weather. Well, not so much the weather, but the feeling of being so close to the ocean filled him up so much he can’t imagine ever leaving.


Sergeant Winston Windflower is moving on to a new chapter of his life, no longer an RCMP officer but now a Community Safety Officer in his home of Grand Bank, Newfoundland.

But when a body is found in the bed and breakfast he co-owns, diamonds are found in the body’s digestive system, and then Windflower’s friend Dr. Sanjay, who was given the diamonds for safekeeping, is kidnapped, it’s clear that crime has returned once more to Grand Bank.

Windflower finds himself back in the thick of it, helping his newly promoted friend, RCMP Corporal Eddie Tizzard, track down a ruthless diamond smuggler who will stop at nothing — kidnapping, even murder — to pull off his dirty business.

This is another finely spun Windflower mystery that contrasts suspense and tension with the joys of friendship, family, and gratitude.

All That Glitters is available in fine bookstores all over Canada and around the world on Amazon.

Amazon CA | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU

Author Bio

Mike Martin was born in St. John’s, NL on the east coast of Canada and now lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario. He is a long-time freelance writer and his articles and essays have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online across Canada as well as in the United States and New Zealand.

He is the award-winning and best-selling author of the award-winning Sgt. Windflower Mystery series set in beautiful Grand Bank. There are now 13 books in this light mystery series with the publication of All That Glitters.

A Tangled Web was shortlisted in 2017 for the best light mystery of the year, and Darkest Before the Dawn won the 2019 Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award.

Some Sgt. Windflower Mysteries are now available as audiobooks and the latest A Tangled Web was released as an audiobook in 2023. All audiobooks are available from Audible in Canada and around the world.

Mike is Past Chair of the Board of Crime Writers of Canada, a national organization promoting Canadian crime and mystery writers and a member of the Newfoundland Writers’ Guild and Capital Crime Writers.

You can follow the Sgt. Windflower Mysteries on Facebook at

When Writing Does Not Come Easy

I’m happy to welcome back author Nancy-Lee Badger. Today, Nancy shares her creative journey and new release, The Rogue’s Ring.

I feel I was a late bloomer when it came to writing. During my junior high years, I recall going to some type of eye doctor who made mom make me do the oddest eye exercises that included laying on my back on the floor and moving my arms. I tried contact lenses in my junior year of high school and could see better, but I took a remedial reading course in my senior year that was all about memorizing blocks of random numbers. We got up to six numbers, which helped me once I began working in retail, since I had to punch each item’s SKU (stock keeping unit) number into the register.

I wrote a few stories and dabbled in poetry in college, but never once did writing a publishable novel fill my dreams. Marriage, work, and raising a family got in the way of any dreams, until I began to notice my surroundings at a Scottish Highland festival. The writing took off, but it wasn’t until I was in my fifties and had moved from New Hampshire to North Carolina that I sold a story.

I have published contemporary romances, time travels, and fantasies. My current series involves three Englishmen who meet Scottish women as they search for treasure. The Rogue’s Ring is a full-length story set mainly in 1817 Scotland. The Rogue’s Ring follows The Earl’s Treasure and The Duke’s Diamond. What happens? They find love they never expected to fall into their laps.

Tag Line

An English rogue, a Scottish pirate’s sister, and a quest that ought to keep them apart is thwarted when young boys are kidnapped.

Book Blurb

Bryce Ketteridge would never let down his friends. If finding the owners of signet rings was important, he would do his share. Shooting a masked bandit turned his life on end. What followed was not in his plans. The last thing Cat Douglas wished to do was steal coins from the handsome stranger. When he later shoots her while she threatened a nobleman’s coach, she suspected he had no idea it was her. Kidnapped boys, pirate threats, and murder propel them to save a boy named Blake. He was, after all, special to them both.

More about Me

I grew up in Huntington on New York’s Long Island. After attending Plymouth State, in New Hampshire, I earned a Bachelor of Science degree and met and married my college sweetheart. We raised two handsome sons in Rumney, New Hampshire while I dreamed of being a writer. When the children had left the nest, and shoveling snow became a chore, I retired from my satisfying job as a 911 Emergency Medical Dispatcher and moved to North Carolina, where I write full-time. I am a member of Romance Writers of America, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, Fantasy-Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers, and the Triangle Association of Freelancers. I find story ideas in the most unusual places. Connect with her here:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon Author Page

Spotlight on The Babel Apocalypse

I’m happy to welcome award-winning linguist and author Vyvyan Evans. Today, Vyvyan shares his creative journey and new release, The Babel Apocalypse.


What was your inspiration for this book?

The Babel Apocalypse imagines a future in which we stream language directly to neural implants in our heads.

Today, we stream anything from movies, to books, to music, to our ‘smart’ devices, and consume that content. Smart devices use streaming signals—data encoded in IP data packets—encoded and distributed via wi-fi internet. Language streaming would work, in principle, in the same way. With a ‘language chip’ implanted in our brains, we will be able to ‘stream’ language from internet-in-space on demand, 24/7.

Moreover, based on an individual’s level of subscription to a language streaming provider, they would be able to stream any language they chose, with any level of lexical complexity. This means that someone could, potentially, apply for a job in any country in the world, without needing to be concerned about knowing the local language. Rather, the individual would just draw upon the words and grammar they need, to function in the language, by syncing to a language database, stored on a server in space. And call it up, over the internet, in real time, as they think and talk. It means that everything someone needs to know, to be able to use a language, is streamed over the internet, rather than being stored in someone’s head. Language learning, thus, becomes obsolete.

I have a research background in linguistics and cognitive science, with a PhD in linguistics, and having worked for many years as a professor of linguistics. Over the years it increasingly struck me, what if language were no longer learned but streamed. The rise of intelligent AI and ChatGPT makes there seem more plausible. And the technology is currently being developed, to make neural implants for humans possible, to create a so-called “transhuman”.

I wrote The Babel Apocalypse because, in the near future, such developments may even put language under threat. Hence, the inspiration for the book was that it should serve as a warning: when we lose language we all lose.

What is the best part of being an author? The worst?

The best part of being an author is the writing. And that’s also the worst part. But the hardest part is the marketing that follows the writing.

Which authors have inspired you?

Given I am a trained linguist, there are two books, by two quite different authors that have inspired me. Both these books ingeniously explored the impact of language on how we think and experience (illustrated through the conceit of a protagonist learning an entirely new, and alien, language).

The first, Babel-17 is by Samuel R. Delany. It was first published in 1966 and was joint winner of the Nebula Award for best novel in 1967.

The eponymous Babel-17 is a language that alters the perceptions and worldview of any who speak it. This is a conceit that draws upon the principle of linguistic relativity.

Linguistic Relativity holds that divergence in the grammatical organization and lexical structure of the language we speak alters the habitual perception of the world around us, even dramatically changing how we think. As an example, we now know that the brains of Greek speakers perceive certain colours differently from speakers of English because of how Greek labels for colour divide up the colour spectrum. This is an unconscious consequence of speaking Greek versus English.

In the novel, Babel-17 is the language spoken by Invaders, as they wage an interstellar war against the Alliance. The novel’s protagonist, Rydra Wong, is a linguist and cryptographer who possesses a rare ability to learn languages. She is recruited by the Alliance to try and decode the language of the invaders, Babel-17, to uncover clues for attack vectors.

Babel-17 is an exemplar of a very high-concept conceit. When Delany was writing the novel, linguistic relativity was still only a hypothesis, first dubbed the Spair-Whorf hypothesis in 1954.

Delany asks a classic ‘what if’ question: What if the language we speak fundamentally changes the way we see the world, the way we feel, our belief systems, the way we act? Babel-17 then explores the logical, and extreme consequences of this proposition.

In the novel, as Rydra Wong learns the strange, alien tongue, she starts to see the world, and think as the invaders do. And the consequence is that she starts to become one of them. She ultimately betrays her own command and her government, acting as an agent of the Invaders.

And in this way, Delany shows that in the context of warfare, when the notion of linguistic relativity is taken to its logical extreme, language can serve as the most powerful weapon of all.

The second is the novella, Story of Your Life, written by Ted Chiang and first published in 1998. This story was subsequently adapted as the major motion picture Arrival.

Again, this story features a linguist as its main protagonist, Dr. Louise Banks. The story involves Banks narrating the events that led to the arrival of her new-born daughter. In so doing, she explains how her work, translating the language of the alien Heptapod species, led her to understanding time in a new way, where she could perceive her past and future simultaneously.

The consequence is that as learning a new (alien) language transforms thought, the novella explores issues relating to linguistic relativity, determinism and freewill.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Hone your craft, be consistent in setting writing goals, never give-up, rejection is part of the process. And finally, no one ever wrote a masterpiece in one go. It takes time, sometimes years, to get a manuscript right—be kind to yourself during this process. Everything is a learning opportunity.

What are you working on next?

The Babel Apocalypse is the first instalment in the Songs of the Sage book series. There are six projected books in the series which, in increasing turns, examine the role and nature of language, and communication. The thematic premise is that, in the wrong hands, language can serve as a weapon of mass destruction. This overarching motif is explored, across the six books, both from Earth-bound and galaxies-wide bases.

As language involves symbol use and processing, the book series, perhaps naturally, also dwells on other aspects of human imagination and symbolic behaviour, including religious experience and belief systems, themselves made possible by language.

The second book in the series, The Dark Court, is set five years after the events of the great language outage depicted in The Babel Apocalypse. It explores how the language chips in people’s heads can themselves be hacked, leading to a global insomnia pandemic. The Dark Court will be published in 2024, as book 2 in the series.


Language is no longer learned, but streamed to neural implants regulated by lang-laws. Those who can’t afford language streaming services are feral, living on the fringes of society. Big tech corporations control language, the world’s most valuable commodity.

But when a massive cyberattack causes a global language outage, catastrophe looms.

Europol detective Emyr Morgan is assigned to the case. His prime suspect is Professor Ebba Black, the last native speaker of language in the automated world, and leader of the Babel cyberterrorist organization. But Emyr soon learns that in a world of corporate power, where those who control language control everything, all is not as it seems.

As he and Ebba collide, Emyr faces an existential dilemma between loyalty and betrayal, when everything he once believed in is called into question. To prevent the imminent collapse of civilization and a global war between the great federations, he must figure out friend from foe—his life depends on it. And with the odds stacked against him, he must find a way to stop the Babel Apocalypse.


Ebba was all too aware that she was viewed as an anomaly by pretty much everyone; she was neither feral nor out-soc. So, some of her students—especially those from outside the Republic, such as the Grand Union, and other places too—thought she must be breaking the law. It was a common misconception. She had even once been reported to the authorities by one of those types. For being an unchipped ghost, as they called her. That made her laugh; a dark laugh at the irony of it. The mutes, she called them. Those who had been fitted with Universal Grammar tech.

But while she officially resided in the Nordic Republic, and as long as she remained there, Ebba wasn’t doing anything illegal. The Republic was something of a curiosity even among Tier One states, never having passed a lang-law. Yet this singular absence was offset by the special requirements of Nordic birth licenses. To have one granted, prospective parents had to consent to their newborn being fitted with Universal Grammar tech. So everyone got a language chip at birth anyway, together with an ear implant transceiver. Which meant that voice command tech was, for all intents and purposes, de rigueur even without a lang-law. But that was the Scandinavian way. In the Nordic Republic, they organized freedom.

For her part, Ebba knew it wasn’t her. It was everyone else who had the problem. “That’s what you would think,” her braver, typically male students told her. “You’re Ebba Black.” Ha! Whatever that means. How do they know what Ebba Black would think anyway?

Author Bio and Links

Dr. Vyvyan Evans is a native of Chester, England. He holds a PhD in linguistics from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., and is a Professor of Linguistics. He has published numerous acclaimed popular science and technical books on language and linguistics. His popular science essays and articles have appeared in numerous venues including ‘The Guardian’, ‘Psychology Today’, ‘New York Post’, ‘New Scientist’, ‘Newsweek’ and ‘The New Republic’. His award-winning writing focuses, in one way or another, on the nature of language and mind, the impact of technology on language, and the future of communication. His science fiction work explores the status of language and digital communication technology as potential weapons of mass destruction.

Book Website | Author Website | YouTube Channel | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

The Babel Apocalypse earned a starred review in Kirkus: “A perfect fusion of SF, thriller, and mystery—smart speculative fiction at its very best.”

The full review is here.


The author will be awarding a physical paperback copy of the book (available internationally) to a randomly drawn commenter. Find out more here.

Follow the author on the rest of his Goddess Fish tour here.

Spotlight on Unwillable by Jackie M. Stebbins

I’m happy to welcome author and motivational speaker Jackie M. Stebbins. Today, Jackie shares interesting facts about autoimmune encephalitis and her memoir, Unwillable.

Here’s Jackie!

In 2018, after a traumatizing onset and near-death experience at age thirty-four, I was diagnosed with a rare brain illness, autoimmune encephalitis (AE). I had never before heard of AE, but I’m not alone; eight out of ten people in the world haven’t heard of encephalitis (spoiler alert, that’s one of my ten facts, please keep reading).

I wrote my memoir, Unwillable, to help raise awareness about my rare brain illness. And I hope to add to the conversation with this list.

Here are ten (hopefully interesting) facts about encephalitis:

What: Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. It is caused by an infection or through the immune system attacking the brain. (I have AE. My immune system sneakily attacked my brain.)

Who: Anyone can develop encephalitis regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. (I’ve met women and men older than me with AE, and I’ve met a boy who was diagnosed when he was under five years old).

Outcomes: Encephalitis can have a high death rate and survivors might be left with an acquired brain injury and life-changing consequences. Early diagnosis and treatment can save lives and improve outcomes. In some cases, encephalitis can impact mental health, causing difficulty in dealing with emotions and behaviors, and can lead to thoughts of self-harm and even suicide.

Death: Encephalitis has a high death rate (up to 40% dependent on cause) and a relapse rate of between 12 and 35% (dependent on cause).

Awareness: In many countries, encephalitis is more common than ALS, multiple sclerosis, bacterial meningitis, and cerebral palsy, but eight out of ten people in the world have never heard of encephalitis. (But not you, because you’re reading this blog!)

Symptoms: Autoimmune encephalitis symptoms may include: confusion, altered personality or behavior, psychosis, movement disorders, seizures, hallucinations, memory loss, or sleep disturbances. Infectious encephalitis usually begins with a ‘flu-like illness’ or headache, and more serious symptoms follows, such as loss of consciousness, coma, a high temperature, seizures, inability to speak or control movement, sensory changes, neck stiffness or uncharacteristic behavior.

Diagnosis: To diagnose encephalitis, doctors perform a variety of tests such as a spinal tap, CT or MRI brain scans, an electroencephalogram (EEG), various blood tests, and cognitive assessments.

Prognosis: Encephalitis can be complicated to diagnose and is often misdiagnosed. It can also be hard to treat the cause of encephalitis (infectious or autoimmune) and to treat the symptoms and complications arising from encephalitis.

Recovery: Encephalitis recovery can be a long and slow process, because the brain takes much longer to recover than other parts of the body.

#StebbinsStrong: I wrote Unwillable after Susannah Cahalan’s memoir Brain on Fire was a NYT #1 bestseller. I wanted to add to the knowledge base about my rare brain illness and I wanted to show people that even when life throws the worst at you, you can survive, recover, and rebuild your life in a meaningful way. There is life after autoimmune encephalitis!


“Jackie Stebbins’ UNWILLABLE is an inspiring story of a brilliant woman’s battle with autoimmune encephalitis and the circle of support–from loving family members to dedicated physicians–who helped guide her through a hard-won recovery. Her story is as moving as it is important and is destined to help so many others facing this condition.”

Susannah Cahalan author of NYT #1 Bestseller Brain on Fire


While my complete stay isn’t embedded in my memory, because of what the illness was doing to my brain, my time there will never be forgotten because of its place in my life’s story. That experience definitively marks where I’m right at the edge between a well-educated, successful, driven, independent, and thriving woman and an incapacitated person, powerless and relegated to the care of those around her, on the brink of brain damage or death without the intervention of the correct diagnosis. And a small part of me now believes I then understood that I was teetering on a life-altering and explosive line. But that same small part of me can’t say whether, for the first time in my life, I believed my situation to be unwillable. Perhaps my own will would not be enough.

I will always remember crawling into bed the first night, ragged with emotion, and the racing thoughts my mind was still able to conjure up. The questions pulsed through my silent tears. What the hell happened to me? . . . I cannot possibly belong here. I haven’t led a life that would lead me to this dysfunction. I was doing so well. . . . I’m the senior partner at my law firm. I’ve never before had a problem with mental health. . . . Why am I at rock bottom? How the hell did I end up in a psychiatric ward?

Buy/Read Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Author Bio and Links

Jackie M. Stebbins was living her dream as a nationally recognized family law, criminal defense, and civil litigator. But Stebbins’s career as a lawyer abruptly ended in May, 2018, when she was diagnosed with a rare brain illness, autoimmune encephalitis. Stebbins persevered to make a remarkable recovery and turned herself into an author and motivational speaker. Stebbins is the author of the JM Stebbins blog and host of the Brain Fever podcast. Stebbins’s side hustle includes raising three lovely children with her wonderful husband, Sean, in Bismarck, North Dakota, and in her leisure time she can be found reading, trying to be funny, and aqua jogging.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn | TikTok


Jackie M. Stebbins will be awarding a custom #StebbinsStrong t-shirt (US only) to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour. Find out more here.

Follow Jackie on the rest of her Goddess Fish tour here.

Spotlight on Girl Hidden

I’m happy to welcome author Jesse René Gibbs. Today, Jesse shares her new release, Girl Hidden.

10 Interesting Things About Girl Hidden

1. Yes, I was kidnapped…. twice. The first time my grandmother was rescuing me from my narcissistic mother and my stepfather who treated me like his girlfriend. The second time, my mother literally stalked me for three days, waiting for my grandparents to leave me alone. There was a knock on the door and a strange woman was standing there. She said, “Come quickly, your mommy is in the car.”

I was seven, happily in my dress up clothes with bare feet. It was December and the cold air chilled my feet. I said “no, I don’t go with strangers.” She blinked in surprise and replied, “you’re a very good girl.” Ten seconds later my five foot ten inch tall mother kicked open the front door and dragged me kicking and screaming down the path and threw me in the back of the car. I was covered in splinters from trying to grab the door frame and the banisters of the porch stairs and I was terrified.

2. I loved writing from the perspective of my mother; she was extremely abusive to me and my siblings, but I had all of her letters to reach into her mind and try and create a character that was honest about the abuse but also humanized her.

So often memories can be subjective and influenced by our own biases, and I was also deep in the well of the perspectives of my narcissistic mother, so research was one of the most important aspects of this book. My best friend June and I dug through boxes, did interviews, along with a lot of extraneous research to make this book come about.

June both collaborated with me and provided me with the support and encouragement that I needed through the entire experience. It can be challenging to organize and write about personal experiences, but having someone who believes in you and is willing to help can make all the difference. Writing a memoir can be a cathartic and rewarding experience, but it is also emotionally taxing. And she was my rock through the whole experience.

3. I have always had a natural talent for storytelling, which I attribute to my mother’s charismatic personality and my grandfather’s love for fishing and fish tales. Writing is one of my may passions, and I take on the challenge of making my stories real, interesting, and engaging. Choosing to write my memoir in the third person adds another layer of complexity to the process, but it provides a unique perspective to the story. To make my memoir feel authentic, I incorporated sensory details to bring the reader into the scenes, added dialogue to bring the characters to life, and emphasized the key themes and lessons that emerged from my experiences. Staying true to my own style and voice is crucial in crafting a memoir that resonates with readers.

4. The story of how I met my best friend June is often asked about; June is an important friend in my life and someone who I consider my rock. Our connection was immediate, and it made me believe in the concept of love at first sight.

June was only seventeen years old when she visited her older brother at the inner-city commune where I lived. Her father, who was getting remarried, was no longer interested in being a parent, so he provided her with a one-way ticket to Chicago and essentially left her on her own. June’s older brother was friends with my ex-husband, so I did him a favor and picked her up from the airport on her arrival. By the time we got to baggage claim we were best friends. We later discovered that our grandparents had been friends for over thirty years, but we had never met until then. It felt like we were meant to find each other.

5. Elsie the dairy cow had her life end in the only way it could have on the Taylors’ farm: by cow suicide. My little brother Ezra had taken Elsie down the hill, over the creek, up the hill, and into the hayfield to stake her out to one of the trees. He hauled a half-full five-gallon bucket – nearly as large as he was at age eight – from the creek up to where the cow was tied and left her there to dine. Ezra didn’t realize that not only was she tied to a tree that was balanced precariously over a ravine, but that cows are not known to be that bright.

Elsie either slipped on the red mud, or could no longer handle life on the Taylor farm, and was found hanging from the edge of the cliff, breaking her neck and Ezra’s precious heart in the same moment.

6. As I was growing up, I was taught all of the specifics of “Purity Culture”: a Christian ideology that teaches young women that if a man shows any kind of interest in her, that it is because of what she is wearing or how she is acting. I was indoctrinated on how I should exist, from what I should wear to my very thoughts. I was pointedly taught that my stepfather was where I should practice being a godly girlfriend. For my birthday, he even gave me a ruby “promise ring,” asking me to pledge my virginity to him until he released it to my husband. All this from a man who took advantage of me under both the permission and supervision of my mother.

7. I delivered my baby sister. My stepfather woke me up at five in the morning to tell me that Momma was in labor, and I needed to get up and get the house picked up because we were having company that day.

Momma went from a few regular contractions straight into transition in a matter of minutes. She decided that getting into a lukewarm bath might help with the unreasonable amount of pain that she was in. She made it into the tub but before she sat down, her water broke. She screamed at me (I was in the laundry room next to the bathroom) to get her a towel, so I ran into the living room, grabbed a couple of towels, and threw them into the bathroom. She yelled, “Jesse you have to come catch this baby!”

I pulled open the curtain (we didn’t have a door on the bathroom) and saw my stepfather holding Momma up while she stood in the tub. The baby was crowning, so I grabbed the towels and hit the floor. Crawling between the tub and Poppa’s legs, I barely made it over the tub and up under Momma before the baby came out with a wet squelching sound. She was so sweet and quiet. I held her close as Momma caught her breath and was able to stand on her own. I handed the baby to Poppa and ran upstairs to get the birthing kit so that we could cut the umbilical cord and suction out her mouth. She didn’t make a sound. She was so sweet and quiet. Poppa cut the cord and that’s when we realized that after four boys in a row, we finally got a little girl.

8. I left home at the tender age of nineteen after my stepfather had given me a spanking the day before. I decided that of all the abuse that I had endured over the years, that experience was a bridge too far. My parents showed up at the radio station where I was a DJ and raided my office while I was on air. They found my suitcase and figured out that I was running away. There was a huge fight and after three hours of screaming at me, Momma went home while Poppa convinced me to come home too. By the time I got home, my mother had informed my siblings that I was running away because they had been bad, that I didn’t love them anymore and that I was possessed by demons. It was beyond heartbreaking.

9. It took nearly seventeen years before I saw my siblings again. There’s been a lot of conversations around my choice to leave home and a lot of things that my mother told them after I left that had to be undone. It has been hard, with a lot of apologizing and many tears, but there’s been so much healing having them back in my world.

10. I joined an inner-city commune when I left home and very much fell out of the frying pan into the fire. There’s been an incredible amount of deconstruction in my world between my mother’s religious fervor and the inner-city commune. But coming to terms with my own faults and foibles has been incredibly impactful and healing.


Echoing among the Blue Ridge Mountains were the cries of newborn babies that disappeared into the night. The screams of children nearly drowned out by the sound of crickets. A girl, hidden and waiting to be found, terrified, and confused. The fireflies sparkling in the woods, bringing light to darkled places.

The bulk of Jesse’s memories were of growing up in the farm country of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. The farm folks stayed pretty much outside of town, except for visits to the feed store causing random tractors to travel down Main Street. There were beatings and abuses, manipulation and terror carried out in spaces breathtaking in their beauty. There were twenty-seven Baptist churches, three non-denominational churches, and one Catholic Church.

There were annual Ku Klux Klan rallies on the street where they would walk right by all the black families who came out to watch and the white folks who came out for moral support—whether of the blacks or the whites, no one knew for sure. Black people did not marry white people in a civilized society, and so were rarely seen socializing. There was a young woman who was pregnant with a black man’s baby, so her parents disowned her. Jesse’s family was accused of killing the child and burying it on their property.

There was the Berkley House Bed and Breakfast toward the end of town, with gold plated silverware and hardwood floors, rumored to be the local sex worker house. There was a mansion up on a hill that overlooked the other humble houses in the town. In the local cemetery, there was “Will B. Jolly” carved into the graves used by bootleggers back in the twenties. Everyone had some form of thick southern drawl, though the length of the “aw” would extend the further south you went. There was a tiny baseball field and a tinier fire department. There was an old lady in the foothills that let the family raid her garden during the summer. And in exchange, Jesse’s family helped her husband bring in the hay for their animals every year.

There was a black snake in the attic—the door opened inside the closet next to Jesse’s bed. She would find his shed skins left behind in the summer months measuring close to seven feet in length. There was a creek with crawdads and a moss-covered bridge. There were mulberry and pecan trees that filled her and her siblings’ aching bellies as the weather turned.

There were hot summer days and freezing cold winters. There were dogs that were best friends, cats that kept her warm at night, and a cow that committed suicide. There was red clay instead of dirt, hayfields instead of grass, and a favorite swimming hole: Lenny’s Mill, the local grain mill on a glacier-fed creek where you could take a dip if you were brave enough to challenge the frigid waters.

Girl Hidden is the story of an unwanted child, born nonetheless and forced into servitude, desperate to protect her siblings and find her way out from under the vicious, manipulative abuses heaped on her by the one person who was supposed to love her unconditionally: her mother.


A siren howled outside the window down in the street, and she clutched the sacred book to her chest. A small-town girl in a big city, all alone… Man, did she feel lost. She opened the well-worn book to one of her favorite Psalms and reminded herself that God was still in control. Sometimes she wondered, in the quietest part of her heart, if He had dropped the ball.

She finished reading and asked God to watch over her family while she was away. She prayed especially for her siblings and named them off one by one as if God would forget them if she failed even once to remind Him. “Luke… Ezra… Noah… Judah… Faith… Louise…”

She turned off the light and lay there in the semi-dark. Her eyes adjusted and the streetlamps down below left weird shadows in the corners of the room. She tossed and turned for a bit. Twelve years of having little kids in bed with her made sleeping alone a strange feeling. She pushed and pulled and got some of the big pink comforter into a pile so that it felt like someone was next to her. She lay on her back and tried desperately to get her mind to turn off.

Eventually, exhaustion won the battle. Jesse slept.

Author Bio and Links

My name is Jesse René Gibbs and I am the author of Girl Hidden. I am an artist, designer, dancer and survivor. I am a stepmother to four, Amma to four more and blessed beyond measure with the family that I chose.

This book is based on the true story of my life, gleaned from years of my mother’s writings, my grandmother’s journals and my own experiences. I did my best to showcase the depth of damage that growing up with a narcissistic parent can have on a person, and how hard it is to come to terms with the amount of gaslighting that comes with that life. My siblings all have their own stories of being played against each other, bullied and even emotionally tortured by our parents. We were trained to not trust our own intuition, raised in a life of poverty, a lack of privacy and the endlessly traumatizing purity culture.

I was hunted in my own home by the man my mother married and escaped at nineteen only to land in an intentional community in Chicago that did nearly as much damage. My best friend in the book is also real, and she did more to walk me through my trauma, and she is the main reason that these stories were finally published.

My new life in Seattle didn’t start until well into my thirties, and I’m still working on deconstructing my life up to that point. I wrote this book to organize my life in my own mind and to undo years of lies. I also wrote it because others need to know that they are not alone.

Website | Instagram | Facebook | Tiktok | Amazon Buy Link | Email


Jesse René Gibbs will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour. Find out more here.

Follow Jesse on the rest of her Goddess Fish tour here.

Interview with Judy Penz Sheluk

I’m happy to welcome back bestselling author Judy Penz Sheluk. Today, Judy shares interesting facts about her creative journey and new release, Finding Your Path to Publication.

Here’s Judy!

What was your inspiration for this book?

The germ of the idea started in November 2021, after I’d done a NaNoWriMo debriefing for my then local library— Failing (and Succeeding!) with NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is an annual event with the challenge of writing 50,000 words during the month of November. When it came to the Q&A portion of the program, it became clear that most of the attendees were more interested in how to get published than chatting about whether they’d reached the 50,000-word mark. That led to the library requesting a workshop on publishing, and following that, one on self-publishing. Based on the number of attendees, and their thirst for knowledge, I knew there was an interest and a need, but I couldn’t find any single book that covered off all the different paths to publication. I’m a complete pantser when it comes to writing fiction, but with this book, my library presentation—Finding Your Path to Publication—worked as an outline, and I liked the idea of going back to my roots as a journalist.

What is the best part of being an author? The worst?

I love the writing process, whether it’s creating a world, researching, or in the case of this book, sharing would I know. The shameless self-promotion side of things, social media, etc., that doesn’t come easily or naturally to me. If I ever earn Louise Penny money, I’ll hire an assistant to do all of that. So far, I’m not taking applications, but hope springs eternal!

Which authors have inspired you?

I’m a voracious reader. In 2022, I read 56 books. Some I loved. Some disappointed, not quite living up to the hype. But I learned something from every one of those authors, and so I suppose you could say all of them inspired me to varying degrees. Reading is absolutely the best teacher. But if I am to be very specific, I’d say the late Sue Grafton. I read each of her Kinsey Millhone books as they were published, which means it’s been 25+ years since I read some of them. Last year I began revisiting the series in audiobook format. It was only on revisit that I realized how much her writing had influenced my own style. It was quite eye-opening.

What is your favorite quote?

“There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” Agatha Christie

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

I’m super organized, the sort of person who has all her business tax records summarized on an Excel spreadsheet and ready for the accountant by the middle of January. I also really dislike clutter or excess. If I buy a t-shirt, I’ll toss out or donate a t-shirt rather than having an extra one I don’t really need. Oh…and I keep the books on my bookshelf in author alphabetical order (okay, and my soup cans in the pantry, too, though sometimes I go wild and put chicken noodle after cream of mushroom, just to convince myself I’m not totally bonkers).

Besides writing and reading, what are some of your hobbies?

I took up golf about 20 years ago. After all these years, I should probably be better at it than I am, but I’ve resigned myself to accepting that I’m never going to make the tour! What I love about golf is that it’s a social experience, but unless you’re in a team tournament situation, you’re only competing against yourself. I also love being outside and when the course allows it, I always walk, not just for the exercise, but to stay more connected to my game.

I also walk 90 minutes to 2 hours a day. I have a golden retriever, Gibbs, who keeps me honest on the walking front, regardless of weather.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. Write every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, even if it’s your birthday, your kid’s birthday, New Year’s Eve, Christmas, or some other special occasion. I have a friend who would set her alarm every day at 5:30 a.m. to write for an hour before getting up to make breakfast for her three kids before sending them off to school (and then home-schooled them during Covid). On weekends, she sleeps in until 6 a.m. She eventually finished her book and landed an agent, but it wasn’t luck. It was hard work. The harder you work, the luckier you get.

What are you working on next?

Thanks so much for asking. I’m almost finished the next book in the Step-by-Step Guide series: Self-publishing: The Ins & Outs of Going Indie. It’s tentatively scheduled for Fall 2023, and I’m really excited about it. So many people think self-publishing is the easy way out. Nothing could be further from the truth, but I like to think this book will make the path easier.

About the book

The road to publishing is paved with good intentions…and horror stories of authors who had to learn the hard way.

For the emerging author, the publishing world can be overwhelming. You’ve written the book, and you’re ready to share it with the world, but don’t know where to start. Traditional, independent press, hybrid, self-publishing, and online social platforms—all are valid publishing paths. The question is, which one is right for you?

Finding Your Path to Publication is an introduction to an industry that remains a mystery to those on the outside. Learn how each publishing option works, what to expect from the process start to finish, how to identify red flags, and avoid common pitfalls. With statistics, examples, and helpful resources compiled by an industry insider who’s been down a few of these paths, this is your roadmap to decide which path you’d like to explore, and where to begin your author journey.

About the author

A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and Marketville Mysteries, both of which have been published in multiple languages. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including the Superior Shores Anthologies, which she also edited. With a passion for understanding the ins and outs of all aspects of publishing, Judy is also the founder and owner of Superior Shores Press, which she established in February 2018.

Judy is a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she served on the Board of Directors for five years, the final two as Chair. She lives in Northern Ontario. Find her at

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Blurb Blitz: The Circle is Small

I’m happy to welcome Ojibway author Maggie Blackbird. Today, Maggie shares her new release, The Circle is Small.


An ex-cop returning to face his horrendous past, the woman who won’t forgive him, and the family who’ll never let him forget that he killed their son.

First Nations Constable Jordan Chartrand’s guilt can’t handle the accusing stares from the family left to mourn their son after that horrible night…so he flees from his Ojibway community and the woman he loves. Two years later, his mother’s cancer diagnosis forces him to return to help her.

Devoted schoolteacher Ellie Quill wants nothing to do with Jordan after he bolted to the city and left her behind. Her life goals are set. As for her secret, she’ll keep that to herself, even if Jordan’s begging to know the truth about her child.

When the two are compelled to work on a community project to address the rampant drug problem, their forced proximity slowly melts Ellie’s icy walls. But no matter how much her heart desires to give Jordan the second chance he’s begging for, she refuses to because providing a life for her son in the tradition of the Ojibway culture is her top priority now, not moving to the city where Jordan continues to hide.


Ellie kept dunking the tea bag into the mug.

“I’m sorry. When I met him there, I thought you’d told him to get Ray-Ray, otherwise I woulda stopped him.”

“It’s okay,” Ellie muttered, still staring at her tea instead of at her sister. “You didn’t know.”

“What made you finally tell him?”

Ellie drew in a breath. “I realized if we were going to start with a clean slate, I couldn’t keep hiding it. And he’s right. I shoulda told him from the get-go. I shouldn’t have hidden it from him.”

“Easy,” Iris warned. “Remember something. You have rights, too. He’d upped and left after you told him how you felt, after you begged him to stay. He chose the city over you. He chose everything over you. You had every right to be angry.”

“It still doesn’t justify what I did. Raymond has rights, too, and he had a right to know who his dad is.” Ellie glanced up.

“Look, I can’t see him getting on the plane and skipping town with Ray-Ray. He probably took him to his mother’s. And he’ll be here until she’s done her treatment. He won’t leave.”

“I know he won’t, but he has every right to hate me. If I was in his shoes, I’d be angry, too.” Ellie shoved aside the mug. She’d ruined everything. Keeping that secret and then lying about it was the most foolish thing she’d ever done. What had gotten into her? That wasn’t how she behaved. Selfish. That was how she’d acted.

Iris reached over the table and grabbed Ellie’s hand. “Don’t be hating yourself or blaming yourself. Women have rights, too. And you have rights. You still have rights. If he wants to be pissy about this, let him. But he can’t take Raymond from you. Not after you raised him. Jordan didn’t even stick around long enough to find out you were pregnant.”

“How was he supposed to know I was pregnant without me telling him?” Ellie whispered. “He’s not a jaasakiid.”

“He didn’t need to involve the shaking tent. Did he ever stop and ask?” Iris blinked. “It’s common sense. You two were having sex, for crying out loud. And if he holds this against you—”

“He has every right to.” Ellie ran her nails along the table. “I did it so he wouldn’t take Raymond to Winnipeg. So I wouldn’t have to live in Winnipeg. So I could raise our child here. But…”

What did it matter? The fact was, her heart had shattered into a million pieces for the second time. She could try fooling herself again, as she’d done for the last two years by saying she didn’t care, but she did.

She loved Jordan Chartrand, and she wanted to raise their son together. There went the biggest dream she’d ever dreamt, because she’d screwed up everything now.

Book Buy Links

Amazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Google Play | Smashwords |
eXtasy Books

Author Bio and Links

An Ojibway from Northwestern Ontario, Maggie resides in the country with her husband and their fur babies, two beautiful Alaskan Malamutes. When she’s not writing, she can be found pulling weeds in the flower beds, mowing the huge lawn, walking the Mals deep in the bush, teeing up a ball at the golf course, fishing in the boat for walleye, or sitting on the deck at her sister’s house, making more wonderful memories with the people she loves most.

Website | Newsletter | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | BookBub | Amazon Author Page


Maggie Blackbird will be awarding a $10.00 eXtasy Books Gift Certificate to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour. Find out more here.

Follow Maggie on the rest of her Goddess Fish tour here.

Blurb Blitz: Racial Justice at Work

I’m happy to welcome Mary-Frances Winters to my blog. Today, Mary-Frances shares her new release, Racial Justice at Work.


Creating justice-centered organizations is the next frontier in DEI. This book shows how to go beyond compliance to address harm, share power, and create equity.

Traditional DEI work has not succeeded at dismantling systems that perpetuate harm and exclude BIPOC groups. Proponents of DEI have put too much focus on HR solutions, such as increasing representation, and not enough emphasis on changing the deeper organizational systems that perpetuate inequities—in other words, on justice. DEIJ work diverges from traditional metrics-driven DEI work and requires a new approach to effectively dismantle power structures.

This thought-provoking, solutions-oriented book offers strategic advice on how to adopt a justice mindset, anticipate and address resistance, shift power dynamics, and create a psychologically safe organizational culture. Individual chapters provide pragmatic how-to guides to implementing justice-centered practices in recruitment and hiring, data collection and analysis, learning and development, marketing and advertising, procurement, philanthropy, and more.

DEIJ pioneer Mary-Frances Winters and her coauthors address some of the most significant aspects of adding a justice focus to diversity work, showing how to create a workplace culture where equity is not a checklist of performative actions but a lived reality.


Over the past fifty years, reams of research have been published around the idea of psychological safety, an aspect of organizational culture that cultivates openness, engagement, and positive change. It is the feeling among employees that employers and managers will not punish them for speaking up. As David Altman from the Center for Creative Leadership puts it: “People need to feel comfortable speaking up, asking naïve questions, and disagreeing with the status quo to create ideas that make a real difference . . . . It doesn’t mean that everybody is nice all the time. It means you embrace the conflict and speak up, knowing that your team has your back and you have their backs.” While most of the literature in this area has focused on team dynamics and organizational hierarchy—including the business case for psychological safety—the current zeitgeist requires we refine it even further with an eye toward justice: A just organization ensures that Black and POC employees are psychologically safe.

The majority of organizations in the US are still hierarchical in their structures. Generally speaking, org charts are a nominal variation of “executives are positioned above upper management, which in turn stands above middle management, which then oversees the general
staff population.” There may be more levels, different terminology, or perhaps even a nice-looking horizontal layout, but at its core, this structure has become the operating paradigm in staffing. There are plenty of benefits of utilizing such a structure, and it can be highly effective in producing an organization’s desired outcomes, whatever they may be. The adage too often remains true, though: “Bad news doesn’t travel up.”

More to the point: bad news doesn’t travel up if no one feels safe sharing bad news. Likewise, good ideas die a quick death along with the bad news if employees expect their ideas to be overlooked, criticized, or dismissed out of hand. Put another way—the traditional
workplace hierarchy often suppresses growth and change by suppressing bad news and good ideas due to employees not feeling psychologically safe. “Often” is the operative word there, for it doesn’t have to be so.

It takes a concerted effort from the team and company leaders to create a psychologically safe working environment, especially for Black and POC employees. Leaders have to be willing to receive open, honest feedback and not feel threatened by ideas from those lower in the hierarchy—especially employees of color—and cultivate a culture where everyone feels safe sharing.

Author Bio and Links

Mary-Frances Winters is the founder and CEO of the Winters Group Inc. She was named a top ten diversity trailblazer by Forbes and a diversity pioneer by Profiles in Diversity Journal, and she is the recipient of the prestigious ATHENA Award as well as the Winds of Change Award conferred by the Forum on Workplace Inclusion. Winters is also the author of We Can’t Talk about That at Work, Inclusive Conversations, and Black Fatigue.

The Winters Group Team contributors are Kevin A. Carter, Megan Ellinghausen, Scott Ferry, Gabrielle Gayagoy Gonzalez, Dr. Terrence Harewood, Tami Jackson, Dr. Megan Larson, Leigh Morrison, Katelyn Peterson, Mareisha N. Reese, Thamara Subramanian, and Rochelle Younan-Montgomery.

Website | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn


Mary-Frances Winters and The Winters Group Team will be awarding a $25 Amazon/Barnes & Noble gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour. Find out more here.

Follow Mary-Frances on the rest of her Goddess Fish tour here.