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Have You Seen these Dope Artists? They Designed My Rockin’ Book Cover

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One of the reasons I went indie with my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion, was creative control—not just of my story, but of the cover art and presentation.

I had two artists in mind who I wanted working on my book’s look, because these guys are seriously awesome AF.

Cover Art: Rebecca Lopatin

Rebecca Lopatin_Darrel_charcoalYes, we have the same last name, because yes, Rebecca is my sister. But she’s also a professional, accomplished fine artist here in the blazing hot desert of Phoenix, Ariz. Like, she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. She studied art in Italy. F’ing ITALY.

You guys, she hand-painted my book’s cover art. Like, the classical way. Savage, right?

 

Rebecca has a garage full of oil paintings for sale that need some serious walls. Even if you’re not looking to buy, you gotta check out her work and give her a follow:

Cover Design: Ryan Quackenbush

Ryan is a sick digital artist and illustrator. I mean, this guy sells his own graphic novels at Phoenix Comic Fest (a.k.a. Phoenix Comicon). His stuff is dark and edgy and just AWESOME.

So naturally, I wanted that look and feel for my cover design, considering the genre of my book. He took Rebecca’s art and turned it into a badass book cover that seriously makes people gasp when they see it.

 

 

If you’re into the graphic novel scene (and even if you’re not), I’m telling you to head over to Ryan’s pages NOW and scan his stuff, or follow him:

 

Chapter V: Oak Creek Canyon (sneak peek)

Below is a sneak peek of Chapter Five of my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion—a dystopian suspense for young adults and millennials now available through Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords, and paperback via Amazon. In honor of its release, I will be publishing the first few chapters FOR FREE on my blog over the coming weeks.

Read Chapter One here.
Read Chapter Two here.
Read Chapter Three here.
Read Chapter Four here.

Oak Creek Canyon

FLORA

It’s probably about one o’clock in the afternoon, and we’re finally on our way to Oak Creek Canyon, the four of us stuffed into an old 2130 model car with Ernest drooling on our laps. It’s rare that my family uses our car; most Apolloans don’t drive unless it’s necessary, but when we do, our cars run off hydrogen fuel cells and emit nothing but water vapor.

“How’s your mom, sweetheart?”

My mother turns around from the passenger seat and peers over her shoulder. Since Andrew’s father left, my mom has made it her mission to help his mother in whatever way she can. Even though we’re both nineteen now, nothing has changed, and I smile internally.

“She’s good,” Andrew answers. “Today is a little hard for her.”

I hear my mom gasp. “Oh that’s right,” she says. “You should have invited her to come along. We would have loved to have her.”

“Trust me, it wouldn’t have made a difference.”

Ever since this morning, Andrew hasn’t been as friendly toward me. While conversing with my mom, he shoots me a cool glance, reminding me how much I screwed up.

My dad, feeling adventurous today, maneuvers the car onto a random dirt road and drives us another five to ten miles into the forest. By the time we park, hike further into the wilderness and reach a secluded spot by Oak Creek, only another two hours of sunlight remain.

Our spot is surrounded by Cottonwood trees and Arizona Sycamores, and the fresh mountain water streams like music in the background. Overwhelmed with boyish giddiness, my dad begins setting up the tent. He always gets this way at the beginning of a camping trip, loving nothing more than music and s’mores over an open campfire.

“I think Andrew and I will go swimming while you set up the camp,” I announce.

My dad, in his altered state of elation, simply nods while my mom calls out, “Take Ernest with you!”

***

I always feel silly in a bikini and sneakers, but the shores of Oak Creek are rocky. I step into the water, only ankle-deep at first, and shiver as the freezing liquid surrounds my ankles like a bucket of ice.

“How is it?” Andrew is calling to me from behind a tree trunk, changing into his swim shorts.

“Cold! But refreshing.”

A small bead of sweat dribbles down my forehead; it’s warmer than normal today. Ernest races in from behind me and bounds right into the water, splashing droplets all over my body. I stiffen from the shock.

“Apparently, he doesn’t think it’s too bad,” I say under my breath.

I lower myself into the frosty water a little more, cringing as the coldness hugs my calves, then my thighs, then creeps up my hips. I hate jumping into the mountain’s streams; I always have to enter them gradually.

The red sandstone formations lining the creek soar over me on either side, offering a sense of protection and comfort from the rest of the world. My body is growing accustomed to the water now, and it’s starting to feel warmer. I lift my head toward the sky—a few potential rain clouds are hovering nearby—and I close my eyes, letting the sun’s afternoon rays sink into my skin.

I wish I could tan as easily as Andrew, but both my parents are of Eastern European descent. Therefore, I tend to morph into this horrific shade of red before my skin’s melatonin decides to make its yearly appearance.

“You might want to take it easy in the sun,” Andrew says from behind, startling me. “Remember what happened last year?”

I open my eyes and turn around. “I thought you were still getting changed.”

He ignores me, though. “Flora, remember what happened?”

Of course I do. I’d been determined to get a nice summer tan, and thus spent all day lying outside under the sun. By nighttime, I’d turned purple. Yes, purple. I’d burned so badly, I developed a fever and my parents insisted I douse myself in Aloe Vera for the next week, not to mention, I’d craved nothing but bread and butter for seven days and gained two pounds.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “I’ll be more careful this time.”

Andrew dives into the water without testing its temperature before pushing up through the surface, slicking his dark hair back from his face. I admire his chiseled jaw line, his solid build, and quickly pull my eyes away before my thoughts drift where they shouldn’t.

When we go swimming, Andrew usually sneaks up and yanks me into the water with him, inducing my scream. But today, he remains in the middle of the swimming hole, and I feel a sense of melancholy.

“Aren’t you coming in?” he asks.

“Aren’t you going to come and get me?”

Instead of answering, he just dips under the water again, the outline of his body remaining stationary. Guilt washes over me and I wait until he re-surfaces, then call out, “Andrew, I’m really, really sorry.”

He shrugs. “Why are you apologizing?”

“C’mon. I’m serious. I feel horrible.”

Andrew opens his mouth, about to say something, but Ernest paddles between us, his head lifted elegantly above the water. I watch my dog make his way toward Andrew and back to me, benevolent in his charming interruption. Growing tired, he decides to push himself toward the rocky shore and out of the water, his golden coat sopping wet, and he showers the trees surrounding us as he shakes the water from his fur. Andrew, a smirk crossing his face, soon follows him and takes a seat next to me.

He rests in silence and I watch the smirk disappear. I can feel his presence beside me, hear the gentle rhythm of his breath, and a yearning rises from inside me. I want to comfort him, to run my hands through his hair and over his muscles, acknowledging my mistake, but instead, I remain quiet. Andrew speaks. “Did you know that no one wanted to listen—you know—to what it’s like?”

I pause before responding. “What it’s like to do what?”

Andrew looks over his shoulder at me. “To grow up without a father.”

I gulp, unable to offer a response, so I sit quietly as he continues.

“I remember the sound of his voice, still, when he used to read me bedtime stories—these really adventurous ones. He’d change his voice to resemble the different characters; he was so animated.”

“That’s why you like to write,” I say, moving my gaze to the ground.

Andrew lowers his head and sighs. “Yes, that’s why I like to write.”

We both continue sitting in silence and staring over the water, wondering who should speak next. It’s Andrew who breaks the spell.

“When he left, it was literally overnight,” he says, and I detect a quiver in his voice. “You remember, don’t you?”

“Of course. I couldn’t believe it. Your dad seemed so …”

“Happy,” Andrew says. “I know. I was dumbfounded. Our neighbors brought us food, the local mechanic fixed a car for my mom. But no one wanted to listen. Their help was genuine, but it was also shallow.”

He pauses for a moment, and turns to face me. “You were the only one to really care, Flora. You and your parents.”

My breath catches in my throat, and for a moment, his eyes embrace every part of me, and I want to give in. But the doubt pushes it away. “Well … I’m sure I wasn’t the only one,” I say. “All of your girlfriends eventually―”

But Andrew shakes his head, his conviction unwavering. “It’s always been you. Remember freshman year of high school, when my mom had her … event … and they locked her in the mental hospital for two weeks?”

I nod my head. “Of course I remember.”

“You stayed by my side every night. Not even my guy buddies called to check on me. I would have been alone otherwise.”

Of all the years we’ve been friends, Andrew trusted me the most to be there today, and I wasn’t. Never have I felt so underserving of his friendship, and I watch as he buries his hands into his wet hair. When he turns away, water droplets slip down his bare back, glistening on brilliantly tanned skin.

“It was unfair for me to have expected so much,” he says. “That’s my fault. I’m sorry.”

I tell him no, he shouldn’t have to apologize; I’m the one who doesn’t deserve his friendship. Andrew snickers at my comment, but it’s snide, almost jeering.

“This damned Wall,” he says. “It keeps me from leaving, from getting the hell out and finding somewhere else to go, where I belong.”

His words surprise me, even jab with betrayal. “You want to leave?” I say. “What about your mom, and me? Do you really want to leave us behind?”

His back still facing me, Andrew’s voice grows stiff. “And what happens if you leave me? Huh, Flora?”

I’m struck silent for a moment, staring at him in bewilderment before finding my voice again. “What are you talking about? Why would I leave you?”

“Never mind.” He shakes his head and waves me off, dismissing me. “Let’s just go swimming and enjoy the water. Your parents will be expecting us back soon.”

Baffled, I watch as he dips into the creek again, and it takes a moment before the realization hits: Andrew is worried I’ll disappear from his life, just like his dad.

 

Stay tuned for the next chapter, THE HIKE, publishing next week on Tuesday.

Don’t want to wait to see what happens next? Grab The Apollo Illusion now for only $2.99 (e-version). No e-reader? No problem! Hop over to Amazon to snag a paperback copy.

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Chapter IV: The Anniversary (sneak peek)

Below is a sneak peek of Chapter Four of my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion—a dystopian suspense for young adults and millennials now available through Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Sony, Smashwords, and paperback via Amazon. In honor of its release, I will be publishing the first few chapters FOR FREE on my blog over the coming weeks.

Read Chapter One here.
Read Chapter Two here.
Read Chapter Three here.

The Anniversary

FLORA

Before Andrew and I take our weekly bike ride through the forest on Saturday morning, we decide to meet at our favorite coffee house, La Experiencia Maya, or The Mayan Experience. The owner claims to order his coffee straight from the tropics where the former city of Antigua, Guatemala used to be.

I assume this is untrue, because coffee shop owners need to purchase their beans from the Apollo government. Coffee doesn’t naturally grow in the mountains up here. The same goes for other goods, such as sugar and cacao beans. It’s a mystery where the government gets its stash because no one has contact with The Other Side.

Andrew and I lock our bikes onto a light pole just outside of La Experiencia Maya, right near the old railroad tracks. Trains have become obsolete over the past fifty years, but I find the tracks still hold a romantic nostalgia.

This area used to be the central section of downtown Flagstaff, and I love its decaying buildings. Some of them stretch all the way back to days of the Old West, when cowboys and outlaws roamed the streets on horses. Several shop owners—patisserie chefs and chocolate connoisseurs—managed to revive certain buildings, and today, run their businesses from them, thus starting the northern tip of the Central Commerce Hub. The remaining structures are abandoned and preserved as historical sites or museums.

Sprinkled among the old buildings, however, are bright and new billboards, courtesy of the Apollo government, proclaiming the words “Light, Truth, and Knowledge.” I sometimes cringe at these monumental messages, which mess with the purity of the area’s history.

“I know what you want,” Andrew says to me, after we wander into the coffee shop and take a seat. The morning sun is beaming through tall glass windows and illuminating the cream-colored tabletops.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.” He stands and places one arm on the back of his chair, leaning over with a silly grin on his face. “Chai tea latte, with vanilla soy milk.”

I laugh at his giddy demeanor. “You got me,” I tell him, standing and joining him behind my chair to order our drinks.

I’ve never cared for coffee; it’s too bitter for me. Andrew on the other hand is a religious coffee drinker, as is my mom. I’ve come to the conclusion that coffee must be a writer thing. I’m always teasing Andrew about his teeth, how someday he’ll be an old, wrinkly man with yellow choppers from all the coffee.

Andrew stops me from walking toward the barista, though. “Tea’s on me,” he says.

“You don’t have to do that. I can pay for―”

“Flora, I’ve got it. It’s cool.”

Before I can argue further, Andrew steps away to place our order and I watch him with a sense of longing. In the past, I’ve caught myself wondering what it feels like to be one of Andrew’s girlfriends. I never allow my thoughts to drift further though, reminding myself that in the end, he chooses our friendship over them. They hate it, but I know Andrew is a special soul—kind and deep and real—and I never want to lose our friendship.

I sit down and lean back in the chair, letting the sun’s early rays warm my skin. The mornings are still chilly in Apollo, so I hug my sweater closer around my chest. I watch Andrew order our drinks and then remember today marks one full week since I’ve seen it.

The Wall.

I can still remember the first time I asked about it in class as a kid, wondering what was so evil on The Other Side, and the teacher scoffed. I paid the price for my innocent question on my way home that day, when that same group of girls cornered me in the alley and called me a dirty globalist. I was ten and had no idea what “globalist” even meant, but looking back, I assume they heard the term from their parents.

Don’t you know Apollo is the leader of light, truth, and knowledge? Why would you care what’s behind that stupid Wall? Dirty globalist traitor. We should report you to the ABI.

I returned home with mud in my hair and vowed to myself that someday, I’d learn what’s on The Other Side. Why don’t you stand up to them, Flora? Andrew had asked, but I didn’t have an answer. The truth is, the more I tried, the worse it got. I didn’t have the courage to confront those girls, so eventually, I surrendered to the inevitable: coping. That’s when Andrew and I started our map of uncharted Apollo territory, but when I’d told him I wanted to explore beyond, fear fell into his eyes and he begged me to forget it.

This is why, as much as I love him, I can’t tell Andrew about the decision I came to after meeting Don.

I’m going to start a research project on the history of the Wall. This project won’t cover the vague facts they feed us in school. That’s the boring stuff. I’m going to dive deeper, into why the Wall was built—what “evil” it’s protecting us from. I’ll begin with the Apollo Library and slowly work on Don, pecking away at his angry boy façade until eventually, he’ll crack and tell me what he knows.

How I wish I could bring Andrew along—I’ve never sought a new discovery without him—but for his own well-being …

“Do you know what today is?” Andrew’s voice surprises me. I didn’t notice him sit back down, or place the Chai tea latte in front of me.

When I answer with a mere, “huh?” annoyance crosses his face.

“Today, Flora. Geez, where were you just now?”

I lower my eyes. Is he thinking about the Wall, too? Instead of telling Andrew what I’m sure he wants to hear, I play dumb. “No, what is today?” I ask.

“It’s the eleven-year anniversary of the day my dad left.”

His words slam into me like a meat hammer. I can’t believe I forgot. In the eleven years we’ve been friends, I’ve never neglected this day. In fact, every year, I’ve prepared a small gift to help Andrew cope.

“Andrew …”

“You were thinking about it again, weren’t you?” His voice is accusing.

“No.”

“C’mon Flora, I can tell you’re lying.”

I feel like the bacteria clinging to dirt on the bottom of my shoes. Andrew’s father left when he was eight years old, never to be heard from again. No notes, no mail, no money … nothing, leaving Andrew’s mother to raise a young boy in a community that prides itself on families.

“I can’t believe you forgot,” he mumbles under his breath, and the knife twists deeper. “You—of all people—the only friend who actually met my dad.”

I wince, recalling the brief meeting during my first playdate at Andrew’s house. Three days later, his father disappeared. And now, here I am, lost in my selfish thoughts.

“I’m so sorry,” I tell him, unable to meet his eyes.

Andrew sighs. “Y’know, I never told you this,” he says, and his voice lowers, “but I blame my dad’s obsession for his disappearance.”

Caught off-guard, I ask, “What obsession?”

Andrew pauses for a moment, and I can feel his gaze boring into me. He lifts his coffee mug to his lips, sips a minuscule amount, and I shamefully guide my eyes to meet with his. His expression is serious, intent.

“The same one you have,” he says.

I gulp. And I feel riddled with guilt.  Unable to speak, I allow Andrew to continue.

“It’s not worth it. It’s led to nothing but pain. You’re better off forgetting about it.”

I want to believe him, and I wish—so desperately wish—I had the willpower to simply forget and play dumb like everyone else, to just accept what the history books tell us. But instead, I find myself wondering something else entirely:

I want to know what Andrew’s dad discovered.

 

Stay tuned for the next chapter, OAK CREEK CANYON, publishing tomorrow on Thursday.

Don’t want to wait to see what happens next? Grab The Apollo Illusion now for only $2.99 (e-version). No e-reader? No problem! Hop over to Amazon to snag a paperback copy.

Front cover_final

Chapter III: The Log Cabin (sneak peek)

Below is a sneak peek of Chapter Three of my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion—a dystopian suspense for young adults and millennials now available through Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Sony, Smashwords, and paperback via Amazon. In honor of its release, I will be publishing the first few chapters FOR FREE on my blog over the coming weeks.

Read Chapter One here.
Read Chapter Two here.

The Log Cabin

FLORA

When I approach the front door to my log cabin after school, piano notes are dancing through the compacted wood. I pause before inserting the key, close my eyes and smile while absorbing my dad’s music into every crevice of my being. His tunes often greet me before he does.

Ernest, our three-year-old golden retriever, is the first to welcome me, as usual. Mom gave Ernest his name, after the great author and World War I veteran, Ernest Hemingway. She introduced me to Hemingway when I was twelve; she adores all his books and tries to style her own writing after his. Since I don’t see her relaxing on the couch and enjoying my dad’s music, I’m sure she’s currently locked upstairs in her room, working on her latest article for The Apollo Times.

The tantalizing aroma of my favorite dish, sweet potato casserole—warm marshmallows and cinnamon—lures me further inside. I stroll into the living room and plop onto the couch, petting Ernest as he rests his head on my lap.

The music stops momentarily. My father is seated at the piano bench across from me, his eyebrows drawn together in thought as he scribbles music notes onto blank sheets of paper. He’s in the midst of his next great composition.

But the moment I sit down, his mood changes. He knows something is wrong, and the look surfaces.

“How was school?” he asks, setting down his pen and paper while trying to sound matter-of-fact. My dad has these big brown eyes—real soft, like a teddy bear—and this scruffy mustache that makes him resemble a sheriff from the Old West.

“Ehhh,” I say, leaning over to scratch Ernest under his floppy ears. I smirk as his lips curl to reveal miniature sharp fangs. Ernest is perhaps the only dog I know who smiles.

“Your mother and I were thinking of going on a camping trip this weekend, down by Oak Creek Canyon. Do you and Andrew want to come?”

Diversion. My dad loves using diversions to distract me when I’m feeling upset. He started this habit after the hairspray incident when I was eight. We thought the “incidents” would end after that, but they continued for years, and so did my father’s diversions.

“Of course,” I say. “I’ll message Andrew.”

I smile at the thought of taking another camping trip with my parents and Andrew. They’ve treated him like my brother since we met as children, the same year the group of girls started their torture. In fact, it was Andrew who found me crying under the slide on the playground the day of the hairspray. Rather than laugh at me, he sat next to me, and has been my only friend since.

My parents love inviting Andrew for camping trips. For them, I think it creates the feeling of a complete family. They’d always wanted to have another child, and I know secretly, they would have wanted a little boy.

The laws of Apollo don’t allow it, though. Each family is permitted only one child, to prevent overpopulation of our treasured State.

I pull my cell phone from my backpack and send a quick text message to Andrew, a technology most of us know is dated, but still preferred for its simplicity. Camping with my parents for the weekend? Oak Creek? Within moments, my phone chimes with his enthusiastic response, and I tell my dad we’re on.

“Why don’t you go check on the garden?” he says, and I know his suggestion is meant as another distraction.

I obey my dad, as I almost always do, and walk toward the backyard garden, Ernest trotting loyally behind. I stare into the rows of sprouting tomatoes, lettuce, and strawberries.

My parents are the epitome of naturalists, like the majority of Apolloans. Almost everyone I know grows their own garden, but my parents tell me it wasn’t always like this. In fact, when Apollo was established, most of its citizens didn’t know how to grow anything.

“But everyone knows agriculture,” I’d said, in complete disbelief. “It’s like knowing how to read, or add two plus two.”

I couldn’t comprehend that the average Apolloan didn’t understand the concept of companion plants, nevertheless know that peanuts and watermelon are two of them. Nor could I fathom that older adults, thrice my age, were never taught how lavender flowers ward away unwanted, plant-eating bugs. Didn’t everyone know that?

My parents had to drag me to the Apollo Library to prove they weren’t lying. I didn’t believe them until I saw the history books flipped open, words and images spitting truth back into my face. And even then, I still openly questioned the sources of such perilous information.

Now, of course, I know the truth. But every so often, another inconvenient reality will surface, and I have to trick my brain into believing it. Otherwise, I might find myself living in denial.

“Are finals done, yet?” my dad asks, calling from inside the cabin. I know he’s probing.

I shake my head and walk back into our house. “No, today was Spanish Literature and Advanced Biochemistry. Tomorrow I still have World History.”

I collapse back into the warm embrace of the living room couch, letting its soft cushions engulf me. I grew up in this house and absolutely adore it. The place is old—I mean ancient—so much that the wood still smells of last century. The stairs to the second level creak, and I sometimes get the sense that ghosts of past owners linger within the walls, refusing to leave such an inviting atmosphere.

“Well kiddo, take it easy, and let your mother and I worry about dinner.”

My dad usually requests I help contribute to the house in some fashion. He doesn’t make me work; both my parents prefer I concentrate on my studies, as nothing is more important in Apollo than a well-rounded education. However, my dad does like me to help cook, clean, and tend to the garden.

This is how I know he’s sensing my uneasiness. I want to open up, to tell him about the Wall and Don, but I don’t dare. As much as my parents have been my source of comfort, my safety net when walking on a tightrope, I know when it comes to this one topic, he’d side against me.

My parents would never turn me in. Hell no.

But they’d lecture. And perhaps they wouldn’t trust me anymore. Quite frankly, the thought of losing my parents’ trust kills me.

And so, I smile at my father, grateful for his comfort, and keep everything else to myself.

 

Stay tuned for the next chapter, THE ANNIVERSARY, publishing next week on Tuesday.

Don’t want to wait to see what happens next? Grab The Apollo Illusion now for only $2.99 (e-version). No e-reader? No problem! Hop over to Amazon to snag a paperback copy.

Front cover_final

Chapter II: World History (sneak peek)

Below is a sneak peek of Chapter Two of my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion—a dystopian suspense for young adults and millennials now available through Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Sony, Smashwords, and paperback via Amazon. In honor of its release, I will be publishing the first few chapters FOR FREE on my blog over the coming weeks.

Read Chapter One here.

World History

FLORA

Andrew made me promise I wouldn’t say a word—not a freakin’ word—about the Wall and our encounter. So now, as I sit in my World History class, I’m frustrated.

It’s a boring general requirement course at the University of Apollo, but on the up side, we’re reviewing the history of the Wall for our final exam. I always found it ironic that merely discussing the Wall with friends or family is a misdemeanor crime, but the moment you’re within the confines of a classroom, it’s free reign.

“The Wall was built in 2075, to do what?” my professor asks.

The Asian girl to my right raises her hand, and the professor calls on her.

“To protect us,” she says.

I don’t know her name, but I’ve seen her somewhere before—perhaps in my Spanish Literature class? I think this somewhat odd, since most of the students I meet of Asian descent prefer to study a language such as Korean, Chinese, or Japanese. Usually, their great-grandparents spoke one of those languages when they immigrated to Apollo, long ago.

“That’s correct,” the professor says. “And what else of note happened in 2075?”

I’m staring at the classic novel resting on my desk, which I plan to begin reading during lunch: The Kite Runner. I’d give anything for this class to finish so I can lose myself in yet another story, one which challenges me to imagine a world other than this.

“The State of Apollo was established,” I answer, without raising my hand.

The professor glances my way, visibly annoyed at my refusal to follow protocol. “Very good, Flora,” he says, his voice flat.

I know the whole story. It’s something every Apolloan learns in grade school, because that’s when they teach you how “the Wall is forbidden to discuss, or venture beyond.”

Of course, they never tell you why.

Their response usually resembles something like, “There’s evil on The Other Side.” For my entire life, it has been the elephant in the room, and I sometimes wonder if I’m the only person who wants to scream, deck someone in the face, and shriek, “C’mon, think!”

Perhaps this is where my love for books stems: the urge to seek truth or to explore other realms beyond my own. One can often find me wandering like a ghost through the towering shelves of the Apollo Library. The library is filled with ancient books, yellowed pages and decaying leather-bound covers; I’m fascinated by them.

My professor continues reviewing the history of Apollo, and I force myself to stop my mind from wandering, instead following the familiar plotline inside my head:

Long ago, before our “Great State” was established, the Central Commerce Hub of Apollo was known as Flagstaff—a quaint college town in the northern mountains of Arizona, a state from the former United States of America.  Although the majority of citizens live within the Central Commerce Hub today, Apollo’s territory stretches across the entire northern part of Arizona’s former terrain, including the Grand Canyon and Oak Creek Canyon.

In 2075, that land was incorporated into the newly formed state of Apollo, and two years later, the Wall was completed to protect us from evil. Now that it’s 2150, we are celebrating Apollo’s seventy-fifth birthday.

“Who knows the origin of our state’s name?” my professor asks the class.

I know the answer to this question too, but decide to let someone else respond. The professor glances around, and I catch him eyeing me, but I refuse to my raise my hand, so he answers. “It’s named after the Greek god, Apollo, who was the god of light, truth, and knowledge.”

There is a momentary silence in the class, before a deep and noticeably angry voice breaks it. “Because that’s what we’re all about, right professor?”

The remark comes from a shadow stuffed into the back corner of the classroom. My professor saunters toward the half-hidden desk, and a boy about my age reveals himself. I’ve seen him in class, but he’s never spoken until now. His dark, black-rimmed eyes challenge our instructor, and after further observation, I realize he wears eyeliner.

“Excuse me, Donald?” my professor says.

“Yeah, it’s Don.” The kid’s voice is snide, sarcastic. I can tell it riles the professor. “I said, because that’s what we’re all about, right? Sharing truth and knowledge with the world?”

The professor pauses and pulls a white handkerchief from his front pocket, coughs like a gentleman into it, and returns his attention to the boy.

“Well Don,” he says, his voice cool, “I think any historian would agree, that yes, the State of Apollo was established to represent just that.”

“Then how come they never talk about what’s beyond that damned Wall?”

My head and ears perk up at this. My professor pauses again. I can see him trying to collect his thoughts and re-gain his position as leader of the class. He adjusts his glasses, and I lean in, paying keener attention.

“Because what’s beyond the Wall is not important to Apollo and its movement forward in the world,” he says.

The boy follows his nod with a smirk. “Then how can we call ourselves the leaders of light, truth, and knowledge?”

The professor shifts his weight, and I can tell he’s ready to let this kid have it.

“Because, we are,” he says. “Apollo requires its students to study everything from Shakespeare, to a musical instrument, to calculus, and to master a second language. It provides free education for all its citizens, all the way through college. We believe in knowledge and community for all. And knowledge, my friend, is power.”

***

Class couldn’t finish fast enough. The moment we’re set free, I hurry outside, dashing through chatty cliques of students and flocks of boys and girls, trying to find this Don character―the mysterious recluse who sports black eyeliner and challenges professors during lectures.

As I travel down the university’s massive hallways, the words, “Light, Truth, and Knowledge” loom over the swarming pools of students below. The hallways seem infinite, broken only by periodic, circular courtyards that wind around central statues of the infamous Greek god for which we’re named. He is always holding a torch toward the sky, much like the famed Statue of Liberty in ancient New York.

Lose yourself in discovery. My mother’s words flash through my mind unexpectedly as I seek to find Don among the crowds. Don’t let those girls steal it from you, Flora. Your curiosity makes you unique. There’s no fun in normal.

For a moment, I can feel it again—the sticky hair spray gluing together my eyelids and stiffening my hair, dripping down my arms as they laugh, standing in a circle around me, all ten of them. Need some hairspray, Flora? Maybe this will help! Never so humiliated, I’d stopped my recess treasure hunts after that, until my mom reminded me why I shouldn’t.

Today feels like another hunt, I realize, and I revel in it. When I glimpse a black ball of grease scurrying toward the corridor that leads to the university’s mess hall, I grab my backpack and jog to catch up to Don.

“Excuse me!” I say, but he doesn’t respond, so I call his name. This time, the boy stops and turns around, scanning my features from nose to foot with a flicker of his black eyes. They remind me of obsidian stones: cold.

“What do you want?” he asks. His eyes briefly meet mine before jetting toward the ground again.

“Hi, I’m sorry to bother you. My name is Flora.”

“So?”

I’m rather shocked at his lack of manners. So? What kind of way is that to greet a friendly introduction? But I decide to let it slide this time. I’m too curious.

“So, I’m in your World History class. And I found your question about the Wall quite fascinating.”

For a moment, his mood seems to lighten. “You did?”

“What do you know about it? Have you actually seen it?”

Now he turns away and begins walking, as fast as he can. “No one has ever seen the Wall. You know that.”

I refuse to let him slip away so quickly, and begin pacing him. “But you’ve seen it, haven’t you?”

He shakes his head, and I can tell from the cornered look crossing his face that he’s hiding something. “No,” he says. “I haven’t. No one has.”

He’s lying, and I feel my heart leap. I imagine this is the way detectives must feel when they find a solid lead that could finally solve an elusive murder.

“You have seen it!” I quicken my pace as he speeds his steps and tries to lose me. “What do you know?”

Don’s head continues shaking, and he’s obviously growing more agitated. “I don’t know anything,” he says.

His refusal triggers a tinge of frustration inside me—what gives him the right to keep something this significant from a fellow explorer, a fellow outsider? But the frustration quickly transforms into something else … an urgency. Without thinking, I grab his shoulder, spinning him around to face me and our noses nearly collide. He smells of cigarette smoke, and the odor floats into my nostrils.

“I’ve seen it,” I whisper, and I can feel my hands grasping his shoulders.

He places a palm atop mine, and for a moment, we connect; I can sense he wants to talk and with my eyes, I coax him to speak.

“I – I’m sorry,” he says, and shoves my hand from his shoulder, turns around, and races down the corridor. As I watch him disappear into the crowds of hungry students, I know I must get through to Don. I must know what he knows.

This kid has definitely seen something.

 

Stay tuned for the next chapter, THE LOG CABIN, publishing this week on Thursday.

Don’t want to wait to see what happens next? Grab The Apollo Illusion now for only $2.99 (e-version). No e-reader? No problem! Hop over to Amazon to snag a paperback copy.

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How Babies and Tablets Inspired this Dystopian Novel

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Babies and tablets. The rise of propaganda. Rosh Hashanah dinner. These were a few of the factors that led to the inspiration behind my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion.

I love reading the story behind the story from favorite authors, like Margaret Atwood or Junot Diaz. So when Autumn of Fallen Over Book Reviews asked me to write a guest post on what inspired MY first book, I couldn’t resist. OK, I actually felt special. That’s allowed occasionally, right?

The Story Behind the Story
Everything began in September 2013, when I’d gone to my mom’s house with my boyfriend and sister for Rosh Hashanah dinner. In case that sounds like Elvish to you, Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, because our calendar goes by the moon (I know, we’re weirdly Twilight like that).

While munching on noodle pudding and roasted chicken, my mom started telling us about a news story regarding babies and tablets. Babies were learning the swiping motion of using tablets before they learned to talk.

Head over to Fallen Over Book Reviews to read the rest of the story! …

Chapter I: The Wall (sneak peek)

To celebrate the launch of my debut novel today, The Apollo Illusion, I’ve decided to do something fun! For the next five weeks, I will publish, FOR FREE, sneak peeks of the first 10 chapters of my book (one chapter per post). And I’m starting today by publishing THE WALL, my first chapter!

The Apollo Illusion is a story for the hackers, the techies, the seekers, and the rebels of the world. A dystopian suspense for young adults and millennials, it’s now available through Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords, and paperback via Amazon.

If you get hooked, make sure to follow my blog or sign up for The Readers Club so you don’t miss the next installment (of course, you can always purchase the book so you don’t have to wait).

So, without further ado, I present to you, the first chapter of The Apollo Illusion

The Wall

FLORA

Its presence has loomed over me since birth, but my eyes have never looked upon it—until today. The moment feels surreal, like it’s happening to someone else, and I find myself consumed by disbelief.

My bike is parked against the tree beside me, and I tilt my head toward the sky until the soaring Ponderosa pines disappear. The Wall towers over them all, far surpassing the woods surrounding it like some dark lord overlooking its peasants, and it mesmerizes me.

I could reach out and touch it, feel what mysteries are hidden within, the secrets I’ve been drawn to discover since I was a child—what’s on The Other Side—but the Wall’s authority stops and reminds me: You’re forbidden to venture beyond this point.

“Flora!”

Andrew. I hear his voice calling my name, floating between Aspen and Ponderosa branches.

“I’m over here!” I yell.

We are mountain biking together through the forest in Apollo, like we do almost every Saturday when the weather warms enough to melt the snow and ice. I’ve been pushing our starting point further each week, asking Andrew to drive an extra ten miles here, five miles there, before pulling our bikes from the back of his car and pedaling into adventure. Today, my efforts paid off.

I hear Andrew’s tires cracking over broken branches and the gentle panting of his breath as he swoops in behind me. I turn around and smile, watching him swing a long leg off the mountain bike and lean it against a tree.

“I thought we agreed not to go off-course,” he says, approaching me in a slow stride, his dark eyes piercing through mine in that evocative way. A thrilling chill grips my core and I try to concentrate on anything but Andrew’s delicious looks.

“I thought you knew me better than that,” I say. “Since when do I follow the rules?”

I try to ignore the wistful pit developing in my gut, and I worry my face reveals too much. Andrew has been my friend since we were eight years old. He was my only friend then, and is my only friend today, at nineteen. I don’t intend on ruining our history because of some stupid, fleeting attraction.

Andrew smirks and approaches me, playful but intense—too intense, and I realize I’ve stopped breathing. He leans against the tree trunk, trapping me, and lowers his gaze to meet mine.

“Now, how will you get away?” His voice grows deeper and I smell the mixture of sweat and cologne; we’re so close now, only inches apart. Worried that my rapid breath might reveal too much, I yank away and spin around.

“Like that,” I say.

As I’m staring at Andrew—admiring his thick, disheveled hair—I notice his gaze rests on something behind me. I turn around, only to confront the Wall once again. While joking with him, I’d almost forgotten what I had come across.

“You found it?” he asks.

“Not on purpose.”

“Bullshit.” Andrew pauses for a moment, lifting an eyebrow. I know he doesn’t believe me.

“Flora, you ask about the Wall too much.”

I reach into my back pocket and pull out a crumpled map littered with red squiggles and black Xs.  “I swear to you, Andrew, I didn’t find it on purpose,” I tell him. A little white lie never hurt anyone. “Do you have a pen?”

Andrew winces—I can tell from the nervous twitch in his hand that he’s uncomfortable here—but he pulls a pen from inside his jacket anyway.

“Here,” he says, handing it to me. “Where’s yours?”

“I’m not the writer.”

I stand still and absorb our position for a few moments, taking in the possible location of our morning ride, and I lower my eyes toward the map, estimating where we had drifted. Andrew watches me in silence as I draw a solid black circle around the southern edge of Apollo.

“Do you really think it’s a good idea to mark it?” he asks.

“We mark everything,” I tell him. “It’s our map, Andrew. We’ve never omitted one of our discoveries before. Why should we start now?”

Andrew lets out a laugh, but it’s forced. “You know why, Flora.” He begins to back away from the Wall, looking like an intruder who encroached upon enemy land. “We should get out of here.”

“Who’s going to know?”

But Andrew shakes his head. “We need to leave. Now.”

He jogs back to his bike and swings that long leg over the seat. I sigh, disappointment washing over me like a flash flood in the mountains. Reluctantly, I fold our map and shove it into my back pocket before following Andrew’s lead and grabbing my bike.

As I’m pedaling away, however, the Wall seems to beckon me. I glance back over my shoulder, and I swear I see the thing smiling.

 

Stay tuned for the next chapter, WORLD HISTORY, publishing next week on Tuesday.

Don’t want to wait to see what happens next? Grab The Apollo Illusion now for only $2.99 (e-version). No e-reader? No problem! Hop over to Amazon to snag a paperback copy.

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[REBLOG] Review: The Apollo Illusion by Shari Lopatin

Thank you to Lucinda for the 4-star review of my book, The Apollo Illusion! I’m very excited for it to launch this Saturday, May 19, 2018.

Lucinda is reading...

“Where nothing is ever what it seems”

Genre: Dystopian Suspense, Sci-fi, YA, Speculative fiction

Similar to: The Hunger Games.

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of YA, especially if you feel like you’re growing out of the genre a little.

Publication date: 19th May 2018

Disclaimer: I was approached by Shari to review her new book, The Apollo Illusion and although I usually turn requests like these down (“it’s about a spatula that turns into a person” – no thanks) I read through her biog and the blurb of the book and thought “actually…this sounds pretty good”. Then I read that Shari was nominated as Cat Mom of the Year so I said yes immediately. I just want to make it clear that even though I was directly approached by the author and I’ve had some correspondence with her, my views are entirely impartial, these are all my own words, obviously…

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What It Feels Like to Publish Your First Book

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My debut novel, The Apollo Illusionis releasing this Saturday, May 19, 2018. The Apollo Illusion is a YA dystopian suspense for the hackers, the techies, the seekers, and the rebels of the world.

What does it feel like to publish your first novel? As a professional writer and journalist who’s dreamed of publishing a novel since she was a fetus, let me count the ways …

 

Like skydiving in your underwear. 

Like singing “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift while cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway with your best friend.

Like celebrating the Fourth of July all week long.

Like sticking it to the man (YEAH)!

Like tasting real butter after a lifetime of eating nothing but margarine.

Like the raunchy college party you’ll forget the next day, but wish you wouldn’t.

Like you’re the baddest mother-&*^% who’s ever written a story in the history of human existence.

Did I forget anything? 😉

 

Dystopia or Sci-Fi Fan? Pre-Order ‘The Apollo Illusion’

If you’re into dystopias, science fiction novels, or young adult books (YA) … if your blood curls into your toes at the thought of defying “the man,” or asking questions when they’re dangerous, then The Apollo Illusion might be for you.

My debut novel, The Apollo Illusion, is now available for pre-order for just $2.99! A story for the hackers, the techies, the seekers, and the rebels of the world, The Apollo Illusion may increase in price after launch. So grab it now while you’re only splurging a couple of bucks on an “unknown author” and the book that piqued your curiosity.

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‘The Apollo Illusion’ Synopsis

The year is 2150, and bullied nineteen-year-old Flora can no longer ignore the burning curiosity to learn what’s behind the towering Wall surrounding her home state of Apollo. Citizens still read books, discuss philosophy, and send text messages, but questioning The Other Side is forbidden.

When Flora’s naïveté accidentally reveals a dark secret about Apollo, she’s forced into an isolated web of truth, lies, and survival. Fearing for her life, she leaves behind a clue for her childhood friend, Andrew, placing her last hope in their special bond.

  • Audience: young adults and millennials
  • Genres: dystopian suspense, science fiction, speculative fiction, YA
  • Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and occasional language

Pre-order now on Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes and Noble (Nook), or Smashwords! (you know you want to …)

*Paperback will be available upon launch on May 19, 2018. Sign up for The Readers Club to get notified right away!