Introducing John G. Stevens

Recently I’ve been reading novels by newer, largely unknown indie writers. By way of helping them along, I’ll be introducing some of them here. These authors are up-and-coming, at varying stages in their development as writers. They may not all have the polish of traditionally published authors, but I think they all have potential and deserve encouragement.

John G. Stevens’ Echowake is the first book in a truly unique triology. Combining post-apocalyptic SF with fantasy and a touch of steampunk, goggles included, this tale pulls you in and keeps you reading right up to the cliff-hanger conclusion. In terms of story, this is a five-star effort. Bravo!

Plagued by horrific nightmares that come true, the young courier Trede spends his life moving from place to place in hopes of outrunning his inexplicable curse. He carries a unique weapon that attracts the attention of the Cytech guild, who are convinced Trede must be a gifted inventor, not to mention a pair of rival Mystics, one of whom who wants to destroy Trede and the other of whom wants to use him as a tool for conquest. Along the way he runs afoul of a marshal who’s sure he’s up to no good, meets a strange creature who wants to be his friend, and faces down a barrage of swords and magic assaulting him from all sides for reasons he cannot fathom. Echowake has all the makings of an epic adventure.

But I have to downgrade it because as with so many indie first novels, the writing needs work. I’d probably score the book three stars at best in that category. The dialogue and the narrative passages just don’t show the polish we expect of a practiced writer.

Yet–and here’s the surprising part–the story was so amazingly good that I was willing to forgive the writing issues and eagerly read through to the end. I hope that Stevens will grow as a writer and that the sequel(s) will be more polished. I certainly want to read them!

I recently asked John G. Stevens a few questions about his writing:

What inspired you to write Echowake?

I’ve been working on little bits and pieces of the world that became Echowake since the sixth grade. I had a large sketch pad with scrabbly drawings of maps and story ideas. I loved imagining a new world that no one had ever seen before. I guess I’ve always loved to create in general. The thing that has stuck with me the most over the years is stories. I dabbled in writing shorter fiction but I always had this “big idea” of a trilogy of stories. One day it dawned on me to novelize the whole story that I’d been playing with in different forms for years. The further I went into that world the more I never wanted to leave!

Had you published anything previously or since?

Echowake is my first officially published work. It was a huge learning process but well worth the effort. I have done some unprofessional blogging at times, though. (But who hasn’t?)

What are you working on now?

I’ve fully thrown myself into the first draft of a direct sequel titled Echowake: The Coming Storm. I’ve learned so much during the first book I feel like I’m flying through this time. It’s already feeling like it will be a faster paced and more action-packed book. I can’t wait to share it.

I’m also outlining and gathering ideas for two in-world spin-off novellas. More info on my website ( Every answer I find in this world poses another set of questions. I can see myself happily spending years here. Maybe you’ll come visit?

Where can readers find you?

On my author website, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook.

Ellicott City: Home of Rick Peller

Ellicott City, Maryland is the seat of Howard County, the location of the HCPD’s Northern District Headquarters, where my detectives are based, and the home of Detective Lieutenant Rick Peller.

In all honesty, Peller’s neighborhood is entirely fictional. If it existed, it would have been built in the 1940’s, a neighborhood of moderately large two-story homes abutting commercial areas reminiscent of small-town main streets, featuring mom-and-pop stores and restaurants. In fact, Main Street in Ellicott City’s historic district could almost be next door to Peller’s house, except for a little problem with the geography, which we’ll get to in a moment. But first, some history.

Ellicott City grew up on the banks of the Patapsco River. It was born April 24, 1771 as Ellicott’s Mills, established by the Quaker brothers John, Andrew, and Joseph Ellicott. The Ellicotts chose the location in the wilderness a few miles upstream from Elk Ridge Landing (now Elkridge, Maryland) as the site for a flour mill. Over time, the brothers expanded their operations to sawmills, grain mills, an oil mill, smithies, stables, and a grain distillery. They also transformed agriculture in the area by encouraging local farmers to plant wheat instead of tobacco–after all, they couldn’t mill tobacco–and introducing Plaster of Paris fertilizer to rejuvenate the soil.

In 1830, Ellicott’s Mills was chosen as the first terminus of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad outside the city. (Want to talk like a local? Folks around here often call it “Baltimore City” or just “the city” to distinguish it from Baltimore County, which is an entirely separate entity.) Today, the Ellicott City Station together with the gray granite Oliver Viaduct has been designated a National Historic Landmark. It’s the oldest surviving railroad station in America.

Ellicott’s Mills became Ellicott City in 1867 with an incorporation charter, which was later lost in 1935. It remains unincorporated today, but is now the seat of the Howard County government. For more historical information, see this article.

Back to that geographical quirk I mentioned. The center of Ellicott City is its historic district, built in the Tiber River valley. The Tiber is a tributary of the Patapsco, which in turn is a key tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. The Tiber cuts through the piedmont, slashing a deep gash through the hills. It’s a picturesque area. The oldest buildings in the city are found here, but the valley is narrow, so most residential areas are above in the surrounding high ground. That’s one reason the Peller residence isn’t just around the corner.

Another, more serious reason: huge amounts of water can course through the Tiber valley into the Patapsco. Significant rainfalls can raise the level of both rivers, backing the water up into the historic district. In more recent times, development has paved over natural drainage and channeled water down into the center of the city.  Devastating floods occurred in 1817, 1837, 1868, 1901, 1917, 1923, 1938, 1942, 1952, 1956, 1972 (Hurricane Agnes), 1975 (Hurricane Eloise), 1989, 2011, and 2016. Peller’s imaginary neighborhood isn’t in the path of these floods, although in my fourth Howard County novel he gets to experience one up close and personal.

Main Street becomes Frederick Road as it travels west. It does indeed connect to the city of Frederick at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. But today westward movement is better facilitated by U.S. Route 40 (Baltimore National Pike), and Interstate 70, both of which run by to the north of Ellicott City. Route 40 is a main commercial drag, particularly to the west of Baltimore. Consequently, it shows up with some frequency in my novels. So does the north-south U.S. Route 29, which connects I70 to Ellicott City, Columbia, and the northern D.C. suburb of Silver Spring. In spite of these and other major traffic arteries, getting around Howard County can take time. The hills force roads to twist and turn, unlike the straight shots in the midwestern areas where I grew up.

In any case, if you’re ever in the area, drop by for a visit. And if you happen to bump into Rick Peller, tell him I said hello.



Introducing Shannon Heuston

Recently I’ve been reading novels by newer, largely unknown indie writers. By way of helping them along, I’ll be introducing some of them here. These authors are up-and-coming, at varying stages in their development as writers. They may not all have the polish of traditionally published authors, but I think they all have potential and deserve encouragement.

I encountered Shannon Heuston through her novel, Under God’s Big Sky. Based on the cover blurb, I half expected this book to be a post-apocalyptic SF/fantasy tale. It turned out to be something rather different.

Raised in near-isolation on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, Montana under the harsh leadership of the man she knows only as the Yeoman of God, Leah has been told all her life that the world beyond was destroyed and that she is destined to bear its new Savior. But when an apparition from beyond the ranch intrudes, everything she has ever believed begins to unravel. Not knowing what she will find, fearful of calling down God’s wrath upon her, she abandons the only family she has ever known. The truth she discovers could liberate her, or destroy her.

Shannon Heuston tells a good tale, and clearly knows something of the psychology of fear, control, and betrayal. The plot, while not complex, keeps one reading. Even when Leah seems to find a “happy place” menace lurks beneath the surface. The inevitable final confrontation between Leah and Yeoman ends on a satisfying note, and although one might not agree with the young woman’s resulting religious conclusions, they make sense given who she is and what she endures. Heuston musters a wonderful turn of phrase from time to time, too. For an early novel by an indie writer, this is an enjoyable read, although it could benefit from a bit of tightening. I would hazard that Heuston has strong potential to surprise and delight readers in future works.

I recently asked Shannon Heuston a few questions about her writing:

What inspired you to write Under God’s Big Sky?

Actually I thought of the premise for Under God’s Big Sky many years ago, when I was a teenager and visiting my cousin in North Andover, Massachusetts. Originally I envisioned Agape [the Montana ranch where Leah grows up] as being populated by all teenagers, the same age as Leah. I wrote a little bit of it, then set it aside. Then a year ago I needed an idea for NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month], so I revisited the story.

Had you published anything previously or since (books, articles, etc.)?

I published a semi-autobiographical novel, The Playground, prior to Under God’s Big Sky. This novel was about bullying and its long term aftermath. Many of the incidents related in The Playground actually happened to me; it’s more of a memoir than a novel but I made a lot of editorial changes, such as combining several characters into one, and some of my memories of the incidents were fuzzy so I filled in some blanks.

Before that, I’ve written here and there, but nothing that was formally published. Prior to 2016, becoming an author was always one of my lifelong dreams, but I never really put in the work before writing The Playground. Then once I started writing, it started pouring out of me. I just couldn’t stop!

What are you working on now?

Well, my third novel, Woman Scorned, was just published today [October 31, 2017] as a matter of fact! All my novels are completely different from each other, and this one belongs to the thriller/suspense genre with sort of a true crime feel. Monica and Lexie are devoted sisters until Lexie commits an unspeakable act of revenge on a former lover. One of the themes I explore is that of unconditional love. How do you go on loving someone even after they commit evil?

The novel I am currently writing is about time travel. A team of scientists manage to discover the secret to time travel. To test it out, Diana, one of the scientists, travels back in time to the 19th century. Although instructed not to interfere with history, she falls in love with a prominent citizen she knows is doomed.

Anything else on your mind?

The only additional comment I might add is to assure aspiring authors that your dreams are within reach, as long as you’re willing to work hard and never give up.

And finally, where can readers find you?

Through my Facebook page, my Goodreads author page, and my blog (which is also at Goodreads).


The offiical website of author Dale E. Lehman