Island Queen- Vanessa Riley weaves an intricate tale

Holding up a box full of fabric swatches – Vanessa shows how she captures her exquisite sensory writing style. This weeks featured story is from author Vanessa Riley. Her novel Island Queen is an intricately woven tale of an 18th century woman’s rise from slavery to autonomy. You will hear how narrator Adjoa Andoh’s performance matches and elevates the rich tapestry of Vanessa’s storytelling. In our conversation with Vanessa, she shares how her technical background gives her perspective and allows her to examine the historical record with an intense level of detail. She also tells us the fascinating story behind her discovery of the real Dorothy Kirwan Thomas hiding in history. Dorothy’s story from slavery to wealth and power is riveting and inspiring in Vanessa’s skillful hands.
Thanks to Danielle Bartlett at Harper Collins and Harper Audio and William Morrow.
Thanks to Angela Anderson who first sang the praises of Island Queen to me.
Thanks for listening.

Follow your heart- Behind the Lens, Ep27 Jeannee Sacken

Our featured story comes from freelance photographer and writer Jeannee Sacken.  In her debut novel, Behind the Lens, Sacken honors strong women. She champions their education and freedom to follow their hearts and passions.  Her characters are courageous and complicated.  She takes us to a war zone with a photographer who focuses on truth and witnesses cruelty, love, cultural beauty and betrayal. It’s a riveting, multifaceted story set in Afghanistan. You will hear a scene from the novel and find out why Sacken’s own life trajectory changed – why she followed her heart and started sharing women’s stories.  You can find out more about Jeannee Sacken, connect with her on social media and buy her book in the links below.  She has also shared the names of charities helping refugees from Afghanistan right now. Thanks for listening. 

Links to Jeannee Sacken’s work:


Link to Amazon to purchase Behind the Lens:

Organizations accepting donations of new clothing, shoes, supplies, and money: Islamic Society of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, Lutheran Social Services, International Institute of Wisconsin, Jewish Social Services (based in Madison)

Volunteering assistance: (Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse),

The right person for the job, why this WWII era story is ahead of its time even today

Our featured story comes from Marjorie Herrera Lewis. Marjorie is a career sports writer covering football at all levels in Texas. In fact, she was the first female sports writer to cover the Dallas Cowboys. So when, through a happy set of coincidences, she found out about another female sports enthusiast who stepped up during WWII and coached high school football in Texas,  she knew it was a story she had to tell. Tylene Wilson’s story was lost to the dust bins of history before Marjorie wrote her novel When the Men Were Gone.  Now, the book has made the Best Books lists in Sports Illustrated and Newsweek, is a Book Club selection of Readers Digest and the International Pulpwood Queens, and is under a film contract. Listen to how Marjorie found Tylene’s voice in late night writing sessions,  and what Marjorie’s big picture themes of the book are (hint: it’s bigger than Texas football). Her audiobook narrator, Eva Kaminsky, is an accomplished television, film and broadway actor who has won multiple Earphones Awards for her narration work.  

Find the rest of the story and more about Marjorie Herrera Lewis on her website 

Discover dark secrets, inner demons, and fate in Walking Among the Trees with Frank Oliva, Episode 23

Our featured story is from Frank Oliva’s debut novel Walking Among the Trees.  The Psychological Thriller is a journey through secrets and past sins.  You will hear the beginning of the book as the two priests venture into the trees. And then, you will walk a little farther into the trees with the author to hear about: what he researched to get just right in the story; how the seed of the story was planted when he was a teenager working at a Catholic church; and how he found the time to create the novel’s slow burn – with a couple jump scares along the way. Here’s Frank’s website to find out more about him and to order the book to find out the secrets it reveals for yourself. Thanks for listening.  

Frank Oliva’s Website 

Surprisingly timely historical fiction

Inspired by a surprising find in a library, today’s featured story is from author Amanda Skenandore. She is an award winning historical fiction writer and a registered nurse. Her debut novel, Between Earth and Sky, was the winner of the American Library Association’s RUSA Reading List for Best Historical Fiction Novel of the Year. Her latest novel The Second Life of Mirielle West is set one hundred years ago in America’s only leper colony. We talk about The Carville Leper Home and how the patients quarantined there long ago gave Amanda perspective on the current health crisis.  Her essential thing is evident in her storytelling, and her ideas about what historical fiction writers might be exploring a hundred years from now intrigued and surprised me.  She shared a great picture of herself at the Carville site doing book research in 2019.  Her narrator, Nicole Poole, is a classically trained actor with equal passions for literature and improvisation. She has toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company, has been a member of the critically acclaimed Walter Thompson Orchestra for over fifteen years, and recently became a member of the Parisian groups SPOUMJ and Anitya. She is honored to have been recognized for her narration by an AudioFile Earphones Award, a Publisher’s Weekly Listen-Up Award, and nomination for an Audie Award. Thanks for listening!

Episode 21 After Francesco – grief, hope and gallows humor with author Brian Malloy

Our featured story comes from author Brian Malloy’s new novel After Francesco.  You will hear his talented and award winning narrator Michael Crouch read an excerpt from the audiobook – a scene where the main character Kevin measures his grief not by remembering what was, but by thinking about what will never be.  You will also hear Brian explain – in his even and calming voice – how this emotional ride of a story is anchored in his personal experiences in many different ways.  I love what his character Aunt Nora says about family. And, Brian’s answer to the ‘essential things’ question caught me by surprise with its altruism.  We begin by talking about when he was writing the ‘author’s note’ during lock down – during the pandemic – a very different pandemic than the one he chronicles in the book – which honors those who fought a life and death battle against disease, hatred, indifference, and ignorance during the 1980’s.  You can find After Francesco and all of Brian’s work through his website  And, I’ll put a picture of Brian with his Minnesota AIDS Project buds at the March on Washington in 1987 on the Desideratum Podcast website. When you want to hear more from narrator Michael Crouch, here is his website:  

Thanks for listening.

Forever 51, not your daughter’s vampire story with Pamela Skjolsvik, Ep20

Our featured story comes from author Pamela Skjolsvik.  She always considered herself a non-fiction writer, trained to tell the truth, but then one day she discovered she likes to make things up and she’s good at it.  She’s written a vampire novel called Forever 51 that she says is not your daughter’s vampire story. She’s funnier than her last name and she’s open and direct in surprising ways.  I’ve been asking authors and everyone else about their COVID pandemic experiences – the silver linings and the losses.  Her experience took my breath away. Below are links to her website, an article CNN published by her in 2020, and her social media pages.  Thanks for listening.

Here is the link to her CNN article about her mother’s last days:
and these are Pamela’s social media pages links:

Episode 19, James A Ross

Today’s featured story is an excerpt from the historical thriller Hunting Teddy Roosevelt. The story takes place during Roosevelt’s well documented safari in Africa in 1909. Author James Ross places an assassin on the trip hired by forces who want to keep Roosevelt out of politics forever. And he creates a female journalist / explorer who travels with the safari and whose work shines a light on colonial atrocities in the Congo. The story has layers of excitement and personal discovery. You can find the book wherever books are sold and connect with James on his website and through his newsletter. His MOTH main stage storytelling gives you a taste of his next project.  Thanks for tuning into the Desideratum Podcast. Thanks for listening.