How Should Authors Promote Their Books in 2022

In our new “State of the Industry” blog series, we’re breaking down how the pandemic has transformed the publishing industry. By understanding how the industry has rapidly transformed in 2020 and 2021, writers and authors will be better prepared to navigate the new state of the industry in 2022.

Last month, we explored how the pandemic changed the way people buy books.

Now it’s time for the final question: How should authors be promoting their books in 2022? What does author promotion in 2022 look like?

Answer: Here are some savvy promotional steps you can take to take your promote your book and author brand in 2022:

1). Pay closer attention than ever to the news: locally, nationally, and internationally.

Regardless of where you get your news or what you think of the media, it has never been more important to be as informed as possible on current events. The events of 2020, and how they were reported–particularly pandemic news, the Black Lives Matter movement, and political / election events–heavily influenced both the type of books that publishers acquired, book sales, and the types of books publishers and booksellers will invest in in the future. Stay ahead of the curve, don’t race to catch up.

2). Let’s talk about what genre trends we’ll see.

Genre trends that will continue:

  • Children’s education, as people continue to homeschool, or make decisions about homeschooling
  • Race/diversity/antiracism: Nonfiction on antiracism will continue to sell well, if not AS strongly as in 2020. Fiction in all genres with themes of race, antiracism, diverse characters, representation, and justice will continue to grow.
  • Commercial YA: This genre juggernaut is only going to keep getting bigger.

Genre trends that will emerge (predictions):

  • How-to books on rethinking life and work post-pandemic: All over the world, people are rethinking their lives now that they have been severed from a sense of “normalcy.” The market is ripe for nonfiction that directly addresses how to create fulfilling, purposeful, previously-inconceivable ways of living in a mid-/post-pandemic world.
  • Domestic how-tos on working from home: A work-from-home model is here to stay for many industries, and work life balancing is changing and will continue to change as a result.
  • “Pandemic fiction” (or allegories for pandemic): Once pandemic-weariness has become a more distant memories, in a few years we predict we’ll see a spike in pandemic fiction, which can include everything from romance novels about love blossoming between partners in isolation/quarantine to dramas and thrillers with isolationist themes.
  • Factional/political/polarization/radicalization dystopia: The world is still too tired and burnt out from living in an actual dystopia, so dystopian lit won’t make a huge resurgence straight away–but the social polarization that has occured won’t go unnoticed by publishers (or savvy authors).
  • Sweet, fluffy, escapist, ANTIi-dystopian lit: Get ready for a FLUX of feel good escapist fiction. We’re all tired of talking about how terrible life is–so let’s not.
  • Horror (especially YA horror): Good, intelligent horror is going through a renaissance in film and TV, and the literary world will have some catching up to do to meet demand

3). Seek to connect with readers as directly as possible. One way to do this is through targeted ads and outreach to boost your online exposure.

Online book sales are still dominating the market; remember that this means that most visible titles (celebrity names / endorsements, great SEO, big ad spend) will get seen. Think strategically about making your book stand out online

4). Get on TikTok if you’re a YA or romance author.

TikTok is one of the most powerful sales tools YA and romance authors can use. Other genres–but not all–may also find an audience on TikTok, but keep in mind that their primary book-buying base leans heavily towards romance and young adult fiction. (True crime, real-life mysteries, historial dress, how-tos, “lifehacks” and supernatural content can also find audiences on TikTok). Spend time on TikTok and become familiar with the app before using it to promote your author brand. Do not use it just to sell your books–commit to creating consistent, engaging, creative, and (most of all) authentic content that will help readers connect with you–a person, not a sales pitch.

5). Consider releasing audio media if you haven’t already done so.

Audio is booming. If you haven’t released an audiobook yet (available on Amazon/Audible, etc), do it. It’s also a great time to explore audio-only literature.

6). Be a visible champion to bookstores.

Supporting local bookstores was important before, and it’s super important now. Boost local stores on social media. Raise money and awareness for indie stores. Talk to your local store about their needs and how you can be a good partner to them. Not only will you be improving your community, any benefit you provide to local booksellers will be received with gratitude and goodwill, and could lead to future opportunities.

7). Understand that publishers and booksellers are examining how to reinvent the wheel right now. You can be a part of that reinvention.

Traditional publishing and book marketing methods aren’t working like they used to. There’s never been a better time for creative solutions, fresh approaches to writing and marketing, and experimentation. We’ll end this blog series on a New York Times quote from April 2021, which still holds true today:

“As fear for their industry turned to a stunned optimism last year, publishers started to rethink almost everything they had once taken for granted, from how to cultivate new literary talent to the ways that they market and sell books. Live literary events like book signings and author appearances have been replaced, as with so many things, by Zoom. BookExpo, the largest gathering of publishing professionals in the United States, which typically took place in May and drew thousands of booksellers, publishers, editors, agents, authors and librarians to the Javits Center in New York, has been canceled. The convention center is now being used as a mass vaccination site.

‘One of the most significant things that’s going to change is the re-evaluation of all that we do and how we do it,’ said Don Weisberg, the chief executive of Macmillan.”

Tips to consider when setting up bookstore events

Some authors don’t look forward to events – too many people, too much talking about themselves and their work. While others can’t wait for their launch party – it’s a chance to visit with all the people in their circle and meet potential new readers!

Regardless of what kind of author you are, events can be a great way to celebrate your book and all of the years of hard work you and a whole slew of other people put into it. Here are a few things to keep in mind when setting up author events at bookstores.

Business first

While most bookstores love to host events, they are ultimately a business. Staffing an event, whether virtual or in-person, takes hard work and money, so try not to be offended if they aren’t able to work you into the schedule.

Bringing an audience

The event coordinator may ask you if you have a network of family and friends in the area who are able to attend. This is for your benefit, as well as theirs. They (understandably) want to sell books, but more than that, they want your event to be a success for you! Having an event and expecting the bookstore to provide the audience won’t get you too far.

Don’t forget to promote your event on social media, and feel free to ask the bookstore if they do this as well. You can ask friends and family to share your posts to increase your chances of having more people show up, as well.

That being said, if you do host an event and only a few people show up, don’t despair. This gives you an opportunity to connect with readers in a more personal way that you’ll likely remember for a long time.

Inviting other authors

Partnering with other authors can be a great idea. This can cut down on nerves because the focus isn’t entirely on you, and an “in conversation event” is generally a more attractive prospect for bookstores. You can even think outside the “author” box, especially if you write nonfiction – an expert in the field that you are writing about could make for fascinating back and forth. Plus, the other speaker is likely to draw even more people to the event!

Multiple events

Be cautious about setting up several events in the same area: Will you be able to draw a good-sized crowd to both events? If you do feel like you can pull it off, having a different topic discussed at each event is a good idea. That way you don’t feel like you’re giving a speech but rather engaging in a topic with that audience.

Above all, try to enjoy this part of your author journey – it’s something that not all authors get to do, and events can be something that both you and readers will remember for years!

For more tips on different kinds of events to consider, check out this blog post:

Photographer’s new compilation ‘Mutts’ celebrates mixed breeds with charming details, exquisite pictures

New Orleans, LA – Whether you currently have a mutt, grew up with one, or you’re a pet-free animal lover, MUTTS by Olivia Grey Pritchard is a must have for your coffee table.

MUTTS is a photographic celebration of mystery mixed breeds. If you’ve ever loved a bonafide mutt, you know that they’re some of the best, most loyal dogs ever. This stellar book features more than 100 gorgeous pups from all different origins and breeds, photographed by the award-winning talent Olivia Grey Pritchard. Each photo is accompanied by the pooch’s name, best guess of breed mix, and lists unique traits.

MUTTS aims to inspire joy and connection when readers look through these photographs. And for people who haven’t considered adopting a rescue pet before, this book shows that mutts have just as many unique, lovable, and desirable qualities as pedigreed dogs.

Pritchard’s mission with this book is to call attention to the heartbreaking fact that according to the ASPCA, over half a million dogs are euthanized in US shelters each year, and to encourage more rescue adoptions. In addition to fostering more love for mutts, a portion of the proceeds from the book are being donated to organizations that rescue and spay/neuter, including Take Paws Rescue, Animal Rescue New Orleans, Zeus’ Place, Greta’s Ark Animal Rescue, Trampled Rose Rescue, and the LASPCA.

Olivia Pritchard | September 30, 2022 | Susan Schadt Press
Coffee Table Books/Animals | Hardcover | 978-1-7336341-7-5 | $45

More about Olivia Grey Pritchard

After five years as a United Nations photographer working in combat zones, Olivia moved to New Orleans in 2012 and began serving families with her unique perspective of the visual legacy we want to create for our children (with fur and without!). Through her work behind the camera and creating her archival-quality artwork that families cherish for generations, Olivia preserves both the milestone and the everyday memories.

Olivia has owned mutts her whole life—from a border collie mix named Spike that her mom found as a puppy trying to get milk out of a carton and a husky mix named Wylie who met the school bus every afternoon, to the most loyal hound / shepherd mix named Chester who loved to sun himself in a certain spot in the front yard. So it’s no surprise that as an adult, she has a 120 pound St. Bernard / retriever / shepherd rescue named Jasper—the most patient, protective, devoted dog ever.

The subject is always the focus of her portraits, and Olivia seeks honesty and authenticity in her art.

Find out more about Olivia on her website:

Follow Olivia on social media:
Facebook: @OliviaGreyPritchardPhotography | Instagram: @oliviagreypritchardphotography

In an interview, Olivia can discuss:

  • The mutts she had growing up, and how they came into her life in strange ways, but always at the right time
  • How she got into photography, specifically with dogs
  • Her experience as a United Nations photographer working in combat zones
  • How she is working to create a visual legacy for future generations
  • The importance of adopting and how many dogs are euthanized each year
  • Her donations goals with the proceeds of this book to local shelters

An Interview with Olivia Pritchard

What sparked this project? What was the first dog photo you took for it?

My sister was the one who actually suggested I do a book like this. She is my studio manager, and we photograph a lot of pets in the studio for our clients. She thought my pet client albums would translate beautifully into a coffee table book with mass appeal. And so it’s fitting that the first dog photographed for this book was my sister’s dog, Rue. She was about to start treatment for cancer, and we wanted to get her portrait in before that started. She went into remission several months later.

Can you talk about your favorite story behind one of the pictures in the book?

Honestly, 8 months out from the last dog photographed for MUTTS, there is one that really sticks in my memory: Butters. She is a pit mix who was found along a busy highway with an extension cord around her neck (we hope as a makeshift leash, but don’t know the details). She was really small for a pit, underweight still (she was just a few months out from rescue, and when they’re severely underweight they have to put it back on very slowly to do it safely), but also just a tiny frame with this huge, sweet blocky head. She had the sweetest eyes and a calm energy; just a magnetic spirit. I am 100% sure that if she had not already been adopted, I would have taken her home that day.

What did you learn about mutts in the process of this photography project?

Well, first of all, mutts are amazing dogs with incredible capacity to forgive, trust again, and live in the moment (but I already knew that)! I loved seeing that over and over again with each dog with a back-story. But I really feel like I learned more about the people who love mutts as opposed to the mutts themselves. The bond that you have with an animal that you rescued is sacred. I loved seeing how dedicated the owners were, willing to work through any issues like separation anxiety, resource guarding, etc. Many rescue dogs don’t come with these challenges, but for the MUTTS models that did, I loved hearing how owners and their dogs were working through them together.

What advice would you give to someone looking to adopt a dog?

When you adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, you actually save two lives: the life of the dog you adopted, and the life of the dog who was able to have that space at the shelter. I’d say to really think about what kind of dog will suit your lifestyle. Do you want a dog that will run 5 miles with you everyday, or a dog that’s happy with a stroll around the block? What climate do you live in, and is a particular breed mix not well-suited to that climate? Can you spend a ton of time with your dog working from home, or are you gone for long periods each day? Tell all of these things to the rescue and/or shelter workers, or ask to talk to the dog’s current foster. They know the dogs’ personalities (as much as they can in a shelter environment) and can recommend one that might be a good fit to become a part of your family.

How can we help fewer dogs get euthanized each year?

Remember that you can find EVERY kind of dog, even pure breeds and doodle mixes, in rescues and shelters across the country – and when you rescue a dog, you save its life AND the life of the dog who comes into the shelter after him. And fostering a pet is a great option to save two lives at once, too, because fostering also frees up space in a shelter or rescue for another dog. But the MAIN thing we can all do is SPAY and NEUTER our pets. We need more local, state, and federal initiatives to spay and neuter pets free of cost to pet owners, more awareness of the benefits of spaying and neutering (no unwanted litters, better pet health) and more mobile spay and neuter clinics to get into communities. Finally, I would love to see a license requirement to breed any animal, requiring a safe sheltered environment, proof of established veterinary care, with stiff fines/penalties for those who breed irresponsibly. Backyard breeders operate with no oversight whatsoever, and it’s the pets who pay the price and often end up in shelters.

Download press kit and photos

Books Forward June 2022 Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter featuring our award-winning authors and industry news. This issue features upcoming book releases, recent media coverage and much more!

Read the June 2022 newsletter here!

Should I enter my book in awards contests?

If you’re marketing your own book, you may be focused on getting reviews, booking events, and building a social media following. But have you considered entering literary contests as well? In addition to providing credibility for you and your book, winning a contest can also score you a monetary prize or an opportunity to network with other authors and book industry professionals.

And, because of the wide range of literary awards available, there’s a good match for nearly every book!

Keep reading for tips on how to build an award strategy that works for you, and how to make the most of publicity surrounding a win.

How to be strategic when applying for awards

Make note of your budget.

While many awards are free to submit to, some do charge an entry fee, typically around $75. Determining in advance how much money you’re willing to spend on awards will help you narrow your options later on.

Do your research.

First, look for contests that have a solid reputation and line up with your unique audience and genre. When you’ve found a contest that seems like a match, dig a little deeper. Search what books have won in your category in the past. Do they seem on par with your book? Look up the judges for your category. What’s their realm of expertise? Do their interests overlap with your book’s themes?

As a general rule, always keep your eyes open for possible scams. Some awards don’t have authors’ best interests in mind. If you have a hard time finding basic information about the award’s history, judges and guidelines, that’s a big red flag. Similarly, if the entry fee is high while the prize pot is low, that may be cause for concern.

Think outside the box.

Does your book have unique cover art or interior design elements? There’s an award for that. Have an audiobook? There’s an award for that, too.

You should also look for awards that are specific to authors in your city, state or region. Local awards receive fewer entries than national awards, which will give you a better chance of taking home the gold!

Pay attention to guidelines.

Since guidelines tend to vary greatly from contest to contest, it’s crucial that you read the fine print. I know, I know. That can be tedious. But most awards won’t offer a refund for an incomplete or incorrect submission, so do it for your wallet’s sake.

A few things to make note of when scanning guidelines:

  • Can a submission come directly from an author? Or solely a publisher/publicist?
  • Does the contest accept ebook or physical mailings? Or both?
  • If physical copies are required, how many are needed? And, will you need to include any printed materials in the package as well (e.g., receipt, copy of entry form)?
  • Are you able to submit the same book in multiple categories? If so, is an extra fee or book mailing required?
  • Are ARC submissions allowed? Or will they only accept final copies?
  • How long is the submission period and when is the deadline?
  • Are you eligible for more than one year? Some awards have a 2+ year eligibility period. So if you happen to miss the deadline for your publication year, check to see if you’ll be eligible for the following year as well.

What should I do after an award win?

If there’s an in-person award ceremony, try to attend! These events are a great way to network with other authors and book industry professionals.

I would also recommend you:

  • Add any wins that you get to your website, email signature, and Amazon book listing
  • Share an announcement on social media and congratulate other winners/finalists
  • Order award stickers for the cover of your book (if available)
  • Update your resume for potential events and speaking gigs to reflect your accolades
  • Celebrate being an award-winning author!

Not sure where to start?

As you know, awards offer credibility, and solidifying your position as an award-winning author can benefit you for years to come!

If you aren’t sure where to begin, here are a few excellent literary contests for indie authors. Best of luck!

Foreword INDIES

Kirkus Prize

Next Generation Indie Book Awards

IndieReader Discovery Awards

BookLife Prize (from Publishers Weekly)

Independent Publisher Book Awards (The IPPYs)

IBPA’s Ben Franklin Awards

Electric YA Contemporary Romance Invokes Supernatural

“There’s a dead body in my house, and before the day is out, there will be at least two more.”

Cincinnati, OH — Acclaimed YA author Sara Bennett Wealer returns with an exciting new contemporary novel that will pull readers in from the first intriguing line. Wealer crafts a perfect concoction of romance, coming of age, and a dash of the supernatural that is absolutely to die for. Readers will want to sink their teeth into this tale that is both heartwarming and chilling–perfect for spooky season.

Elaine’s home is a bit . . . different. It’s a funeral home that has been in her family since the 1800s. Everyone assumes Elaine will take over the business someday—everybody except Elaine. When Xander, a newcomer with a passion for ghost hunting, arrives in town, Elaine feels an instant spark. He’s daring and spontaneous. With Xander, she feels herself transforming from Funeral Girl to Fun Girl. But not everyone is thrilled to see her changing, least of all her childhood best friend, Miles.

After Xander convinces Elaine to ghost hunt at the funeral home, they discover a ghostly presence from the past. And this spirit has a message—one Elaine is certain can give her the advice she craves about what to do with her life and which boy deserves her heart.

“Grave Things Like Love”
Sara Bennett Wealer | Oct. 11, 2022
Delacorte Press | Young Adult Contemporary Romance/Supernatural
Hardcover | 978-1984896288 | $18.99
Ebook | 978-1984896308 | $10.99
Audiobook | 978-0593609712

More about Sara Bennett Wealer

Sara grew up in Manhattan, Kansas (the “Little Apple”), where she sang in all the choirs and wrote for the high school newspaper. She majored in voice performance at the University of Kansas before deciding she had no business trying to make a career as an opera singer and transferred to journalism school, where no one cares if you can hit a high C or convincingly play a Valkyrie. She went on to become a reporter covering everything from house fires to Hollywood premieres.

These days, she writes event scripts and marketing copy while the sun is out. By night, she writes books for young adults. Sara lives in Cincinnati with her husband, two daughters, two dogs and four cats, and she still sings sometimes when her schedule allows. When Sara is not writing or running around doing Mom Things, you’ll find her at the ballet, or obsessively watching ballet on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. Find out more about Sara on her website.

Follow Sara Bennett Wealer on social media:
Instagram: @sbennettwealer
Twitter: @sbennettwealer

In an interview, Sara can discuss:

  • How her first post-grad job as a newspaper reporter inspired her latest novel
  • Why she decided to add fantasy/supernatural twists to contemporary YA in her two most recent novels
  • The importance and challenges of writing a main character with anxiety
  • What she hopes to model for young readers through this novel: setting healthy boundaries, learning to find your voice, experimenting with coping strategies, and charting your own future course while still honoring family tradition

Praise for Sara Bennett Wealer’s “Now and When”:

“From the meet-cute to the emotional conclusion, a breezy rom-com and poignant coming of age story in perfect balance.”
— Sara Zarr, National Book Award finalist and author of Goodbye from Nowhere

“Twisty and fun–and it hits all the best notes: love to hate, fierce friendships, and rogue technology. But most importantly, it shows the value in being present, living in the moment, and loving every second.”
— Ronni Davis, author of When the Stars Lead to You

“A witty, charming, and exceptionally heartfelt look at the tricky balance between self-control and fate, and what it means when you finally give in to what your heart’s been telling you all along.”
— Meg Leder, author of Letting Go of Gravity

An Interview with Sara Bennett Wealer

Are parts of “Grave Things Like Love” drawn from your own experiences?

Music plays a big role in the story, and that’s definitely a big part of my personal experience. Elaine plays piano for funerals and accompanies her friends in the school choir. As someone who grew up singing in church, school choirs and community musicals, I know the joy that can bring–and also the pressure! Elaine’s friends are getting ready to audition for the school musical and for college music programs, which brings back very specific memories for me.

The Midwestern, small-town setting is another aspect of life I know well. I grew up in a small college town in Kansas, so my childhood wasn’t as rural as Elaine’s, but my parents and much of my extended family are from just the kind of town that Elaine hails from. Dodson, Illinois, feels very familiar to me, and I hope it will to others who know a place like that.

What inspired you to add a supernatural element to your latest novels?

I enjoy stories that have a little “something something” extra in them–an element that isn’t full-blown paranormal or fantasy but that is still a little “out there” without being the sole focus of the story. When I sprinkle those elements into my own writing, I purposefully try not to explain too much about what is happening and why. That’s because I like the idea that the strange can be a part of everyday life. Sometimes things just are, even if we don’t understand them.

What do you want young readers to take away from “Grave Things Like Love”?

It’s very easy to think we have to have everything figured out by a certain point in our lives–especially when we have family traditions and expectations weighing in. That kind of stress is understandable and natural, but I want to show that there’s a bigger picture, and it’s OK to take a little time, explore the broader world, and not have it all set in stone according to someone else’s timeline.

While we’re talking about the big picture, I think that applies to death as well. I wanted to show that, while it’s a huge mystery and something most people fear on some level, it’s also a part of everyday life. Elaine’s dad talks about “the juxtaposition of the Universe,” which he defines as joy in the face of pain. GRAVE THINGS LIKE LOVE has a decent amount of the comic and absurd, even as it takes place in a funeral home. I like that we can hold joy, pain and more within ourselves, all at the same time. To me, that’s a big part of what makes us human.

Why was it important to you to write a main character with anxiety? What do you hope your readers will learn from Elaine?

Anxiety (along with its often-BFF depression) has always been part of my life. I live with it, as do several members of my immediate family. And when I look into the past, I can clearly see older family members who experienced it at a time when society wasn’t as open or accepting about mental health issues, which led to a lot of pain and dysfunction that could possibly have been lessened with proper treatment.

I’m fortunate that my anxiety is something I can manage with strategies like exercise, mindfulness, proper nutrition, and medication from time to time. I know others for whom anxiety is a much more disruptive part of their lives. For all of us, though, it’s something we do have to live with, and that’s what I wanted to portray in this book. The way Elaine experiences and deals with anxiety is reflective of how I experience and deal with it, and that was something my editors liked–that anxiety is simply a part of her life and not the sole focus of her story.

How do you feel like your writing has changed since your debut?

I like to think it’s improved! And I suppose it’s become a bit less autobiographical. My books have never been about my actual life, but past books were more inspired by things I’ve experienced. Now I’m more inspired by ideas than past events.

What is next for you in your writing career?

I have a dream to write a puzzle box story inspired by my favorite sci-fi series, “Dark” on Netflix. (I’m on a personal mission to get more people to experience this show! Watch it now! It is so so SOOO good!!!) I’m not sure I can pull it off–I’m working up my courage to get started. In the meantime, I’m dusting off some older projects, re-imagining them and, I hope, transforming them into something that will sell. These are stories that have stuck with me, and as my writing has evolved and improved, I’m finding that I’m able to take them to a level I might not have been able to back when I did those initial drafts. I’m also getting an itch to try short stories. All of this is a long way of saying I’m in the mood to experiment and evolve!

Download press kit and photos

New memoir from founder of historic D.C. mansion and museum shares unheard stories about Rosa Parks

Legendary publisher R.H. Boyd to release book of life lessons from a civil rights icon

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – On August 31, 1994, H.H. Leonards received a call from Brother Willis Edwards of the Beverly Hills NAACP. “Could Mrs. Parks please stay in your hotel until she’s healed emotionally and physically?” Rosa Parks had recently been attacked in her Detroit home—and upon her release from the hospital, she could not safely return to the site of the assault. Despite her legendary status as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, she was not wealthy and she needed refuge. This is how their friendship began.

On June 19, 2022, legendary publisher R.H. Boyd will release “Rosa Parks Beyond the Bus: Life, Lessons, and Leadership” – a heartfelt collection of wisdom truths and anecdotes gleaned from author H.H. Leonards’ friendship with Mrs. Parks that began with her stay at Leonards’ iconic Mansion on O Street in Washington, D.C.

“These vignettes and the gems of wisdom she deposited in the author offer us a deeply personal look into the heart of such a powerful, yet humble spirit,” said Dr. LaDonna Boyd, president and CEO of R.H. Boyd Publishing.

R.H. Boyd, now in its fifth generation of leadership and celebrating 125 years of printing and publishing, was founded by formerly enslaved Dr. Richard Henry Boyd. The Nashville-based enterprise is expanding beyond its curriculum offerings to include book publishing. The company’s progress under Dr. Boyd’s leadership has been featured in outlets including the Tennessean and The Voice Nashville.

“Rosa Parks Beyond the Bus: Life, Lessons, and Leadership”
H.H. Leonards | June 19, 2022 | R.H. Boyd Publishing
Nonfiction / Memoir

About the Author

H.H. Leonards is the founder and chair of the O Street Museum Foundation, headquartered in Washington, D.C., and the Mansion on O Street, where Mrs. Rosa Parks called her home-away-from-home for the last decade of her life. Leonards is a wife, mother of three, and friend to celebrities and everyday people alike. The Purdue University alumna established The Mansion in 1980 to provide a unique and eclectic forum where clients learn from one another and foster the development of diversity, the creative process and the human spirit.

In an interview, H.H. Leonards can discuss:

  • The fateful call and earnest request that resulted in Rosa Parks staying at her home in Washington, D.C.
  • Her 10-year friendship with the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement and the life lessons they learned from each other
  • Learning from and finding common ground with Mrs. Parks, who on the surface was very different (Parks was an elderly, Black civil rights leader, while Leonards was a young white woman at the start of their friendship) and their mutual emphasis on faith and family
  • Her partnership with R.H. Boyd Publishing and their shared goal to elevate and share unheard stories

An Interview with H.H. Leonards

This might seem like a simple question, but given the length of your friendship it seems worth asking: what do you miss most about your friend, Rosa Parks?

She is still with me. Every day, every second. There is not a moment that goes by that I do not feel her presence.

What do I miss the most? I miss holding hands with Mrs. Parks. Her hands were creator’s hands. We held hands a lot. She and I would sit silently and enjoy the moment together, without words. What I learned from these precious moments is that the beauty of great friends is that you can be quiet in their presence. I also learned that great moments, and great memories, can be channeled through a simple thing like holding hands.

I learn each time I go back to that image of us holding hands. I think about how much she channeled through her hands, straight into my thoughts and heart.

When I am most troubled or being confronted by angry people, I close my eyes and remember those moments together.

Every time I think about Mrs. Parks and I being together, I remember how strong she was, and how she was able to express herself through her hands. She often said that we became good friends because she had never met anyone else with hands like hers. I hope that as I get older my hands grow into hers.

Your book shares stories we often don’t hear about Rosa Parks — why do you think it’s important to share stories about her, specifically stories that go “beyond the bus?”

Her time is now, more than ever. The lessons she taught are more important to absorb than ever.

  • “Keep it simple.”
  • “Measure your words with grace.”
  • “Live an exemplary life” (so no one can use the past against you).
  • “Love is all that matters.”
  • “Economic freedom ends racism.”
  • “Education is the path to a better life. But education takes on different forms for different people.”
  • “Measure your words through faith.”

How did your partnership with R.H. Boyd Publishing begin? Why did you choose to work with them to release this book?

Once I learned about the company and its rich legacy, it was the only place I looked at to publish this book. R.H. Boyd is mission driven and faith based. It is run by a woman and is a proud family business, and the oldest existing African-American publisher in the country. R.H. Boyd is a trailblazer, much like Mrs. Parks. I was just interviewed by CNBC and told them the same.

You mentioned that when you first met Rosa Parks, you didn’t know she was a civil rights icon. Do you think this would have made a difference in your relationship?

Absolutely! I would have been afraid of her. I would have kept my distance, thinking she was too important for me to talk with. God works in mysterious ways.

How did you eventually come to realize who she was? Did it change anything about your relationship?

One of our guests at the Mansion on O Street told me what she had done, not her friends or staff. I was very embarrassed. It took me a while to get up the nerve to tell her how sorry I was. What she said in response was glorious: “Now you can travel with me!” And so our journey together expanded beyond the safety of the Mansion and O Museum.

About the Publisher

As president and CEO of R.H. Boyd Publishing, Dr. LaDonna Boyd is shaping and leading R.H. Boyd’s efforts to broaden its scope and offerings for modern needs. With a targeted focus on product development, technology, commercial (non-religious) printing opportunities and author resources, Dr. Boyd has been preparing for a number of years to take the reins as a CEO—cultivating a wide range of skills necessary to lead the R. H. Boyd through a new generation.

Dr. Boyd completed her doctoral studies at Pepperdine University, where she received the Doctor of Education degree in Organizational Leadership. She is also a graduate of Spelman College, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics, and Tennessee State University, where she completed a Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Finance. She is committed to continued professional development, including earning a certificate in Digital Marketing Strategy from Harvard University’s Extension School. Dr. Boyd has traveled extensively around the globe and earned recognition for community engagement and service, and she is a proud, active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. She also serves on various boards, including Citizens Bank, the National Museum of African American Music, the Nashville Ballet, and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

In an interview, Dr. LaDonna Boyd can discuss:

  • The importance of elevating Black voices and preserving Black stories, and honoring the integral role of Black ancestors who built the country with their strength and perseverance
  • The company’s long-term vision and its position to help alleviate social concerns and injustices, and their expansion efforts under Dr. Boyd’s leadership
  • The importance of filling in the gaps in Rosa Parks’ story that are missing from popular narratives and history books
  • Her experience running one of the oldest publishing companies in the U.S.

An Interview with Dr. LaDonna Boyd

R.H. Boyd Publishing is celebrating 125 years in the publishing world. What does it mean to carry on this meaningful legacy?

There are not many businesses that make it for five generations within the same family. We have been fortunate to have this level of success, and I believe that it comes from being mission oriented. We focus on the importance of telling stories. Even though there are constant changes in mediums and technology, adaptability and consistency are key. We represent what it means to create generational legacy and wealth, and I hope that our story can be an example to other families and entrepreneurs.

How did you prepare to take the reins as the fifth-generation leader of R.H. Boyd?

I was fortunate enough to work with my father for many years before his retirement to receive on-the-job training and industry connections. Additionally, I have excelled in academic programs focused on economics, finance, and leadership, as well as possess impeccable grammar and writing skills, which are very important in the publishing world.

Additionally, our company has a strong team that takes pride in their work individually and collectively. Without the entire organization working cohesively, we would not be able to carry on the legacy accordingly.

Tell us how “Rosa Parks Beyond the Bus: Life, Lessons, and Leadership” came together. What intrigued you about this book?

This is such an interesting story at a very relevant and troubling time in history. Most of us are very familiar with the instance of Mrs. Parks not giving up her seat, but most are not familiar with how that impacted her journey for the rest of her life. Getting this type of first-hand experience from someone that had a close bond with her later in life, we can glean from her wisdom and ensure that her legacy lives on for future generations.

What important changes and trends are you seeing in the book industry right now, and how is R.H. Boyd Publishing adapting to these developments?

Technology is ever-changing, and the way that people consume content is constantly evolving. We must stay on top of different ways to deliver content and make sure that we are telling stories that consumers find interesting. We want to be able to impact people’s lives for the better, preferably on a consistent basis.

Additionally, with supply chain issues and environmental considerations, we reduce our waste and carbon footprint as much as possible. We also forecast production needs and secure enough inventory for at least a year to maintain workflow. Many companies in our industry are experiencing paper shortages, etc. We have been fortunate to not have many of those concerns (at least not in a disruptive manner), and I am confident in our ability to stay ahead in these areas.

What’s next for R.H. Boyd?

We have several new titles coming out within the next year. We are also launching multimedia platforms, including a podcast, enhancing our YouTube offerings, and hosting in-person events, such as our leadership training conference, the Vision Conference, June 16-18, 2022, in Nashville, TN.

Download press kit and photos

Award winning author returns with thrilling sequel

Delve back into Rachel Wilde’s thrilling world of Daemons

GREENSBORO, North Carolina – Chanticleer International Book Award winning author, Alison Levy, returns with her electric second installment in The Daemon Collecting Series. “Blue Flame” (Oct. 11 2022, SparkPress) continues with the adventures of headstrong and tenacious protagonist, Rachel Wilde.

Rachel comes from a dimension that exists adjacent to ours. The people there have structured their society around daemon collecting: they locate, catch, and repair malfunctioning daemons (creatures out of phase with our world that tempt people to do good or evil).

While introducing Leda Morley, last of an ancient line of gatekeepers, to the ins and outs of her daemon-collecting work, Rachel Wilde encounters something far more dangerous than any daemon: a young boy who stands alone against an unseen yet terrifying enemy that has invaded his home—an inhuman creature who, hellbent on revenge for a minor slight, intends to harm the boy’s oblivious family. Meanwhile, Leda’s brother, Simon, is feeling left out of his maternal family legacy but is coping partly by helping Rachel’s friend Bach—a previously homeless man with unusual mental abilities—get his life back on track.

In the midst of all of this, Bach unintentionally but serendipitously makes contact with a capable otherworldly being who, with great reluctance, agrees to help Bach and his friends take on the dangerous creature that’s just become their problem to solve. Together, this group of unlikely allies must put aside their differences to save an innocent child, and his family, from a monster—before it’s too late.

“Blue Flame”
Alison Levy | Oct. 11, 2022 | SparkPress | Fiction
Paperback | ISBN: 9781684631711 | $16.95

Alison Levy lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with her husband, son, and a variety of pets. When she is not writing or doing mom things, she crochets, gardens, walks her collies, and works on home improvement projects.

Her books feature female characters who are strong but flawed, making them more relatable. They stay rooted in everyday life while world-building in their fictional cultures. Intolerance of differences has become widespread in recent years. Gatekeeper encourages readers to look beyond what they consider normal and see through foreign eyes, a message that I hope will appeal to many in today’s climate.

Follow Alison Levy on social media:
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

In an interview, Alison can discuss:

  • World building and craft for fantasy writers
  • How she uses writing to cope with anxiety and advice for others with anxiety
  • How the fantasy genre as a whole has influenced her writing
  • Her connection to the characters, and how she delicately weaves in mental health and family dysfunction topics to her writing
  • What she hopes readers will take away from this story and what’s to come for Rachel Wilde and The
  • Daemon Collecting Series

Praise for Gatekeeper Book One in the Daemon Collecting Series

“A compelling, yet endearing, read about a very resourceful inter-dimensional cop Rachel who deals with broken daemons, homeless oracles, linguists, and serial killers with her own style of grace and tenacity. You might not see your own world in quite the same way as you look for the hidden passageways just out of view.”

– Ellen Clary, author of Pursuits Unknown: An Amy and Lars Novel

“Alison Levy offers us a lens that penetrates the facade of a recognizable world to reveal a thought-provoking analog. Ideas of right and wrong, intention, human value, and justice are all reconsidered. The story leaves the gate at a dead run and never lets up. Written in a clear and incisive style, Gatekeeper was a pleasure to read, and happily, suggests more to follow.”

– Patricia Minger, author of Magic Flute

Advance Praise for Blue Flame Book Two in the Daemon Collecting Series

Alison Levy’s 2nd installment of the Daemon Collecting Series is a dark and whimsical adventure with a colorful cast of characters you’ll be eager to keep tabs on. Masterful storytelling and exceptional worldbuilding. A unique, action-packed Urban Fantasy series with grit, wit, and a whole lot of heart. Levy has created a truly original series in a genre that doesn’t see much originality these days. Her colorful cast of characters (and creatures) will stick with you long after you turn the last page.

– Lenore Borja, author of The Last Huntress (Mirror Realm Series Book I)

An Interview with Alison Levy

Can you tell us a little about how you started writing and what led you to this book series now?

I wrote a story for an English assignment in 6th grade, a time in my life when my anxiety was particularly bad. My English teacher, Mrs. Webb, pulled me aside to praise my story and tell me what a good writer I was. It gave me a desperately needed shot of confidence. I’ve been writing ever since.

I’ve actually been trying for years to write this story the way I imagined it. I started and discarded two previous versions that I just wasn’t feeling. This time, I think I got it right!

How has writing impacted your life and your struggles with anxiety?

Living with anxiety, for me, is like having a tiger in the house: the tone of my day is dependent on the tiger’s mood. If the tiger is active, everything I do revolves around it; I can still get things done but if I do the wrong thing, it bites, and then I’m incapacited. Some days the tiger sleeps or wanders out of the room, but I’m always conscious of its presence and waiting for it to strike. Writing is hugely therapeutic for me. When I write, I can tune out the real world and dive into my creation. When my mind is fully engaged in creating, the tiger disappears.

What was the process of creating the world that your characters live in? Where did this story start?

This story started with my main character, Rachel Wilde. Rachel sometimes feels like the embodiment of an anxiety-free me; she’s brazen, resilient, sharp-tongued, and hard-headed. Throwing her into a difficult situation that would turn me into a pile of jelly and imagining her working through it is very empowering for me.

Your undergrad education was in anthropology — how did that influence your writing?

Anthropology teaches that we as human beings are products of the society we live in. Our day to day activities are not a universal experience; what is normal and mundane to us is exotic or bizarre to others depending on where we come from. I love inventing new cultures that are exotic and bizarre to the reader but normal and mundane to my characters.

What did you do differently in your writing process of Book 2 and what do you hope readers take away from this book?

One comment I got on my first book was that the villain lacked complexity (I did this intentionally but it’s a totally fair criticism). I took that into account for this book and tried to give the antagonist more depth. This time around, I crafted a character who does horrible things because of an immense amount of societal pressure; he wouldn’t necessarily choose to inflict harm on others but in this circumstance, his culture inflicts negative social consequences on him and his loved ones if he fails to do so. I enjoy creating and writing about different cultures so this felt like a natural evolution of my world building. As always, I hope readers take away an appreciation for the many ways in which culture and society affect our lives and our personalities. For this book in particular, I hope readers come away wanting more!

What is next for the Daemon Collecting Series?

Just finished the first draft of Book 3 and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone! Coming up in the series, expect to learn more about the history of the Arcana and why it has been interwoven with our dimension for thousands of years. Expect to see the hidden terrorist group stepping into the light. Expect to see Simon and Leda connect with lost relatives and find themselves in a dangerous situation. Expect to see Bach struggle with his abilities and have an encounter with another oracle that turns his life upside down.

Download press kit and photos

Books Forward BFFs June Influencer Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter for our Books Forward Friends. This issue features highlights of our BFFs, fun titles available for review, and special opportunities for our friends.

Download the June 2022 newsletter here!

New Book Tells the Untold True Story of the World War II Frogmen Who Gave Rise to the Navy SEALs

LOS ANGELES, California – With echoes of  Unbroken, the derring-do and bravado of The Right Stuff; and the battle-forged camaraderie of  Band of Brothers, Into Enemy Waters by award-winning journalist Andrew Dubbins (Aug. 23, 2022, Diversion Books) details the origins and heroic missions of World War II’s elite unit of Navy frogmen, told through the eyes of one of its last living members, 95-year-old George Morgan.

Morgan was just a wiry, 17-year-old lifeguard from New Jersey when he joined the Navy’s new combat demolition unit, tasked to blow up enemy coastal defenses ahead of landings by Allied forces. His first assignment: Omaha Beach on D-Day.

When he returned stateside, Morgan learned that his service was only beginning. Outfitted with swim trunks, a dive mask, and fins, he was sent to Hawaii and then deployed to the Pacific as a member of the pioneering Underwater Demolition Teams. GIs called them “half fish, half nuts.” Today, we call them Navy SEALs.

Led by maverick Naval Reserve Officer Draper Kauffman, Morgan would spend the fierce final year of the war swimming up to enemy controlled beaches to gather intel and detonate underwater barriers. He’d have to master the sea, muster superhuman grit, and overcome the demons of Omaha Beach.

Moving closer to Japan, the enemy’s island defenses were growing more elaborate and its soldiers more fanatical. From the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima, to the shark infested reefs of Okinawa, to the cold seas of Tokyo Bay, teenaged George Morgan was there before most, fighting for his life. And for all of us.

Into Enemy Waters: A World War II Story of the Demolition Divers Who Became the Navy SEALS
Andrew Dubbins | Aug. 23, 2022 | Diversion Books |
Nonfiction | Biography | History | Military
Hardcover | ISBN 978-1635767728 | $28.99
Ebook | $28.99

Andrew Dubbins is an award-winning journalist and author, whose work has appeared in Alta, Slate, Los Angeles Magazine, The Daily Beast, and other media outlets. He has covered drug smugglers and DEA agents, Cosa Nostra capos and FBI investigators, Maasai lion hunters-turned-conservationists, and Civil Rights pioneers. His writing has been recognized by the Los Angeles Press Club in its 2021 SoCal Journalism Awards, as well as among’s “Best Articles of 2021” and The Daily Beast’s “Best Reads of 2017.” Several of his narrative nonfiction projects have been optioned for film and television. He graduated with honors from Georgetown University and lives in Los Angeles. Read more of his work at

In an interview, Andrew Dubbins can discuss:

  • The top secret Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) and origins of the Navy SEALs
  • How the Navy SEALs’ famous “Hell Week” started in World War II
  • The pioneering tactics of the World War II frogmen, including leaping out of speeding landing craft and measuring ocean depth with fishing reel
  • The importance of seeking out and chronicling the untold stories of World War II veterans before these experiences are lost to history
  • His experience meeting and interviewing 95-year-old George Morgan, one of the last surviving veterans of the UDT
  • How hearing Morgan’s accounts of Omaha Beach, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa changed his perspective of these historic battles

Praise for Into Enemy Waters

“Exhaustively researched and written in a lively, gripping manner, this history deserves to be on the bookshelf of anyone who admires courage or who has donned a face mask and looked below the surface of any sea.”
Bing West, author of The Last Platoon, Marine combat Veteran, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs

“An authentic, vigorously reported and told story of the men in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters whose literally explosive exploits became the envy of and inspiration for the Navy SEALs. Thank goodness the ‘demolition divers’ are finally getting their due, and in such riveting detail.”
Tom Clavin, New York Times bestselling coauthor of Halsey’s Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm and an Untold Rescue; and Lightning Down

“Anyone awed by the traditions of the US Navy SEALs—as everyone should be—will be equally awed by how the SEALs became the SEALs. Dubbins has done a service not only to the SEALs, but also to the armchair adventurer who just wants a rip of a read.”
Gary Kinder, New York Times bestselling author of Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea

“A tale of breathtaking and breath-holding daring. This is D-Day and the Pacific Theater as you’ve never witnessed it before—through the eyes of the frogmen who reconnoitered the murky, mine-filled waters and hostile shores for allied landings. Into Enemy Waters reminds us of the meaning of true sacrifice and courage.”
Buddy Levy, award-winning and bestselling author of Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition and River of Darkness

“A superior piece of narrative military history, offering intimate profiles of the young men called upon to perform some of the most dangerous feats of World War II that proved critical to pivotal battles on both fronts. Andrew Dubbins has succeeded in portraying a fully human portrait of these men, who were both vulnerable to the horror of war and somehow able to survive it.”
McKay Jenkins, author of The Last Ridge: The Epic Story of America’s First Mountain Soldiers and the Assault on Hitler’s Europe

“Gripping and intensely moving, Into Enemy Waters is a timely reminder that war leaves none of its participants unaffected. Andrew Dubbins has honored the memory of those who gave their lives and announced himself as a major new talent in narrative nonfiction.”
Saul David, author of Crucible of Hell: The Heroism and Tragedy of Okinawa, 1945

“A remarkably stirring narrative that transports readers into the gritty realities of surviving World War II. Andrew Dubbins’ Into Enemy Waters is more than just a great retelling of the history of early combat swimmers and frogmen. This well-researched book is both visceral and uplifting, telling of a time of great courage, integrity and camaraderie. These are not your Hollywood Navy SEALs. They are real men that sacrificed their youth and innocence for the greater good.”
Jill Heinerth, author of Into The Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver

“This book is a rollicking tale of warfare from a different time, when America’s elite units were cobbled together on short notice and manned with skinny teenagers who had every reason to expect they would get killed in battle. It is a story of noble intentions but also terrible desperation. Andrew Dubbins elegantly weaves personal stories through the grand historical narrative, while offering a compelling backstory about the hardscrabble origins of a legendary special operations force.”
Graeme Smith, author of The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War In Afghanistan

“The harrowing combat experiences of George Morgan and his pioneering comrades of the World War II US Navy’s combat demolition units come to life in this well-researched, intimate history. Andrew Dubbins tells their story with authoritative empathy and much verve.”
John C. McManus, Ph.D., Curators’ Distinguished Professor of History, Missouri S&T, and author of Island Infernos: The U.S. Army’s Pacific War Odyssey, 1944

“Today’s SEALs are a highly effective, versatile, and lethal force, but they stand on the shoulders of these heroic World War II frogmen. This book must be included in the canon of histories about our nation’s special operations forces. Andrew Dubbins meticulously and faithfully takes the reader from Fort Pierce to Omaha Beach to the bloody amphibious invasions of the Pacific to recount the story of the Navy’s fabled Underwater Demolition Teams. May their memory never fade.”
Captain Michael V. Goshgarian, USN (ret.), Naval Special Warfare 1989-2016

“This is a gripping, heart-racing, nail-biting masterpiece. It tells the story of George Morgan, his commander and fellow frogmen on an underwater demolition team that evolved into the Navy SEALs. Join them at Normandy, where, faces gray with fear, they swim through searing gunfire, shrieking shells and moaning men to blast apart Nazi barriers; then join them in the Pacific, where, during the bloodiest invasions of World War II, they map the ocean floor at Iwo Jima for US warships and swim onto the shores of Japan itself. These are their personal stories, exhaustively reported by a master of elegantly layered styling, who has written a book about rare and breathtaking courage. It will hold you deeply into the night, and you will be glad that it did.”
Richard E. Meyer, senior editor at UCLA Blueprint magazine and two-time Pulitzer finalist

“As their numbers decline, it is essential to preserve the memories of the veterans of World War II. Andrew Dubbins has done this in this excellent book, describing the tragic horror of that war while writing of the daily acts of courage of those who served. From Normandy to Iwo Jima, his account of the courageous Underwater Demolition Teams, the famed US Navy ‘Frogmen,’ is powerful. But in Dubbins’ sensitive telling, it is also so very personal and human. A moving story well told.”
James Wright, President Emeritus of Dartmouth College, historian and Marine Corps veteran, and author of War and American Life: Reflections on Those Who Serve and Sacrifice

An Interview with Andrew Dubbins

How did you first hear about George Morgan?

After a visit to the wonderful National World War II Museum in New Orleans, I found George’s oral history interview in the museum’s online collection. The interview was recorded close to seven decades after the war, and yet it was the first time he had talked about his wartime experience in detail. I was fascinated with his descriptions of the Underwater Demolition Teams—which is a unit that never got the publicity it deserved in my opinion—and I was moved by his account. He became choked up numerous times during the interview, recalling his wartime journey and reunion with his family. It’s easy to glamorize the World War II frogmen—their derring-do and underwater tactics—but there was nothing glamorous about George’s account. He was a vulnerable 17-year-old kid just trying to survive a terrifying war and make it home to his family. He was human—not a superhero—which I knew would make his story relatable and compelling for readers.

Why haven’t we heard this story before? And why is it important to tell now?

The UDT was a top secret unit. Its commander, Draper Kauffman, instituted a “media blackout” that prohibited reporters from writing articles about the unit during the war. It was the right thing to do. Kauffman knew that if the unit’s capabilities became widely known, the enemy could easily devise a countermeasure. The unfortunate consequence, however, was that the UDT frogmen never received widespread recognition for their important wartime contributions. Their heroism and sacrifices remained in the dark. In the decades since the war, there have been several history books about the UDT and a 1951 film called The Frogmen. But to this day, the story of the UDT and its courageous World War II-era frogmen remains largely unknown outside military circles.

As for why it’s important to tell now, World War II veterans are rapidly dwindling in number. Many of their stories have never been told, and those stories are as valuable today as they ever were. World War II veterans model humility, sacrifice, duty, and patriotism, offering a counterpoint to the arrogance, selfishness, partisanship, and bombast that have dominated American politics and culture in recent years. There are also brave men and women today fighting to defend democracy and resist fascism across the globe. These freedom fighters can draw courage and hope from the stories of World War II heroes, like the young frogmen who bravely swam ashore first to protect the free world.

You describe this book as a “narrative nonfiction thriller.” What does that mean, and what separates Into Enemy Waters from other military history books?

Narrative nonfiction is concerned not only with factual detail, which is essential, but also with literary techniques such as character development, plot structure, and scene building. I view narrative nonfiction war tales, such as mine, as a subset of military history, with some of my personal favorites being Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, and Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts.

George Morgan – the subject of your book – was just 17 years old when he joined the Navy’s new combat demolition unit, and he’s now 95. What was it like sitting down with him and hearing his stories? Was he willing to sit down with you or did it take any convincing?

It was a privilege first and foremost. The World War II generation will soon all be gone, so I felt honored to listen to George’s stories and get to know him as a person. Being an avid reader of history, I was enthralled hearing not just his World War II account, but also his stories of growing up during the Depression, witnessing the Hindenburg on the day of its crash, seeing an early prototype of the television, trying out for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and meeting the famous baseball manager, Branch Rickey. He was never boastful in telling these stories, always downplaying his role in fact. He exemplified the self-effacing attitude and humility that is so typical of those who belong to the Greatest Generation.

He was always gracious and willing to sit down with me, and we also talked for hours on the phone together. But, as I recount in the book, it was not easy for him. Certain combat experiences had been so traumatic, that he’d tried to put those episodes out of his mind for the past seven decades. He admitted that talking to me caused those difficult memories and emotions to bubble up. I think he deserves as much praise for his courage in recounting his story, as he does for his wartime courage.

Your book mentions many familiar battles that occurred during World War II. Did speaking with George change your perspective of those historic events?

As a reporter, my favorite moments in interviewing people who participate in momentous events are the surprises. For example, I had read much about the reconnaissance of Okinawa, where the UDT frogmen blew up thousands of sharpened stakes that had been pounded into the coral reef to stymie Allied landing boats. I asked George if he cheered when he saw the explosion. He said no: he was startled and flinched. I was coming in with a romanticized view of the frogmen’s bravado, but when you talk to someone who was there, you see that these were real events, with real people, feeling real emotions.

Where does your fascination with World War II stem from?

It stems from my mother telling me stories about my grandfather, Jack Foster. He was a Naval Lieutenant Commander who flew PBY Catalina seaplanes in the Aleutians during the war. Reminiscent of the film Saving Private Ryan, he lost two brothers in World War II, one in a bomber over Italy, and the other in a landing craft at Guam. He shared a few things about the war before his death at 72-years-old: how it “tested his mettle;” how they lost more planes in Alaska to the weather than the Japanese; how he was frightened every time he climbed into his cockpit; and how his crew was stranded for days on a raft after a crash in the chilly northern Pacific. But I was never able to hear the stories directly; he died six days after I was born. So, my Grandpa Jack sparked my interest in World War II, and taught me there is a time stamp on these stories.

Can you give us a glimpse into your research process for Into Enemy Waters? Did you come across anything surprising?

I devoured every book and article that I could find on the UDT; watched and read transcripts of UDT oral histories, including Draper Kauffman’s. I also scoured the archives for pertinent UDT after-action reports, and visited the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the National Navy SEAL Museum and the History of Diving Museum in Florida. About half of my time was spent talking to George, and the other half was devoted to research. The surprises, for me, are always the gap between my preconceptions of an historic event, and the accounts of actual participants, which almost always vary from one individual to the next. For instance, one soldier might recall the carnage of Omaha Beach, while another remembers being thrilled by the experience, and awed by the display of military might. One sailor might shiver recalling the Kamikazes, while another remembers the sight of the planes plunging and flaming in the night as “beautiful.”

Did George Morgan share any perspective on how far the SEALs have come from its origins?

Yes, and it was a light-hearted moment in one of our meetings. George told the story of how he got to tour Coronado, where the Navy SEALs train. He walked through their state-of-the-art gym and equipment locker, and told me that today’s SEALs are in such better shape than the WWII frogmen, and undergo a much more grueling Hell Week. On the one hand, it’s true. Unlike the UDT—who swam ashore unarmed, and were a defensive unit—the SEALs are an elite, offensive force, armed to the teeth. Their “Hell Week” selection process is indeed tougher than that of their UDT forebearers. That said, I reminded George in the interview, “But you were the first!” George and his fellow frogmen came long before our modern age of high-tech warfare, exemplifying pure strength, endurance, resourcefulness, and courage. The SEALs were able to draw from and build on the experiences and pioneering techniques of the World War II frogmen. I’ve been privileged to speak with Navy SEALs who’ve read the book, and they agree.

What was George’s life like after the war?

Like so many members of the Greatest Generation, George tried to put his wartime experiences behind him and move on with his life. He became very successful in the food industry, eventually launching his own business, started a family, and raised two kids. Despite his efforts to push the war out of his mind, it had a major impact on his life. The physical pain from his combat injuries lingers to this day; and the war’s psychological toll was even harder to cope with. Shortly after returning home, he experienced fainting spells, a common symptom of PTSD, which wasn’t understood back then. To this day, at 95, he continues to have nightmares related to World War II.

What do you hope people take away from this story?

I hope, above all, that they recognize the tremendous contributions made by the World War II demolition men, who were truly unsung heroes of the war, the tip of America’s amphibious spear. Without their skill, specialized training, and bravery, some of the most famous battles of the war—from Omaha Beach to Iwo Jima—might have turned out differently, and our world would be a very different place. I also hope that the book is a gripping and action-packed read that appeals not just to historians, but readers in general.

Download press kit and photos