JKS Communications celebrates 20 years with launch of Books Forward publicity and Books Fluent publishing

Veteran book publicity firm JKS Communications has been moving books forward for 20 years, and the company is proud to celebrate this anniversary with the launch of two new companies under its brand. Books Forward will continue the signature creative, customized book marketing and author publicity campaigns, and a new indie publishing division, Books Fluent, will provide professional editorial, design and publishing services. 


JKS has promoted more than 700 authors, small presses, literary award programs and publishing houses since 2000. The Books Forward team will continue to represent both traditionally published authors and independently published books that meet high industry standards. Services include traditional publicity through mainstream and book-centric media, book tour development, author branding and digital marketing.

Books Forward has a particular passion for books that empower, inspire and move the world forward. Clients include New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss, whose award-winning historical nonfiction examines race and social justice through sports; USA Today bestselling author Jenny Milchman, famous for the “world’s longest book tour”; YA author J. Elle, set to release her #ownvoices debut after garnering attention through a social media campaign; Mary Higgins Clark award winner and national president of Sisters in Crime Lori Rader-Day; indie published success story S.B. Alexander, who later helped Books Forward build its digital marketing division; “The World is Just a Book Away” anthology of stories from Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Academy Award and Golden Globe winning actresses and other world leaders; Chaithanya Sohan, who explores themes of home and belonging in the U.S. through immigrant stories; Holocaust survivor and scholar Laureen Nussbaum, who shines light on unsung heros; and #1 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick author Cheryl Rainfield, an international child abuse and feminist advocate.

“Our foundation is built on veteran journalists, giving our team a unique strength. Through national media outlets, we share books to make the world a better and brighter place,” the company’s President Marissa DeCuir said. “And it’s that love of meaningful stories that powers our team to share authors’ important messages, and inspire readers with engaging fiction and nonfiction. The world needs some positivity, and readers crave books that matter — to them and to our world.”


JKS’ new indie publishing company, Books Fluent, transforms manuscripts into high-quality commercial books that equal or exceed industry standards. 

Having guided authors through the self-publishing process for years, Books Fluent’s team of industry experts expands upon these services. The company offers professional book editing, on-trend cover design and interior layout, savvy distribution plans, and management of ISBNs, copyrights, and other nitty gritty tasks.

Books Fluent’s expertise empowers authors to learn the unique language of this industry and become successful publishers, rising above the competition of more than 3 million books released every year.


Books Forward and Books Fluent will celebrate their launches throughout 2020 with prizes, special announcements and exclusive opportunities for authors and readers alike — including one grand prize of a free book publicity campaign for an author working to help move the world forward. To enter, submit an application here

As part of the company’s continued mission to elevate voices, Books Forward is also launching the #booksforward campaign to celebrate all the incredible ways stories have made the world a better place. Book lovers are encouraged to join the conversation by using the hashtag and sharing about literature that has impacted their lives.

Social media:
Twitter: twitter.com/booksforwardpr
Instagram: instagram.com/booksforwardpr
Facebook: facebook.com/BooksForward

Walt Gragg wows readers with debut novel


New Debut WWIII Military Thriller Sweeps Readers to Frontlines of “New Cold War” as U.S. Spars with Russia

The next read for fans of Tom Clancy, Red Storm Rising, and The Third World War

NEW YORK CITY – Walt Gragg explodes onto the literary scene with an electrifying debut military thriller about the outbreak of World War Three, as Russia and The United States enter a new Cold War in The Red Line (Berkley, Paperback, $17.00, May 2, 2017), which will thrill lovers of Red Storm Rising and The Third World War.

John Batchelor (Host, “The John Batchelor Show”), praised the novel’s gripping style and eerie similarity to current world events, saying, “It reads brilliantly. It’s a techno thriller in the school of Tom Clancy.” The novel breaks genre stereotypes and is enjoyed equally by men and women.

The Red Line: World War III explodes in seconds when a resurgent Russian Empire launches a deadly armored thrust into the heart of Germany. With a powerful blizzard providing cover, Russian tanks thunder down the autobahns while undercover Spetsnaz teams strike at vulnerable command points.

Standing against them are the woefully undermanned American forces. What they lack in numbers they make up for in superior weapons and training. But before the sun rises they are on the run across a smoking battlefield crowded with corpses.

Any slim hope for victory rests with one unlikely hero. Army Staff Sergeant George O’Neill, a communications specialist, may be able to reestablish links that have been severed by hostile forces, but that will take time. While he works, it’s up to hundreds of individual American soldiers to hold back the enemy flood. There’s one thing that’s certain. The thin line between victory and defeat is also the
red line between life and death.

WALT GRAGG lives in the Austin, Texas area with his family. Prior to law school, he spent a number of years in the military. His time with the Army involved many interesting assignments including three years in the middle of the Cold War at United States European Headquarters in Germany where the idea for THE RED LINE took shape.



About the Book

Red-Line-coverWWIII explodes in this electrifying debut military thriller in the tradition of Red Storm Rising and The Third World War.

“Delta-Two, I’ve got tanks through the wire! They’re everywhere!”

World War III explodes in seconds when a resurgent Russian Empire launches a deadly armored thrust into the heart of Germany. With a powerful blizzard providing cover, Russian tanks thunder down the autobahns while undercover Spetsnaz teams strike at vulnerable command points.

Standing against them are the woefully undermanned American forces. What they lack in numbers they make up for in superior weapons and training. But before the sun rises they are on the run across a smoking battlefield crowded with corpses.

Any slim hope for victory rests with one unlikely hero. Army Staff Sergeant George O’Neill, a communications specialist, may be able to reestablish links that have been severed by hostile forces, but that will take time. While he works, it’s up to hundreds of individual American soldiers to hold back the enemy flood.

There’s one thing that’s certain. The thin line between victory and defeat is also the red line between life and death.

Praise for THE RED LINE

“A superb political as well as military thriller, THE RED LINE stitches an all-too-plausible doomsday scenario that pulls no punches in scoring a literary knockout. Terrifyingly prescient in its premise and scarily spot-on in its execution, Walt Gragg’s debut novel channels both Tom Clancy and W.E.B. Griffin in crafting a masterfully researched tour de force of a tale.  Gragg puts his own military experience to great use in focusing on a war-time mindset in which the time, place and people change, but not the stakes or nature of heroism itself.  Riveting and relentless.” —Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author

“The Best World War Three Epic I’ve Read Since RED STORM RISING.” —Grant Blackwood, New York Times Best Selling Author of TOM CLANCY DUTY AND HONOR

“You’re going to hold this book so tight you’ll leave thumbprints on the page.” —Mark Leggatt, Author of THE LONDON CAGE

“It reads brilliantly. It’s a techno thriller in the school of Tom Clancy.” —John Batchelor, Host, “The John Batchelor Show”

“The best World War Three epic I’ve read since RED STORM RISING.”  —Grant Blackwood, New York Times Best Selling Author of TOM CLANCY DUTY AND HONOR

“You’re going to hold this book so tight you’ll leave thumbprints on the page.” —Mark Leggatt, Author of THE LONDON CAGE



1. Where did you receive inspiration for THE RED LINE?
I have probably always had a strong anti-war view of the follies of needlessly killing our fellow man.  I’m not saying war is never justified (World War II for example where we had no choice but to defend ourselves) but that we are far too casual with the lives of others and the cruel toll such events take on all of us.

My favorite boWalt-Gragg-Author-Photook in high school was Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front – a story about the reality of being an ordinary soldier in the trenches of World War I.  It is by far the best anti-war novel I’ve ever read. Although told from the perspective of a German soldier it easily transfers over to being a story about all soldiers caught in that nightmare and in all future wars. It was Remarque’s admirable attempt, after seeing what was happening in Germany in the period between the two World Wars, to warn his country away from making the same mistake again. Of course, he failed miserably. Hitler came to power and 70 million of this planet’s citizens ended up dying because of his perversion. But, at least, Remarque tried.

My view was strengthened further by being drafted during the Vietnam War. With hundreds of others I showed up at the induction station in Portland, OR on the morning of June 12, 1968. We were lined up alphabetically in a huge formation. The guy on my left as we were being processed into the Army was named Mark Gorman. We were in the same basic training platoon and were together for over two incredibly intense months. So I got to know him fairly well. With basic training over, we then went off to our further training – Mark across the parade field at Fort Lewis, WA to advanced infantry training and me to the signal school at Fort Monmouth, NJ. By Christmas, while I was still in training, 19 year old Mark was dead in the rotting jungles of a place none of us had ever even heard of until the war began. A number of others from our basic training platoon and company also had their lives cut short for some vague purpose we did not understand. They were just ordinary guys, nothing special really, but they were all great people. They all had reasons to live long, happy lives. My suspicions about needlessly killing were confirmed by those events. Even so, I agreed to remain in the military as a trade off for being allowed to spend most of my weekends and lunch hours for a number of years working diligently through the on-base education programs they offered. I received both my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees that way.

I actually came up with the idea for THE RED LINE while serving at United States European Command Headquarters. in Germany in the mid-1970s at the height of the first Cold War. In my 38 months there, I was able to gain a great deal of insight into how such a ground war in Europe would look and what the American military feared most about a Russian attack. What I saw was a potential nightmare of unspeakable proportions. But at that point I wasn’t ready to become a writer. So I tucked the story into the back of my mind and continued on with my life. After our easy victory over a weak Third World country in Desert Storm, like Remarque, I began to grow concerned by the casual attitude my countrymen were developing about war and its consequences. America was invincible. America could never be beaten on the battlefield. Along with that it was all becoming so impersonal and detached to the average person.  War was being transformed into little more than video games and home entertainment. So in 1994 I decided THE RED LINE needed to be told and began putting together the story of this future war. It was my turn to try.

2. The events of THE RED LINE—particularly the outbreak of the “new Cold War” between a resurgent Russian Empire and The United States—seem especially poignant given recent headlines and our current sociopolitical climate. Do you see similarities between your fictional plot and current politics? Do you think it’s possible that fact may mirror fiction in the future, and we could enter a new Cold War?

You need to remember I actually created the political backdrop for this fictional war in 1994 and at least 90% of what I wrote over 20 years ago remains intact in the story. At that time, Russia gave every appearance of successfully progressing through the difficult transition to democracy. Even so, it was quite obvious that given Russia’s history and the immense pride of the Russian people, they would carry the deep scars of losing the 1st Cold War with them for a long time. You can see those wounds being reflected right now in Putin’s actions.

I cannot deny there are certainly elements in the novel playing out. And I do not expect things to suddenly get better. Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine was just a foreshadowing of things to come.  They are strengthening their nuclear arsenal. They are rebuilding a powerful military and modernizing their conventional weapons. They are engaging in cyber-warfare. The Russian leadership is looking with envy at their neighbors. Putin would like nothing more than to return his country to the preeminent place it held prior to their defeat in 1989.  With our present administration, the NATO alliance is under attack from within that may forever cause it to splinter. Should that happen, Russia will seize the opportunity. The chances of having to face a reconstituted Soviet Union in a 2nd Cold War certainly was something I hoped we would never address but the scenario now appears plausible and growing stronger with each passing day. Hopefully, such an eventuality won’t lead to the occurrence of anything close to what has been foretold in THE RED LINE. Still, given the events that have occurred in the past couple of years it cannot be entirely discounted.

3. What was your publishing journey like?

Unlike many of the writers I know, I never dreamed of being published from an early age. Many of them are compelled to write and to continue writing. Writing to them is as natural as breathing. That’s not me. I write solely because of the belief I have a few stories to tell based on the world I’ve been fortunate to see. I will stop my efforts when my tales reach their natural end. I have written a 2nd novel that Penguin Random House is presently considering. And am part way through a 3rd one.  Nevertheless, my books don’t come from an innate need to write but from a desire to address issues and examine the difficult world that challenges us all.

When I began in 1994, it took a great deal of time to learn how to do this. I certainly wasn’t a natural and since I had never planned to be a writer had given such classes little emphasis in college. The story was there, but getting the words on paper in a manner that people would enjoy took a great deal of time to develop. And as the reader will see, THE RED LINE, describing an entire, complex war in one book, was not a simple one to create. Fortunately, I discovered through trial and error that writing is a skill that can be developed and polished if you’re willing to put in the long hours.

It took me 3 years, but by 1997, I finally had the basic skills to revise the manuscript to a point where it was ready to be seen. So I entered it in a writing contest. It ended up taking 2nd place and while attending the writers conference and receiving the award, I met an editor from what was then Putnam Berkley. He asked to see the entire manuscript so I gladly sent it to him unagented. Three months later to my great surprise he called – he absolutely loved it. The book was “tremendous,” and I was an “incredible talent.” A week later he called again to tell me his publisher had rejected it.  War with Russia wasn’t exactly a hot topic and this was a book filled with controversy the publisher didn’t believe readers would embrace at that time. Even so, this was validation that I had the story I’d hoped to have written. It had clearly made an impact on the editor. I began shopping it around to agents. What I didn’t know, however, was I’d broken a cardinal rule for debut writers – never write a manuscript over 100,000 words. Mine was 150,000.  But it told five different occasionally intertwining stories of the ordinary soldiers and airmen caught in extraordinary events and covered the entire war from beginning to end. Not one of its words were wasted. Yet, none of that mattered.  No one would look at it. I wrote my 2nd novel, still unaware of the length rule. It was just as long as the first. Nothing changed. After a number of years of trying, I set both manuscripts on my shelf where they gathered dust for over 10 years. I promised my wife and my test readers that when I retired we would try one more time. But to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I could stand the endless rejection another time.

In late 2012 I retired. Reluctantly, I tried again – more query letters, and unfortunately, more rejection.  Still we were convinced we had a great book, and my wife continued to push me to not give up. We talked about self-publishing but weren’t quite ready to go there just yet. That’s when my big break came. In early 2014, I stumbled across the ThrillerFest writer’s conference held in New York City every July. I wrote military thrillers and this looked like a conference made for THE RED LINE.  One of the elements that fascinated me was PitchFest – an entire afternoon to speak with some of the 50-60 agents who came to listen to pitches. I put a significant amount of time polishing my pitch and preparing for whatever was about to happen. Along with 400 other aspiring writers I was there, standing in the lines fully prepared to pitch in the 3 minutes I was given a story they would find was like no other. I was able to pitch 9 agents in the time given, with 3 asking for the entire manuscript and 4 others requesting partials. Little did I know, however, that my real break was still to come. The next day, much to my surprise, the editor who had loved it so many years earlier was on a panel. Afterwards, I approached him, reintroduced myself, and thanked him for his kind words. Of course, he didn’t remember me or my novel after 17 years, but that was okay. The next morning, quite by accident, we ended up having breakfast together and talking about my book. Two weeks later, with his help, I had an agent. Three months after that he called, The Berkley Publishing Group at Penguin Random House wanted to publish THE RED LINE.

So 20 years after I began writing the story I’d first thought of nearly 20 years before that the difficult journey ended. And a new journey began. On May 2, 2017, THE RED LINE finally will be released.

4. Who are your greatest literary influences?

Remarque (see above)
Along with that I liked the big, bold books, often with multiple storylines, from the 1970s and beyond – Clavell, Uris, and Michener stand out although there were certainly others.

5. What is the number one thing you hope readers take away from your novel?

The thing I personally like most about the book is that the style is entirely mine. I’m not aware of anyone who writes quite like I do. When I started, I was determined to become the first me, not the 10th someone else. And I’m told I succeeded.

Readers are going to first find that THE RED LINE is highly entertaining, and filled with non-stop, edge of their seat action. This is a book whose vivid scenes are going to stay with the reader for a long time. It is a story with depth. If you let it, it will rock you to your core. It is stark, alive, and filled with realism. Multiple test readers have said they would suddenly find themselves shivering in the snow alongside the American soldiers as the Russian tanks came toward them.

What I would like the potential reader to do is to realize that just because it falls into the techno-thriller category, it really was written as a book that can be enjoyed by a vast audience. Once they begin to read, I hope they will start to analyze what their mind is seeing. After they complete the final page, I hope they will pause, reflect and discuss.

More than anything, I hope when they reach the story’s end, they understand that war, the killing of others, is never something any of us should ignore or take lightly.


Taayoo A. Murray helps others to reach their potential


Youth mentor, nonprofit fundraiser Taayoo A. Murray releasing
new book to help teenagers, young adults maximize their strengths

NEW YORK CITY – Troubled by the lack of drive she has seen in teenagers and young adults, Taayoo A. Murray is setting out to teach the next generation the benefits of goal-setting, a skill that she strongly believes is necessary for a successful future. Her new book, “Making Me Happen,” blends Murray’s personal experience as a mother and her professional career as an educator and major nonprofit fundraiser to create an easy-to-use goal-setting guide.

Releasing on April 25, 2017, “Making Me Happen” is more than just a theory; it incorporates real practices and methods Murray has used successfully with her own children. Murray had a “eureka moment” when teaching her sons how to set their own goals, leading them to develop a sense of self motivation, integrity, work ethic and discipline.

“I was amazed by what their little minds wanted to achieve and secondly, given the opportunity, they knew how to get it done,” Murray said of working with her children.

“Making Me Happen” is a fantastic resource for parents, educators, and anyone looking for a system for success. Murray emphasizes the importance of developing healthy goal habits.

“I sincerely believe that when youth master the ability to set goals and it becomes a habit, they can take control of the direction of their lives,” Murray said.

“Making Me Happen” is an interactive workbook that leads teenagers and young adults through a personal SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis for goal creation, giving them tools they need to succeed.

Born and raised in Jamaica, Taayoo A. Murray is an innovative youth coach, mentor and public speaker in Brooklyn, New York. She has successfully worked with at-risk youth to create and implement programs that redefined and changed the trajectory of their lives. Murray served as educational director at Children of the Future and a corporate trainer at Mana Group in New York. “Making Me Happen” is her first book.



About the Book

Making-Me-Happen-coverMaking Me Happen
Taayoo A. Murray • April 25, 2017
$19.99 (paperback)








Q&A with Taayoo A. Murray

Taayoo-A-MurrayHow did your work with nonprofits influence “Making Me Happen?”
In an effort to meet targets, I was trained to set daily and weekly goals. This systematic approach to achieving preset targets influenced how I operated in other areas of my life. I quickly saw this newfound skillset/habit revolutionizing my entire life. I modified the system and applied it to parenting my sons. “Making Me Happen” was born from that.

What is the biggest setback to success you see with teens and young adults?
The absence of goals in their lives. Teens and adults need goals, no matter what they may be, to keep them focused and prevent aimless meandering throughout life. Absence of goals gives them nothing to look forward to and works toward, so they attach themselves to anything that comes along and is convenient at the time.

How did you develop the eight steps to success?
I am a kinesthetic learner; I learn by doing. I teach the same way and always try to find the easiest and most interactive methods to impart information. So, the 8 steps are “Hey Billy Bob What Would Donkey Kong Think – HBBWWDKT.” This stands for:

  1. Have an A+ attitude
  2. Be on time
  3. Be prepared
  4. Work your full 8 hours
  5. Work your plan
  6. Don’t lose your attitude
  7. Know why you’re here
  8. Take control

What goal-setting exercises have you used with your own children?
The most effective goal setting exercise I use with my children is their goal boards. Every week they set three goals that they write on their goal boards. I don’t influence these goals, they set them, so they own them. They must however be S-M-A-C-able (Specific, Measurable, Attainable yet Challenging). They then have to articulate to me how they’re going to achieve these goals, detailing specific activities. I then follow up, remind and encourage them.

What would you recommend to parents who are trying to inspire their teenagers to achieve their dreams?
Don’t get overly concerned about what your teens’ dreams and aspirations are (unless they pose imminent harm to themselves or others). Be grateful they have dreams! Focus more on helping them develop the habit of consistently working toward achieving something. This is an invaluable skill and character trait that will transfer into other areas of their lives.

What are some common mistakes parents make when trying to teach their kids about setting goals?
The biggest mistake often made is trying to set goals for our children or trying to make our goals theirs.

How do you think “Making Me Happen” could be incorporated into a classroom?
The “Making Me Happen” program can be incorporated into the classroom as a character

Idabel Allen Explores Rural Family Secrets


Iowa Writers Workshop Alumnus Idabel Allen’s New Southern Literary Novel Explores Rural Family Secrets

Idabel Allen developed her distinctive, arresting literary voice at the Iowa Writers Workshop, and is now making her debut in the world of Southern literary fiction with her new novel, Rooted (May 2, 2017), about a punk musician who crash lands in a small Southern town in the late ‘70s while searching for an inheritance—and discovers much more than he bargained for when he becomes entangled with the mysterious McQuiston family.

Lovers of Southern Literature, Americana and the 70’s New York punk scene will rejoice in this masterfully penned family drama, rooted in the works of Southern storytellers such as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor and more.



About the Book


ROOTED: Washed up and drugged out, punk’s poster-boy descends on the southern town of Moonsock like a bat out of hell.

In the late 1970’s, Slade Mortimer is on his last leg. Running from the memory of his dead girlfriend, her revenge-seeking father and the childhood abandonment of his mother, Slade descends on the southern town of Moonsock desperately seeking an inheritance and a new start on life. What he finds is the fractured McQuistons, the family he never knew he had or needed.

Slade’s unexpected arrival blows the door off the McQuiston closet, loosing skeletons and resurrecting questions about the mysterious disappearance of Slade’s mother twenty-five years before.

If the family is to survive, they must account for their past sins. Only then can the McQuistons begin to forgive themselves. Only then can they begin to heal.

IDABEL ALLEN serves up the best in new home cooked Southern Literature. First and foremost a storyteller, Idabel’s books are grounded in the same character-driven reality that holds the reader’s attention long after the story is finished. Idabel brings over fifteen years of experience as a professional writer and editor to the literary table. She attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop Fiction program and is the author of Headshots, available on Amazon.


Q&A with Idabel Allen

1. How did punk rock and country/Americana music influence Rooted?
Music permeates everything in the South – from New Orleans Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Rockabilly, to Gospel and Hip Hop. In rural areas, Country music, including Bluegrass, is as much a staple as beans and cornbread. To this day, children are raised up on the music of Hank and Haggard, Willie and Waylon, Patsy, Loretta and more.

In the mid 1970’s, years of mellow, hippie rock and smooth, studio country gave way to punk rock and outlaw country. Both were anti-establishment movements and embraced a DIY attitude that gave musicians freedom to say and do whatever they wanted. While these musical revolutions had many things in common, they were not so visible to the naked eye staring at spiked hair and face piercings for the first time.

As a child in West Tennessee in the late seventies, I caught bits of information about the Sex Pistols. There was a sense that the band, and their music, was a clear sign that the world was going to hell in a hand-basket.

When it came time to write Rooted, I was taken with the idea of stranding a New York punk in a small Southern town. I wanted to see how the differences and similarities between a conservative, country culture and the more radical punk culture played out.

2. Are there any specific songs or artists that influenced this story?

There were many songs and artists that ran through my mind when writing Rooted. Music is one of the best ways to set a tone or mood of a story, even the setting.

Slade Mortimer’s character was loosely based on legendary punk rock pioneer, Richard Hell – founding member of Television, the Heartbreakers and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. The originator of spiked hair, ripped T-shirts and safety pins, it was Richard Hell’s look that Malcolm McLaren exported to England and outfitted the fledgling Sex Pistols.

The music of Hank Williams Jr. was used to give the story a sense of the pride and independence that runs strong in Southern communities. The Allman Brothers’ dark, bluesy soundtrack complimented the characters’ struggle to understand their own failings and explore the possibility of redemption.

The music of Memphis Minnie, The Mississippi Sheiks and other artists from the late 1920’s and early 30’s shields Sarah Jane, a reclusive young writer from a world she has seen too much of at too young an age.

A major influence on Rooted was a song called, Come to Jesus, by Mindy Smith. I had just completed the rough draft when I first heard this song and was struck by how well the song captured my characters’ despair and desperation – in who they were and what they had become. Like Rooted, it is a song about being alone and afraid at the end of your rope and discovering there is help and hope available. This song did not make it into the book but was still a big influence.

Instead, I used the old hymn, Washed In The Blood Of The Lamb, at various points in Rooted to help characters come to terms with the past traumas that threaten to destroy them. While these characters are not particularly religious, the song helps them begin to heal.

3. How did growing up in the south influence your storytelling?

If you are Southern, I can almost guarantee you are a storyteller. It’s in your blood. When you get together with friends or family stories just seem to bubble up to the surface. Some new, but many are the same old stories that have been rehashed and regurgitated for years, and are just as loved with each telling.

Children idle up and become part of the circle, listening with big ears and turning questioning faces to this speaker and that. In this way, the love of storytelling is handed down.

Telling stories at gathering’s is such a natural occurrence that I never considered how special this was until I lived out of the South for several years and found myself dying of thirst. I was among a wonderful non-Southern culture that did not play with words the way we do in the South. They did not say, “gettin’ my nails did.” Had never heard the terms, “showing your tail,” or “acting a fool.” When they spoke, they used proper words for things, and it liked to drive me crazy.

And when we gathered together after a potluck or over drinks, stories did not flow. We talked about things like the new transportation bill at the state house.

Each time I returned to the South, I hurried to some kitchen table or backyard fire-pit to hear the stories and say a few of my own. In doing so, something deep in my core was satisfied.

But it’s not just me. How else can you explain the canon of Southern literature and the popularity of country music? The South loves telling stories. And more than that, people love hearing them.

4. Rooted tells the story of a rural American culture clashing with urban American culture in the 70s – how do you think people can still relate to this today?

It must be human nature to be suspicious of things outside your protective circle or control. The world has always been full of “us” against “them”. That’s fine; we don’t all have to agree. But what is important is how the “us” and the “them” learn to work together and keep things going in a way healthy, productive way.

The cultural conflicts in Rooted go beyond that great Shakespearian question: to nose-pin or not to nose-pin?

Slade’s world is all about rebellion, anarchy, and change. It’s about smashing the old rules and ways of doing things and demanding to be heard. Slade’s world doesn’t care about the moral restraints holding tradition in place. They want to force change on the world.

Grover’s world is about working within and protecting those same moral constraints. It is about self-reliance, and self-improvement. About minding your manners and your business. Grover’s world is intent on taking care of itself and does not want outside influences forcing change on them.

These philosophical differences were clearly displayed in the 2016 election results. Maybe these differences have always been there and always will. Perhaps it is the country’s ability and willingness to work together that has changed.

In Rooted, the clash between urban and rural cultures works itself out. But Rooted is a novel, and far easier to bring about a resolution that gets past the “us” against “them” mentality than in real life.

5. What do you want readers to take away from this story?

Rooted is a story about the importance of belonging to a place and a people. The characters in this story are lost souls, alone and at odds with the world and themselves. Disconnected, they struggle with identity: who they are, where they come from and what they’ve become. When the pain and shame of their existence are too much to bear, family roots take hold. Unable to run or hide any longer, the characters are forced to confront a brutal past in the hopes of a better future.


Author Annette Libeskind Berkovits shares wonder of wildlife


Conservationist who transformed public education at the world-famous Bronx Zoo shares the wonder of wildlife in fascinating new book

Annette Libeskind Berkovits releasing ‘Confessions of an Accidental Zoo Curator’

NEW YORK – A champion and expert on conservation education, Annette Libeskind Berkovits is taking readers behind the scenes of one of America’s most renowned zoos in her new book, “Confessions of an Accidental Zoo Curator” (April 22, 2017).

confessions-book-cover-artFilled with fun anecdotes about a variety of animals from pumas to king cobras, “Confessions of an Accidental Zoo Curator” is the perfect book for animal lovers everywhere that have ever wondered about what goes on behind the scenes at a zoo. Berkovits pulls back the curtain on fascinating, little-known facts about the Bronx Zoo, including a secret classroom with gorillas, employees who live at the zoo, unpublicized animal escapes and controversial exhibits.

When Berkovits started working at the Bronx Zoo in New York in 1972, she trod a nearly virgin territory. Public education had not yet found its way into the zoo’s philosophy or strategies, and very few women worked in zoos. True, the Bronx Zoo was the first in the world to launch an education department, but its activities were limited to a bevy of young women clad in miniskirts who roamed the park providing tidbits of information that may have been entertaining but hardly educational. Nevertheless, Berkovits was the right woman for the job. She took the zoo’s public education initiatives to the next level not only at her zoo but nationwide and worldwide.

A pioneer for women in the field of conservation and the creator of award-winning conservation education programs recognized for excellence by the National Science Foundation, Berkovits shares a unique and insightful perspective on everything from the zoo’s inner workings to the dilemma of preserving nature for the next generation. From giraffes to supersize snakes and fugitive pigs, “Confessions of an Accidental Zoo Curator” takes readers on a fascinating journey told with the charming wit of a woman who worked her way up to serve as senior vice president at the Wildlife Conservation Society, which today conserves the world’s largest wild places in 15 priority regions, home to more than 50 percent of the world’s biodiversity.

Berkovits-photoAnnette Libeskind Berkovits was born in Kyrgyzstan and grew up in postwar Poland and the fledgling state of Israel before coming to America at age 16. In her three-decade career with the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, she spearheaded the institution’s nationwide and worldwide science education programs. Her achievements include the first-ever agreement to bring environmental education to China’s schools. The National Science Foundation has recognized her outstanding leadership in the field. Now retired, she is pursuing her life-long love of writing. She is the author of “In the Unlikeliest of Places” and “Confessions of an Accidental Zoo Curator.”



About the Book

Advance Praise

“Berkovits tells a remarkable story, fascinating and unique. With a deft blend of personal insight and eloquent story-telling, she takes us from a remote village in Kyrgyzstan to the Bronx Zoo, from accidental zoology to innovative environmental education and describes her adventures as she evolved from neophyte to international leader in her field.” —William Conway, Senior Conservationist with the Wildlife Conservation Society; former President of the Society and Director of the Bronx Zoo

“‘Confessions of an Accidental Zoo Curator’ is a story that goes far beyond its title. While I am not a fan of reading people’s life stories, the trajectory of the life of Annette Berkovits as she develops through a difficult childhood devoid of any real animal connections, to become one of the world’s foremost leaders in zoo-based wildlife conservation education is both fascinating and inspiring. This is a story that shows how love and passion for the natural world can grow and blossom out of experience and a desire to inspire others. Annette’s career and her accomplishments were no accident, but instead arose out of a willingness to take on opportunities and experience life to its fullest.” — Alan Rabinowitz PhD, zoologist, author and CEO of Panthera, a conservation organization working to protect the world’s wild cats and their ecosystems

“Reading this book, I’m pleased to discover anew the passion, curiosity and humorous sensibility that have always characterized Annette’s work and her life. ‘Confessions of the Accidental Zoo Curator’ is simply a delight.” —Lee Ehmke, Houston Zoo Director and CEO;  President, World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (2013-2015)

“…As one of the most creative and innovative educators in the zoo community, Annette faced the challenge of educating, rather than entertaining young zoo visitors to return to their homes with a greater appreciation for the importance and value of wildlife and wild places. To be successful in getting her messages to the students required that the work be interesting, stimulating, and fun too. Go behind the scenes in a major zoo and see it through her eyes.”
—James Doherty, retired general curator at the Bronx Zoo; Carter Chair in Mammology; species coordinator for the AZA Sumatran Rhinoceros Species Survival Plan

Q&A with Annette Libeskind Berkovits

For people who are not familiar with your line of work, what does a zoo curator do?
An animal zoo curator designs strategies to best care in captivity for a particular species of animal based on its biology and ecology. Some curators extend knowledge about that species to conservation strategies in the wild. An education curator at a zoo was a completely novel concept in the 70s. It was meant to designate a professional who understood animals but also knew how to present the information about that animal species in the most engaging and scientifically accurate way and to measure impact on the audience. In my case, for a time I also had responsibility for all the Bronx Zoo’s animals in the children’s zoo and its handleable teaching collection of animals.

Download the full Interview with Annette Libeskind Berkovits


Author Interview with Sara Alexander


“Like Sardinia’s Emerald Coast, Sara Alexander’s Under A Sardinian Sky will dazzle you with its glittering descriptions of the Mediterranean island, its exquisite culinary treasures, and authentic, beautiful people. But it is the heroine Carmela’s courage and heartbreaking choices that will leave you the most enchanted and racing through the novel to learn her extraordinary fate.”Rosanna Chiofalo, author of Rosalia’s Bittersweet Pastry Shop

Sara Alexander’s Dazzling Debut Novel Weaves Family Secrets and Sweeping Romance in Post-WWII Sardinia

London actress and performer Sara Alexander has cultivated a successful career in television, movies, and theater, and now she is bringing her passion and talent for storytelling to the world of fiction with her gorgeous debut novel, Under A Sardinian Sky (Kensington Books, Paperback, $15.00, April 25, 2017). Set against the beautiful backdrop of post-World War II Sardinia, this evocative novel follows a travel writer as she unravels a family mystery and discovers the star-crossed romance between an American lieutenant and a local girl.

under-a-sardinian-sky-coverUnder a Sardinian Sky: Sometimes a family’s deepest silences hide the most important secrets. For Mina, a London-based travel writer, the enigmatic silence surrounding her aunt Carmela has become a personal obsession. Carmela disappeared from her Italian hometown long ago and is mentioned only in fragments and whispers. Mina has resisted prying, respectful of her family’s Sardinian reserve—but now, with her mother battling cancer, it s time to learn the truth.

In 1952, Simius is a busy Sardinian town surrounded by fertile farms and orchards. Carmela Chirigoni, a farmer’s daughter and talented seamstress, is engaged to Franco, son of the area’s wealthiest family. Everyone agrees it’s a good match. But Carmela’s growing doubts about Franco’s possessiveness are magnified when she meets Captain Joe Kavanagh. Joe, an American officer stationed at a local army base, is charismatic, intelligent, and married. Hired as his interpreter, Carmela resolves to ignore her feelings, knowing that any future together must bring upheaval and heartache to both families.

As Mina follows the threads of Carmela’s life to uncover her fate, she will discover a past still deeply alive in the present, revealing a story of hope, sacrifice, and extraordinary love.


Sara-Alexander-photoSara Alexander graduated from Hampstead School in London and went on to attend the University of Bristol, graduating with a BA hons. in Theatre, Film & TV. She followed on to complete her postgraduate diploma in acting from Drama Studio London. She has worked extensively in the theatre, film and television industries, including roles in much loved productions such as Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Dr. Who and Franco Zeffirelli’s Sparrow.






Q&A with Sara Alexander

How has your acting career influenced your writing?
I think the two are a complimentary pair. I’ve had the opportunity to work through a lot of wonderful texts by great writers and slip into the skin of others. This helps writing a great deal. There are many new skills that I’ve had to hone (and continue to do so!) however, which are not directly related. It’s a wonderful thing to work in two mediums that require you to travel both outside your world and very much into the heart of an internal world at the same time.

What is the inspiration behind Under a Sardinian Sky?
My Sardinian family. There are a lot of very strong women in my family who filled me with stories from since I can remember. This story is for them.

Why Sardinia?
It’s my true homeland. It’s the place I feel most grounded and inspired. I have felt bewitched by the place since I was a child.

Have you always wanted to be a novelist?
My first response would be “no”, but when my son asked me the same question just the other day, I remembered how much I loved creating stories at school, how I couldn’t wait to get my stories written for homework. Recently I found my first “books” in my attic, which I’d typed up as a child. So I think the true answer is “yes” though I never couched it in those terms, I just felt compelled to dream up tales. Stories make the world go round.

What are you working on next?
I’m almost half way into my second novel, which is set in Positano on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. A dear friend inherited a house there and I have had a story rattling around my mind, set in that house, ever since I visited. I have a third book in mind which is also set in Italy, this time Sicily and Rome and will have a theatrical undertone. These stories are for a further two book deal with Kensington.

JKS Client Claire Applewhite recognized as a 2017 Woman of Achievement


Women of Achievement Announces 2017 Award Honorees

10 area women recognized for their outstanding commitment to volunteer service and leadership

ST. LOUIS, MO – Women of Achievement is pleased to announce the 2017 Women of Achievement honorees—a selection of 10 extraordinary volunteers from the St. Louis metropolitan region. Founded in 1955, the St. Louis Women of Achievement Award is the oldest, ongoing program in the area whose sole mission is to honor and recognize the volunteer service and volunteer leadership of women. The recipients will be recognized at the 2017 Women of Achievement Luncheon on Tuesday, May 16 at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis. Doors open at 11:15 a.m. and the luncheon runs until 1:30 p.m. This year’s luncheon chair is Gin Wachter and the vice chair is Phyllis Langsdorf. Luncheon reservations are $60 per person and can be made online at www.woastl.org/luncheon-reservations or by contacting Women of Achievement at 314.896.4962 or woastlouis@gmail.com.

The 2017 Class of Honorees includes:
Claire ApplewhiteEducational Enrichment
Christine Buck — Youth Dedication
Adrienne D. Davis — Arts Advocacy
Marlene Hammerman — Social Justice
Rosemary Hanley — Youth Services
Margaret Hopkins — Community Betterment
Kathy Lambert — Social Enterprise
Elizabeth Mannen — Volunteer Leadership
Colleen Kelly Starkloff — Human Welfare
Asha Zimmerman — Caring and Compassion

“Volunteers are the unsung heroes of our community,” said Women of Achievement President Joni Karandjeff. “The strength and longevity of the region’s nonprofit organizations and programs rely heavily on dedicated volunteers. We take pride in honoring some of these outstanding unsung heroes—women volunteers who have dedicated their time, energy, and leadership to helping the community in tremendous ways and inspire others to do the same.”

“The luncheon is a special way to honor and highlight our award winners,” said Gin Wachter, chair of the 2017 Luncheon. “Surrounded by family, friends, past Women of Achievement, and those affiliated with each honoree’s nonprofits and charities along with the general public, the feeling in the room is joyous and delightful. In addition to a delicious lunch and awarding the honorees, we also feature a dynamic 30-minute video about the volunteers and their history of service, which really hits home the message that helping others makes an enormous impact in our community.”

Women of Achievement honorees are selected from nominations from the St. Louis metropolitan area, including Metro East Illinois, who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to the betterment of the St. Louis region through voluntary contributions, volunteer leadership and a significant breadth of a volunteer career. Women of Achievement considers nominees with significant volunteer impact in areas such as, but not limited to, education, arts, health and human services, youth and family, philanthropy, social justice and advocacy. For additional information about the awards, luncheon and honorees, please visit www.woastl.org.

About Women of Achievement
In 1955, the St. Louis-Globe Democrat newspaper created an awards program that became known as the Women of Achievement Award, to recognize and honor the achievements of women who, through their volunteer efforts, have demonstrated their dedication and commitment to improving the quality of life in the St. Louis community. The St. Louis Women of Achievement organization, a 501c3, not-for-profit organization, was established in 1993 by former Women of Achievement who wanted to ensure the longevity of the award for future generations of St. Louis area women. The organization’s Board of Directors, comprised of past recipients of the award, continue to plan and implement the nomination, selection and award presentation process ensuring that this award will continue to enhance and honor the women volunteers in the St. Louis metropolitan region who positively impact the community, for many years to come. For more information visit the Women of Achievement website at www.woastl.org.


2017 JKS Communications Authors-in-Residence Announced!


Mystery novelist Lori Rader-Day, middle grade author Kristen Kittscher named 2017 JKS Communications Authors-in-Residence

Nashville, Tenn. – JKS Communications has selected Mary Higgins Clark Award–winning novelist Lori Rader-Day and 2014 James Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Residence Kristen Kittscher as the book marketing and author publicity firm’s 2017 authors-in-residence.

Each year, JKS Communications chooses one adult genre author and one children’s author to honor and work closely with the company’s team of book publicists to gain a first-hand perspective on author promotions.

Rader-Day’s fantastic networking capabilities with industry professionals and Kittscher’s creativity throughout her book’s publication and publicity process, among their many other strengths and talents, will add unique insight to the book publicity firm.

Rader-Day and Kittscher succeed suspense writer Jenny Milchman and YA author Martina Boone, the JKS Communications 2016 authors-in-residence.

Based in Chicago, Rader-Day has turned heads with her intricate, complicated mystery novels. Her debut, “The Black Hour,” won the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the 2015 Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her follow up novel, “Little Pretty Things,” won the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and was named a 2015 “most arresting crime novel” by “Kirkus.”  Her third novel, “The Day I Died,” will be released by Harper Collins William Morrow on April 11. JKS Communications is working with Rader-Day on special pre-order and book club promotions to celebrate the new launch.

Kittscher is a former middle school teacher living in Pasadena, California, who turned to tween mystery writing and was the 2014 James Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Residence. Her first novel, “The Wig in the Window,” received a starred review from “School Library Journal.” Her second novel, “Tiara on the Terrace,” was praised by “Kirkus” as “an entertaining mystery featuring kids who readily outsmart all the adults; what could be better?” Kittscher speaks to thousands of readers across the country in classrooms and at conferences and summer camps each year, and JKS Communications worked with Kittscher to develop a scavenger hunt to help libraries continue inspiring young readers.

JKS Communications is a full-service literary publicity firm offering cross-genre book marketing to authors across a variety of publishing platforms, including traditional, small press, indie and international. Learn more at www.JKSCommunications.com.


For more information:

Anglle Barbazon, publicist


(615) 928-2462

Tim Shaw, former Tennessee Titans linebacker living with ALS, writes inspirational book, “Blitz Your Life”

Former Tennessee Titans linebacker Tim Shaw’s unexpected diagnosis of a life-altering disease did not stop him from finding hope and advocating on behalf of those faced with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. From participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to living life to the fullest, Shaw’s story is one of hope not only for people battling ALS but for anyone aspiring to be more. “Blitz Your Life” (Jan. 3, 2017) is a story of overcoming fear and living life with a purpose.

Written with Belmont University associate professor Richard Sowienski, “Blitz Your Life” shares the way Shaw and the people in his life have changed each other for the better, challenging readers at the end of each chapter with a call for self-evaluation. With interviews ranging from leading entrepreneurs and business leaders, to musicians, to athletes, Shaw’s book shows how each and every person affects the people around them and calls each reader to set their bar a little higher and push a little harder to pursue their purpose—even when it seems impossible.

Whether you’re a football fan, battling difficult times or simply seeking inspiration, “Blitz Your Life” reaches into the hearts and minds of readers to tell them they’re made of more than their circumstances.

Former linebacker TIM SHAW’s seven years in the NFL included seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, the Chicago Bears, and the Tennessee Titans. A graduate of Penn State, he also holds an MBA from George Washington University. Now an entrepreneur, Tim is a frequent speaker and supporter of ALS awareness. Blitz Your Life is his first book.

RICHARD SOWIENSKI is associate professor at Belmont University and directs the first undergraduate Publishing Program in the U.S. He’s held a variety of writing and editorial jobs, working for Better Homes & Gardens, Raising Teens, Country America, Successful Farming, and The Missouri Review. He and his wife Rola call Nashville home.



If you’ve ever dreamed of something more in life, this book is for you. Blitz Your Life is a collection of reflections and challenges from a former NFL linebacker who is living life fearlessly.

These powerful stories range from Tim’s time on the football field to the radically different life and goals that resulted from his diagnosis with ALS in 2014. Tim also shares stories of ordinary people who have faced everyday challenges and accomplished extraordinary things. Through his “whiteboard challenges,” he provides practical help takes readers on a road to success. From his NFL days to his support of ALS awareness, this fighter’s message is a courageous call to find and enjoy a life with purpose.


An Interview with Tim Shaw

This is a 2013 photo of Tim Shaw of the Tennessee Titans NFL football team. This image reflects the Tennessee Titans active roster as of Thursday, May 30, 2013 when this image was taken. (AP Photo)

What inspired you to write “Blitz Your Life”?

I knew that my life experiences were unique and I wanted to use those experiences to impact people in a positive way. I’ve actually known I was going to write a book for about 10 years, and I’ve always enjoyed writing. And I also wanted to do something that would last for a long time, not just be relevant in today’s day and age.

What message do you want people who read your book to receive?

I want people to embrace who they were made to be, as well as their unique gifts and talents. And with that, I want them to pursue a life that is full of passion. I want them to know that life is meant to be lived on purpose. Through this, I believe every reader can reach their maximum potential.

How has your ALS diagnosis changed your perspective on life? What would you say to others going through the same challenge?

ALS has really brought my focus to the things in life that matter the most, and more so eliminate those that don’t matter as much. Because of that I have been able to enjoy every day and make choices based upon what is most important right now, each and every day. To those experiencing similar challenges, I would tell them to focus on what’s most important. If they could choose the most important action all the time, then they will have no regrets.

How has your faith shaped your journey as a football player and ALS advocate?

My faith is my foundation and the thing that I can always count on to be there in good times or bad. With that, I was able to pursue football with all my heart. And now, with ALS, my faith has allowed me to utilize my diagnosis in a positive way, as I see this as an opportunity to reach and impact even more people than before.

Why did you include challenge sections at the end of chapters? What do you hope people will learn about themselves from them?

I don’t want people just to think about what I’ve written. I want to inspire action. The challenge sections will hopefully allow readers to ask themselves the hard questions and then transform their answers into meaningful change. By taking a closer look at who they truly are, I hope these questions lead them to the strength, courage, and clarity needed to live their life of purpose.

This is unlike a typical memoir in that you include interviews from Nashville-area business people and entrepreneurs. Why did you decide to include those?

I don’t consider this a memoir. My life has been blessed by others, so I feel it’s more impactful to share lessons from various walks of life. We all have a purpose to live. Your life is shaped by the people around more than you realize.

For people wanting to inspire and encourage others, what advice would you give them?

Be yourself. The most impactful people are authentic people.

New Book by Faulkner University Associate Dean Offers Fresh Insight on Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s Emersonian Transformation of Law

Critically acclaimed author Allen Mendenhall, associate dean and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty at Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, offers fresh, fascinating insight and compelling evidence for how Emerson transformed Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s approach to law in his new book, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Pragmatism, and the Jurisprudence of Agon: Aesthetic Dissent and the Common Law ($75.00, Hardback, Bucknell University Press, December 16, 2017).

This book argues that Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., helps us see the law through an Emersonian lens by the way in which he wrote his judicial dissents. Holmes’s literary style mimics and enacts two characteristics of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s thought: “superfluity” and the “poetics of transition,” concepts ascribed to Emerson and developed by literary critic Richard Poirier.

Using this aesthetic style borrowed from Emerson and carried out by later pragmatists, Holmes not only made it more likely that his dissents would remain alive for future judges or justices (because how they were written was itself memorable, whatever the value of their content), but also shaped our understanding of dissents and, in this, our understanding of law.

By opening constitutional precedent to potential change, Holmes’s dissents made room for future thought, moving our understanding of legal concepts in a more pragmatic direction and away from formalistic understandings of law. Included in this new understanding is the idea that the “canon” of judicial cases involves oppositional positions that must be sustained if the law is to serve pragmatic purposes. This process of precedent-making in a common-law system resembles the construction of the literary canon as it is conceived by Harold Bloom and Richard Posner.



ALLEN MENDENHALL is the Associate Dean and Executive Director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law and Liberty at Faulkner University and the author of Literature and Liberty: Essays in Libertarian Literary Criticism (2014). He has been featured in Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, The American Spectator, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and more. He is the editor of the Southern Literary Review. He received his B.A. in English from Furman University, M.A. in English from West Virginia University, J.D. from West Virginia University College of Law, LL.M. in transnational law from Temple University Beasley School of Law, and Ph.D. in English from Auburn University.Learn more at AllenMendenhall.com.