Starting this week! Hurry!

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 8.47.22 AMHey, parents!  Does your son or daughter like to write stories?  I will be running two summer programs for upper elementary, middle school, and high school-aged kids on the art of storytelling.  During these programs, kids will learn how to use the elements of fiction to create compelling stories from beginning to end.  The programs will take place at the Hellertown Library!  

Grades 4-8 Writing Camp:  August 1-4 from 1:00-3:00 p.m.  Cost:  $60.00

Writing Workshop for Teens and Adults:  Wednesday, July 19 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.  Cost:  $15.00

Participants can register at the Hellertown Library by calling 610-838-8381 or by sending an email to

For your Fourth of July reading!

My middle-grade historical novel From Blue Ground follows Patrick and Sissy Hughes as they make their way to Philadelphia on the days leading up to the Fourth of July holiday of 1876.  I meticulously researched everything from the festivities to the weather.  Here’s an excerpt for your Independence Day reading pleasure!  Enjoy!

FBG7Chapter 18:  The Fourth 

A reddish-orange spark broke the plane of the horizon line as the sun rose over Philadelphia on the morning of the Fourth.  A thunder of cannon fire, from a contingent of warships moored in the Delaware River, jolted Patrick and Sissy from their sound sleep. It was as if the guns had been ignited by the rising of the sun. More cannons boomed from the heights of the Centennial Exhibition grounds in Fairmont Park as the city welcomed Independence Day in a barrage of heavy artillery.

The red-orange sun hung low in the young sky, burning through the early morning haze. The day threatened to be unmercifully hot. Just before dawn, the small crew of the Millie Willy had navigated their vessel through the canals at Manayunk, concealing the two young fugitives from the prying eyes of the lock keepers. On the open river, they skirted the south side of Peter’s Island and rounded the bend beneath the shadow of the Columbia Bridge. The landing at the Exhibition grounds was now in full view.

At the docks, an army of men boarded the barge and maneuvered a large metal box into place with a hand- powered crane. One by one they sunk their shovels into the mounds of coal, oblivious to the two kids lying on deck. As the men went about the arduous task of unloading the Millie Willie, Captain Shaw knelt next to Patrick and Sissy.

“This is to help you get back on your feet,” he said, handing Sissy a bag of coins. “It’s not much, just enough for food in case you don’t find your friend.”

Sissy took the bag and hugged him. “Thanks, Captain Shaw.”

“Never you mind. It’s gonna take these boys the whole day to unload the Millie Willie, so you’ll know where I’ll be if yas need me. After that, if ya run into trouble, go to the nearest lock keeper on the canal and tell ‘em you’re lookin’ for ol’ Capt’n Shaw. They’ll either know where to find me or keep yas ‘till I can get there. If ya don’t find yer friend, I want you to come lookin’ for me, ya hear?”

“Aye, Captain,” Patrick said.

“Now, if you follow the towpath downstream along the river, you’ll come to a covered bridge. It’s the only covered bridge on the river, so ya can’t miss it. Don’t cross the bridge into the city, take Market Street the other way—west to the University. Hopefully, you’ll find your friend there.”

Patrick and Sissy said goodbye to Thomas and the Captain and headed down the towpath. Water bugs skimmed in the shallow pools along the river, creating tiny clover-shaped ripples. At a nearby wharf, the crew of a large steamboat unwound a thick, heavy rope that connected the boat to its mooring. Soon, the steamboat would be filled with people as it ferried passengers to the Philadelphia Zoological Gardens, but for now, it stood empty, except for its skeleton crew. Not far up the bank from the wharf, a wrought iron sign marked the entrance to the Zoo. Patrick and Sissy couldn’t help but linger along the gate, trying to catch a glimpse of an elephant, or giraffe, or some other exotic creature lurking inside. Despite being tempted to spend Captain Shaw’s coins on the ten cent admission, they pressed onward, leaving behind the lure of the big cats in the Carnivora House and the rare beasts rumored to roam in the depths of the Bear Pits.

When they reached Fairmount Damn, bells rang out from what seemed like every steeple in the city, calling the crowds into the streets for an early Independence Day parade. Rescheduled from later in the day because of the scorching heat, the parade was to feature the Centennial Legion, a corp of several thousand soldiers in thirteen divisions, one for each of the original colonies. The parade was to start at the Exhibition grounds and end at Independence Hall in Old City.

The Independence Day festivities, which began at midnight, had lingered long into the early morning hours and revelers were slow to answer the call of the steeple bells. Many still slept in makeshift tents throughout the city.

Farther south along the towpath, Patrick and Sissy came to the covered bridge that Captain Shaw had described. He was right, it wasn’t hard to find. The bridge traversed a wide section of the river as well as several yards of shoreline. Its sweeping wooden arches spanned two stone abutments and rose three stories above the water. Barges and small schooners crowded the area beneath the bridge as crews scurried to unload their cargo. On the shore, men loaded large wooden boxes onto empty drays, flatbed wagons used for hauling freight.

Patrick and Sissy climbed the grassy embankment to the top of the bridge and looked out over the city. The streets seemed to radiate in anticipation of the day’s events. Market Street bustled with all the activity of a main thoroughfare as tourists and city-dwellers swarmed in every direction, trying to beat the heat and the afternoon crowds. Dozens of drays, loaded with cargo, headed west toward the Centennial Exhibition, dozens more headed east toward Independence Hall. Hackney carriages lined the south side of the street as far as the eye could see, the drivers tending to their horses and soliciting fares from passing pedestrians.

Patrick stepped into the street in a mindless haze, in awe of the commotion.

“Patrick!” Sissy screamed, yanking him back, just as a team of horses trounced by.

“Watch it—you stupid kid!” the driver yelled.

“Where did they all come from?” Patrick asked as someone bumped into him from behind.


“The people—there are so many of them.”

“I don’t know . . . everywhere. They’re here for the

Fourth, visiting the Exhibition, just like we were supposed to do with Papa.”

Sissy and Patrick linked arms and walked shoulder to shoulder.

“Just stay close,” Sissy said, pulling him tight.

Want to read more?  PM me to purchase a signed copy, or purchase one from the links below!

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UPDATE—Summer Writing Camp!

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 8.47.22 AMHey, parents!  Does your son or daughter like to write stories? I’m currently planning summer camps for upper elementary, middle school, and high school-aged kids on the art of storytelling. During these camps, kids will learn how to use the elements of fiction to create compelling stories from beginning to end.  The camps will take place at the Hellertown Library!  

Grades 4-8:  August 1-4 from 1:00-3:00 p.m.  Cost:  $60.00

Teens and Adults:  Wednesday, July 19 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.  Cost:  $15.00

Participants can register at the Hellertown Library by calling 610-838-8381 or by sending an email to

Summer Writing Camp!

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 8.47.22 AM.pngHey, parents!  Does your son or daughter like to write stories?  I’m currently planning summer camps for upper elementary, middle school, and high school-aged kids on the art of storytelling.  During these camps, kids will learn how to use the elements of fiction to create compelling stories from beginning to end.  Each camp will take place from 9:00 a.m. to noon from Monday through Friday.   Specific weeks have yet to be determined!  If you think this may be something your son or daughter would be interested in, please email me at or PM me through my Facebook page.  Watch this space for more information!

Joe’s notes on revising

Hey, kids and teachers!  I’m revising my new novel for middle-grade kids (more on that in a different post), and I thought I’d share some brief thoughts on how I go about revising because I know that can be the most difficult concept for kids (and adults) to grasp.  Here you go:

  1. screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-3-26-43-pmBe present.  Try not to let your mind wander.  Don’t get distracted by what you’re having for lunch or about that upcoming game you have in the evening. Immerse yourself in the world and words that you have created.  
  2. Read it out loud.  Reading your work out loud helps slow you down so you can focus on the individual words and phrases.
  3. Listen.  How does it sound?  Words have rhythm.   Rhythm helps the reader organize the information you’re presenting to them.  
  4. Ask questions.  The purpose of writing is to convey meaning.  Are the words adequately conveying the scene or situation you are trying to describe?  (This includes emotion, too.)  Do any of the words or phrases distract the reader from what you are trying to say?
  5. Trust yourself.  Be confident.  Try not to get too caught up in whether something is “right” or “wrong.”  That comes later when you edit.
  6. Make Changes.  If something doesn’t make sense change it!  Don’t be afraid to cut whole phrases or sentences.  You want your work to be as concise as possible.
  7. Repeat.  Yep!  This is probably the most difficult to understand.  We can always make our writing better.

I hope that helps!


New YA Short Story!


Read the first part of my new short story for Young Adults,”Twilight of the Gods,” which will be published on June 6 by Sunbury Press in their Climate Fiction Short Story Anthology: Cloud Eleven.

Want to know when it’s out?  Click here to sign up!

The word came down about Jax late in the day and released a cold shiver that stopped just short of her spinal tap.  She was lying on her side with her legs drawn up close to her chest.  A clear plastic bag hung from a sterile hook draining fluids into her arm.  It was supposed to mitigate the pain, but it was always the same:  she would have a killer headache after this. 

“Almost done,” Felix said, in the most reassuring voice he could muster.  It almost sounded sincere.  It made no difference to her.  She was used to this.  She stared at the white wall, which matched her expression perfectly.  “There.”  He swabbed something cold on her back.  Now the questions would come. “You knew Jax, right?”

The logs had said that Jax had been scanned out around midnight Saturday, three days ago, but Felix said no one could recall seeing him for at least a week.  But that wasn’t true either, and she knew it.  She had, in fact, seen Jax on Friday night, just before the logs had recorded his last known whereabouts.  But she wasn’t about to tell Felix that.  Sure, she had known Jax.  She knew everyone from her region who had gone missing.  What she couldn’t admit (or wouldn’t, at least to Felix), was that this time it was different.

“You’re from Region XIII, right Mir?”

“Yeah.  That’s right.”  She swung her legs over the edge of the table, crinkling the white paper beneath her, and sending the room into a spin.  She listed to the side as she tried to steady herself.

“You alright, Mir?”  She pressed her fingertips to her temples.  “Mir?”

She dropped her hands to the table and fixed her gaze on him, almost willing the room—and the questions—to stop.  “I’m fine.”

Felix nodded.  “So?”

“So what, Felix?”

“Did you know him?”

“Yeah. I knew Jax,” Mir said, sliding off the table and into a wheelchair.  “Why wouldn’t I?” 

The persistent probing for information was common among the staff at Tungsten.  It was human nature to want to know more.  But the battle they were fighting required countering both humanity and nature.  Felix could pry all he wanted, it wouldn’t make a difference.  Elaborate safeguards had been put into place.  No one knew more than they had to in order to complete their immediate function.  It was vital to the success of the mission.  What exactly that mission was remained a mystery, even to Mir.

Felix wheeled Mir back to her room through a maze of corridors, each one painted in a bland Tungsten-grey.  Overhead LED’s tripped on as they passed.  The headache arrived before they got there.  At the entrance to her room, Mir stood and pushed the wheelchair away, steadying herself with her IV stand.  The back of her gown hung open revealing her taught, five-foot frame, but she made no effort to cover herself.  She was a ghost of her former self.  It was strange.  In a lot of ways, she knew that she was physically stronger.  She had no problem with the strength regimens that they had subjected her to, but at the same time she was wasted, spent.  Her lung capacity and stamina had diminished by half since coming to this place.  The contradiction confounded her, but this place was full of contradictions.

“Mir, let me help you with that.”

“I’ve got it, Felix.  Hand me my meds.”  Felix handed her a plastic pill bottle the color of liquid iodine.  She opened it with her teeth, shook a couple of tablets into her mouth, and proceeded to grind them to a grainy powder between her back molars. 

“Jax is the fifth in a matter of weeks from Region XIII—the twenty-fifth overall,”  Felix said. “They say it’s too soon.  They’ll never survive out there.  The modifications haven’t had enough time to take hold.  I have to admit from what I’ve seen I agree with them.”

Mir lowered herself onto her bed.  “You don’t know what you’re talking about—no one does.” 

“I know, but it all adds up, doesn’t it?  The treatments, the gene therapy, the implants…you’re being reengineered.”

“I’m not interested in your theories, Felix.  Even if I was, the fact that it all adds up doesn’t add up!  Why would they go through such great lengths and expense to hide something so obvious?”

“You gotta point there—but I’ve heard it before.  Why not hide in plain sight?  And what’s up with Region XIII?  Of all the regions, Region XIII has had the least…”

“Felix!  My head is splitting, let’s save the conspiracy theory chat for tomorrow, eh?”

“Sure, Mir, yeah.”  He maneuvered the wheelchair through the doorway, dejected.  “Your next treatment is…Friday, right?”

“Yes, Felix.”

“Okay, see you then.”  He caught the door just before it closed behind him.  “One more thing…”

“Goodnight, Felix.”


Light from the midnight sun seeped into the room through panes of thick glass that tinted automatically with the sun’s rays.  As the sun dipped below the treetops, small LED’s lining the ceiling peeked on.  Mir stared out the window through the darkening woods, the thickets of trees standing in their legions like dark sentinels.  She watched as the sun settled just above the ground, though it would not descend into the earth, not tonight.  And now the purple dusk of twilight time, she thought.  It was one of the few clues as to their location.  Six months of daylight, six months of relative darkness.  They were somewhere close to the Arctic Circle.  It had taken her months to get used to the new sleep pattern.  Mir had thought that the facility lay somewhere north of Fairbanks, but Jax had wondered if they weren’t closer to the Northwest Territories.  Jax, she thought.  Jax is gone, really gone, and then the tears came.

She replayed their last day together over in her mind.  They had planned to spend a few hours exploring the mountainside along the eastern edge of the compound.  They had covered most of the accessible ground within the protected perimeter and had just one more section to cover.  Besides, Jax had needed to get some fresh air, he had said.  It invigorated him, even if it was now in fact foreign to his system.  Jax had been recovering from his latest treatment, but Mir’s next step in the progressions was, at the time, still a week away.  In the beginning, the two of them had progressed together, but Jax had proven to be much more resilient, so his treatments had been accelerated.

They had exited the facility at the Observation Level and skirted the edge of the property beyond the eastern wall at sunset.  Their clothes were drenched with sweat almost immediately.  The two had traversed the rocky hillside dozens of times and knew the rugged terrain well.  Every stone felt familiar beneath their feet.  They followed the well-worn path up the mountainside toward the trees.  A purple veil had blanketed the deep woods in a mystic hue.  It was in-between time:  not quite day, not yet night, the time when the seen and unseen worlds collide.  When they had entered the shadows below the canopy, they stopped for a moment to collect themselves, but Jax couldn’t catch his breath.  She grasped his hand almost instinctively.  It was wiry and gaunt, like hers, yet still remarkably strong despite its wasted appearance.  Even so, Jax knew he had been spread too thin.  The progressions, it seemed, had finally caught up with him.  They decided to turn around and return to the facility. 

When they arrived, they took the vacant southwest corridor to Jax’s room.  They lingered there late into the evening reminiscing about their childhood on the High Plains.  It had become a sort of ritual that they had developed between them.  In turn, they would intone the stories over and over again, hoping the small joys of the distant past would guide them in an uncertain future.  At the end of the night, Jax had melded their memories of the past into his dream for the future.  They would reclaim a corner of this wasted world as their own, he had said, and recapture the forgotten dream that it once was. 

Now, standing in her room, Mir gazed into the half night, into that in-between world of not yet.  Jax’s dream for the future and her memories of the past were slipping away from her, as sure as the tears now slipped from her cheeks.  She tried desperately to hold on to the thought of them—to the thought of him, but it was no use.  Reality had seeped in and she was alone.  Jax had been her connection to a life that once was and to a promise that was still yet to be.  He had been a buffer to the bleakness of this world, just like this place was a buffer to the outside world.  But now, a stark reality was moving in, as sure as the rising sea waters encroached upon the high ground. 

Read the rest of “Twilight of the Gods” when it’s published on June 6, 2017, by Sunbury Press as a part of their Climate Fiction Anthology:  Cloud Eleven.  

Want to know when it’s out?  Click here to sign up!