Wednesday, February 8, 2023

10 Things You Might Not Know About Catherine Devore Johnson, author of The Panacea Project


Calla Hammond has always been a loner—a product of the foster system and avoided by others because of a skin condition. When doctors discover that her immune system holds the key to curing cancer, she struggles to advance lifesaving research in a world that sees her only as a means to an end. Yet along the way, Calla gains the one thing she has always longed for: a chosen family. But when a group of unscrupulous people joins forces to sell Calla's blood to the highest bidder, she has to dig deep to find the strength to retake control of her life, her body, and her story.

“There’s nothing better than reading a novel that deftly weaves the most pressing issues of the day—the war for control over women's bodies, bigotry, stigma, patriarchy, capitalism—into an engaging and thoroughly human page-turner. Catherine Devore Johnson has managed to do exactly that in her beautiful debut.”

Emily Wolf, author of My Thirty-First Year (And Other Calamities)

“Calla’s story captivated me until the end. This fast-paced novel brought up so many emotions and made me think about the ways that humankind sucks the marrow out of things that sustain us until those things are gone. This story will stay with me for a long time.” —Tabitha Forney, author of Paper Airplanes

“A beautiful combination of engaging fiction and bitter reality. . . Touching upon complicated emotions, The Panacea Project leaves an unforgettable mark upon its readers.” —Readers’ Favorite

“In an era where medicine and vaccines are hotly debated, this well-written and thoughtful story will inspire both hope and terror about what the futures holds.”

 —Editor’s Pick, Publishers Weekly BookLife

“The Panacea Project is both inventive and thoughtful and captures the way in which the scientific search for truth and humanitarian relief can take on an inhumane form.” Kirkus Indie Review 

 10 Things You Might Not Know About Catherine Devore Johnson

  1. I was born in Chicago, Illinois, moved to Springfield, Missouri for a couple of years, and was subsequently raised just outside of Houston, Texas in a sprawling, master-planned community called The Woodlands.
  2. I ran track at Yale University—the 200-meter dash, the 400-meter dash, and the 4x400 meter relay. It was a great experience, but all of that pounding exacted a toll on my feet and hips, so these days I stick to long walks.
  3. I drink way too much coffee.
  4. I used to drink way too much Diet Coke, but have since replaced it with Topo Chico, which I believe to be the best of the sparkling waters. However, during the pandemic-related Topo Chico shortage, I discovered that Jarritos’ Mineragua is a totally acceptable substitute.
  5. I volunteer with a phenomenal organization called Casa de Esperanza, which provides foster care services to children in need in Houston.
  6. I love exploring Houston’s restaurants. My hometown is one of the most diverse cities in the United States and has an incredible culinary scene.
  7. I used to fly (very small) airplanes. After my husband was diagnosed with cancer ten years ago (he recovered!), we decided it was high time to actually do some of the crazy things we had always dreamed about doing. So, I started taking flying lessons at a municipal airport in Sugar Land, Texas. (I should mention that, at the time, I was absolutely terrified of flying, so this also functioned as a form of exposure therapy.) I got far enough in the training to do my solo cross-country flight (just me, a Cessna Skyhawk, and a flight plan that covered a total distance of 150 nautical miles with full-stop landings at 3 different airports). It was hands down the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. And, once it was over, one of my proudest moments. I never did get my private pilot license (circumstances and some pesky cardiac issues conspired against me), but the training did help me conquer my fear of flying.
  8. I was an extra in the farmer’s market scene in the movie “The Lost Husband.” A friend was the director and invited a group of people to come out to Austin for a day of filming. If you can spot me, I do a very convincing job of buying a cup of coffee (see #3 for my qualifications). And I can confirm (from afar) that Josh Duhamel is, in fact, as handsome and charming in person as you might imagine him to be.
  9. Before my life as a mom and a writer, I was an attorney. I worked in corporate bankruptcy and then as a MUD lawyer (the fancier term would be “municipal finance attorney” but my firm primarily represented special entities called municipal utility districts, or MUDs, and MUD lawyer is way more fun to say, right?).
  10. I am a card-carrying member of the “sandwich generation.” Five years ago, my mother had two strokes in one week. After several months of intense rehabilitation, she recovered enough to live independently, but she no longer drives and relies on me for a lot of assistance. I’m also a parent of two teenagers and work part-time, so I’ve had to learn how to balance being a caregiver, a parent, a spouse, and an individual with my own ambitions.



About the Author: Catherine Devore Johnson is a former attorney turned writer. Her work has won or placed in competitions held by the Houston Writer’s Guild and the Writer’s League of Texas, and she has published an essay in The Houston Chronicle about caring for her mother after two strokes. She works as a writer and editor at a children's hospital and lives in Houston with her husband and two children. The Panacea Project is her first novel.




Sunday, February 5, 2023

Movie Review: Plane!

Plane is a 2023 action thriller movie starring Gerard Butler, Tony Goldwyn, Mike Colter, and Paul Ben-Victor. The story starts innocuously enough with commercial Trailblazer Airlines Flight 119 flying from Singapore to Honolulu via Tokyo. Of course, the weather is bad and of course the greedy bosses at the airlines insist the pilot (Butler) fly above the storm to make their destination in time. The plane suffers damage during the storm over the South China Sea, but pilot Brodie Torrance (Butler) ably assisted by his co-pilot Samuel Dele (Yoson An) makes an incredible landing on a seemingly uninhabited island with the loss of only two lives; an air hostess and the RCMP officer who is escorting fugitive Louis Gaspare (Colter) back to face justice. Of course, this is no ordinary island. It is home to a villainous gang that kidnaps foreigners, holds them to ransom to make their origin countries pay, and if not, they are executed. Could it get any worse? Yes! Prepare to perch on the edge of your seat and shovel that popcorn down in handfuls. This is not your usual air crash disaster movie.

I love disaster movies, especially airplane disasters, and I am a big Gerard Butler fan. After all, he has saved the American president thrice from terrorists (Olympus/London/Angel Has Fallen), has steered a nuclear submarine safely through heavily mined Russian waters (Hunter Killer) and saved the world from ecological disaster (Geostorm). When the end of the world comes, I want him on my team. Butler plays Torrance as not quite the anti-hero, but an ordinary man doing everything noble because, as the captain, he is responsible for the lives in his care. He is fighting for the survival of everyone on the plane, including himself. He does this without being schmaltzy or corny. Tony Goldwyn is excellent, as always, as Scarsdale, a former Special Forces officer who swoops in to run point at the airline’s headquarters. Louis Gaspare and Torrance team up to push the rescue mission while waiting for possible help to arrive. It’s a good team and you’ll be rooting for Gaspare to either escape or be vindicated. Surprise factor on that point!

This is an exceptionally good action movie with no soppiness and no long staring into the distance moments. The actual crash and dramatic events come thick and fast and although some elements are a bit far-fetched (the co-pilot manages to revive the electronics), well… who is going to point this it as not being credible. Not me. I’m no pilot. This is a happy ending with everyone, characters and viewers, being scared witless. The one sobering element is that much of the background story is true. Rebels and separatists do kidnap people for ransom; many are executed, and the Philippine government is probably too scared to send in troops without massive international backup. Pretty young women like a few of the characters on the plane would most likely be sold off to the highest bidder, never to be seen again. The suspense is incredible and isn’t that what an action thriller movie aims to achieve? Watch it. You won’t be disappointed. Don’t forget the popcorn. You’re going to need it.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Guest Post: The Impact on Children Through Author Visits to Schools/Libraries by Raven Howell

“In her butterfly net of beguiling rhythm and rhyme, Raven Howell captures the sweet, fleeting moments of childhood. Both you and the little gnome on your lap will love it!”

—Irene O’Garden, poet, author, Off-Broadway playwright

Discover the magic in simple moments when a child peers in the mirror to unintentionally come upon his smile, where kittens nap in boots, fairy hugs feel good, mice delight in reading books, and January snowflakes taste yummy. Twenty whimsical poems warm the heart and inspire cheer; a collection enticing both the young and seasoned reader to explore the enchantment of the wonderful world of poetry.

The Impact on Children Through Author Visits to Schools/Libraries

 “Good morning, everyone! It’s wonderful to be here - thanks for inviting me. My name is Raven Howell and I write children’s stories and poetry....” and off we go. I’ve always enjoyed visiting students and children in classrooms, bookstores, and libraries to share my love of books, and reading and writing.

Involved in the children’s literary community for several decades now, I don’t recall my very first visit to meet with students, but I do know that I’ve never had a visit I didn’t enjoy. I could be presenting in a big school assembly or teaching poetry with four students in attendance in a small enrichment workshop, and still, I always gain new insight, am inspired by the kids themselves, and go home smiling.

What I gain from author visits is important to note because inspiration runs both ways. As you give, you get. That may not be apparent in the moment, and on several author visits, a child may seem completely bored, looking out the window, or maybe is disagreeable on some level. Yet, inevitably, the teacher will contact me afterwards and say something like, “Caleb always has a hard time focusing, but after you left, he wrote a poem about baseball and even drew a picture to go along with it! We have a hard time getting him to write anything, so thank you!”

Poetry tends to strike a chord or ring a bell inside one’s heart. Because of poetic rhythm, rhyming, wording, and expression, it can communicate a message like no other art form. And for children, who are full of questions (“Mom, why is the sky blue?”), poetry can address questions and make the questioner see things a different way. It’s an incredibly powerful medium for anyone of any age. Teaching even the youngest students how to read, listen to, be inspired by, and then attempt to write their own poetry or story may lead to anything from self-expression, processing emotions, to improving literacy and even epiphany.

Children want to explore. Children want to explore what’s beautiful in their world, and a good story or poem is the perfect pathway. This aesthetic is the inspiration behind my new picture poetry book, The 20 Little Poems for 20 Little Gnomes. If you’re a children’s author and have any doubts or self-consciousness about a school visit, please know the kids would love to hear “your story”, you’ll both be linking together in some form of enlightenment AND, you’ll have fun doing it!

Here With You

 Hop the rocks

Across the stream

Where tall trees whisper

Forest dream.


Skip the path

Where our hearts sing,

Let bright sun shine

On Robin’s wing.


Glad to be

Out here with you

Where grass is green

And sky is blue.

From The 20 Little Poems from 20 Little Gnomes written by Raven Howell © 2022 Handersen Publishing. Available on Amazon.


Raven Howell is an award-winning author and poet of several children's picture books. Her poems appear in children's magazines such as Cricket, Highlights for Children, HighFive, Ladybug, Jack and Jill, and Fun for Kids. She enjoys presenting children’s writing workshops, visiting libraries and schools, and serves as Creative and Publishing Advisor for RedClover Reader. Raven writes a column for Story Monsters Ink magazine, The Book Bug.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Book Spotlight: Whispering Through Water by Rebecca Wenrich Wheeler

This coming-of-age story follows Gwyn Madison, the summer after her high school graduation, as she grapples with her fast-approaching future. She’ll have to face more than she bargained for with her Aunt Delia, the family matriarch, who holds the purse strings and the final word.  In the meantime, Gwyn stumbles upon a tightly held family secret. Could a mysterious letter provide Gwyn the leverage she desires? Will it only bring more family division? Or, maybe, the past was never meant to stay buried after all. Whispering Through Water navigates family dynamics, young love, and female autonomy with a little 1990s nostalgia. Purchase a copy of Whispering Through Water on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.


About the Author: Rebecca Wenrich Wheeler was raised in West Point, a small town in the Tidewater region of Virginia. From the moment she submitted her first short story to a young author’s contest in second grade, Rebecca knew she wanted to be a writer. Her love of writing led her to earn a BA in English and an MEd in English education. She spent several years as a high school teacher, during which she also developed a passion for mental health advocacy. Rebecca completed an MA in professional counseling and now works in the school-based mental health field and as a college adjunct psychology instructor. Rebecca also teaches yoga for the young and the young at heart, and she likes to infuse yoga and breathwork in her counseling practice wherever she can. She believes the most valuable use of her time is teaching youth how to love and care for each other and the world around them. Her stories share her focus on positive relationships and a love of nature. Rebecca now lives in Durham, North Carolina, with her husband, two children, and two spoiled Siamese cats. Whispering Through Water is her first YA novel and second book. Her picture book When Daddy Shows Me the Sky was released November 2021. You can follow Rebecca on Instagram @rebeccawwheeler_author and