Once again the Write Group is proud to announce the publication of one of our member’s works, the third book from our group in as many years.
I have the pleasure and honour to introduce and review this novel and interview its author.
Melhara is the debut dark-fantasy novel of Jocelyn Tollefson. It is the story of Kyra Parker, a reluctant half-witch who is compelled and possessed by a demon and sets off with him to incite Armageddon. Her family and friends struggle vainly to save her and mankind. And with each chapter, the stakes build higher.
Melhara is set in a contemporary fantasy world, where humans, witches, angels, demons and hybrids of these roam the world, albeit in human form. Mix in with these devils, dragons and other creatures and the bestiary of the world of Melhara becomes quite elaborate.
But Jocelyn does not stop there. She also unfolds the intertwined origin stories and histories of several of the beings introduced in Melhara. She even rewrites the story of the Garden of Eden, explores the seven different planes of existence — including Earth, Hell, Atlantis (which she reveals to be Heaven), the ghost plane and the dragon plane — that house different types of creatures, transverses the channels that connect these planes, and broaches the seals that bind Hell. Much of this history is retold from the demon Alastor’s point of view, so favours the fortunes and worthiness of Hell. I really enjoyed this imaginative history.
The characterization and relationships in Melhara are well developed. Jocelyn writes a formidable story with fresh, rich characters. Her female characters are particularly well explored. They are truly female rather than males dressed as females, which are a common cliche in many other fantasy and fiction works. Jocelyn explores individuality, the complex working of family and value of the individual and group in addition to her main possession-Armageddon story. Value of the individual is particularly illustrated in the role of Xavier, Kyra’s oft-ignored yet instrumental son.
A main theme of Melhara perhaps is that each person is able in his own way, but it is together that many problems are solved. Strong relationships strengthen and ground us, help us cope, and empower us to accomplish more than we could alone. In Melhara, Jocelyn explores this power of relationship in the furtherance of both evil and good, and evil and good deeds. She also explores the different and dynamic types of love in different relationships. Jocelyn has cited the theme of accepting and embracing who you are, what you can do and who you are meant to be as key elements to your happiness and destiny. Her message of not fighting fate and changing your outlook on life not only rings resonantly in Melhara but echoes in her own life.
In her own words, Melhara is about love, sacrifice, compassion and self-doubt.
I enjoyed this book. The characters were engaging, the mythology intriguing and the story easy to read. Jocelyn created a world I want to continue exploring with characters I want to continue following.
The book could have used more proofreading and beta-reading in some places, but overall it was a great read.
Jocelyn obviously plans a sequel to Melhara. She ends Melhara with a temporary win. The sequel promises to be bigger and more perilous with more powerful and ready enemies, more hazardous threats and deeper problems, tougher challenges, more responsibilities and greater risks for Jocelyn’s heroines and heroes to overcome.
One word of caution for those interested in Jocelyn’s Melhara: it contains explicit, though not graphic, non-incidental language and content. The violence level is typical of other dark fantasies.
You can find Jocelyn’s Melhara many places, such as Amazon. It is a good story.
Jocelyn is new to the Write Group. She had already written Melhara before joining us and self-published her book, on her own, while she participated in our writing club. She suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) and this condition plays deeply in the themes of her book. She is currently working on the sequel to Melhara as well as other works, including a story, loosely autobiographical, about a woman with MS. During Melhara‘s launch, Jocelyn donated part of the sales of her novel to the Jayman BUILT MS Walk in Edmonton, Alberta.
I had the honour to interview Jocelyn about her book and writing. In addition, she asked me to include her interviews with Bella Online and Bookworm Review, which never made it to publication. This is an excerpt of what Jocelyn had to say. You can read the complete interview here and buy Melhara at Amazon.
JT: Jocelyn Tollefson
BO: Bella Online
BR: Bookworm Review
SU: Shawn Urban (The Write Group)
SU: Congratulations, Jocelyn, on the writing and publication of your first book, Melhara.
JT: Thank you Shawn.
SU: Share some things about yourself. Who are you?
JT: I’m a writer (and now an author), a home reno addict and have been a single mom for six years. I love reading, writing, drawing and painting as well as other craft projects like furniture restoration, building shelves, and making jewelry. I love camping and playing slo-pitch. I don’t drink beer ever but I like vodka. I hate the cold winter months but tolerate it. Come January/February every year I long for summer to come back or an escape to a tropical destination but convince myself it’s only a few more months.
BO: Can you tell me a little about your latest book?
JT: Melhara will be my first published novel. The story follows one woman’s journey into darkness as she battles her demons, struggles against destiny and creating her own path. Kyra Parker is a wife, mother, career woman and hiding the fact that she is also a witch. She has been avoiding her abilities and second guessing her reality since childhood. She can no longer hide from her destiny when the demon from her nightmares catches her and she is left with no alternative but to join him.
BO: What inspired this story?
JT: Sometime after my son was born I started to have this recurring dream about being held captive and fighting demons. (Do you ever have those dreams where you can control your thoughts and actions or are aware you are dreaming so you try to will your way through the plot? I do, quite often.) No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t escape. The dream kept repeating over the years with different variations and eventually I became annoyed enough to write it out and change the loop of defeat. It sat for years as I added to it until it became half a story then I decided to really work on it and turn it into a complete story. After three years of working on it weekly, Melhara was born.
SU: What did you want to share with Melhara? Did you have a message in mind when you wrote [it]?
JT: I started out with wanting to share the different types of love we all experience in different relationships. The dynamic between friends, husband, mother, sister, and child, and how they can be a strength and a weakness at the same time ended up being part of the primary theme focused on love, sacrifice, compassion and self-doubt.
The prominent theme or message in Melhara overtook the plot with a subtle or hidden message that holding back your talents or denying who you are meant to be will keep you from your destiny and keep you from being happy.
BR: What are some of the values you want your fans to take away from your novels?
JT: Embrace who you are and don’t fight fate. When you change your outlook on life to see there are other ways to live and paths to take, you can embrace the opportunity to learn and grow in to something more. Sometimes you overlook your destiny because you are focused on the picture in your head of the dream life you think you want and overlook the things that would actually make you happy and feel complete.
Or maybe that’s too much and I just want readers to be able to identify with characters or at least understand their motivations as they pick out their favorites and enjoy the story as they step out of their lives and into a different world.
SU: What is your favourite part of Melhara?
JT: Either the moment when Kyra is turned into a dark witch or … I can’t say without giving away too much of the plot but you’ll know it when you read that part as it will probably be one of your favorite moments too.
BO: What is your favorite part of the book?
JT: My favorite parts of Melhara involve Kyra’s conflict with the character Celista; she’s devious and delightful to write.
SU: What does Melhara mean?
JT: The word Melhara is actually a combination of two words, Melarki and Sahhara, from two different languages (Saharki is the name of another creature in the world of Melhara). One [Maltese Sahhara] means witch and the other [Irish Melarki] means angel.
SU: Who is your favourite character in Melhara?
JT: The favorite character question is one I like to ask my readers after they have finished the book. I find it interesting that everyone has different favorites. My favorite character is Celista. (She’s one of the “bad guys”.) I’ve noticed that in most movies and books my favorite characters usually tend to be the bad girls — I mean who doesn’t like Harley Quinn, Cat woman, Mystique and Jean Grey when she’s the phoenix, Angelina’s Maleficent, Queen Ravenna from Snow White and the Huntsman, or Mother Malkin from Seventh Son? I could write a list a mile long with all the female villains I love …
BR: When did you first discover speculative fiction and how did it affect you?
JT: Oh, wow — the answer to this question could actually date back to before I knew what fiction was and my mother would read bedtime stories to me. But the speculative fiction stories that I really started to notice, and actively sought out to find and read more, were stories I read in middle school from R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike.
I fell in love with witches, vampires and other stories filled with supernatural creatures. I love the way a book can transport you to alternate reality and fully submerge you into that world. There are many nights I can’t put my book down and stay up too late, telling myself, ‘just one more chapter’ until I can’t fight my eyes drifting shut any longer.
It’s exciting when the imagination and creativity that go into world creation and character development bring everything to life and make you feel like you are a part of that world and actually connect with the characters and feel like you know them.
BR: What is the hardest part of writing speculative fiction? How do you cope with that?
JT: I found the hardest part of writing this type of story is showing vs. telling how the rules of magic work and how each character has a set unique powers, as well as the magical elements they share.
Several revisions and rewrites helped to make the scenes stronger and clearer for the readers. I had a lot of feedback from my beta readers and editors that helped improve any sections where the readers felt confused or unsure of the magic being used. It is important that they know who has the ability to use what powers as the witches each have a different elemental power but share the rest of the other active and passive powers. Then of course, different types of demons and angels also have another set of magical attributes and limitations so it doesn’t work well if it’s confusing.
SU: Who has been the biggest influence on your life and/or your writing? What lessons did that person teach you?
JT: I think everyone that we share our lives with influences us in different ways, some more than others. So obviously my rambunctious 8 year old son has been the major influence in my life and the inspiration for the child character in my book. Although, my son has the opposite personality from the child in my novel but I did use some of the things he says in the dialogue for the character.
J.K. Rowling is amazing, not only as an author but as a woman. She’s brilliant and beautiful, witty and charming and speaks her mind. She’s a powerful figure but remains down to earth and has a good heart. I watched a movie/documentary based about her life and felt really inspired by her story.
BR: What are you working on now?
JT: For fantasy, I’m working on the sequel to Melhara, where Kyra’s powers continue to grow and her journey forces her to face new demons as she struggles with her guilt and fear. The outline for the next two books has been done for a while but I only have about 10,000 words written for the second book so far.
I’m also working on outlining a different fiction series about a girl growing into her own while living with MS (multiple sclerosis). It is going to be loosely based on my life and the challenges I’ve had with relationships, career, my son, and depression, but written in first person with each book haven’t a different focus in the theme. Still a fiction story meant to move people and inspire them — not a biography.
SU: What are you working on now?
JT: The sequels to Melhara are my writing focus right now. The adventure will expand into the other planes of existence and Kyra’s inner turmoil of the damage she has done. The secondary characters will get a lot more in-depth exploration as they fight to deal with the after effects from the first novel and we will learn more about Lilith and Celista’s backstory.
BR: What are your professional and/or personal goals for the next decade?
JT: Professionally, I have five more books in my head plus a bunch of short stories I would like to write and have published. I’m going to keep learning and improve my writing skills. By the time a decade has passed I hope to be a full-time author with at least one best-seller on my resume.
Personally, as a mom living with MS (multiple sclerosis) for 10 years, I want to help find the actual cause and a cure in any way I can. Which is why I started a promotion to donate $1 from every sale of my book (eBook and Paper copies) from February 1st 2017, to March 9th 2017, to the MS Society of Canada through the Jayman BUILT MS Walk in Edmonton, Alberta. I’ve taken part in the MS Walk for years. I missed the last two because I had a rough couple of years fighting my illness and trying to stay in the work force by managing day by day. We all wear many labels: wife, mother, career woman, housekeeper, cook, dog walker, sick person, etc, and juggle to balance our lives, but sometimes I can only manage one or two at a time which can be a disappointing challenge that leaves me feeling guilty for not being able to be the energetic mother that I want to be. I’ve met so many other people that deal with this illness through support groups and fundraising efforts — all with different stories of struggles and triumphs.
I would also love to move somewhere tropical where the sun shines most of the time, fruit and vegetables grow in your backyard all year round. I have lived in Alberta, Canada, my entire life with the -20 Celsius (that’s -4 Fahrenheit) winters and wouldn’t cry if I never seen that cold again. Mind you, the entire winter is not always that bad and there are sunny days with that temperature but there are too many cold days like that for me. Sometimes the cold is even worse or the wind chill turns it in to -60, so basically, if you are outside for any length of time or your car breaks down, you’ll die. Just kidding — well, kind of.
SU: You are donating a portion of your sales of Melhara to the MS Society of Canada. Would you like to comment on your sponsorship of this great cause?
JT: This year is my 10th anniversary since I was diagnosed with MS when I was 24 so I wanted to do something special to acknowledge the milestone. I’ve always done fundraising the traditional way of just telling people that I am taking part in the Jayman BUILT MS Walk – Edmonton and asking them to donate/sponsor me — and I still will — but this [book sales] idea is a unique way to spread the word about MS and raise extra money.
SU: How can readers contact you or learn more about your books? Where can they read some of this story or other pieces of your work?
JT: My author website www.JocelynTollefson.com is a great first stop. It has everything all in one place and links to get to other sources of information.
Anyone can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook or Twitter. Or send me an email through the link on my website. I have a Goodreads author profile, a Facebook author page and Facebook Melhara page, and have recently joined the world of Twitter.
BO: Where can people find Melhara?
JT: Melhara is available now at:
SU: Thank you, Jocelyn, for sharing your first story with us and agreeing to be interviewed. I hope your work inspires others in their lives and writing.
Continue to read more of this interview at Stefras’ Drive.
To learn more about Melhara and Jocelyn, visit Jocelyn’s website and her Write Group member page. You can follow her on Twitter at @melhara2017.