I’m excited to continue this year on the CRAFT OF WRITING blog by focusing on authors who write series. This month, we welcome back my good friend, Steve Hooley, physician, craftsman, and author of the Mad River Magic fantasy series.


Again this month, we’re doing something fun for this interview. The name of each person who enters a comment will be put into the drawing for one of Steve’s hand-crafted pens made from wood that was around before the Civil War, so join the conversation and earn a chance to win.

(Because of the expense to mail internationally, only people with mailing addresses within the United States are eligible to win. Former winners are excluded from the drawing.)

I’ll post the name of the winner in the comments tonight around 9 PM CDT, so don’t forget to stop by to see if you won!



Here’s a look at Steve’s Mad River Magic fantasy series::


Win a chance for a handcrafted pen when you visit the Craft of Writing blog! Click To Tweet


Welcome back, Steve, to the Craft of Writing blog and thank you for joining us!

Thanks for inviting me, Kay. It’s good to be back.


Give us a little background. When did you first start writing?

I got a taste of the fun of fiction in high school, when we had a new English teacher, created a ghost student, and turned in assignments that pushed the limits of acceptability. It was great fun hearing her read the stories and entertain the class.

I got truly serious about writing in 2009, when my father was turning 90, had dementia, and had an unedited copy of his memoirs that had not been published. I spent that summer editing and organizing his book, self-published it, and presented a box of his books to him on his birthday. He didn’t understand what was happening, but the joy on his face as he autographed his books was priceless.

That hooked me on writing, and I began taking correspondence courses, reading every craft book I could get my hands on, and attending writer’s conferences.


This year we’re concentrating on writing series, and I know a little of the history of your work. Please share why you decided to write the series.

I had two unpublished books (adult thrillers). A small press had accepted the first book, then went bankrupt before it was published. I found an agent, who promptly forgot me. I had been following The Kill Zone, and decided it was time to go indie. I also realized that what I wanted to do was write for my grandchildren. The oldest were just starting school and kindergarten. I thought I would aim for 6-10 books and write middle-grade fantasy, hoping to have the series finished by the time my grandchildren were old enough to enjoy them.


Can you give us an overall description of the series?

The Mad River Magic series is “clean teen” fantasy, set in rural western Ohio, where I live. Each story is set in a different fantasy “organ system” (heart, skin, DNA, skeletal, immune system, etc.). Seven to nine cousins fly magic barrel carts (55-gallon oil drums with “turbo-levitators”), practice magic based on the Shawnee language (the Native Americans who lived in this area), and set out on missions to solve problems that are destroying the Mad River Valley.


There are six published books in the Mad River Magic series. How do you keep the series fresh, book after book?

Using different organ systems with each book means that the gang will have a new fantasy world to explore with each book. The number of grandchildren has grown as I’ve written, and each book has a different group of cousins going on the adventure to create different personality dynamics. Each book has a new major ally that is crucial in their survival and success. And the books are full of hidden symbolism for older readers who care to look for it.


How do you handle the situation where a reader jumps into the middle of a series without reading the first book or two?

That is a significant problem with so many cousins in the stories. I had asked the experts at The Kill Zone for their opinion of a “series update” – a chapter or a section of the appendix with a summary and background. The overall consensus was, “Don’t do it.” But with my last book, Perfect Strand, I lost a beta reader because of her frustration. I decided to depend on my own judgement, and added a section in the appendix with a description of each cousin, the family tree, and a tease about each of the previous books. I placed a very brief Preface as chapter one, letting readers know that a series update was available in the appendix, then got out of their way. I still introduce each cousin, when they appear in the story with a brief summary and background.


The latest book in the series is Perfect Strand. Give us an idea of what this book is about.

The theme is the Covid “religion.” An ancient wizard, Vid, at the end of the dark ages, learns that he can pass traits from one generation of dragon flies to the next with his primitive genetic experiments. He determines to pass his genetic code into the future and become immortal by freezing dragonfly larvae and storing them from 1313 to 2020 high in the Transylvania mountains, ready to be unleashed on the world by his descendant, Vid VII.

The Mad River Magic cousins become involved when mammoth Nautilus shells begin popping up in the Mad River Valley, each shell filled with prisoners who have been captured to further spread Vid’s genetic code. When Scout, member of the Mad River Magic group, is captured, the gang goes into action.


How far do you intend to take the series?

My next book, based on the underground world of Central American fentanyl trafficking, may be my last book of the series. I am eager to start an adult thriller series that has captured my imagination.


What advice would you give an author who’s considering writing a series?

First, make certain that is something you are really passionate about and will hold your interest for years. Look for an arc for the whole series that will hold it together, but still give you freedom to keep introducing new elements. Don’t make the mistake I did of having too many characters to confuse the reader. Consider a “series update” in the appendix, announced with a very brief note at the beginning. And use the brief description of each book as a tease to interest readers in going back and reading earlier books. Consider who your beta readers will be. I have found that it is very difficult to get teenagers to find the time to beta read, when they are involved in sports and other after-school activities. Also, consider giving away a novella or short story, that introduces and gives some of the history of the main character. This can be delivered free by BookFunnel.


Tell us more about you. What interests do you have outside of writing?

I have always been intrigued by the inventive process, working with woodworking, landscape design, graphic design, house design, and finally writing. My current interests are writing, woodturning (legacy pens), and caring for my wood lot – my enchanted forest.


Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My website is – – where you can learn more about my books, and see some of the legacy pens I have made from historical wood and offer for sale.

If you sign up for my newsletter, you can get a free novella, Bolt’s Story, that is a prequel to the Mad River Magic series.


Thank you, Steve, for being with us today.

Thanks for inviting me!

Win a chance for a handcrafted pen when you visit the Craft of Writing blog! Click To Tweet



Steve Hooley is a physician/writer. He has published seven short stories in four anthologies, his father’s memoirs, and is currently working on a middle-grade fantasy series, Mad River Magic. Each of the six books in the series finds a group of young cousins in a new adventure. The books are:

THE HEMLOCK, a middle-grade fantasy set in rural Western Ohio. THE TETRA-CHROME SPIRAL-SKYWAY is set in a giant DNA molecule above the Mad River Valley. CRYPTOFLUX CALCIUM CAPER takes place in a large cavern along the Mad River Valley. HEART BRAIN 180 plays out in a giant circulatory system inhabited by giant chess pieces and playing cards. UNITED WE STAND, DUDE! takes place in the skin and subcutaneous world. PERFECT STRAND is set in a giant Nautilus shell and is centered around the Vid religion.

Steve’s other works include entries in the anthologies OUT OF THE STORM, DANCING UP A STORM, and FAITH LIKE A MUSTARD SEED.

He also contributed to CHILDHOOD REGAINED, a charity anthology to raise money for and awareness of child labor in Asia.

Steve lives with his wife, Cindy, in rural western Ohio. They have five children and nine grandchildren. When not writing, he makes legacy pens and takes care of his enchanted forest. To learn more, please visit


  • Sounds like a great series. I think my daughter would enjoy it.

    • Thanks, Caren, for stopping by. If your daughter is new to the series, you might sign up for my newsletter and find the link for a free prequel – Bolt’s Story. It gives the main character’s background, and is a good way to step into the series. Or, here’s the link for a free copy at BookFunnel – – Just copy and paste it into your URL address bar. Thanks for your interest!

    • Good morning, Caren, and thanks for stopping by. Like Steve said, “Bolt’s Story” is a compelling account of the main character and a good entry into the whole series. I hope your daughter likes it.

  • fascinating…thanks for sharing the stories!

    • Thanks, Jan. And thanks for stopping by! See the reply above for Caren’s comment and the BookFunnel link if you would like to get a free look at the main character.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jan. Don’t forget to drop by after 9:00 pm CDT tonight to see who won the pen.

  • debbieburkewriter

    Morning, Kay and Steve,

    What a wonderful, touching story about your dad, Steve. Using his writing, you reached through the fog of dementia and were still able to connect with him.

    Fentanyl is quite a change of pace. I look forward to your new book. Each one is more exciting and adventurous than the last.

    • Good morning, Debbie! I also love the story of Steve’s finishing and publishing his dad’s memoirs. A gift not only to his father but all his father’s descendants.

  • Good morning, Debbie

    It sure is good to see you here! And thanks for your comment. I started out on the journey of Dad’s book as a sort of responsibility, being the oldest child. He had given away the computer on which the manuscript was written, and there was no back-up. He had handed out unedited print copies to his five children. Only two of those still existed. I twisted the arm of my daughter to type the unedited manuscript into an up-to-date Word file, then spent the summer editing. Commas had grown in the manuscript like weeds in a garden. When I gave my dad a box of his books on his 90th birthday, his response really turned up the flame of my interest in writing. Sorry for the long version.

    The fentanyl story has grown out of my desire to warn my grandchildren. I know, don’t preach. But fentanyl is dangerous enough that we MUST preach. I think we’ll still keep the story interesting. Just a tease: The Chinese and the Mexican cartels enter a partnership with their new secret weapon, a giant tunnel digger, “The Badger.”

    Thanks for your interest and support, Debbie!

    • Steve, Thank you for using one of your books to point out the dangers of fentanyl. It’s a real-life monster.

      • Thanks, Kay. We’re told not to preach, but some of the classics (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc.) have issues that need to be addressed woven into the background of the story.

  • Good interview. Mad River Magic sounds like a fun series. I’m sure teens love it!

  • Very interesting interview. What a fun gift Steve’s leaving for his grandchildren. I always had fun adventures with my cousins.

    • Thanks, Teresa. It has been fun writing the series. One of the most interesting comments I heard from a granddaughter was her surprise when she saw the books for sale in a local store. I think she thought I had written the books and only printed enough for the cousins. I hope the grandchildren discover the books, read them, and find some of the hidden symbolism.

    • Thanks, Teresa. It has been fun writing for my grandchildren. One of the most interesting comments I heard, was the surprise a granddaughter expressed when she found the books in a local store. She apparently thought I had written the books and printed only enough copies for the cousins.

    • Good morning, Teresa! It’s good to see you here. It’s a great gift Steve is giving to his grandchildren.

      I also had great fun with my cousins growing up. As a matter of fact, I’m writing a blog post for the Kill Zone blog that reminisces about one of them. I hope to post it later this month or in June.

  • Your books look great. Woodworking my husband is always making something, but this pen looks really awesome. Thanks for a chance to win..

    • Thank you for stopping by, Tina, and good luck! Stop back after 9 PM CDT. I post the winner in the comments then.

    • Thanks, Tina. And good luck in the drawing. When a woodworker begins working on a lathe, it becomes addictive. Thanks for stopping by.

  • I have to agree with your decision to use the preface as a mechanism to let readers know about the series update in the appendix. I would do the same as I find it frustrating not to know the background if appears in another book
    You mentioned using “magic based on the Shawnee language.” Did you have to take “sensitivity” measures in how you used this device within the story? I ask because I’ve been commissioned to ghostwrite a fiction work in which one of the characters is First Nation.

    • Thanks, Rachel, for confirming the wisdom of a series update in the appendix, and letting them know that it is there up front.

      I didn’t take sensitivity training for the Shawnee language or magic. I did use a dictionary written by the wife of a Shawnee descendant to create the magic spells, and I gave the couple my books. I never heard any complaints. Plus, the great “Wizard” lived with and learned from the Shawnee, the source of great knowledge. In other words, the wisdom of the Shawnee was greatly respected.

    • Hi Rachel. It’s good to see you here on the Craft of Writing blog!

      Your new assignment to ghostwrite a book sounds fascinating. Best wishes with it, and please let us know when it will be released.

      (And don’t forget to check back tonight to see who won the pen!)

  • Sounds interesting.

  • Good morning, Steve & Kay! Steve, please let me thank you personally for the beautiful pen I won last month. It has a place of honor (and use) with the journal I keep on the desk in my study. Among other favorite things that make me happy. Your story about publishing your dad’s writings reminded me of my great uncle, Pat Simonds. I indie published a collection of his poetry – he had published for years in the local newspaper in Burleson, TX. The joy he got from holding book signings and selling copies to his friends and followers was priceless. He was the one who encouraged me greatly in my own writing, to carry on the dream. I still have a manuscript he wrote about his rowdy brothers titled Pity Them with Envy. Many thanks for your interview today. I look forward to reading your work!

    • Wow, Lisa, that’s a neat story about your great uncle. It’s really an honor to help a relative get their writing into a book. And you understand the joy of seeing the writer holding their book you had a part in producing.

      I like to talk about “Leaving a Legacy.” I think we writers should encourage young writers to help their elderly relatives get their stories and wisdom into written form. Many generations would love to learn about their ancestry.

      And thanks for sharing how you are using your pen. I should mention that I make “custom” pens. Send me your “legacy wood,” and we’ll make a pen from it. Contact me by email for more details.


      • Steve, thanks for letting me know about how you’ll use legacy wood to make a pen. I’ll give that some thought. Thank you again for sharing!

    • Hello Lisa! Thanks for the story of your great uncle. What a great honor you did by indie-publishing his poetry! It is so important to get the words of our elders out to the world.

      A couple of years ago I indie-published a book of meditations and scripture study by an elderly member of our congregation. Like Steve’s father, the PC she had created the documents on was long gone, so I only had the paper copies to work from, but it wasn’t that hard to get it all set up. My friend passed away earlier this year at the age of 95, but her words live on and her wisdom will touch future generations.

  • Dr. Steve Hooley is a new author to me, but I want to thank this blog for the introduction. I enjoyed reading all the comments.

  • Steve and I have been very good friends since he moved into the school district I attended in 8th grade. He did indeed have fun with our Junior year English teacher with the John Kauffman ghost writing. Steve, it’s been great watching you realize Maslowe’s Theory self-actualization phase of hierarchy of needs. It’s been enjoyable reading all the comments. Keep after it. Mark Bailey

    • Thanks, Mark, for stopping by. I noticed you didn’t mention some of the mischief we got into together. But, that would have been outside the realm of writing, and more in the realm of creating havoc in chemistry class. Oh, the memories. Thanks for your support for my writing and for your participation in Kay’s blog. Good luck in the drawing!

    • Hi Mark. Thank you for stopping by. Steve has told us about the “ghost writing” you all did in high school. What a clever bunch you must have been! Don’t forget to stop back tonight when I post the name of the winner.

  • Interesting blog. Hoping to see the new series for adults also.

    • Thanks, Sue. I’m sure Kay will help me get the word out when I start on that series.

    • Trying again.
      Thanks, Sue. I’m sure Kay will help me get the word out when I start that series.

    • Good afternoon, Sue. Thank you for stopping by the blog today. I’m also looking forward to Steve’s next effort. Knowing his inclination for excellence, I know it will be great.

  • Sorry if this is a duplicate. Nothing showed up for the comment I wrote.

  • I’m looking forward to my great-grands getting old enough to read your books! And I’m so glad you were able to present your dad his book on his birthday! And please, preach on about the dangers of fentanyl!

    • Thanks, Patricia! It’s good to see you here at Kay’s blog. Thanks for your interest in the Mad River Magic series. And on the fentanyl, yes, we don’t need to preach, but we can show the devastation fentanyl has wreaked on a generation of Americans in the context of our story.

    • Good afternoon, Patricia! I’m with you — please get the truth out about the disaster called fentanyl.

  • So much to comment on! Almost at a loss for where to start. So in no particular order:

    * I _love_ the notion of fantasy organ systems as a story setting.
    * Also _love_ the notion of tying in society’s real problems today with the story (child trafficking, fentanyl, etc.)
    * Got moist-eyed at the story of your dad. I had a family history my mom had written, but she died before I could finish editing it. (Funny aside–when I looked through the pages and said, “Mom, I love this–may I edit it for you?” she got furious and retorted “You ain’t even looked at it yet–what do you think is wrong with it?”) At least your dad got the idea that he was being honored!
    * Already visited your site to get the prequel. I have three granddaughters of reading age; one’s still a bit young for this, but the middle one should be just right for this idea. Right now she’s reading all dystopian urban fantasy. This should make for a nice change.
    * Back in the days when I wrote fanfic, I once said in the introduction to a story, “This is part three in a series. If you haven’t read the other two, you’re going to be completely lost.” I provided a heavily edited “summary of events to date,” but said, “you’re on your own.” One reader blasted me in the review for writing something incomprehensible. I told the reviewer she deserved what she got.
    * Headed back to your website now to see what else is out there. Thanks for visiting here!

    Mel Hughes

    • Good afternoon, Mel! It’s great to see you on the Craft of Writing blog. I know you’ll love “Bolt’s Story” as well as the other Mad River Magic offerings.

    • Thanks, Mel, for your interest and support. I hope your granddaughters enjoy the stories. I liked your story of your mom’s family history. Sometimes it’s hard to be an editor. That was one advantage I had; my dad already handed the manuscript out to family members, and he didn’t know what I was doing.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Thanks, Kay, for hosting me on your blog today!

  • Thanks for hosting me on your blog today, Kay.

  • Hi everyone. Thank you all for being here to share the conversation with Steve Hooley today. I just calculated the winner of Steve’s hand-crafted pen, and here’s how I did it:

    I listed all the people who commented today who were eligible to win, and gave each of them a number that corresponded with the order that they commented in. Here’s the list:

    1 Caren Luckie
    2 Jan
    3 Vera Day
    4 Teresa Haugh
    5 Tina Myers
    6 Rachel Hills
    7 Barbara Raymond
    8 Audrey Stewart
    9 Mark Bailey
    10 Sue
    11 P. T. Bradley
    12 mlktrout

    Then I ran a random integer generator to pick a number between 1 and 12. The number that came up was 3. Congratulations to Vera Day for winning the pen.

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