halloween fun

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays; second only to Christmas.  It’s the time of year that is so much fun!  Not because of spooky, scary things, but because it’s the universal Cos-Play!  I love watching all the kids (and adults) dressed up in their costumes.  Fairies, super heroes, princesses, knights, show characters, hobos, robots, cars, animals – you name it!  There’s a costume for it.  Some are store bought, some are homemade.  It doesn’t matter. They’re all fun!  My grandchildren use their costumes all year long; playing dress up and acting out (their idea) scenes of what they think their character would do.  It’s so much fun watching Mario interact with Mr. Potato Head!

Annese Does It Again Cover


With monsters being the season, it’s the perfect time to release Asteria: Annese Does It Again!  The adventure falls right in with the time of year.  The adventure brings danger, monsters, traps, and tension to the forefront of the season.  Annese Does It Again will be released October 30th on Amazon and Ingram Spark.  Be sure to ask your local bookstore to order a copy for you.

Want some activities to go along with the story?   Check out the Educator page on my website.

Keep an eye on my website, janmhill.com, for all the latest news about Asteria.  We’ll have a new trailer up soon for Annese Does It Again.

    Reading is fundamental, that we know.  It’s important as a skill because it is in every aspect of life.  From reading for fun to knowing what a contract says, a person needs to know how to read.  So how do you get children interested in reading, especially when videos and games are flooding the market?  The answer:  You start early, then continue reading with them as they grow.

    I spend many Saturday nights reading to my grandsons over the internet.  We get on Hangouts for about an hour, catch up on their week, then I’ll read two stories: one for the younger one, and one for the older one.  The boys love Storytime with Nana!


Where's Spot?

     Most toddler’s first experience with books is either board books of one word with a picture or nursery rhymes.  But there are so many others!  The Spot series by Eric Hill is a board book with hidden flaps to make readers think ahead.  Toddlers love Spot and can relate to him throughout the books. 

     The Little Blue Truck series by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry is another series of short, easy stories that toddler love!  The blue truck is friends with a variety of farm animals that have some fun adventures, each reinforcing friendship.

Little Blue Truck

4 to 7 years

     As children move up into the beginning reader stage, there is a wide variety of books available.  From Dr. Suess Beginning Readers through actual school readers, children can find some fun series. 

Berenstain Bears

     San Berenstain’s Berenstain Bears Series is still a number one best seller for this age group.  Filled with fun adventures, relatable characters, and things to learn, these books go from very simple beginning readers to a more advanced level for 8- and 9-year-olds.

     The How To Catch series by Andy Elkerton is also great for this age group.  It’s a wonderful beginning reader/picture book combo.

How To Catch A Unicorn

7 to 9 years

     By the time children are 7 or 8 years old, they’ve entered the Chapter Book phase.*  This is where they also develop what genres they like to read, but their reading skills are still developing and their attention span isn’t ready for long books.  These books are great for family reading time before bed.  The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne and The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Warner are still some of the best-selling series for children at this age.  The stories are adventurous, the characters are relatable, and the plotline is set for just this age group.

Magic Treehouse
Boxcar Children

     *NOTE:  Have a child who doesn’t want to read?  I did. He had trouble sounding out words, and didn’t like pages of lined with them.  Try switching to comics and graphic novels.  Books like Primer by Thomas Krazewski and Sonic the Hedgehog by Ian Flynn are perfect to grab a child’s attention, and Artemis Fowl Graphic Novel by Eoin Colfer will help the 9-10 readers improve their reading skills.

Sonic the Hedgehog
Artemis Fowl

8 to 11 years

     By the time children have reached the 9 to 10 age, they’re ready for some real meat in their books.  Imaginations are thriving, reading skills have improved, and they are just starting to analyze what they’re reading.  They’re starting to think like teenagers rather than children.  This “tween” stage is important.  It’s a good time to read a book with your child and discuss what is going on.  Makes for great conversations.  (My son wanted to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  I didn’t know what it was about, so I read it with him.)

Last Kids on Earth
Animorphs 1

     Books like The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier, Animorphs by K.A. Applegate (yes, it’s on the rise again), and The Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson are chosen the top of the list by this age group, although girls might prefer Emily Windsnap series by Liz Kessler, The Secret Lake by Karen Inglis, or Pippa Park by Erin Yun.  Yes, this is the age where boys and girls often like to read different themes.

6th Grade Ninja/Emily Windsnap
Secret Lake/Pippa Park


     Between 10 and 12, youth often prefer moving into novels.  These are just as entertaining, but they’re longer and deeper.  Think The Magic School Bus meets Lord of the Rings. Many children, particularly boys, will stay in the shorter chapter phase, which is fine.  Girls tend to lean towards novel length books faster than boys do.  Genres become more defined at this stage as well.  Books like Wings of Fire by Tui Sutherland, The Lost Wonderland Diaries by J. Scott Savage, and Asteria: The Discovery by Jan M. Hill are all part of this age bracket.  Yes, I had to plug my own book!

Wings of Fire
Lost Wonderfland Diaries
Asteria: The Discovery

     Don’t stop reading there.  By the time readers hit 14, they’re ready for Young Adult and New Adult books.  The books will get more interesting for you as a parent as well.  At any rate, keep reading!  Whether for knowledge or fun, reading is a never-dying art.

Sign up for my Newsletter to stay up to date with all thing Asteria.  There’s some exciting news coming soon.

Milky Way Galaxy

    As almost everyone has heard by now, Billionaire Richard Branson held his first test flight of his space plane this week.  The trip was a huge success with the plane taking off, separating from its flight engines, rocketing to the space/atmosphere line, and landing back in the New Mexico desert.  This flight showed them the earth from a spacial view as well let them experience weightlessness.  While it is a great accomplishment, years in the making, it only shows a small amount of the Milky Way Galaxy that we belong to.  

     What is it about space that sparks human imagination?  Going all the way back to 1609, with Galileo’s telescope, outer space has fascinated man.  We have entire organizations that study it.  For instance, the US organized National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA)  in 1958.  We know about solar systems, like ours, and galaxies, like Andromeda.  The War of the Worlds, a 1938 radio drama, sparked huge panic with the concept that aliens from another planet were invading Earth.  However, for most people our space knowledge comes from what we learn in school, which is minimal.  

Andromeda Galaxy

     TV took off on this topic.  Star Trek, the 1966-69 series, inspired fans and inventors alike.  Klingons, Vulcans, and Romulans suddenly became famous as well as many other extraterrestrials that were represented.  Even when the series ended, the ideas continued in movies, books, and other TV shows.  Reality:  The human race wants to meet aliens from other planets!  Did you know there are over 100 billion planets in our galaxy alone!  Discover magazine reported the Hubble telescope has helped to view around 100 billion galaxies in the universe.  And wonderopolis.org reports there are as many as 40 billion Earth-like planets orbiting other suns in other galaxies!  Who’s to say there aren’t other planets inhabited by other Earthlings?

     The human race takes it even further in writing, cosplays, and videos.  For example, Dr. Who has become the epitome (author’s opinion) of space and time travel.  He meets humans in different time periods, aliens on different planets, people that look and act human, but aren’t, and many other creatures (Daleks, for example) that are both aggressive and friendly.  Go to any cosplay meeting and there will be at least one person dressed as Dr. Who (pick a season).  And we, as creators, have the tendancy to put human personalities into these alien creatures.  Some of the instruments created by the writers have led into common tools we use now, like cell phones (yes, inspired by the communicators on Star Trek).  I read somewhere that the medical field is trying to reproduce Dr. Crusher’s little diagnostic tool.

     Whether or not we believe in aliens, we have to agree the concept makes for some great science fiction. Much like fantasy, space is a never-ending resource for the imagination.

     What’s your take on the space race?  Do we belong in space?  Do you believe in aliens?  Would you be willing to pay $250,000 for a trip into space on Branson’s space plane?  Or do you like to keep your feet on the ground?  As much as I love learning about our universe, I’ll keep my space exploration in between the cover of a book.


The Secret of the Realms



     The second book of The Keeper Archives is being released August 10, 2021.  I’m always looking for new reading, and this one promises to be an exciting adventure.

    The Kingdom of Rastella teeters on the brink of disaster as Ajax is desperate to rescue his friends who have been captured by a paranoid king driven by fear. With danger mounting and new enemies appearing, time is running out for Ajax and his friends. Ajax’s developing power might be the key to saving the kingdom, but can he wield it in order to save those he holds most dear, or will his own magic become his undoing?

          You can find this on Amazon, or preorder it here.

enter to win an autographed copy

Giveaway ends friday, july 18th.

Last chance to enter my Goodreads Giveaway!  Enter to win a personalized, autographed copy of Asteria: The Discovery!  All it takes is a Goodreads account and a button click!


Enter Giveaway Here

Asteria Cover

     As a writer, I’m constantly looking at settings and exploring scenes. What kind of story can I fit into this scene? Will this setting fit the storyline I’m working on?  Can I use this scene anywhere in a story?

Scene Exploration: Bridal Veil Falls




   For example: last week my sweet daughter-in-law took my mother and me to see Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon. I had been there once before when the water was gushing much faster and fuller than it was this time. Utah had been going through a drought, and it showed in the water levels. Still, I thought of several scenarios with this waterfall. A ledge and a cave hidden by the falls (pretty standard). A water dragon that lives in the falls and comes out to scare away intruders. A city whose water supply comes from the falls. An evil wizard’s tower at the top, beyond view of the uppermost fall.


     I enjoyed the Rocky Mountains surrounding Salt Lake Valley a great deal. As I looked at them one night, I could see a dragon flying overhead in my mind. A quest party rising to meet the Yeti in the high cave. Priceless gems hidden beneath a rock above a ledge near the top. A hole that opens up on an unsuspecting hiker and drops him into an unknown world below the mountains. An alien city nestled in the small valley between mountains.

Scene Exploration: Provo Canyon Mountains
Scene Exploration: Secret Garden Tunnel



     Here’s another example. This is the Secret Garden tunnel at Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, UT. What kind of adventure could this lead to? Give me a few minutes staring at this, and I could probably come up with four to six new scenes. How about you?

     This entire (hidden) exercise led me to looking at a book on fantasy mapping this morning. It’s the kind of book that shows you how to draw a map for your game, story, or quest. That got me thinking of other things. Mountains, waterfalls, valleys, plains. Our world comprises so many environments that adventure could be anywhere! I grew up on the Jersey Shore. I love the ocean. Growing up, I often thought about mermaids, whales, talking fish, and being friends with a dolphin. Our environment—mountainous, plains, oceanic, urban, whatever – is often the same one used in our writing, but it doesn’t have to be.

     Look around you. Can you come up with small scenes of adventure where you are? I would love to hear some of them.

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    Finding inspiration for your tale’s location can be tricky.  It’s not always easy to find the exact location that screams, “This is the place!”  Traveling to find the right location can be fun, but it can also be grueling.  Rushing around to see all the usual sites becomes tiring.  The throngs of people make it crowded.   By the time you’re done, you need a vacation from your vacation.

    What if you could travel, see some great sites, and get inspiration for backdrops to your latest book, video, or table top gaming quest?  There are some great locations around the world that fit this description. 

    New Zealand is a phenomenal vacation site with plenty of inspiration (See Te Henga Beach above).  The filming locations of Xena, Hercules, Lord of the Rings, The Wilds, Chronicle of Narnia, Wolverine, and many other movies and shows are located all over the island.  Beautiful locations such as Waikato, Matamata (Home to Hobbiton, left) and Mount Ngauruhoe* (Lord of the Rings Mount Doom, right) are wonderful places to explore for inspiration.

Hobbit Hole
Hobbiton, New Zealand
Mount Doom
Mount Ngauruhoe, New Zealand

    Looking for more medieval locations?  Castles and shires are the locations to visit for inspiration.  Are you a castle buff?  England, Germany, France, and Austria are just a few of the locations you’ll find plenty of castles.  You could make an entire vacation just visiting the castles.

Perhaps you’d like a tour of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England (Harry Potter, Downtown Abbey).   

Alnwich Castle

Trim Castle (Braveheart), in Meath, Ireland, is a rugged backdrop for a medieval scene.  This Celtic castle has stood the tests of time.

    A more modern location could be Torenhof Castle(Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, left) in Brasschaat, Belgium. There is also Neuschwanstein Castle (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), also in Belgium, that lends a 19th century fantasy feel to the area.

Torenhof Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle

 Chateau de Hautefort (Ever After) in Hautefort, France, lends a fantasy-like location to the lives of kings and queens.   The grounds and gardens are beautifully done.  Also check out Chateau de Fenelon and Chateau de Losse, also used for filming Ever After.

Looking for more inspiration or travel sites?  Stay tuned to our next blog where we’ll continue our search for just the right locations.


*Photo by Guillaume Piolle