Thursday, March 22, 2018

Review: Fools in the Magic Kingdom by Michael Hartnett

Fools in the Magic Kingdom by Michael Hartnett is a captivating satire of true-to-life undercurrents of present day American culture. Metaphors abound, striking close to home. There is Walt Disney’s creation of a magic kingdom and a world of nations on Florida’s swampy terrain. Think of Shakespeare’s character Jaques who says in As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage.” and “One man in his time plays many parts.” With a past-her-prime actress and a gullible documentary filmmaker, remember Gilligan’s Island. Sprinkle in the budding romance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. From Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” add a full portion of invading green-skinned Martians (portrayed by Dreamers in green T-shirts) where Halloween is supplanted by April Fool’s Day.

Author Hartnett does a masterful job of creating a Chinese box, a play within a play. In fast-paced action, the reader follows three sets of well-developed characters who on one day enter Disney World for diverse purposes only to become embroiled in a rising tide of emotional and physical tension. Dare I refer to the tidal wave of Typhoon Lagoon? Readers exposed to character gullibility, racism and greed are led to understand, if not to endorse, resentment, confusion, and life’s perils within a satirical tale of an enticing culture created in a make-believe world. Haunting parallels exist to life in the United States where God is not replaced by a mouse and wrist bands need not be purchased for magic or enchantment.

His writing, interlaced with humor, is sharp and detailed, yet not excessive. One need not wait for a fast pass to enjoy the plot twists. He wraps the reader inside a cocoon of physical description and emotional reaching out. For example, the different nose colors of Chip ‘n’ Dale. Further examples of vivid metaphors include: “Marlene suckled on the sweet milk of distant memory.” And “… sky fell upon them like the clouds were equipped with Jacuzzi jets.”

Both the Disney World novice and veteran will enjoy experiencing the world of Author Hartnett. His world won’t be found in either the Burnham or Unofficial guide, and that is notable. His world’s journey is a tour where the question is not “We there yet?” but “What will happen next?”

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Real Life Character Building

Fiction novel writers never ignore characters. Characters live and
breathe as the heart and soul of every potential masterpiece.

How does the novelist get there?

Consider this perspective; they blend in the physical attributes of hair color, body build,
eye color etcetera, but, more important, they interview their characters to gain a
deeper understanding.

They ask each character in turn, digging to get as much information as possible:

1. What life experiences have you enjoyed?

2.  What physical things have you enjoyed, even loved?

3.  What experience or physical object liberated you?

4.  What ideas and held beliefs have you outgrown?

5.  What spiritual concepts have controlled your life?

6.  What secular ideas have guided your life?

7.  What physical or emotional risks have you taken?

8.  What dangers have you avoided or courted?

9.  What sufferings have helped you grow?

10. What people shaped or influenced you life? To what degree?

Donan Berg is the author of entertaining mystery and heartwarming romance. His 2016 romance,
One Paper Heart, won the Feathered Quill Gold Award First Place for Romance. His latest is a
romantic thriller, Alexa's Gold. Ask for both at your favorite book retailer.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Alexa's Gold Book Club Discussion Topics

Alexa’s Gold

Reading Group Questions

and Topics for Discussion

1.     Do you agree with Alexa’s response to her traumatic work-related assault? Has she tried to envision what lies ahead in her life or acted with an unhealthy disregard for reality? Is her attempt at societal isolation healthy or a character frailty? Is she courageous, foolhardy, naïve, or a complicated mixture of these and other human attributes?

2.     Belinda, Alexa’s work and social friend, is definitely a secondary character. Why is Belinda’s character integral to Alexa’s journey? Does the character of Belinda represent a personality trait or traits that may be absent or conspicuously missing from Alexa’s character?

3.     What significant conflicts exist between Alexa, her mother, or her grandparents that need resolution? Does Alexa recognize the different influences on her life? Does Alexa navigate her circumstances with aplomb or defeatism? When considering her mother and grandmother, is there a spiritual influence and, if so, how significant is it?

4.     Alexa’s Gold is in some ways a typical journey story in which a person travels to a new land, has adventures, and ends up with a new perspective. There is a search for grandpa’s hidden gold. Can “gold” be defined as something other than monetary coins? What new experience or perspective enlightens Alexa?

5.     Novels generally rely on four typical archetypes, to wit, protagonist or hero; monster as either a villainous person or evil force; Anima figure which is the opposite personality the protagonist must strive to be in alignment with; and helper who aids the protagonist or listens to the protagonist and in so doing lets us understand the protagonist. Alexa is obviously the protagonist. Where do the other characters fit in?

6.     Alexa often bemoans the fact that Attorney Brad Haberkorn doesn’t tell her everything or anything, especially when it comes to her grandmother’s will. Does Alexa have a legitimate gripe? How does this relationship tug-of-war speed or slow Alexa’s and Brad’s romance? How does her son Samuel fit in? What influence does grandma exert in selecting Brad to be her attorney or grandma’s earlier life advice to Alexa?

7.     Although cooks use recipes to reach the goal of successful creations, many psychologists differ on detailing guaranteed instructions on how to live life. Is Alexa’s chore to find grandma’s recipe clue to the stashed gold coins more than a practical treasure hunt? Is the recipe symbolic? Of what? Are there any symbols in Alexa’s story?

8.     In life, people often muddle along. Are there any lessons the characters in Alexa’s Gold did not learn, but should have?

9.     If we assume Alexa did not want to become a clone of her mother, what aspect of her mother did Alexa object to? Is either materialism or crude language an inherited or cultural influence?

10.  Alexa’s journey is both emotional and physical. Where does it end? Are there any solid clues in what we know from the story to date?

Alexa’s Gold is Donan Berg’s first novel after One Paper Heart, his 2016 winner of Feathered Quill’s Gold Award First Place for Romance. Read a free Alexa’s Gold sample at

Thursday, August 31, 2017


In life’s endeavors, emotion invades, surrounds the human psyche unnoticed, or bubbles up unexpectedly into an individual’s consciousness as it courses the body’s arteries, nerves, and muscles. Five volunteer workdays on an Appalachia Service Project (ASP) trip is an immersion into one hundred and twenty consecutive hours that includes necessary sleep, a miniscule time span when counting either earth revolutions or an adult’s accumulated heartbeats.

The frailty of words challenges the mind to elevate from the week five words to define and/or memorialize either the ephemeral or the mind’s forever altered synapses. These five words, not matched to individual or specific days, float free within this volunteer’s subconscious, always welcome to pop into the stream of consciousness at any time.

JOY. First experienced in the smile of an awaiting family who, like the volunteers, shield the nervousness of unknown expectations with a shawl of faith. The unbridled joy of a four-year-old, who drags a youth volunteer by the hand to a trampoline, highlights why shared human caring becomes infectious. While a scarred wooden home joist crumbled by insidious water courts disaster, a sistered plank brings reinvigorated strength. The only requirement necessary is the application of a strong bond to unite the two.

EMPATHY. While one definition of this word envisions sympathy, to stop there fails to harvest the word’s bedrock emotion. During the five days, the foundational underpinning of empathy that pours forth is understanding. An appreciation that the volunteer and the family stand equal. If not on a superficial par in material possessions, then definitely equal as human beings filled with emotion. Corn stalks grow in the family’s Appalachian garden. Row upon row of field corn swayed in the rearview mirror of eastbound Iowa volunteers. The corn stalks and maturing ears flourish miles apart in different soil with similar nutrients not visible to the human eye.

SOUL SEARCHING. Yes, it’s two words, not the earlier promised one. Count the double S as one. A search can be a multiplicity of things. Here it’s the emotional renaissance, perhaps inspired by history’s great artistic masters, but, even if not, still felt and encapsulated in uniquely personal ways. It’s the never-ending question: Is there a path, perhaps less traveled, to greater happiness. If so, the quest blurs when a sawed board fits into its envisioned space, a drill bit does not jump off the head of a screw, or the last piece of vinyl plank flooring locks into place. Only late at night, when closed eyelids and night leave but shadowy outlines, does the mind relive the day’s activities and the power of rest becomes a pedestal to raise up the gift engendered by the fruits of labor engaged in for the benefit others. If not the final, or only search, the soul rests peaceful, emboldened to begin a fresh journey on a new day.

UPLIFTING. When day blares into reality, either by an operatic aria or the rhyming stanzas of modern-day rap, the body experiences an emotional surge to match the physical standing. A midweek positivity courses through sluggish veins to undergird aching muscles. The teardrop visible on a homeowner’s sixty-six-year-old cheek does not well forth out of sadness, but unadulterated bliss. The glistening radiance blots out volunteer fatigue. It invigorates a greater effort, not to cause distress, but to complete the physical tasks undone. When the homeowner’s adult son asks to help, it’s not because any volunteer is a failure, but because the son wishes to join in the pride that permeates the work site. As a volunteer, you hand the son your impact drill for the son has given the greatest gift. He and you share the yoke of life and your coupled acts simultaneously unleash a tide of shared emotion that uplifts all.

SACRIFICE. Do the five days represent or bring sacrifice? Yes. A volunteer’s knee blister can hurt before it heals. The Appalachian sun saps the body of fluids and vitality. While sacrifice can be a cost, it stands taller and stronger as a welcomed offering. A family’s trepidation of stranger footfalls on living room carpet vanish after day two. A volunteer adds no household cash nor even spies an oaken collection plate. Smiles beget exchanged handshakes. Association explains and broadens cultural understanding. These outward manifestations validate the growth and melding of human compassion and stewardship. Although the family and volunteer separate at week’s end, the enduring affinity is that each will cherish a heart and a soul that brims with warmth and unquantified emotion.

In summary, philosophers and poets can theorize on how and where positive and sustaining human emotion originates. After five days as a volunteer, a personal guess. String together into one word the first letter from each of the five boldface words set forth above.

Copyright Donan Berg 2017
Copyright DOTDON Books 2017

Alexa's Gold is Donan Berg's latest novel brimming with mystery, romance and thrills. Fall in love with Alexa's grit. She has it all: pluck, courage, stamina, and the endless farmyard gravel she waits to inherit from her Grandma. Yes, Grandpa's buried gold coins are hers, if? Multiple BIG IFs. If she sleuths Grandma's recipe clue. If she outwits those who would steal it. If Grandma's lawyer fights off her mother's will challenge.

As a Chicago probation officer, Alexa witnesses crime firsthand. Her goal is simple: she doesn't wish to be the lightning rod that attracts harm to her two-year-old son Samuel.

America's Heartland poses her biggest risk. Who does she trust? Is she safe? Will romantic love find her? And blossom?

Alexa's Gold spins an elaborate web of unsuspected twists and turns sprung with gusto.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Week of Reading Contrasts

A simple truth: Reading always teaches. What it teaches is a separate inquiry.

This week the pages of two books filled my brain.  Both were book club selections.

The first, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, surpassed the first obstacle of "Oh, here's another book dealing with World War II." Spoiler alert: The hype that this was a "love story" between a French blind girl and a young German Hitler youth doesn't pan out.

The back-and-forth juxtaposition of their two lives transcends. The rich detail of their lives driven home by strong verbs. The horrors of war sketched without becoming all consuming. What is captivating is the inner drives and obstacles of multiple characters brought together by a jewel that strings out the novel's suspense.

The second, Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea, mounted page-after-page of disappointment for its tale of Mexican illegals on a "quest" to recruit men who had crossed the border to return to a Mexican village to protect it against banditos. Billed as a comedy, there was an absence of laughs and many attempts to use crude, boorish, and bathroom references to create humor.

The plot was shallow. Clichés abounded. There were stereotypical characters.

Better one read The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande for a better factual and emotional understanding of illegal immigration along the United States southern border.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Clarity, the writing challenge.

Writing clarity is always a challenge. It's one reason authors have editors. With humility, this writer fills both roles with herculean effort to keep them separate.

This posts harvests true-to-life examples taken from works, if not yet published, then designed to be published. In each example, see if your mind hesitates while it grasps for meaning.

I'll refuse to divulge the names of the authors and their titles. This post is for educational purposes, not shaming. If you chuckle, don't tell me.

Let's go:

Number one:  "He walked haltingly into his walker and turned it off and then sunk into his chair by the window."

Response:  Can you tell exactly what he did?  If he could walk, why the need for a walker? What do we miss? Wheelchairs are motorized, walkers generally not.

Number two:   "The master bedroom was larger, with a deck overlooking the beach and had an attached bathroom."

Response:  Wouldn't it be great if the beach had an attached bathroom? Those pesky connectors like the word "and" always send the wrong signal.

Number three: "Caroline glanced around then bent low and whispered a warning."

Response:  Punctuation can help with clarity. Wouldn't it be a faster read if the sentence said: "Caroline glanced around, bent low, and whispered a warning." Generic words always pose a problem. "Around" is one such example. What if, Caroline glanced left and right before she bent low. If she did go in a circle, the word "twirled" adds more clarity than "around."

Number four:  "Though, if I had to shoot through my purse today, I'd be madder than a hornet." She wrinkled her nose and untucked it from the pit of her arm. "It's new."

Response:  Plastic surgery, anyone? Yes, it's a difficult day when one has to untuck their nose from their armpit.  The purse would be easier.

Number five:  "Well what's wrong then?" Jackson asked, then before she had time to answer ran another question to her on its heels. "You haven't been spotted...?"

Response:  As with the previous example, body parts can be cumbersome to reference. Why not identify the other speaker with greater specificity than a pronoun? Place a period after asked. Insert "Judy's mouth gaped without a word spoken. 'You haven't been spotted...'"

Undoubtedly there's more examples in the world of writing. I'm returning to my efforts to craft words imbued with clarity so strong no reader misunderstands or has to detour into a foggy mist of vagary. My fingers are crossed for both you and me.

Donan Berg's latest literary effort is Alexa's Gold, a romance mystery with extra thrills. Click this link for to obtain a free sample of Alexa's Gold e-book , multiple e-readers supported. The trade paperback arrives at major retailers April 25, 2017.

Author Berg's 2016 First Place Gold Award romance, One Paper Heart, remains available at, libraries, and major book retailers.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Alexa's Gold Arrives April 11, 2017

Author Donan Berg, 2016 Feathered Quill Romance Gold Award winner, releases his latest romance thriller on April 11, 2017.

The new novel is entitled:

Alexa’s Gold

Mystery, Romance, Thrills

 Fall in love with Alexa’s grit. She has it all: pluck, courage, stamina, and the endless farmyard gravel she waits to inherit from her Grandma. Yes, Grandpa’s buried gold coins are hers, if? Multiple BIG IFs. If she sleuths Grandma’s recipe clue. If she outwits those who would steal it. If Grandma’s lawyer fights off her mother’s will challenge.

 As a Chicago probation officer, Alexa witnesses crime firsthand. Her goal is simple: she doesn’t wish to be the lightning rod that attracts harm to her two-year-old son Samuel.

 America’s Heartland poses her biggest risk. Who does she trust? Is she safe? Will romantic love find her? And blossom?

Alexa’s Gold spins an elaborate web of unsuspected twists and turns sprung with gusto.

About the Author

Donan Berg intrigues readers with characters who battle everyday concerns to become truly heroic. He writes an addictive antidote prescription to the blues. His life’s journey has been as a journalist, corporate executive, and lawyer living in America’s heartland with roots in his native Ireland. In 2016 he won the Feathered Quill First Place Gold Award for Romance.

E-book, multiple formats, April 11, 2017 at
or at major book retailers.