Always Darkest – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Jess & Keith Flaherty

In Jess and Keith Flaherty’s Always Darkest, angels and demons alike are consumed with the Emerald Hill prophecy, which foretells the birth of a girl with amazing abilities. The demon Ronoven is hiding on Earth, investigating the prophecy, disguised as a drifter named Ben. There, he meets Chris, who is also hiding secrets of his own. Then, “Ben” finds Malin, the subject of the prophecy and both the daughter of an angel and the last living descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. There’s a lot in store for Mal, but she wants to be in control of her own destiny – which is easier said than done.

There are some aspects of Always Darkest that seem a bit too cliché, such as the prophecy in general, the angels vs. demons conflict, and the improbable, against-all-odds love story. Also, some parts of the story tend to be confusing, as the pacing is often jumpy and uneven. Other portions of this book seem to focus far too much on tedious exposition and foreshadowing and not nearly enough on moving the plot forward (it takes nineteen chapters for the three main characters to even be in the same room together, let alone get anything actually started).

Nevertheless, Always Darkest is quite an entertaining read. There’s a ton of great descriptive language and lighthearted humor in its pages, which serves to hold the reader’s attention even in the slower-paced portions of the book. Jess and Keith Flaherty have inserted a lot of fantastic creativity, religious imagery, suspense, and mystery into their work, making Always Darkest an interesting literary concoction in itself. Always Darkest is a unique combination of epic fantasy and contemporary romance, which is an intriguing recipe guaranteed to delight its unsuspecting readers.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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[Author Interview] Jess & Keith Flaherty | Always Darkest

Featured Authors Talk About It

Author Interview

Jess & Keith Flaherty

ATAI: Tell us a little about you.

Keith and Jess: We are one of those married couples that sitcoms never get right. We’ve been married for twenty years and still can’t get enough of each other’s company. We’re lucky enough to live in the beautiful mountains of Vermont with our two children, three cats, a dog, and an immortal guinea pig.

Jess: I’ve worked in newspaper and art publishing, freelance writing, cake decorating, and at the moment in addition to my writing I work as a special education teacher and professional editor. I enjoy playing the ukulele badly, reading, and binge-watching unhealthy amounts of TV.

Keith: I spent many years as a chef and business manager and now I run a quaint country store. In my free time I enjoy writing poetry, reading, or cooking something that my family will think is amazing.

Keith and Jess: We love to cook together, go hiking, and spend time together and with our boys. Of course, we also love writing together.

ATAI: How long have you been writing?

Keith: I’ve only been writing seriously for about two and a half or three years.

Jess: I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I wrote pretty seriously in college for a while, then I got out of the habit, sort of lost the spark. When Keith and I started writing together a couple of years ago, I found that passion for words again.

ATAI: What was your most recent release?

Jess and Keith: Our novel Always Darkest, which is the first in a planned trilogy, came out on June 21, 2017. It’s the story of Ronoven, a demon dreaming of an escape from Hell. He finds an excuse for an extended vacation on Earth, where he pretends to be a young drifter called Ben. Everything is going great – until he meets Chris. This unassuming teacher is using an assumed identity, too. Cursed with immortality and named in a prophecy Ben thought was fake, Chris becomes an unlikely friend. Together the two of them discover the main subject of the prophecy, Mal, a young woman not only fathered by an angel, but also the last in the direct line of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Mal learns her true identity but is determined not to be forced into a corner by circumstances or some ancient scrap of paper. Falling in love was never part of Ben’s plan, but together he and Mal are drawn into conflict that could destroy them. Slippery ancient gods, as well as angels and their fallen siblings bring to bear all of their power to force Mal to their side. With the help of a small band of allies, Mal tries to shake free of the cage of prophecy and end Hell’s hold on Ben. It’s a story about a coming war, about choosing sides, about good and evil. And more than that, it’s about remaining who you are even when you are faced with things that are that much bigger than you.

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ATAI: What do you love most about writing?

Keith: I love the telling of the story. I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons when I was younger, and I think that’s where it started. Whether I was the DM and leading other people through a story or playing a character myself, I loved the creation of it, the details, watching in unfold.

Jess: I like meeting the characters, figuring out who they are and how they’ll react to events, seeing them grow. I like to joke when I go to my desk that I’m going to go hang out with my imaginary friends, but in a way it’s not a joke at all. Our characters are, after a fashion, some of the best friends I have ever had or will ever have.

ATAI: What do you find most challenging?

Jess: I have a hard time prioritizing other things that need to get done in my life. If I’m deep in a story I might forget to eat, or walk the dog, or get ready for work. I’ve nearly been late more than once because I made the mistake of starting to write before school. The challenge is not letting the work take over, I guess.

Keith: Finding the time, energy, and motivation to write can be a huge challenge, since I have another job. Coming home after an eleven plus hour day on my feet it can be difficult to then get in the right frame of mind to sit down and write, at least in a way that does the story justice.

ATAI: Where do your ideas come from?

Keith: I get ideas everywhere. I have diverse interests and I really enjoy reading about and researching them. The idea for our novel Always Darkest actually came from some research I had been doing into demonology. I read about a demon called Ronoven and thought he’d be a really cool figure to base a character on. So Ben was born, and from Ben flowed the rest of the story.

Jess: I know a lot of writers like to give clever or glib answers to this question, but I think what readers want is something more honest than that. Like Keith, I read a lot; fiction, non-fiction, weird and wild tales on the web, so some of it comes from reading, research. I also people watch a lot. And I love seeking out new experiences. Something as simple as a great meal has given me a story idea. Granted the last time that happened it turned into a flash fic about cannibalism, but that doesn’t make it less true.

ATAI: What is your writing process?

Jess: I have an ancient desk top with replicas of various space craft from some of my fandoms on it. I like to sit at my desk in my beat up old office chair in the dark and clack away on my keyboard, usually with music much too loud in my earbuds, or if I’m home alone, on the big speakers from the TV.

Keith: I’m a paper and pen kind of guy. I like to sit on the corner of our couch, when it’s quiet, or as quiet as a busy household ever gets, and write long hand, preferably with a clicky-topped pen. I can write without the clicky top, but being able to fidget with that always helps me think.

Keith and Jess: We do a fair amount of collaborating aloud, in addition to passing our written work back and forth. So sometimes our writing process involves long conversations in our favorite chairs in our living room, but the real meat of the work has us separating to actually write, albeit in vastly different ways.

ATAI: Do your characters (or message) ever seem to have a life of their own or an agenda of their own?

Keith: For me, I wouldn’t say that they do. Sometimes the story takes turns that I didn’t expect it to take and that impacts the characters in ways that I maybe didn’t expect or don’t necessarily like the outcome of. But the story is at the heart of that, not the characters.

Jess: I can’t give a solid yes or no answer to this. For me that characters are so very much their own people sometimes it feels a little like maybe they do. You know how when you’re watching a movie and sometimes you just can’t help yelling at the screen to try to get the character not to go down those basement stairs? Sometimes writing is like that for me. But ultimately, those basement stairs are there for a reason, and the character has to go down them.

ATAI: What’s your favorite part of your book (or one of your books)?

Jess: I’m trying hard not to give too many spoilers with this, but there’s a scene between Mal and Ben in Always Darkest where they are lying in bed together and the truth of who they are and where they are headed sort of starts to come out. Their reaction to the situation, to each other, to an uncertain future is so perfectly … them. I love it because in essence it tells you everything you really need to know about them as people.

Keith: My favorite part, at the moment at least, is in Always Darkest when our characters Chris and Ben meet a certain biblical figure who finds his way into the story. It was so much fun to write.

ATAI: What are you working on next?

Jess and Keith: We have a few things going on. There are a number of anthologies that we have stories coming out in from our publisher, Crimson Cloak Publishing. One is called Something’s Gotta Give and it’s a story about out character Ben years before the events of Always Darkest. We are putting the finishing touches to that and it will be coming out in a charity anthology called Tides and Tails sometime soon. Another short we are polishing up is called Fare Thee Well and it’s going to be coming out in an anthology called Crimson Endings later this year. That one is about Mal’s parents and the events leading up to her birth. We have really been enjoying doing some world building through our short stories, just giving readers more of the characters they are responding to that wouldn’t necessarily fit with the main series.

ATAI: Where can people find you online?

Keith and Jess: You can find us on our publisher’s site at:

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ATAI: Thank you for sharing with us and our audience.

Jess and Keith: Thank you for having us and giving us the opportunity to tell you about our book. We think readers are really going to like Always Darkest and be excited for the whole series.

*NOTE: ATAI does not edit the responses of the authors.

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