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Interview with Antony Barone Kolenc

Twelve years ago, on September 11, 2001, Antony Barone Kolenc was serving on active duty in the U.S. Air Force at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

“As a criminal defense attorney, I was practicing for a closing argument in a felony trial that was set to begin that day. My co-counsel came into the office at about 10:00 AM Eastern Time and said, ‘You have no idea what’s happening in the world, do you?’ I almost didn’t believe what he told me until I went to the legal office and saw the terrifying coverage with my own eyes. Having grown up in New Jersey, I had eaten meals in the World Trade Center and had been inside it on more than one occasion. They cancelled our trial that day.”

Since that time, Antony has retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps. Today, he is an award-winning mystery writer, proud husband, father and grandfather, and a law professor at Ave Maria School of Law where he supervises students litigating cases for low-income veterans and military members.

“I love being all of those things,” he shares.

Although his days are certainly full, Antony still makes time to write.

“I like to write in the mornings for one or two hours, before the rest of the world wakes up. I usually will do this following a prayer time where I ask the Holy Spirit to inspire me, and for the words of my mouth to be pleasing to God. Sometimes I write at my desk, sometimes at the kitchen table or on the living room couch…wherever I feel like. It goes in cycles, it seems.”

Kolenc’s mystery-adventure novels are geared toward teen readers. They include religious or inspirational themes and take place in a historical setting.

Murder at Penwood Manor, the fifth and latest book in his award-winning mystery series, The Harwood Mysteries, releases on October 24, 2023.

From Failed Attempts to a Successful Series
Like many authors, Antony has enjoyed writing for as long as he can remember.

“I always loved telling stories to friends and making people laugh in school.”

He began trying his hand at crafting stories when he was very young but wasn’t impressed with the results.

“They were horrible,” he laughed. “Then, for decades, I attempted to take my love of writing fiction and turn it into a completed novel, but I had a hard time finishing an entire novel. Finally, in my late thirties, when we were homeschooling my teenaged son, I spoke with him extensively about the idea that eventually became The Harwood Mysteries. As homeschoolers, we wanted there to be great fiction that could introduce teens to history in a fun and exciting (even spooky) way—Harry Potter in a historical setting without any questionable themes or material. That focus finally got me over the hump, and I was able to complete Shadow in the Dark, the first book in the series.

Antony’s debut novel was published on July 13, 2020. It met with great success, winning several awards. Over the next two years, Kolenc and his publisher, Loyola Press, published the next three books in the series.

Throughout the years, Antony’s careers in law and the military have impacted both his fiction and non-fiction writings.

“As a law professor, I have an obligation to publish scholarly legal articles. I also enjoy writing my legal column for homeschoolers in Practical Homeschooling magazine. That, in particular, allows me to marry my love of the law with my interest in homeschooling.
“But as an attorney and Air Force JAG, I also discovered that English history is quite relevant to the law because America inherited the English common-law tradition and system. That partly sparked my interest in setting my novels in medieval England. I was also able to put some of my legal sense to use in writing The Harwood Mysteries. There are hints of legal process and history sprinkled throughout each book.”

Impact of Faith
Kolenc’s faith has played a huge role in his writings as well.

“I think of writing as part of my ministry, using the talents God gave me to help further His Kingdom in a tiny way, especially for young people today who are battered on all sides by tremendously negative and harmful themes and messages. If I can take some of the lessons I’ve learned in my life through my faith and weave them into a strong story that is also a page-turner, then I feel that I’m contributing in some sense to the greater good.”

Writing a Series
Crafting one book is challenging. Putting together an entire series is even more so. Every author has their own method of planning and prewriting. Here is a little of Antony’s:

“I knew I wanted to write a series, but I didn’t start planning out the long-term details of it until I started writing Book 3 (The Fire of Eden). In more recent years, I planned out a total of six books, with another potential trilogy to come later, perhaps, dealing specifically with the Third Crusade (1189-91). I developed the key spooky element for each book in advance, as well as the focal point of historical emphasis and the spiritual or moral principle that would be center stage.”

Behind the Scenes of Murder at Penwood Manor

Inspiration Behind the Story: “Each book in the series has its own unique feel to it. By Book 5, it was high time to write a murder mystery. Also, our story is drawing closer in time to the Third Crusade, with the fall of Jerusalem to the Muslim sultan, Saladin, in 1187. For that reason, the book needed to highlight the crusading spirit, as symbolized by the primary murder suspect, the Crusader. In addition, I wanted to explore an insidious vice that is not understood enough: envy. That vice plays a big part in the plot and sub-plots of the story.”

Author’s Life Experiences in the Book: “As an Air Force retiree, I have some familiarity with the military spirit. Plus, I work with veterans, including those with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). I drew from some of those experiences in designing my primary murder suspect, a crusading warrior recently returned from the Holy Land. There is also a sweet romance developing, which may have hints of my own experiences in life. And, of course, many of my regular characters are reflections of me or those who I’ve known over the years. Finally, I can identify with Xan, Lucy, and Christina in struggling to figure out God’s path for their lives. I’ve been trying to figure out my own path for decades!”

Key Themes: “Trust in God is always present in this series, as is the ultimate vocational question: what does God want me to do with my life? Some of my characters have been on quite an arc, especially Christina. In Book 5, she is able to overcome a major life obstacle that she encountered at the end of Book 4. In addition to these themes, and to the moral issue of Envy, I also build on a thread that was started in Book 4 about the reality of spiritual warfare in our world, including the possibility of demon possession. That factors into the plot in a small way in Book 5 and will find fruition in Book 6, perhaps.”

Impact on the Author: “Like many Christians, I’ve struggled to live out the Gospel throughout my life. Thankfully, God is merciful and forgiving. When I have my characters confront some of the most feared circumstances in their lives, I am moved by the human spirit that I see within them. Many of the spiritual lessons that Xan and the other characters encounter in the series are lessons I’ve learned over time, put in the mouths of monks and nuns as they speak to my characters. Writing this series has been a blessing in my own faith, too, and has helped me see the path in my own life even clearer.”

Author’s Hopes: “For this book, and the entire series, I want my readers to come away with feelings of hope, redemption, forgiveness, and the importance of faith. I especially want teens to realize that—unlike what we’re told today—we don’t need to divorce faith from our lives. My main characters are living during a time and in a place where the notion of faith permeated every aspect of their lives. I want teens to see that they can integrate faith into their lives organically, as my characters do as they struggle with age-old questions about God’s will in the world and in their individual lives.”

Author Life
Greatest Joy in Writing: “I love creating fun (but plausible) characters and weaving complex plots and sub-plots into one overarching whole—especially if I can spin real-world events into the mix, too. And the idea of furthering strong Christian values turns all my fun into what I would consider a ministry of sorts.”

Biggest Challenge in Balancing Writing with Other Responsibilities: “As a husband, parent, and law professor, I have many deadlines and responsibilities pulling me in every direction. This summer, as I began work on Book 6 in The Harwood Mysteries, I was especially challenged to keep on task in the midst of the hustle and bustle of my life. Carving out just one or two hours in the morning consistently has been more difficult than ever this year. Yet, I’m always amazed at how God will bless my writing when it comes to crunch time, and how I get what needs to be written done on time.”

Best Experience as an Author: “Speaking to teens about my novels and the writing process has been exhilarating and fulfilling, especially when I do school visits, which I’m glad to do (if anyone wants to invite me, check out my website). In truth, networking with other Christian authors has been the biggest boon to my writing career. I would not be published today with such a wonderful publisher as Loyola Press if I hadn’t made connections with other Christian authors. I’ve been writing fiction my entire life, but I only started getting better when I was mentored by other writers, especially those who shared my faith and provided encouragement. That is my best experience, I think.”

Awkward Author Moment: “I don’t have any great stories here, luckily. There was this one time when I was speaking with a middle-school class about writing, and one of the students asked me a question about my own experiences in some of my characters. I found myself volunteering some pretty sensitive, vulnerable information to the group and had to catch myself—and the Principal’s eye—saying, ‘No, I guess I’ve said enough about that now.’ Going any further would have been the very definition of ‘T.M.I.’!”

Most Challenging Aspect of being an Author: “Marketing, marketing, and marketing. No author that I know loves the idea of having to market their own books. We’d all rather be writing the next one. I’m no exception to that rule. I’m also not very good at marketing myself. I really need someone to do all that on my behalf.”

What’s Next: “I’m very excited about the next few years in my writing career. In addition to the release of Books 5 and 6 in 2023 and 2024—finishing up The Harwood Mysteries (at least for now)—I have two other ongoing projects with two smaller publishers. One is a contemporary middle-grade mystery that focuses on a deep mystery of our faith…just in time for Lent 2024. The other is a trilogy written for the New Adult age group—a first for me. That one is speculative Christian fiction with some real edge. I’m both excited and terrified to see if I can pull it off…and how it will be received by my readers.”
Jenny Fulton is a wife, mother, author, blogger, and freelance writer. An enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, she grew up hearing stories from my dad about the supernatural workings on the Navajo Reservation. As a child, she collected angels and loved anything related to fairy tales. Her days are now mostly spent raising my three young daughters and writing as much as time and opportunity allows. Follow her at her blog, Heart Soul Mind.

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