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Alumna discusses launch of latest book in paranormal romance series

Alumna and author M.J. Duffy published her series “The Zankli Chronicles” to create a group of characters that would resonate with her. She said her characters travel to places she has lived and intertwines the history of each featured country. (Courtesy of Melba Carter)

By Kaia Sherry

Feb. 17, 2020 11:29 p.m.

M.J. Duffy published her first novel at age 60.

Now, the third book of the alumna’s paranormal romance series, “The Zankli Chronicles,” will be released in March. Though she first envisioned the plot during her time as a history student, Duffy said she only began to put her ideas to paper after retirement.

Her self-published books follow the eponymous species of humanoids who possess supernatural abilities that allow them to move fluidly through time and space. It is later revealed that they are seraphs, or angels, tasked with bringing love to earth, Duffy said. “The Zankli Chronicles,” with a following of over 10,000 readers, aims to highlight themes of diaspora from one’s home country and love for humankind, she said.

“It’s a fantasy and a story of a people that are here and walking around with us every day,” Duffy said. “They’re not fairies, they’re not werewolves, they’re none of those things. But they’re people that are dedicated to good and seeing grace on earth.”

[Related: UCLA student authors book covering themes of mental health and identity]

In part, Duffy said she was inspired to write her novels because traditional superheroes didn’t resonate with her. The harrowing chases and typically Western-centric adventures of Marvel comics are not relatable to everyone, she said. But the Zanklis, a fictionalized version of a real West African tribe, travel everywhere from the Caribbean to South Central Los Angeles to Beverly Hills – all places where Duffy has lived. The series intertwines the histories of all the countries featured in the Zanklis’ time-traveling escapades, said Sarah Christmas, Duffy’s content producer.

“The books talk about people of all backgrounds, like Nigerian, Irish and American,” Christmas said. “The idea of bringing together different groups of people to realize what their past history is, you can find that in the pages of this book.”

The globe-trotting characters came to life during Thanksgiving and Christmas with Duffy’s family, when she would spin tales about the Zanklis to her gathered family members. Their encouraging responses pushed her to write her stories down for a larger audience, Duffy said.

While most of “The Zankli Chronicles” is fictitious – taking part in multiple time periods that span from 3,000 to 300 years ago Duffy said she also drew from historical events to highlight the real-life atrocities she rallies against. She said she was inspired by events like the 1960s Nigerian Civil War, fought between Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra, and the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s. These scenes act as a backdrop for the narrative, representing the evils the Zanklis fight against, she said. Jonathan Regier, who has reviewed Duffy’s latest book, said it exposes the darkest points of humanity, touching upon topics like war and sex trafficking.

“Her book is like a global intrigue novel,” Regier said. “It does get dark at times, but it also is a fight against that, and how well you can fight against that.”

[Related: Student self-publishes children’s book to broaden Asian American representation]

In the book, Duffy said evil is represented both through human action and the Zanklis’ archnemesis, the Anomaly, which aims to hunt down the humanoids before they can reproduce. The mating of the Zanklis explores the physical aspect of love and leads to the novel’s more erotic sections, she said, which complements the overarching idea of spiritual love within the series.

The romantic aspects of the Zanklis’ journey appeal to older demographics because it answers questions that relate to more mature audiences and their relationships, Christmas said. Telling a story about finding love and the price to keep it, Christmas said the series resonates with those who’ve experienced similar journeys. Duffy said she hopes the message of love will spread beyond the scope of “The Zankli Chronicles.”

“I think of my childhood in the sense that I always thought there had to be a better way for us as humans to get along,” Duffy said. “When I saw the atrocities happening around the world, I just felt there had to be a better way for us, as humans, to support and love one another. The Zanklis represent that.”

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Kaia Sherry | Alumna
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