Magic Hour Writers

Our Mission: To encourage and promote excellence in writing for children through
friendship, education, and peer support to writing colleagues.

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Meet Our Members

Mari Barnes
Mari L. Barnes writes for children under the pen name of Mari Lumpkin and for adults as ML Barnes. She has spent many years working with experts in child development. She created and implemented children's literacy programs for the Salvation Army and the Chicago Public Schools, as well as having worked directly with the Mary Crane Child Development Center.

Mari established Flying Turtle Publishing and its Sparrow Early Learning Academy (SELA) imprint, both writing books and engaging other authors in creating works that are part of Flying Turtle’s growing offering of books for children. Flying Turtle Publishing specializes in books that families can share.

With more than 30 years of editorial experience, Mari has worked for RR Donnelly, the American Medical Association, and the New Yorker and Rotarian magazines among other companies. She holds two degrees: a BA in Liberal Arts and an MA in Communications & Training from Governors State University. Mari lives with The World’s Greatest Husband and a temperamental garden in Hammond, Indiana.

Donna Eckelbarger   
I was born and raised in the heart of the Mission District in San Francisco, California.  I attended catholic school always writing funny stories!  I've written short plays in elementary school, many poems and short stories in high school and college.  

Purdue University was a dream come true as I majored in science.  I was a staff writer for college newspaper, and I  participated and took third place in the Hyde Park competition for communication course. 

As a Marine wife and mother of three, I struggled as a parent of three very young children while my husband spent many tours of duty on ship and land.  Realizing success as a mother lie in the bedtime stories, I created off the top of my head every evening.  (To which my children would chant, "Tell us another one mommy!") Grammy of five keeps me busy and looking for new ideas for the next short story.

In my later empty nest years, I wrote for the northwest Indiana magazine Mom to Mom;  became a professional animated storyteller, and collector of many children's books with  unusual plots and outcomes.  I have several stories in the hopper just itching to be published.  Joining Write On Hoosiers and Magic Hour is the next logical step in listening, learning and growing in children's writing skills and form from the more seasoned writers.  My hope is publishing books for children ages 0-3 and young reader.

Pamela Ford
Pamela Ford lives in Northwest Indiana with her husband along with several dogs and cats. Animals are her passion, which is why she founded her own animal rescue: Heavenly Paws Haven. Pamela is in the process of writing children's stories about her rescued pets.

Ruthann Graczyk
Ruthann Graczyk hails from the Southside of Chicago.  She migrated to Crown Point, Indiana when she married her second husband, a Hoosier, and they blended their two families.

Ruthann attended Indiana University Northwest for two years; however, due to her many years in the legal field, she opted for an Associates in Paralegal Studies from Brown Mackie College in Merrillville. She recently retired but is undecided as to whether she should seek another paralegal position, return to college and possibly attend law school, or dedicate her life to her writing career.

Through Merrillville Adult Education classes, she met Sharon Palmeri and became a member of Write On Hoosier and Magic Hour Writers.  She is currently working on a series of books for young children, and has plans for a novel/memoir about her parents. 

Jackie Huppenthal
Jackie Huppenthal received her Bachelor of Science degree in Child Development from Purdue University and worked in domestic violence and youth shelters after graduation. Later she assisted the schools and various community groups in Illinois by teaching healthy life skills programs as well as drug and violence prevention workshops.

At the present time, Jackie is raising four boys with her husband in Dyer, Indiana. She is a secretary at Lake Central High School. Jackie enjoys hiking, writing poetry and children's stories, taking photographs, and drawing. Jackie is a member of Write-On Hoosiers, a member of Indiana Writers' Consortium, SCBWI, and co-founder of Magic Hour Writers. She is also a member of Calumet Region Photography Club and Chicago Area Camera Club Association. Her poetry and photographs are in numerous local publications.

Pete Iussig  

Author Pete Iussig is a retired middle school teacher who taught for 38 years at Lowell Middle School in Lowell, Indiana. During that same time, he coached numerous sports. He is best known for the success he had as Lowell High School's head softball coach. In 2017, during his first year of retirement, he took over as head softball coach at Crown Point High School, during which the team won the 4A State Championship. Pete is a graduate of Merrillville High School and Indiana University. Pete only started writing his poetry three years ago, at the young age of 60. 

Karen Kulinski, author of RESCUING IVY
A graduate of the University of Illinois with a degree in Journalism and a minor in history, Karen Kulinski is a free-lance writer with experience as a newspaper reporter, editor and humor columnist, and her work has been featured in two national children’s magazines. An active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, Karen is a former newspaper reporter/editor, elementary school teacher, and currently is curator of The Griffith Historical Park & Museums. A railroad man’s daughter, Karen’s passion for trains and love of history flavors many of her books, including a middle-grade novel, Rescuing Ivy, which came out in March, 2016, with High Hill Press, and several historical, railroad-themed picture book biographies and early chapter books, inspired by her museum research. Karen has four grown sons and lives with her husband, Alan, and two very spoiled dogs, in Griffith, Indiana. Find out more about Karen, the museum, and her books at

Luneil Morrow
Luneil Morrow retired from JP Morgan Chase after 35 years of banking. She was widowed after 38 years of marriage and has two children.  While working for the bank she wrote newsletters for the company and editorials for local newspapers.

After retirement she decided to improve her writing skills by taking classes.  She also was a classroom assistant and later became a 2nd grade reading tutor.  She worked as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble.  These experiences increased her desire to write.  When Luneil learned she was about to become a grandmother her goal was to write a children's book and be published by the time her grandchild could read.

Her philosophy of life is to get out of your comfort zone and try new things.

Sharon Palmeri
Sharon Palmeri  resides in Crown Point Indiana. She received her BS degree in English and journalism from Indiana University Northwest and IU Bloomington. As a published author she has taught in all areas of writing for 20+ years, and has had many articles and stories published in magazines and newspapers. She has freelanced as an editor, book doctor, publicist, and publication consultant.  She also has worked as a content editor, adviser and book layout designer. She currently teaches writing workshops, and also works as a Media Technician at Indiana University Northwest’s Internet Radio Station - WIUN. In addition to being a member of MHW she is the founder and president of Write-On Hoosiers, and past president and board member of Indiana Writers' Consortium.

Helena Qi
Born and raised in China, Helena Qi earned a PhD in chemistry from Purdue University and became and American citizen. She is happily married with two boys and has lived in Munster, IN for 20+ years. During her career as a research scientist, Helena published scientific papers, book chapters and patents. Currently working for a private investment firm, she rekindles her youthful attraction to written words. Being a non-native English speaker, joining Magic Hour Writer's group offers Helena opportunities to learn and practice. As a beginner, she is open-minded about writing in any genre.

Suzy Stuben
Suzy Stuben lives in Northwest Indiana with her dog Zoey and Murphy Brown the cat. After retiring from Purdue University, Suzy decided to fulfill a lifetime desire to write and share stories from her imagination.

Rachael A. Thomas
Rachael was born, raised and still resides in Northwest Indiana. She is married and has two teenage children, Nathan and Emily. She has a B.S. of Biology from Purdue University and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for several years. There her writing consisted of Standard Operating Procedures. After the birth of her second child, she went back to school to get her teaching license and now teaches Forensic Science, Biology and Chemistry at Lake Central High School. After several mission trips to orphanages in Swaziland, a small country within South Africa, she felt compelled to write children’s books with a message of “loving others as yourself”. This is how her creative writing career/experience began. Rachael then became a member of Write On, Hoosiers and Magic Hour Writers in order to hone her skills, work with peers and give/receive support from others in a similar situation. Her goal is to get her books about loving others into the hands of as many parents, guardians, educators and children as possible.  

Rachael is the author of The Blue Pencil and The Lucky Beads.

Judith Lachance-Whitcomb
Judith Lachance-Whitcomb, a graduate of Northeastern Illinois University, received her Masters of Science in Human Service Administration from Spertus College.  Raised and educated in Chicago, she committed herself to teaching in the Chicago Public School System for 37 years.  After retirement, she worked for Northwestern University as a curriculum developer of a middle school science series in conjunction with the University of Michigan.  Using the skills she developed through working with teaching interns at North Park University, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago, she currently works part-time for Michigan State University as an adjunct professor teaching graduate level math and science methods courses during the teachers’ internship year.

Shortly before her retirement from teaching in CPS, she found her way to Schererville, Indiana. Residing here, she became a member of Indiana Writers’ Consortium, Prairie Writers Guild, Write On Hoosiers, and co-founded Magic Hour Writers.  She values the experiences gained from her memberships in all of these groups but more so treasures the friendships she has developed with her writing peers.

She has two daughters, seven grandchildren, and one great grandson. Using Adobe Illustrator to create graphics and knitting are her primary hobbies.  Her passion is writing for children but she also enjoys exploring the craft in multiple genres.

Patty Yackanich
Patty Yackanich has always been an avid reader and book lover. Her jobs have reflected this love;  first by booking appointments at the beauty shop where she was a shampoo girl, then at the lumber yard, where she entered sales into the order book for 2x4’s, suspended ceilings and bathroom tile. She also worked at a library, where she took home more books than she could carry. Her latest and longest job, has been as a bookkeeper for a steel fabricator.

She is a long time member of SCWBI, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is also a member of IWC, Indiana Writer’s Consortium and her favorite, MHW, The Magic Hour Writers.

She has two amazing grown children, a son Matthew and a daughter, Cameron. She also has  a wonderful husband named Pete. She is very fortunate to have a huge library in her Hammond home. She fondly thinks of her shelving techniques as the “Huey, Louie and Dewey” decimal system.

Her book is about a millinery shop in 1899 Paris, France. It is her first.

Hardarshan S. Valia
Hardarshan S. Valia has published stories, essays, and poems in magazines such as: Huffington Post, NWI Times, Urthona, Hub, Bitterroot, Iron & Steel Technology, Sikhnet, Sikhchic, and Sikh Review. A story entitled "Indian...ana" is to be published in a book entitled "Undeniably Indiana" by Indiana University Press in August 2016. He is planning to publish a children's 15 chapter book dealing with lessons in life through Geology. During his tenure as Staff Scientist at Arcelor Mittal R&D Laboratories, East Chicago, he contributed mostly to science journals and science books. He is married and has two children . He is a member of Magic Hour Writers and Indiana Writers' Consortium.