Author’s winning mysteries combine adventure, history and faith

NAPLES, Fla. (OSV News) — Inspired by the enthusiasm and innate wisdom of his 12-year-old son, Antony Barone Kolenc is filling a critical void in the reading material for middle grade students that is exciting, compelling, faith-based and life-changing.

“Mainstream publishing is being fed to our teens today and is not promoting the kinds of Christian values that most Christian families I know want their kids to internalize,” Kolenc said. “As Catholic parents, we’re all about religion and marriage and life issues and that can be countercultural for our kids. I can only hope that at an important developmental age, we convey something they like and have for lifelong impact.”

Kolenc became aware of the dearth of quality fiction for middle school students when his son was in middle school and asked him, “How do I write a book with a modern vibe, but not controversial or promoting values Christian parents wouldn’t approve?”

He and his son “determined that the book should be an adventure mystery that includes history and faith and is written in a way accessible to modern teens.”

The latest of Kolenc’s middle-grade books is “Penny and the Stolen Chalice.” Recently released by OSV Kids, it contains all of the recommended elements.

It’s an adventure mystery — Penny is a non-Catholic, newly entering sixth grade at a Catholic school and suddenly a fire alarm during Mass results in the chalice going missing. She and her friend Jayden, an altar server, team up to resolve the mystery. It includes history and faith — because Penny isn’t Catholic, she as well as the reader learns the significance of the chalice and Eucharist and the Mass in order to understand and decipher the clues. And it’s life-changing — Penny prays for help to her father who died the year before — but no spoiler alert here.

“This book provided me an opportunity to reflect even more deeply on the Eucharist,” Kolenc said. “Many of Penny’s reflections in the book were inspired by my own reflections over the years. And as Penny recognizes that the students aren’t paying attention at Mass, I hope the reader is also challenged to consider what that means for their own lives. I want young people to appreciate how much God loves them by reaching out to them in the Eucharist.”

As Kolenc suggests, readers also enter into the life of its author who weaves in loss, his strong Catholic faith and search for God’s will for his own life.

“My father suffered a second, fatal heart attack on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 1981, leaving my mother to raise three children. I was 12, the youngest,” Kolenc told OSV News. “How long I would have my mother became an unconscious concern and made its way into my writing.”

He explained that there was a chapel in school which he visited alone during lunch hours, praying and reading spiritual material, contemplating what God wanted for his life.

“It’s how my teen fiction reads: loss and God’s will for our lives,” he said.

Following Catholic elementary, high school and two years of college, Kolenc enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, was sent to law school, became a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps and, after 21 years of service, retired as a lieutenant colonel. He taught on the faculties of three law schools before joining the faculty at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples in August 2022, where he created and directs the Veterans and Servicemembers Law Clinic. He married his high school sweetheart, Alisa, and they were blessed with five children, whom they home-schooled, and now three grandchildren.

“I’ve always been a writer, writing stories as a kid,” Kolenc said. “When I speak at schools, I often show students my middle school yearbook and my writing to encourage them to write. I have written short stories that have been published, and of course writing is the most important skill for attorneys. I wrote journal articles and a casebook for law schools. Still, I have always been writing on the side.”

Kolenc, who also writes a column for Practical Homeschooling Parents Magazine, credits the support, encouragement and teaching of so many others in his publishing career, especially the national Catholic Writers Guild, or CWG.

“Everything good that has ever happened to me in writing fiction has been through and because of” the guild, he said.

In 2012, Kolenc was living in Jacksonville, Florida, and joined the St. Augustine Diocese’s St. John’s Chapter of the CWG, where he was instrumental in the guild’s success, helping fledgling writers develop their skills and learn the tools of successful publishing.

It was at an annual CWG conference that Kolenc met the acquisitions editor for Loyola Press who publishes his Harwood Mysteries. He also met Rebecca Martin, who was then a college intern and became familiar with his books. Now as an OSV acquisitions editor, Martin reached out to Kolenc to write “Penny and the Stolen Chalice” for the National Eucharistic Revival, an initiative of the U.S. Catholic bishops to renew devotion to the Eucharist. He will be moderating the next CWG annual conference May 28-30.

The Harwood Mysteries series has won 14 awards. Every book has won a first-place award and is recognized in Catholic, Christian and secular press.

“When I hear from parents, ‘My kid is reading a book for the 10th time’ — these are kids who will read and reread and the kid is internalizing, ‘What does God want for my life?’” Kolenc said. “It’s optimistic to think that that is going to have an impact for life.”

Laura Dodson writes for OSV News from Florida.

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