Monica McGurk’s grandfather – a theatrical French-Canadian who was rarely without a joke, story or song – helped her find her voice as a young writer. Decades later, a “mini midlife crisis” helped her get it back.

Storytelling is in McGurk’s blood. She started writing short stories and poetry when she was 8 years old, and has surrounded herself with books all her life. She even wrote a screenplay while working as an analyst early in her business career.

“It’s lost to the winds and sands of time,” the VP of strategy and e-Commerce at Coca-Cola North America says, laughing. “Probably saved on a floppy disk somewhere in our basement.”

McGurk drifted away from writing as the demands of career and family took over, but never strayed too far from her passion. The mother of three started crafting elaborate bedtime stories that unfurl over many months and keep her kids clinging from one nightly cliffhanger to the next.

Then, in 2007, a friend’s sudden death steered her back to writing.

“We weren’t super close,” she says, “but his death really shook me because we’d led parallel lives up until that point.”



Monica McGurk
Monica McGurk

They were business school classmates and had been elected partner at McKinsey & Co. at the same time. He even married the roommate of McGurk’s best friend from college.

“It made me stop and think whether I was really doing what I wanted to and making the most of my life,” she adds. “I realized I was all-in at work, and as a mom and a wife, but that I’d lost any space to do anything for myself.”

McGurk decided to tap back into a creative outlet she could easily fit into her busy schedule. McGurk began writing on planes during her frequent business travels, and at night after her kids went to bed. She started reading young adult (YA) books to screen age-appropriate titles for her kids, but quickly connected with the subject matter.

“Many of these books address growing up and forming and exploring your own identity – rich themes that are easy to relate to, whether you’re into high literature or pop culture,” she explains. “That’s why the genre appeals to a lot of adult women.”

Around that time, “fan fiction”– where amateur writers try their hand at prequels and alternate endings of their favorite novels and post them online for others to read and critique – had taken off following the success of the Harry Potter books.

The format provided a fun, seamless way to ease back into the creative process. Using the pen name “Consultant by Day”, she wrote an alt ending to the Twilight series before Breaking Dawn was released, posting sequential passages online to be critiqued by fellow fans.

“With fan faction, you waive all rights to your work but have the opportunity to unleash your imagination on storylines and characters you’re fascinated with,” McGurk explains. “It’s great for someone like me, who thrives on feedback, because you get immediate input. The process is really helpful, and it’s gratifying to know people are reading and engaged enough in your writing to respond.”

Her novel-length take on the Twilight finale, titled Morning Star, was a hit with fans and even won the 2013 Twific Fandom “Undiscovered Gem” award. Motivated by this recognition and encouraged by her husband, McGurk challenged herself to up the ante and try her hand at original fiction.

A lifelong advocate for women’s issues, she began sketching out ideas for a novel centered around a kidnapping. During the research process, she became engrossed in the complex issue of human trafficking, which hit close to home.

“I discovered statistics and facts about human trafficking – and, disturbingly, the child sex trade – around the world and specifically here in Atlanta,” she says. “It’s hard to imagine this is going on right under our noses and happening to children in our own communities. On one hand, our connected world makes it easy to talk about it, share news and rally to fight the problem. But technology can also depersonalize the issue and make people feel removed from it.”

McGurk describes the story as action-oriented and interspersed with current events, but with romantic and mythological elements. She gut-checked first drafts with her 12-year-old daughter.



'Dark Hope' book cover

“I used her as my guinea pig because I wanted to make sure the book was appealing without overstepping the boundaries of scariness,” McGurk explains. “And I thought my 14-year-old son would consider it too ‘girly’, but it was fascinating to see how positively he responded. We had very interesting conversations because his awareness of human trafficking and child abuse was heightened by reading the book.”

After self-publishing the story as a two-part series on Amazon.com in 2012, McGurk signed with an Austin, Texas-based publisher –the Greenleaf Book Group – in October 2013. She worked with an editor via Skype and email to combine the books into a single novel and enhance the plot with new chapters.

Dark Hope was released in August, and McGurk is almost done with a follow-up. She plans to complete a trilogy with a third installment.

McGurk hopes readers will relate to Hope Carmichael, the book’s strong female lead, and be inspired to get involved. 

“Many young adult books lean on the same plot devices – love triangles and young women who need rescuing,” she explains. “I wanted to have a female character who makes things happen through her own choices, for better or for worse.” 

She hopes her trilogy will leverage pop culture to heighten activism to end child sex trafficking. A portion of proceeds from the sale of Dark Hope will go to nonprofits fighting local and global trafficking.

Join the fight against child sex trafficking – or just delve into a fun, fast-paced read – by purchasing or gifting Dark Hope today, available for purchase online at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Learn more about Monica and follow her on social media by visiting her website: www.monicamcgurk.com.