“Beautifully written . . . an ambitious and moving debut novel.”

—Lily King, the New York Times best-selling author of Writers & Lovers 

Joan Dempsey is one of "5 more writers over 50" to watch. 

—Poets & Writers magazine

A remarkable novel . . . a riveting, essential story for our time.

Matthew Goodman, New York Times best-selling author of The City Game

“In a time when religious liberty is on trial, This Is How It Begins is an extraordinarily pertinent novel dripping in suspense and powerful scenes of political discourse . . . a must read . . .” —Foreword (starred review)

Massachusetts, 2009. Ludka Zeilonka is relishing her emeritus status. With the horrors of World War II willfully buried in her past, the eighty-five year-old art professor doesn’t want to accept the escalating cultural unrest in her adoptive country. But when her gay grandson is fired for allegedly silencing Christian kids in his classroom, she and her influential family are thrust into the center of a political firestorm.

Warren Meck is worried about his sons. Leading a statewide effort to protect free speech in public schools for Christian kids, the popular radio host is on the cusp of taking his fight to the State House. But when his carefully orchestrated campaign turns unexpectedly violent, he’s alarmed by suspicions that someone within his inner circle might be responsible.

As the increasingly vicious conflict plays out on the public stage, Ludka wrestles with resurfacing memories . . . and the exposure of a well-guarded secret. And when Meck identifies the culprit behind the violence, he faces an unbearable choice that could jeopardize his family’s future.

Can these two come to grips with unwelcome truths in time to make a stand in the final political showdown?

This Is How It Begins is an emotionally gripping literary novel. If you like even-handed stories about hot-button social issues, rich character development, and thought-provoking narratives, then buy this captivating page-turner today.

This Is How It Begins Book Cover

“… Dempsey’s fine first novel [is] notable for the evenhanded way it addresses hot-button issues. The result is a timely and memorable story.” 


"Dempsey’s fine debut, set in 2009, explores how hate, fear, and intolerance cast a lifelong shadow. Current events have only made this gripping story more relevant."


"What is perhaps most stunning about Dempsey’s novel is her ability to empathetically show two diametrically opposed sides . . . [this] book feels prescient in our current political climate . . ."



"If this doesn't become a New York Times bestseller, I'll never understand why. This is one of the best novels I've read in the past five years—it will stay with me."

Cathy K.

"This was just fantastic... it had me crying by the end, too."

—Holly J.

“Dempsey has taken two stories that could have been ripped from today’s headlines and woven them into one fascinating, can’t-put-it-down book.”

—Edwina C

“I absolutely loved this book! I literally couldn't put it down. At the same time, I didn't want it to end.” 

Karen D.

“This book was hard to put down. On the day I received it, I read up to Part III, turned out the light but couldn’t close my eyes. So back up, light on, reading until I finished at 2 am.”


“… [the novel] drew me in and then I couldn't put it down. The only problem for me was the book ended! I wanted these people in my life. I need to know what they are doing now.”


“The characters draw you in, and the story is intriguing, moving, and intense. Could not put it down, had to know what would happen next.”

David B.

“No spoilers but there’s an unexpected moment towards the end that gave me goosebumps and made me want to sing – a must-read.”

—Eric M.

“…a riveting read … will surely set a new standard in political fiction.”

—Debbie H.

4.7 average star rating on Amazon

4.23 average star rating on Goodreads