Friday, August 12, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Lines in the Sand
The End. The place writers hope to reach when they first start to write a book, story, or article, but a place that is so many times an elusive line buried somewhere in the sand. I found the line last night. At 2 a.m.  I finished the book. I. Finished. The. Book. The book that began many years ago as a short story. The one I set aside so many times and had come to believe would never be finished. The one that often made me struggle but that convinced me to just have faith and follow the characters, because they were determined to tell their story. I finally did. I just had faith and let them go where they wanted, and I believed in them when they said, “Don’t worry. We know what we’re doing, and it’s going to be okay.”

Of course this end is really the beginning. I have 72,565 words to edit, facts to look up and confirm, and then I need to decide what to do with it all. In some respects, I feel like the Olympiads who, after years of working hard, have made it to the finish line. Because last night, I finished the book. That is really all I have to say here today.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Home to Another Place

While I can’t say that I believe in reincarnation, I still sometimes wonder if it’s possible to have lived another life. That somehow, in some way, I lived in a different place. Forty-five years ago I first traveled west with a group of college friends to the places I’d only ever seen in movies. Having been a lifelong fan of westerns, I’d always longed to view those wide open plains and Rocky Mountains in person, and when we finally did it was truly a life-changing experience. Those lofty Colorado peaks were a sight to behold, and yet it was when we ventured to the Grand Tetons of Wyoming that I felt a special magic, a fascination with a place I’d never quite felt. To paraphrase a song by the late John Denver, it truly was like coming home to someplace I’d never been before. From the reflection of Mount Moran in the winding Snake River to the quiet of Jenny Lake, the magnificence of the entire area had me from the first morning I watched the sunrise reflect against the Grand. I was in love.

Then there was Jackson, at that time just a tiny western town, cradled in the “hole” between the mountains. With the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and Town Square with its antler arches, Jackson seemed so unique. As college kids we had a fabulous time camping in the park, wandering through the town (which didn’t take long back then) and going horse-back riding in the shadow of the Tetons. It was sad when we had to leave, and in my heart, I knew I had to come back someday.

It was 11 years before we did, my husband and I, with our young daughter in tow. I found the fascination with the Grand Tetons hadn’t changed. It still felt magical to sit and watch the clouds drift over those craggy peaks and wonder if in another time I really had called this place home. Maybe that was what led me to write my novel, Chance’s Return, about a man who once lived here but who comes home after years away, and a woman who comes home to a place she’s never been before. Writing the book kept me in touch with the magic of the Tetons, which was good because it would be 32 years before we went back again.

Now, in a twist of fate, our son lives there, and we’re planning our third trip in the past two years to see the mountains. (Oh yes, and to see him, too!) As has happened every time we’ve visited, I will be as excited as if it’s the first time, and I’ll be sad when it’s time to leave; but I’ll be taking a new story with me to keep me in touch with a place that tells me it was my home in another time. I have a title, Tetons by Morning (to remind me of what it looks like to see them in that pink dusky glow) and a first chapter in the sequel to Chance and Casey’s love story. I’m sure the trip will be great for inspiration as well as an opportunity to do more research, but more than that, it will bring me back to where I’ve been before. I can’t wait.


                Chance McCord pushed back his hat with his thumb and lifted his weary gaze to the mountains up ahead. In the past half-hour, storm clouds had amassed over the Tetons, staining the sky a violent shade of purple. Thunder rolled across the valley, setting a nearby bunch of Herefords lowing nervously and a jackrabbit scurrying for cover. In a minute, it was going to pour buckets.

                Chance didn’t mind the rain. The stretch of Wyoming highway shimmered under a sun that burned mighty hot and dry for this early in the summer, and he would welcome a rush of cool mountain air right about now. He just hated for his saddle to get wet. A fine cutting saddle, it had been a parting gift from his buddy Hank, and since the truck broke down outside of Boulder, one of the few possessions of any value Chance had left in the world.

                He’d thumbed the rest of the way and wished now he hadn’t asked the semi driver to let him out ten miles back. Did he think walking would make things easier? Give him more time to think about what he faced? He’d had plenty of time to think—five long years—and nothing in his mind had changed. Maybe walking was a form of retribution. A way to make amends.
                In truth, Chance knew it was just another effort to put off the inevitable.
               He reached into his shirt pocket, drawing out a tattered photograph. He always carried it with him, right over his heart. As he studied the photo now, a memory pierced him so swift it took his breath away. Lately those memories had begun to fade, taking with them some of the pain, but today he held onto the pain so he wouldn’t forget.

                Thunder rumbled again, and he slipped the photo back into its place, making sure his dusty denim jacket covered it. He lifted the saddle and rested it against his hip. The town of Jefferson Falls lay up ahead. He could sit out the storm there, but he’d never make it in time to beat the rain. He knew too well how fast storms moved out of the mountains, and this one wasn’t wasting any time.  The wind picked up and sent scraggly tumbleweed skittering across the pavement. Chance raised his face to feel the breath of the mountains on his damp brow. Then with a heavy sigh he pulled the brim of his Stetson low over his forehead, shifted the weight of the saddle, slung his duffel bag over his shoulder, and prepared to be drenched.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Days of Summer

At first you don’t notice it, it’s so subtle. Then one night you suddenly realize, wow, it’s ten o’clock and it’s dark already. You feel a little depressed then, especially if you, like me, hate to let go of summer. I may not enjoy the heat and humidity that comes with Michigan in June, July, and August, but I love the extra daylight, the flowers and the greens and the fields full of crops growing profusely. I love the June bugs that buzz against the screens in June and the fireflies that dance around on July nights. You can almost predict when they’ll first appear and when they’ll leave, and when the last of the fireflies drift away into the muggy nights, I feel a little sad. I have always hated to say good-bye to summer.

It’s not surprising I included that very line in one of the first short stories I wrote, titled aptly enough, Goodbye to Summer. In that story, young widow and single mom Kate Mitchell meets forest ranger Mike O’Brien and of course falls madly in love. To this day it remains one of my favorites, and I’ll always treasure the words of the editor I worked with at the time, “It’s a lovely story.” Words to warm an author’s heart. It was a true summer story with a beach and boats sailing on a lake and a picnic with dogs playing about on the sand. I put a lot of what I feel for this season into Goodbye to Summer.  I’m happy to say the story, although first published over 30 years ago, is now available again as part of the An Uncommon Prince and Other Short Stories on Amazon, and that Kate and Mike can live on for as long as Kindle survives. But of course, they’ll always live on in my heart.

This is the last weekend of July, and while August still lies ahead in all its muggy, hot glory, with the declining hours of light you can feel the slow slide into autumn. I love that season, too, but summer will always remain the best time of the year for me. In Michigan we are fortunate to have more farm stands and farmer’s markets that you can count, all offering whatever is ripening that month; strawberries in June, blueberries in July, peaches in August, sweet corn, and always zucchini, zucchini, and more zucchini. For anyone who has every grown them, you know how they proliferate overnight and how you often find a monster one hiding beneath the vines. It’s all been a part of the summers I have always known and what makes it hard to say good-bye.

There is still time left, to watch summer sunsets and listen to the noisy cicadas and chirping crickets, but the days are definitely growing shorter. Enjoy them while they last.   

Friday, July 22, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Christmas in July

It’s become quite a marketing ploy in recent years, celebrating the holiday in the middle of summer. Maybe it’s because everyone needs a little mental break from the heat of July, although most of us in the northern hemisphere dread thinking about what kind of weather lies ahead in the middle of December. One of my favorite go-to TV channels, the Hallmark channel, runs Christmas movies the entire month, and I must admit that in the middle of this summer with its sad news and crazy political scene, it’s become my haven when there is nothing else calming to watch. Christmas movies offer an escape from the real world and can usually be depended on to leave us in a much better mood than the nightly news.

In honor of the Christmas in July theme, I’m offering my own little means of escape (and a bit of shameless promotion) today. My book, The Christmas Wish, is a Kindle Countdown Special for the next few days, and if you need a few short holiday stories to take you away from hazy days of summer, it might just be the cure. While we are experiencing some of the hottest temps this weekend, take a break, put your feet up and let a nice romantic story take you away from it all!

   Bonnie and Charlie married after a whirlwind affair, but it all ended when Bonnie left with no explanation. Now she’s back and Charlie wants answers, about what happened to them and why she left, but especially about the three children she has in tow. Can they all really make it home for Christmas?

As an empty nester, Caroline is feeling lonely this Christmas. When she meets the new veterinarian in town, Joshua Kendall, and his two children, she’s more than happy to invite them to her library for a holiday program.  Joshua’s children seem to have little interest in celebrating, but Caroline is determined to put smiles on their little faces, and to make Joshua find joy in life again.

Brant and Hope found love the second time around, but now their farm is struggling and it’s taking a toll on their relationship.  Hope’s daughter has asked for one thing for Christmas, but Brant is certain it’s something they can’t afford. There is a new baby on the way, and he’s worried about more than just the farm. Will they find a way to rekindle their love and still make the Christmas wish come true?

Certain to get you in the Christmas spirit, here are three heartwarming stories about love and family and finding joy in the Season.

Today is also a Flashback Fired-Up Friday because the story The Christmas Wish will always remind me of when we had our own Christmas in July many years ago and what led me to write the story of Brant and Hope and their daughter’s wish. My daughter and I wanted a horse, but we had to wait until I received my check from Woman’s World magazine to buy him. Fortunately, the woman selling Haf Staccato was willing to wait until the check arrived in the mail. That was a long time ago and sadly Cato passed on years ago, too, but the story lives on as does his sweet memory. When I published these stories again on Kindle, I dedicated The Christmas Wish to him.

So try to stay cool this sizzling summer weekend and maybe indulge in a Hallmark movie or this Christmas story that I think will warm your heart.


Christmas in July Kindle Countdown Special.
.99 for a limited time only.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Today I’m welcoming to the Fired-Up Friday blog author Don Phelan. Don and I have known each other since elementary school, and it’s exciting to have him here as a guest. His recently released novel, The Beech Tree, is one I found to be both bittersweet and memorable. Don, tell us a little bit about yourself, your novel, and how you started writing.


The first creative writing I did was a poem I wrote at about the age of 12. "On the beach with golden sands," it started. It was about two lovers walking the Lake Michigan shoreline. When I showed it to my mother, she was ... maybe not surprisingly ... less than enthusiastic about my subject matter at age 12!  I was a bit embarrassed and never put pen to paper again for many years. Surprisingly, I discovered 30 years later that she had saved the poem. 

She never saw writing as a career choice. That said, my mother was a wonderful writer. In college, I would often come home to my apartment to discover my roommate had ripped open another letter from Mom. He always left the $20 bill she had sent folded into the envelope on the table and he would sit in a chair, laughing hysterically, reading the letter my mom had sent along with the letter.  I know her writing influenced mine.

In college, I took a Humanities class and the Prof encouraged us to look at common objects and see them differently and write about them. I didn't grasp the importance of this lesson until years later.

When I was in my late 20's and after rather boring careers as a salesperson and stockbroker, I knew I wanted to pursue a job in advertising. After knocking on literally hundreds of doors, I landed a job and, over the course of the next ten years, I had the opportunity to work with some incredible talent -- one who is now an Emmy Award-winning screenwriter, another was a brilliant creative director who specialized in funny radio commercials and even James Patterson (we called him Jim back then, when he was Creative Director for J. Walter Thompson USA.) I watched in awe as they created brilliant work.

One such talent was my friend, Hutch, who had won numerous Clio Awards (the advertising business' Oscar) and I asked how he wrote such amazing stuff. In his Texas drawl, he replied, "They's just word pictures. I just write what I see inside my head." It was a great bit of insight.

I wrote ads for hamburgers, beer, cars, trade journals, magazine articles and public relations. After I left the advertising business, I wrote a series of poems for my young daughters from their tooth fairies, Mary and Penny. One of these days, I will find an illustrator for them and publish them!

As with most writers, the idea of writing the Great American Novel pinged around in my head but I never felt I had a great concept. Or even a good one.

Then, one day, I was on a bicycle ride along the Lake Michigan shoreline between Grand Haven and Holland. I went looking for the cottage of a high school buddy's family where our group of friends hung out. We would walk down the road to what was popularly known as The Beech Tree, the place where tourists and townspeople alike visited to share their lives, their loves, hopes and dreams, and, to carve their initials into the tree. We weren't quite as "environmentally aware" back then as we are today!

Sadly, I discovered the tree had fallen years earlier. Some say it was destroyed -- as was the cottage -- during a freak storm in the spring of 1998. 

I just sat there in the spot where the magnificent tree once stood. I felt so sad. I thought about those who had carved their initials into the tree. Whatever became of them? What were their lives like?  I wondered, too, if I had ever, unknowingly, met any of them and felt a don't-I-know-you-from-somewhere? moment. Our only thing in common was the big tree which stood on the first dune in from the shore.

I spent the next day on Oval Beach in Saugatuck, watching the sun worshippers, a colorful mix of Illinois tourists, aging hippies and gay men. With my ever-present Spiral steno pad in hand -- and a pencil! -- I scribbled a chapter about Mason McDonald, a once-aspiring young man, drafted into the Army during Vietnam, and left a brain-damaged, pot-smoking beach bum who, 30 years later, hangs out on Oval Beach at the end of the beach "where the queers hang out," as he describes it. Mason seldom panders to political correctness ... or so one might believe. During 1967's Summer of Love, he and Debby had carved their initials and pledged to meet back at the tree in two years when his tour was over. Neither of them showed up.  They both have their reasons. Good ones.

That was the first chapter -- which eventually became the fifth chapter -- but it set the stage for the other characters and events.


You write with such clarity about several of the small towns that dot the Lake Michigan shoreline. Did you spend a lot of time visiting them while growing up?


One setting, of course, is our home town, Lake Michigan port cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan. Although I knew the area, the era which I wrote about in St. Joe and Benton Harbor are mostly in the 1920's and '30's.  I found myself doing a lot of research for accuracy and discovered some interesting facts I never knew ... which, of course, found their way into the book.

Today, I have adopted Grand Haven as my lakeshore home and did even more research on the city to maintain historical accuracy. One day, I was writing at the Kirby Grill and the manager came over. "I hear you are writing a novel," he said. "Do you know about our ghost?"  "Your ghost?" I asked. "The Blue Man. He's been a guest here at the hotel for decades."  With that, I did more research and, well, you need to buy the book!

I spent a good amount of writing time in Saugatuck, too. Each of the towns has their own personalities. And they are all wonderful places to visit!


The characters in The Beech Tree are so true to life. Did you base any of them on real people you knew?


Johnny, the first one to carve his and his Margo's initials in the tree in 1918 before he ships out to fight in The Great War, is one character based on a real person. My grandfather -- my mother's dad -- had bright red hair, bright blue eyes and talent with a baseball glove. When I started writing the character, his personality just came out, in his humor, his ruggedness, his shyness yet certainty about doing what was right, even though he sometimes failed to do the right thing himself.  Yes, that character has a lot of my grandfather in him.

The character, Marie, has many of the personality traits of my step-grandmother.




The time span of the book covers nearly the entire 20th century and is very detailed in descriptions of those turbulent years. Can you talk about how you did the research?


Lots and lots of research.  Google is a wonderful tool for writers; you can get a lot of information. Sometimes, though, you must get out of your chair and walk in their footsteps, literally. It gives you a feel that researching via the internet can't give you.

For example, an Episcopal church described in the book: I walked in, sat down in the pew and just "felt" the place. It seemed like a good place for a private conversation.

In one of the chapters, I describe the Freedom Ride event. Walter Bergman, a then-young man, was paralyzed during the violence. Mr. Bergman was a neighbor of mine in the mid-1970's and I had talked with him then about what he experienced. It was a defining moment in my life and some 40 years later, it found its way into the book. A couple years back, I was traveling past Birmingham, Alabama. I took the exit, drove to the bus station where it happened and just stood there, imagining what horror happened in that spot on that fateful day.


Are you working on another book? (I hope!) 


Yes, the working title is The God Particle: Annihilation.


 A drastic departure from a summer beach read, it is based on Stephen Hawking's theory that Earth could be swallowed up by a black hole from a distant, much larger galaxy. Since his theory proposes such an event -- improbable as it is -- would happen at faster-than-light speed. We would never see it coming.  Which makes for a pretty short, dismal novel, right?

So a bit of literary and scientific license will be necessary.

Strange events are happening and scientists of the world believe this event is actually beginning to take place. Of course, if the world's population hears of it, there will be mass hysteria. So scientists and world leaders agree to a pact of silence.

Except for one PhD in Cosmology Research Assistant, who defies all stereotypes of science geeks. She believes she might have discovered the real answer. Now all she needs to do is find her mentor/professor, who has escaped into hiding and into his bottle of Bourbon, to verify her findings.

That is, if she finds him before those who want them both dead don't find them first.



In what formats is The Beech Tree available and where can we purchase it?


The Beech Tree is available in paperback, all e-books formats and even PDF for reading on a desktop computer.

Paperback: Available directly from the publisher, CreateSpace 


E-book edition also available online at Barnes & Noble, Kobo and other bookseller sites.


Follow @donphelan on Twitter and "Like" my Facebook page, A Little Light Reading" at


Thank you for being my guest here today, Don. Best of luck with your writing. We’ll be looking forward to the next release!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Another Pandora’s Box

 When we moved 9 years ago, I was forced to sort through the tons of research material and other paperwork that I’d accumulated in my years of writing. Most of it heralded from the DBI (Days Before Internet), if it’s possible to remember that time, and it is truly amazing what I thought I might want to use someday. In those DBI, there was no Google to tell you anything you might want to know, so I kept anything that looked interesting. I shredded and threw away a lot, but at some point I stuffed a lot of that collection into a box and took it with me to the new house…where it has sat for 9 years. Occasionally I would look at it and think, “I really should go through that stuff.” I would often move it from one room to another and put something on top of it so I wouldn’t have to see it. I confess I really am notorious for putting things off, especially when it involves deciding what to throw out and what to keep. Eventually, I forgot what was even in The Box.

A day of reckoning finally arrived, and somehow I managed to tackle that box. It’s pretty incredible what I considered worthy of keeping at one time: lots of newspaper clippings, including recipes from a column called Cook of the Week that once ran in our local paper; maps and brochures from places where we’d traveled and that I might want to go back to or use as a story setting; a few school papers and drawings from when my kids were little; notes from conferences and workshops that I attended years ago. Some of those are still relevant. Others, like the ones from spotlights on certain publishers, are long out of date. Most of the publishers spotlighted are long gone. There were a few notebooks with essays I wrote, story ideas and synopses, and a number of half-used notebooks. There was even a finished short story that was actually a companion to The Christmas Wish (now published on Amazon) that never sold. One newspaper clipping of special interest told of the Crazy Horse Memorial. We had visited the memorial while it was in the early stages of being carved out of a mountain in South Dakota and comparing it to the pictures we took two years ago, you can see how far they’ve come in the project.

You might think it was a pretty big box, considering everything I managed to cram inside of it, but it really is just average size. Just goes to show what you can accomplish when you don’t want to face throwing stuff away.

So there I was, faced with three piles of stuff. What to keep, what to throw away, and what the-heck-should-I-do-with-this? It’s a bit like Pandora’s Box, while all the stuff was safely tucked inside, it didn’t cause any problem. Now that it’s all been set free, I need to deal with it. It’s a family curse of sorts, one we often discuss and sometimes joke about; the fear of throwing stuff away. Must be in the genes. We all fight it, the need to keep too much stuff, and worst of all, to keep it until somebody else has to go through it. Fighting the urge, I now have a bag of stuff that will be recycled (which somehow makes me feel better than just tossing it in the trash) and one big pile of yet-to-be-decided. Since it’s sitting on the floor of my writing room, let’s see how long I can let it stay there. One thing I refuse to do is cram what’s left back into the box to save it for another day. Fortunately, unlike Pandora’s Box, it didn’t contain anything evil, but perhaps, like the last thing to emerge from it, there is Hope I will finally be rid of my own troublesome box of stuff.

Here's a picture of the little box I bought to hold some of the recipes and newspaper clippings I decide to keep. At least it's cute.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

How Long Does It Take?


To write a story, or a blog, or a novel? For anyone who has never taken on that venture you might wonder if it’s a month long commitment (short story), a few hours (an article or blog) a year, or maybe years (novel). Many authors are able to write several shorter novels or books a year, while others work diligently on one longer book for several years. I have to confess that the book I am currently writing and hope to finish very soon has taken over ten years to get to this point. Even before that it started out as a short story that never sold, but apparently it was one that wouldn’t leave me alone.

When I decided to expand the story into a novel, it started out well and everything was working. Since I’d already written the short, I knew who the main characters were and had no problem figuring out what came next. But short stories and novels are two entirely different creatures. Most short stories you can get away with just two main characters and maybe one or two secondary. Not so with a novel. You need other people in the book for your hero and heroine to interact with, to cause trouble for them, and to maybe help lead them to the conclusion. Trouble is, you need to keep track of those other folks and make sure they also get some kind of happiness or comeuppance, whichever they most deserve.

It might have helped if I’d written out a complete synopsis or an outline to begin with, but from the get-go this book just didn’t want to behave; so even if I had, I think it still would have led me astray. It became quite a struggle and there came a day when I just didn’t know what was going to happen next. I couldn’t figure out what so-and-so was doing or why and what was worse, I began not to care. I could have gone on, beating my head against the wall, to try and finish the book, and for a while I did. Then came the day when I finally said, this is it, no more, and I shelved the book. There were other projects I wanted to work on that required much less torture and that were ready and waiting to be finished. So I moved on, and I let that book drift to the back of my mind. Chalk it up to one that just didn’t work.

What made me decide to go back and finish it this many years later? Not really sure, except as life changes you sometimes see things differently and new ideas begin to find their way in. Or perhaps it’s that your mind isn’t taken with dozens of life experiences and problems and you suddenly are able to concentrate on something that once seemed so difficult. Or maybe the characters just started talking again, and you realize that this time you have to give them their just desserts or their happy ending, and let them ride off into the sunset.

It’s still taken a while but this time The End is in sight, and most probably I will finally be able to write those words in the next week or two or maybe even sooner. What a trip it’s been and one I hope not to repeat, although the journey of discovering who these people are and what story they’re trying to tell me is one I’ve come to love. While it will be a relief to finish the book, I know I’ll miss them and already there is another story percolating, one that takes Shane and Allison to another place and new adventures. There’s even a line in the book that hints at a sequel. Yikes!