We're taking a break from themes for a while. It'll be a smorgasbord of posts this summer. Your comments can help us determine what type of posts you'd like to see more frequently. We hope to hear from our readers often!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Non-Writing Weekend Bracketed by Two Aletas

by Betsy Ashton

Duane, Aleta, me and Terry
Aleta is a fairly rare name. To have two Aletas in the same family is rarer yet. And both were named after Princess Aleta in the old Prince Valiant comic strip.

The first Aleta in our long weekend away is my cousin who lives in Burlington, VT with her significant other, Duane. Her mother, who was like my second mother and for whom I am named, loved the comic strip. Our selfie is the fearless foursome at the Saratoga Race Track, a place we like to meet once a year if possible. Aleta and Duane are both in health care, she a psychologist, he a psych nurse.

We don't get together more than twice a year, but each time it's like we just ended one sentence and started another, with months in between. 

Our road trip took us from Southwest Virginia through Maryland, Pennsylvania and finally into New York. We ended in Albany where we spent three nights. Aleta and Duane drove from Burlington to Albany. Their drive was a wee bit shorter, about three hours to our twelve. We backtracked a few miles to Saratoga for two days of racing. None of us did very well, but we didn't care. We had wonderful conversations about mental health, politics, the color of grass, writing, and playing the bagpipes. Duane is in a pipe band up in Burlington. In fact, they left after dinner on Friday because Duane had Scottish games on Saturday.

The other Aleta is my husband's daughter. He too loved Prince Valiant. Who could have guessed I'd find a man with a daughter named Aleta?

Aleta and her husband live in a small town in Orange County, New York, about an hour and a half south and west of Albany, where she is an event planner and her husband puts bad people in jail. Seeing them is terrific, but seeing our only grandsons may be even better. Howie is four with an adult-sized vocabulary, especially about trucks, planes and trains. He loves his PopPop and dominates his time. John Callan is two and is into grandfathers rather than grandmothers. Just the right age for male bonding. I don't mind. I get plenty of time, including bedtime, where I read stories to Howie to calm him down enough to sleep. PopPop/Terry ended up with bathtime. 'nuff said.
Cal, Aleta and Howie

Much as we hated to leave on Monday, we did have to get back to work. I left my novel at home, because I was stuck on how to make the last movement work smoothly. Hours of listening to two suspense novels and plenty of windshield time unlocked the ending. I've always known how it ends but I didn't know how much of the draft had to be rewritten and trimmed. I have my shears out for trimming and the delete key at the ready. 

 That was my summer vacation, lovely weekend with the two Aletas. Can't wait for December when we all get together again for the "Tween the Holidays" party.


Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I've taken this year off from publishing, but not from writing. I wrote 2 books earlier this year, and I'm deep into writing another one and will finish it soon.

When I quit focusing on publishing and focused on writing, I re-discovered how much I enjoyed writing again. The book I'm working is one I may or may not ever submit to a publisher, but it's made me realize how much I enjoy writing.

I always enjoyed writing my published books, but there's a certain freedom in writing a book that may not ever go beyond your keyboard. The gratification is in the writing, not the eventual 'product'.

I'll start looking for a publisher for my mystery series later this fall, but for now, I'm just enjoying the break. After all, isn't that what summer is for -- a nice vacation from 'normal'?


Monday, August 24, 2015

The Joy and The Pain by Brenda Whiteside

The last two weeks have been a flurry of activity that's left me exhausted with my back in pain. I've had back probs all my life, but have been able to keep it in check with proper exercise. So I blew it. Not taking the time to exercise and the stress of juggling too many things hit me hard. I've got multiple writing projects going, and farmer Lance has been off the farm, which means I fill in as best I can. The orchard surprised me this week. We actually have some fruit this year. All but one of the apple trees has fruit...some only a couple but that's something. The pear tree is producing. And the big story is the plum tree with ONE
plum. LOL But it's a pretty thing.

Garlic before cleaning
We've also started the process of trimming, cleaning and boxing the garlic for market. Right now we have two wholesalers looking at our offerings. Hopefully, in about ten days we will be 2,000 pounds lighter of garlic.
Cleaned and boxed

This morning, my husband and I are off to Tucson to stay in a resort for two days, compliments of my son and DIL as a birthday gift. I'm hoping this forced relaxation will be what my back needs and I can avoid the doctor!

Brenda spends most of her time writing stories of discovery and love entangled with suspense. The rest of her time is spent tending vegetables on the small family farm she shares with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Together, they’ve embraced an age-old lifestyle that has been mostly lost in the United States - multiple generations living under one roof, who share the workload, follow their individual dreams and reap the benefits of combined talents.

Weeding the zucchini

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Some thoughts on what large, red apples and small, dark tents have in common by Margo Hoornstra

Today I offer some advice on writing for those inclined to take it.

One of the first writing workshops I attended was led by a published romance author. It was a round table where each of us shared a few pages of our works in progress. To be honest, I don’t remember the specifics of my personal critique, other than I came to realize what I had to offer was not yet ready for prime time.

That was okay, though, because I did come away with some new insight about the importance of using the senses—touch, taste, sight, smell and sound—in my stories. The following examples show how sensory impressions are brought on by descriptions, using a large, red apple as a prop.

Touch: Cool, sticky juice dribbled down her chin as she bit into the large, red apple.
Taste: Sweet and savory juices from the large, red apple flowed over her tongue.
Sight: The large, red apple sparkled with a shiny patina.
Smell: The air was infused with the crisp and pungent aroma of fresh picked apples.
Sound: The large, red apples crunched and splashed as they tumbled into the jaws of the huge cider press.

But now for the point of this post. I’m currently in the process of critiquing the latest effort from my critique partner Jannine Gallant, who, by the way, gave me permission to put up this post. She’s a very entertaining writer, which is one of the reasons I enjoy reading her work. Not to say it isn’t work for me too <grin> but back to my point.

As I happily edited along, I came across a place that brought to mind that workshop of long ago.

Here’s the set-up in my words, not hers.

The night is dark and warm somewhere out in the beautiful and peaceful wilderness. The hero and heroine have been attracted to each other from the get go. Finally, they’ve gotten around to doing something about it. They are nestled together in the close quarters of a newly pitched tent.

These are snippets of her words as the scene develops.

His warm chuckle filled the tent, taking the edge off the chill that shivered down her bare arms.
She laid a hand on his arm. Beneath her fingers, warm skin over firm muscle sent a dart of feeling zinging through her.
Down near the river a bullfrog croaked, deep and resonating. Inside the tent, her discomfort hung between them, thickening the air until she could barely breathe.
His lips settled over hers, firm and warm. One big hand moved to the back of her neck, fingers burrowing into her hair. When her mouth opened, his tongue slipped inside.

Me again. I know unfortunate location for me to interrupt, but I really do have a point to make. Surrounded by darkness in the cozy confines of a small tent like these characters are, those senses of touch and sound, smell and taste are at their height and I am right there in the midst of it, enjoying every sensuous moment.

Then she brought out the sense of sight and, I’m sorry, but I was abruptly forced to stop reading. Every author’s worst nightmare.

First the lines, then I’ll tell you why they’re culprits.

He tipped her chin upward with one finger to look her in the eye.
“Then you’ll find someone new to date?”
She shot him a quick glance.

Without night vision goggles, who among us can see in the dark? Putting goggles on these two would put a definite crimp in the romantic element of the scene, so that was out. However, something had to be done.

The fact I just returned from a ten day camping trip didn’t help her cause. Okay, our camping trip was not of the tent and sleeping bag variety. Ours was more travel trailer with all the comforts of home—air conditioning, full-sized double bed, indoor plumbing. Although we did have a power failure at the campground for a few hours, and at night. That helped me hone my senses, if you will, about how very, very dark it can be out in the wild.

Here are those examples again, along with my (suggested, of course) changes.

He tipped her chin upward with one finger to look her in the eye.
He tipped her chin upward with one finger then moved in so close his breathing became hers.
“Then you’ll find someone new to date?”
She shot him a quick glance.
“Then you’ll find someone new to date?”
She lifted her eyes toward his voice.

All of this is IMHO – in my humble opinion – but I do believe I have a point. And now you know what large, red apples and small, dark tents have in common.

My days to blog here are the 11th and 23rd. For more about me and my stories, please visit my WEBSITE

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A long road to D.C. by Leah St. James

I originally had planned an entirely different post for this month – something about weird nonfiction titles – but reading Jannine’s blog on Tuesday got me thinking about my own experience with that first trip to drop a kid off at college. Suddenly I was feeling nostalgic, so I hope you don’t mind my indulging in a trip back to the fall of 2002. 

My older son – one of those kids who soaked up knowledge effortlessly, and got the grades to prove it – was heading to his first year at George Washington University...a whole mile or so from the White House. He’d been accepted early decision shortly after 9/11, so half my head was full of possible terror attacks, and the other on all those normal fears parents have – will he fit in, will he do well in often will he be calling for money. :-)

Move-in day dawned with a downpour, and we were soaked by the time we crammed all his stuffed into my car. Smelling like wet dog, we buckled ourselves in, ready to battle our way south from Jersey to D.C. on the ever hospitable Interstate 95. 

We’d made it to the Garden State Parkway (like five miles) when he turned to me and said, “Mom, I don’t want to go to college.” (Looking back, I’m amazed I didn’t wreck the car.) My response:  “Tough. You’re going.” 

I don’t remember much about the rest of the ride, but I have to tell you I was tempted to turn that car around and give in to his sentiments. But I knew it was probably fear of the unknown – certainly not a desire to stay home – and he’d regret it if I did. But the day was not without its challenges.

When we got to his dorm, it was pretty normal chaos with a gazillion other parents dropping kids and all their paraphernalia piled on the sidewalk while frenzied parents fought each other over the handful of carts.  (I remember one girl whose “stuff” took up about the size of a city bus. At that moment, I was so thankful to have boys.) 

The line eventually moved, inches at a time, until we made it inside the actual dorm building to discover that only one elevator was working.  I was going to attempt walking until I realized he was on the 7th floor. 

After a couple more hours of waiting and inching, waiting and inching – all of us smelling worse than wet dogs by then – my son’s “stuff” made it to his room, and it was time for me to go.

I think we were both too exhausted for a tearful goodbye, so after giving him a quick hug and extracting a promise to call every so often, I headed out into the city.  I found my car, got in, started her up and  turned onto a one-way the wrong direction.

That’s when I pulled over to the curb, dropped my face in my hands and sobbed. 

About ten minutes later, I pulled a U-turn and headed home.

When told him later about going the wrong way on the street, feeling lucky I hadn’t been ticketed, he said, “Mom, D.C. cops don’t care about traffic laws. They’re too busy watching for terrorists.” (Sigh.) 

Now, 13 years later, I’m happy to report that all has worked out well. He got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from GW, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Penn State in Harrisburg (all but dissertation). 

First ceremony - for his college. We were in the
nosebleed section of the bleachers.

University-wide ceremony on the National Mall.

This year he received a teaching award (something like ten awarded for the 6,000 or so grad student assistants at Penn State University). I'm not trying to brag....well, yeah, I am. I'm so proud of my "kid." :-)

I think we’re both so glad I didn’t give in to his request that day back in 2002 to turn around on the Parkway and head home.

Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the redeeming power of love. For more, please go to 

She hangs out mostly on Facebook with occasional spurts at Twitter (especially during college football season). You can check out her Pinterest boards here.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Itchy feet & lobster by Barbara Edwards

I’ve mentioned before that my husband gets bored when he doesn’t have anything to do. The heat wave we’ve been experiencing made it impossible to do outside chores and he already painted the living room a lovely shade of ivory. 
He asked me if I’d like to take a ride to Maine for fresh lobster. Since it’s difficult to write with him pacing through the house I agreed a lobster dinner would be terrific. The trip  is about four hours from where we live in Connecticut. 
Main coast
I assumed a drive up and back along one of the scenic routes.
Whoops. While I packed my laptop, he loaded the truck camper on our Dodge Ram. He mentioned casually that I should take a change of clothes. Thankfully I interpreted that to mean three days. 
Off we went. Then he says he reserved a campsite. Okay. I sit back to enjoy the ride. For some reason the traffic past
Boston and Cape Cod was light. The roadwork that seems a constant repair, slowed us for very little time.
We set up in the campground and headed out for dinner. I had this picture in my head of lobster.
There are lobster places all over. Lobster rolls, lobster bisque, mac and cheese with lobster on signs galore.
Here is the big but. These are your usual tourist eateries geared to handling the summer crowd. You walk in, stand in line, order over the counter, pay and wait for your tray. You take it inside in the AC or out on a patio, usually overlooking the water. I’m ready. 
My husband wants a restaurant. A sit-down, waiter, table with tablecloth restaurant. 
He didn’t find one. Not on the first cruise through town. Not in the second town.
I’m hungry, but I know better than to ask when we’ll eat.
He’s on a quest.
He doesn’t want to eat outside in the heat. He wants what he wants. I don’t care. I just want lobster.
Today we’re stopping at a lobster pound, getting them steamed, grabbing side-dishes from the supermarket and eating at the campground. 
To keep me happy. He drove to the oldest lighthouse in Maine.
Beautiful park maintained by volunteers from town.
I’m glad we went. I got two thousand words done on my WIP and lobster.
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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why Go Anywhere When Home is So Nice? Laura Breck

Laura Breck

My birthday is coming up in less than two months, and the family is intent on finding someplace fun to go to celebrate it. (Yes, it’s one of those big ones we don’t like to talk about!)

They’re talking beach…

Biking the desert…

Hiking a mountain…

But fall in Minnesota is something to be experienced! The crisp air, colorful leaves on the trees – or fluttering to the ground. Bonfires and marshmallows, long walks in the woods, short days with plenty of time to read in the evening after the sun disappears for the night.

If you’ve never experienced fall (or summer or winter or spring) in Minnesota, I invite you to do so soon. We have a beautiful state, and many romantic sites.

Speaking of Minnesota romance, our multi-author anthology, Love in the Land of Lakes, supports the Midwest Fiction Writers Sunshine Fund – money set aside to help writers who need a little boost to help them succeed.

Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, and just as many love stories. Love in the Land of Lakes brings you seventeen of these stories, from two childhood sweethearts connecting on the end of a dock on a warm summer's evening, to a city boy's chaotic weekend at his girlfriend's primitive cabin. We bring you the story of a savvy horse who leads her owner to love in post–Civil War farm country, and the haunting romance of an ageless gambler who inhabits a historic riverboat and charms the boat's new owner.

A kaleidoscope of sunshine, snowstorms, and thunderstorms grace our contemporary, mystery, historical, and paranormal stories as the authors of Midwest Fiction Writers spin lovely romances that will send you drifting into happily ever afters.

All proceeds from this book will benefit Midwest Fiction Writers in providing learning opportunities for writers of all levels.

Our Stories:

A Cut Above the Rest by Rhonda Brutt - Rachel knew that a simple haircut had the power to change someone’s life. What she wasn’t counting on though, was how it would change hers.

Bobbers 'N Bait by Laura Breck - The evocative marketing gimmick at the new bait store in town has the fishing outfitter all hot and bothered.

Coming Home by Jana Otto - A young widow’s faith and courage are tested when she falls in love with her husband’s best friend.

Dancing in the Moonlight by Rose Marie Meuwissen - Anna Thorstad never imagined reopening her parents' lake cabin would also open her heart to love again.

Henrietta's Man by J.S. Overmier - A savvy horse carries her Civil War-torn soldier north in search of healing and a future.

Her Stranger by Michel Prince - Each night a stranger comes to Rachel’s cabin door. What is it that makes her fall into his arms?

Hook, Line and Stinker by Ann Hinnenkamp - An LA makeover artist comes home to Minnesota and must use all her skills to tame a wild man.

Hooked by Barbara Mills - An avid outdoorswoman takes her city born and raised boyfriend for a chaotic weekend at her family's primitive cabin on the lake.

Lake Dreams by Rosemary Heim - Olivia had her life all planned out. All except for that one impulsive night with her childhood crush. Can he convince her the result is worth the risk?

Lake Secrets by Mary Schenten - A weekend getaway at the scene of the crime has Elly struggling to keep a secret from her best friend.

Enjoy the rest of summer!
~Smart Women ~Sexy Men ~Seductive Romance