It’s Not All Gravy

Musings on Life and Writing


Talking About Writing With Carl Brookins

Posted by mcm0704 on April 18, 2018 |

Help me welcome Carl Brookins as today’s Wednesday’s Guest. Carl is the author of numerous mystery novels and has just released a new book, Grand Lac, that I reviewed here last Sunday. Hopefully, it will be the first in a new series.

Since national news is rather dismal at the moment, and winter refuses to relax its hold on so many parts of our country, I thought a nice warm latte would make us all feel good. Help yourself. I can pour some more, but can’t promise the same lovely swirl with the foam.


Now, here is Carl with…

Thoughts on the role of the writer/reviewer/observer

First, let’s get one question out of the way. I’m not a literary critic. I am a reviewer of crime fiction and an author of same. I am a constant observer of the human condition. It is not my purpose to apply in-depth analysis or to discover the innerdeeperhiddensecret meanings of the crime fiction I read. And write. But I bring a critical eye, honed on over thirty years of contract, freelance reading and writing reviews for print and on-line periodicals and an awareness of what is happening in the current world around us.

That experience, reading thousands of excellent, bad and indifferent novels and short stories, TV and film scripts, plus writing several, has given me a knowledge base, a foundation if you will, and some idea of what constitutes a good novel or short story collection. And even, some biases.

That foundation is the basis I use for judging a story. It’s the same foundation I use for writing stories. My current novel, GRAND LAC is built around an actual event. But the people and most of the events I write about in that story are products of my imagination. That foundation is also the basis for a new novel involving my short detective, Sean Sean.

That story, still evolving, concerns the formation in Minnesota, of a new political party, dubbed the Progressive Conservative Party (or PCP) of Minnesota. How toxic the subject becomes, well, we’ll see. The current relevance is largely what interests me, because time then becomes important. Will I manage to get the novel finished, edited and published before the real events of life on which this novel may (or not) be based radically change? Stay tuned.

I believe that my role as a reviewer and as a writer is to help bring to reader’s attention stories that are, or should be, of interest; stories that are well written, satisfying, entertaining and enjoyable. They must have believable multi-dimensional characters who act in believable and usually satisfying ways to further the aims of the story whether that story is of a current or past time.

For me, pace, character, plot and setting are paramount, but not always equal in importance. These primary elements must interact in ways that serve the story. What about good writing? Good writing can cover many weaknesses, but pretty language woven into soaring sentences and paragraphs that make a reader want to smile and stop reading, to spend a moment contemplating the totality of life, but leading nowhere is ultimately frustrating. Characters with no discernable dimension are almost useless. Well-defined plots with twists and turns that lead to no resolutions are provoking and questionable.

Reviews which criticize the life style of the author or call into question the veracity of the fiction or the intelligence of the author are simply bad reviews. I try very hard to avoid using my own social mores as the basis for judging the value of a novel. After all, we’re talking about murderers, thieves, criminals of every stripe here.

A final note to those authors crushed or angered by negative reviews. Fact is, bad reviews sell almost as many books as good, but trashed, lukewarm or highly praised, the worst circumstance of all is to be ignored.


Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.

He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University.

You can find out more about the author on his WEBSITE *  And follow him on FACEBOOK and TWITTER

BUY LINKS – Grand Lac   **  Reunion      

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Book Review – Grand Lac by Carl Brookins

Posted by mcm0704 on April 15, 2018 |

Grand Lac

Carl Brookins
File Size: 1779 KB
Print Length: 201 pages
Publisher: Brookins Books LLC (April 6, 2018)
Publication Date: April 6, 2018

BLURB: A small group of investors has purchased lots on a mountain on the outskirts of Grand Lac in northern Idaho. One dark night one of the investors, Jack Ketchum, gets drunk, climbs aboard a large bulldozer and carves a raw track of destruction down the mountainside though the property of each of the other owners. Days later Ketchum is found dead in a ravine, a large-caliber bullet hole in his chest.

When a local day trader, young Sam Black, is jailed for the murder, his mother, Edie Black, calls her cousin for help. Marjorie Kane, ex-exotic dancer, enlists the aid of her partner, Alan Lockem. The pair are independent special investigators who specialize in solving unusual and sometimes strange case.

The duo flies to Grand Lac to try to prove Sam innocent and catch the real killer. They quickly find themselves enmeshed in civic chicanery, corruption and other evils, which must be sorted out to save Sam from prison or worse.

REVIEW: This is a very satisfying read for mystery lovers. There is a large cast of characters, many of whom are suspects in the murder of Jack Ketchum, and Alan and Marjorie work well together to narrow that list down to one – the killer.

The opening chapter of the book introduces Alan and Marjorie quickly, yet I got a very good sense of who they are. One of my first thoughts about Alan was, aha, an older Travis McGee. For those of you not familiar with the John D. MacDonald books, McGee was an unlicensed investigator who helped people in all kinds of difficulties – sometimes getting paid and sometimes not. That’s the way Alan explained the work that he and Marjorie do.

I like this set of investigators, and I do hope that Brookins plans to write more stories featuring the duo. They are older than than most detectives, or amateur sleuths, without all the accompanying aches and pains, and I like that. They also come across as very clever and smart, just under the surface of an easy-going approach to interviewing people connected to the case.

The descriptions of Grand Lac and Idaho help the reader “see” the landscape and the lovely homes built in the community, but some of the descriptions went on too long for me. That may be just an issue with my personal reading tastes, I am always more anxious to stay with the characters and the mystery than hang around for a lengthy description of a house. Still, that did not keep me from finishing this engaging mystery.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.

He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University.

You can find out more about the author on his WEBSITE *  And follow him on FACEBOOK and TWITTER

Come back on Wednesday when Carl will be my guest. He is going to ruminate about being a writer, reviewer and critic. I love the word ruminate. For intellectuals, it means “to think deeply about something.” Another definition is “to chew the cud.” Perhaps one can chew on something while engaging in some deep thinking.



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What’s the Favorite Part of Your Job?

Posted by mcm0704 on April 10, 2018 |

Slim Randles is back with an interesting post that made me stop and think about my job and the best part of it. It’s hard to say just one best part, as there are a few things about writing that bring me great satisfaction and make my heart smile. 

After you read what Slim has to say, leave a comment citing your favorite thing about your job. I will join you in the comments.

Before we move on, lets share a bit of something sweet to go with our morning coffee. Or afternoon coffee. Or evening coffee. Depending on when you read this.

Down at the sale barn Saturday, the Mule Barn Think Tank had congregated there with their coffees in to-go cups, ready to celebrate spring. Doc and Dud had their dogs with them, while Bert and Dewey and Steve went stag.

Dud tried to start a conversation, but the loudspeaker soon drove them outside, where they arrayed themselves on dropped tailgates and waited to hear what Dud had in mind.

“I thought about it a lot,” Dud said, “and I wondered what the favorite part of my job was, and wondered if you fellas ever gave that any thought, too.”

They nodded. Yes, by mutual consent a worthy subject.

“With me,” Dud continued, “it wasn’t so much my job as it was my hobby. You know, writing that book. I’m claiming it as the best part of my job, anyway.”

The assembled were still waiting to read “Murder in the Soggy Bottoms,” as it had yet to see print, and was really still a work in progress.

Then Bert picked up the conversation thread. “Of course I’m retired now,” he said, “but when I was running the pawn shop, my favorite part of the job happened when a customer found something in there he really needed and ended up paying much less for it than he thought he’d have to.”

Doc laughed. “And you made more on it than you thought you would, too.”

Bert grinned and nodded. “Yep. That was good too. And you, Dewey?”

Our accident-prone pharaoh of fertilizer got a serious look on his face. He finally said, “The best part of the fertilizer business is seeing the difference it makes in the flower gardens around town. Now maybe it’s just my imagination, but I kinda like to take a little credit for a prettier town.”

“You deserve it, Dewey,” Doc said kindly. “Well now … with me it’s a little different. I have doctoring skills, of course, and it’s good when I can help someone. But these days the most satisfying part of my job is to check someone out thoroughly and find there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them. Now that’s special.”

They all looked over at the tall cowboy, Steve.

“Digging postholes,” he said.

“What?” they said.

“You know,” he said. “The favorite part of my job.”

“Digging postholes?”

“Sure,” he said, grinning. “That’s the only job a cowboy has where he can start at the top and work down.”
~ ~  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Brought to you by your friends at Tractor Supply Company. Feed, seed and things you need.Visit them on the Web, or stop by the store nearest you. You might see a friend there.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Slim Randles writes a nationally syndicated column, “Home Country” and is the author of a number of books including  Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing. That title, and others, are published by  LPD Press
If you enjoy his columns here, you might want to check out the book Home Country. It has some of the best of his offerings through the years.


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Bias in Journalism?

Posted by mcm0704 on April 6, 2018 |

This was the banner for the online community magazine where I was Managing Editor for many years. The man who started the publication wanted to make sure that the news for our small town was reported fairly and without bias, which, unfortunately isn’t the case for so many news outlets.

Over the past 20 or 30 years it has become increasingly clear that journalism is not the same journalism I learned and practiced for many years before moving on to my stint at, and then on to writing fiction, which I clearly indicate at all times is pure fiction.

When I started out writing for print newspapers and magazines in the late 70s and early 80s, the lines between reporting the facts and putting forth personal opinions was very clear. We were not to insert ourselves, or any political, social or religious agenda we might support, into a news story. In stories about public figures, we were not to allow them to tell us how to present a story or allow their bias to direct our reporting. If they were not comfortable with that arrangement, they could decline the interview.

Opinions belonged on the editorial page. Period.

Those definitive lines between straight news stories and op-ed pieces assured our readers that we were giving them unbiased facts, upon which they could base their own opinions. And for a long time that was true in broadcast journalism.

Not so much anymore.

As more and more information has been released this week about Sinclair Broadcasting Group and the “must runs” segment that ran on all it’s affiliates last  month, I have become increasingly dismayed. In case you are not aware of what happened. Timothy Burke, the video director at Deadspin, put together a video of many of the anchors of local television stations reading the exact same words of a “must run” that had come from Sinclair headquarters.

The gist of that message was that there are too many instances of “fake news” in media outlets, and these stations were to assure viewers that it was not the case of their reporting.  Just one part of the report, all of which can be read in total in an article by Stephen Cohen in SeattlePI  was this:

(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.

Responses to the outcry over the “must-read” by Sinclair include statements by David D. Smith, Chairman of Sinclair Broadcasting group who was interviewed in a series of e-mail exchanges with Sydney Ember for this article in The New York Times

Sydney wrote: “Opponents of the deal have cited the dangers of media consolidation, as well as Sinclair’s willingness to use must-runs to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda.

“In subsequent emails on Tuesday, Mr. Smith, said that the networks ‘do exactly the same promotional things that we do” and that such segments were ‘standard practice in the industry.’

“Asked about the widespread criticism prompted by the Deadspin compilation, Mr. Smith expressed disbelief.

“‘You can’t be serious!’ he wrote. ‘Do you understand that as a practical matter every word that comes out of the mouths of network news people is scripted and approved by someone?””

While it is true that news stories are scripted and approved by someone, and have been for decades. The scripting was done by the reporters and staff writers and the approval was by the news directors whose job was to make sure the facts were true and there was nothing liable in the content. Content which had to be verified by at least two sources, if not more.

One element of this new approach that Sinclair, and other news organizations, is taking that alarms me the most, is how the news is being used to push a narrow point of view on people who may not take the time, or effort, to read or view or listen outside of the local news. So everything they hear on the nightly news as they sit in their living rooms after dinner, is gospel to them.

That point is made quite well in this quote from The Los Angeles Times in a story by Stephen Battaglio and Matt Pearce.

“Those of us who have followed the news business have been concerned for a long time about Sinclair injecting a political point of view into local news, especially coming from a central place,” said Andrew Heyward, a visiting scholar at the MIT Media Lab. “Surveys show local news is not only the most watched by a plurality of Americans, but also the most trusted. This would be polluting the last clear non-polarizing news pool in America.”

For more in-depth look at the story and how it affects the small TV stations across America, you can listen to an interview with a former news director at a local TV station in Iowa. Aaron Weiss that aired on The Daily with Michael Barbaro this morning.

Sinclair is now poised to buy many more TV stations, which will bring it’s broadcasting policies and messages into seven out of every ten homes in the nation.

Are the practices of modern journalism alarming to you? Where do you go to find your news? Since I stopped watching television almost two years ago now, I don’t miss local network news. I listen to podcasts and read news outlets online.

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Book Review – The Secret to Southern Charm by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Posted by mcm0704 on April 3, 2018 |


The Secret to Southern Charm
Kristy Woodson Harvey
April 3, 2018
ISBN: 10: 1501158104

BOOK BLURB: Critically-acclaimed author Kristy Woodson Harvey returns with the second novel in her beloved Peachtree Bluff series, featuring a trio of sisters and their mother who discover a truth that will change not only the way they see themselves, but also how they fit together as a family.

After finding out her military husband is missing in action, middle sister Sloane’s world crumbles as her worst nightmare comes true. She can barely climb out of bed, much less summon the strength to be the parent her children deserve.

Her mother, Ansley, provides a much-needed respite as she puts her personal life on hold to help Sloane and her grandchildren wade through their new grief-stricken lives. But between caring for her own aging mother, her daughters, and her grandchildren, Ansley’s private worry is that secrets from her past will come to light.

“Harvey’s signature warmth and wit make this a charming and poignant story of first loves, missed opportunities, and second chances and proves that she is the next major voice in Southern fiction.” (Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author).

REVIEW: Visiting the women at Peachtree Bluff in Kristy Woodson Harvey’s series set in a North Carolina coastal town is like taking a trip to visit old friends. I read the first book in the series, Slightly South of Simple, and eagerly looked forward to the next book. In some ways the stories and the characters remind me of Little Women. While all related, the sisters in the Peachtree Bluff Series, as well as Ansley, are as varied in personality and character traits as the  women in the Louisa May Alcott book.

There are numerous threads of plot that were established in the first book, and they are deftly pulled together in this second one. Slightly South of Simple ended shortly after Sloane’s husband was reported missing in action in Iraq. In this book we readers learn that Sloane’s husband is still missing, and we get to see how Sloane works through being totally immobilized with worry and grief until she is finally able to start painting again.

The love and support, and challenges, that the various family members give to Sloane are all part of her healing process.

That same love and support is given to Ansley as she deals with the illness of her mother and by  Jack’s ultimatum that she decide whether she can love him or not. Actually, loving him is not the question. The question is, can she take the step into trying to make a life with him and tell her girls the truth about their past?

The supporting characters of Kyle and Hap and Sandra and Emily, and all of the people in Peachtree Bluff that have walked in and out of the lives of the central characters continue to do so. Seeing them again reminded me of the small town where I had been living where I always saw familiar faces in the stores, in the restaurants, and in the coffee shop. Like the people in Peachtree Bluff, those people in my small town knew everyone, supported each other through difficult times and helped celebrate the good times.

Kristy Woodson Harvey always provides a feel-good story even if there are sad things that happen and difficult things that have to be faced, but somehow you can relate to the people and cheer them on and celebrate when they come through to the other end. The writing is smooth and flows so easily, making it such a pleasure to read that it’s hard to put the book down until it is finished. The story is told with different characters taking center stage in alternating chapters, and the device works well. There is none of that clunky recap of previous chapters that we sometimes see in a book using this style.

And just what is the Southern Charm and the secret? Granny says it is all in the accent, using just the right amount of Southern Lady drawl. But Sloane is convinced it is in “… Putting on a brave face, carrying on, helping others, being kind and humble and giving, believing with all your heart that the world could be a better place and that maybe you could make it that way… That was southern charm. And maybe it wasn’t a secret at all.”

We could all use a big dose of Southern Charm.

The Secret to Southern Charm is available from your local ookstore, AmazonBarnes & Noble TargetBooks-a-MillionIndiebound and wherever books are sold! It is being simultaneously released in paperback, hardback, e-book and audio, so check out your favorite version! 

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No April Fool

Posted by mcm0704 on April 1, 2018 |

First, I want to wish everyone a

It’s a bit unusual that the holiday falls on April First, which is usually when we play all the April Fool’s Day Jokes. I wonder how many folks will try to incorporate both. Will you?

I must say that the fun of April First and all the jokes lost it’s appeal for me some years ago when my father died on that day. I can still remember my sister’s exact words when she called to tell me the news. “This isn’t an April Fool’s Day joke, Maryann. Wanted to be sure you knew that before I tell you that Daddy died.”

She didn’t really have to tell me it wasn’t a joke. I could tell by the tremor in her voice it was something serious. Daddy had been in a nursing home for a few weeks following a stroke, and I had just been down to Houston to see him. Before I left,  we all thought he would get better, so his death was a bit of a shock to us all.

Since then, I have had a hard time entering into the fun of April First and all the jokes.

This year, I’m thinking about my father more intently, as we who are Christian celebrate Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus. We believe that we all share in that Resurrection when we have lived a good and honorable life, and my father did just that. He wasn’t in a church pew on Sundays, although he did attend important milestones in my religious journey, and he sang all the hymns with heart and spirit.

Most of all, he instilled in me, and my siblings, a sense of integrity, compassion, a strong work ethic, and loyalty to family and friends.

The last picture I have of me and my father. We were at a Father’s Day celebration for him when he was 90.  That was two years before he died. 

 These are some of the things I shared about my father at his funeral.

It was my father who told me so many years ago that it is not so foolish to pursue a dream.

It was my father who told me that I should make choices in my life according to what would make me happy, even if the world doesn’t approve of my choices.

It was my father who told me to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage.

It was my father who told me to consider any stranger a potential new friend.

It was my father who told me that it’s not what you are that’s important, but who you are.

And above all, it was my father who told me that while he didn’t have much to show for his life; no big house, no fancy car, no grand retirement spot where he could spend his social security in luxury, he had us, his children, to stand as monuments of accomplishment. He considered it time well spent.

It’s no surprise then, that family is my greatest treasure.

Rest in Peace, Popso.

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Blessings of Spring

Posted by mcm0704 on March 30, 2018 |

We are ten days into the Spring Solstice, which started on the 20th and runs until June when the summer Solstice begins. This is such a renewing time of the year when flowers start to bloom, grass gets green, and trees begin to create canopies of shade.

It is also a time when people of all faiths, or no faith at all, realize a resurgence of their own flowering and growing through ways that they celebrate the Solstice. That can be in religious or secular rituals or simply by being outside for a little while to see the renewal all around them and breathe it in.

For me, the spring holiday I celebrate is Easter, and while I wish everyone who celebrates any spring holiday many blessings of the season, I do want to wish my Christian friends and readers a very Blessed and Happy Easter.

I do love the religious and spiritual practices that mark the season for me, but I also love the Easter Bunny and all the fun of eggs and baskets and little kids squealing with joy when they find the goodies. In that spirit of fun, I thought you might enjoy the following:


All I need to know
I learned from the Easter Bunny!

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Everyone needs a friend who is all ears.

There’s no such thing as too much candy.

All work and no play can make you a basket case.

A cute tail attracts a lot of attention.

Everyone is entitled to a bad hare day.

Let happy thoughts multiply like rabbits.

Some body parts should be floppy.

Keep your paws off of other people’s jelly beans.

Good things come in small, sugar coated packages.

The grass is always greener in someone else’s basket.

To show your true colors, you have to come out of the shell.

The best things in life are still sweet and gooey.

And in the spirit of fun, you can check out the blog Rhythms of Play, where a woman named Nell gives a little information about the Spring Solstice and offers tips on how to celebrate with your kids through play. She encourages parents to play with their kids as a way of connecting in special ways. She offers 15 ways to get into the rhythm of play with your kids this spring.

Or, if you are like me without any young kids around, you can do some of the art projects yourself to enjoy some time with your own creativity. That is important, too.

May the joy of the season fill your heart.

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The Price of Progress

Posted by mcm0704 on March 28, 2018 |

Slim Randles is here to entertain us today with another story from the Mule Barn Truck Stop. Is it is just my imagination, or is there a subtle editorial slant to this? I don’t know. Maybe I’ve just been listening to too many POD Save America podcasts, but Del certainly does seem to have a similar thought process as someone we know in Washington D.C.

Of course, you are perfectly free to discount that idea as the ramblings of an old lady and read on. Do have a scone for a little snack and enjoy…

Image courtesy of The Spruce, where you can find the recipe at

“Hear ye! Hear ye! Cometh to the think tank this morning Delbert McLain, our very own Chamber of Commerce. A broad smile beameth.”

You know, we’re really proud of Del. Of course, what he’d like to do is make this valley so rich and crowded that none of us would want to live here anymore, but at least he works really hard at it. We admire hard work.

“Hey Del,” Steve said, “pull up a cup and sit down.”

“Thanks guys,” he said, flipping his necktie over one shoulder so it wouldn’t dangle in the coffee. “You heard about that Spanish billionaire Fortunato Alvarez de Banqueria?”

“No,” Doc said. “We don’t keep up on Spanish billionaires, I’m afraid.”

“See,” Del explained, “he’s this rich guy from Spain …”

“Kinda had that part figured out.”

“ … and he’s interested in … get this … investing in our valley Isn’t that something? I mean, it’s still in the tentative stages, of course, but the word is, it’s going to happen.”

“What’s going to happen?” Herb said.

“The subdivision, of course. The way I heard it …”

“Hold on, Delbert,” Doc said. “How did you hear it and what did you hear?”

“Sure. You know Carol, comes in the barber shop to sweep up at night? Well, her cousin’s girlfriend works in the city and overheard her bosses talking at break time about Fortunato coming over here with some real money. And what other Fortunato could it be?

“And the bosses said, and I got this straight from Carol, that the subdivision would probably be somewhere near our local landfill and will be called Basura Vista Estates. Think of all the people coming in! Think of all the road scraping that will happen! It’s amazing!”

“What will those new people do for jobs?” Doc asked.

“They’ll scrape in those roads and build those houses, of course,” Del said, taking a sip of coffee. “It’s the American Way.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~  ~

Brought to you by “Strange Tales of Alaska, available on That is just one of the many books by Slim Randles that are always sure to entertain, and perhaps not be an editorial commentary. Try one out and see for yourself. Most of his books can be found by checking out his Author Page at Amazon. One of my favorites is Home Country,” which is a collection of the many columns he has shared in national syndication.

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Book Preview

Posted by mcm0704 on March 26, 2018 |








Do you love Sweet romance novels that make you laugh? Then you’ll want to check out Stacy Juba’s brand new chick lit novel, Prancing Around With Sleeping Beauty, the second book in the Storybook Valley series.  The book was released March 5, and while it’s a follow-up to the popular Fooling Around With Cinderella, both novels can also be read as stand-alones. Come discover Storybook Valley, a fictional theme park in the Catskills of New York. If you love small town romance with humorous characters, theme parks, fairy tale fun, and amazing love stories, then Storybook Valley will be your new favorite series.

This Sleeping Beauty isn’t sure she wants to wake up…

Dance instructor Rory Callahan likes to play it safe. When she meets Kyle, he’s impulsive, persistent, and her exact opposite. He’s pushing her to tango way past her comfort zone and keeping Rory on her toes more than twenty years of dance teachers ever had.

Unfortunately, he’s the grandson of her family’s archrival and she doesn’t want to disappoint them. After all, her parents imagine her as a proper princess – hence her namesake Aurora, AKA Sleeping Beauty. Complicating matters, Rory’s also dealing with a surgeon boyfriend who’s perfect for her (sort of), an obnoxious boss, and desperate dance moms. Kyle wants to change her whole life, but Rory doesn’t like the stakes. After all, princesses are the ones who get the happy endings. . .aren’t they?


Amazon – Barnes & Noble iBooks Kobo

Here’s what reviewers are saying:

“It’s fun and energetic and bright, everything you want in a romance novel.” Emily Reads Everything

“This series is so charming. The characters are so incredibly endearing; I couldn’t help but fall in love with them.”Boundless Book Reviews

“I chuckled, giggled and may have even snorted through Prancing Around with Sleeping Beauty…”Among the Reads

MY COMMENTS: I enjoyed the book very much, and it was great fun to see some of our favorite fairy tale characters come to life.


Twilight had descended over the strip mall which also contained a pizza place, children’s art studio, New Age shop, bakery, and a consignment store with identical brick facades. A long sidewalk connected the storefronts. Rory’s phone chirped and she scanned a text as she strolled through the parking lot. A message from her older brother Jake, who lived in Maine.

Happy 25th. What new rose crap did you get this year?

Instead of making her chuckle, his joke elicited a sigh. She missed Jake and his toddler Quinn, but he never came home anymore thanks to a stupid fight with their parents. They went ballistic after he got a girl pregnant and accused him of ruining his life. Jake and the mother broke up, not surprising since she was a total flake, but he got an apartment a couple blocks away from her to be near his daughter. His absence meant he couldn’t take over the theme park, leaving room for Dylan to step forward.

Heading toward her car, she replied: Don’t know yet. I’m on my

Augh! Rory stumbled over something and toppled to the ground, her phone sailing through the air. Her right hand slammed against the pavement, and pain seared through her. Sitting up, she glared at the object that had blocked her path. A spiky creature in a plastic carrier glared back at her.

Rory blinked. She could accept a black cat crossing her path, but she owed her unceremonious spill to a needle-infested rodent?

“Who leaves a porcupine in the middle of the parking lot?” she demanded.

“Who trips over a huge animal carrier? Oh, right, someone who’s texting while walking.” A brown-haired guy in a khaki zookeeper uniform and boots loomed over her. She stiffened at his words until she noticed the dimples sprinkled with cinnamon freckles. He wasn’t mad, just amused. “And it’s not a porcupine. It’s a hedgehog.”

“What’s the difference? It was still in the middle of the parking lot.”

He crouched beside her. “For starters, hedgehogs have shorter quills that can’t easily come off their bodies, while a porcupine’s quills can easily detach themselves. On average a hedgehog has 7,000 quills while a porcupine has approximately 30,000. And a porcupine can grow to triple the size, between 25-and-36 inches.”

“It was a rhetorical question.” Rory risked a glance at her throbbing hand and winced. Blood dripped down her finger.

“I’ll admit that you’re worse off than Turbo. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll get the first aid kit.”

Mr. Porcupine Expert disappeared into a green van so garish, it almost distracted Rory from her pain. Painted animal heads peered out of big circles and orange letters proclaimed the monstrosity a Zoo Mobile—with paw prints forming the double ‘o’ in zoo. It wouldn’t surprise Rory if a white rabbit in a waistcoat popped out from the Day-Glo monstrosity, muttering about being late . . . for a tea party at her house using Wendy’s bumpy placemats. She groaned, deciphering the smaller words beneath the paw prints. ‘Duke’s Animal World.’

She’d always considered her family’s rivalry with Duke Thorne a bit ridiculous, but now Rory related to her granddad’s agitation. Thanks to sprawling over one of Duke’s stupid hedgehogs, she might have sprained her finger.

Shifting position, Rory glowered through the cage at the spiky black ball that had caused all the trouble. It huffed and puffed, quills poking outward, a breathing pincushion. My . . . she hadn’t realized hedgehogs had such tiny eyes. And what a cute button nose. This little guy—Turbo?—seemed skittish.

“Hey, there, Turbo,” she murmured. “Guess it was my fault, too. Did I scare you?”

“He’ll be okay.” The dimpled zookeeper reappeared with her cell phone, along with a toolbox-sized red first aid kit. He unlatched the kit, opened a box of gauze pads, and bent beside her. “Let’s apply pressure to stop the bleeding.”

“I can do it.” Rory squashed the pad against the cut, her cheeks heating, whether from his boyish good looks, or the mortification of falling over a hedgehog, she didn’t know. She hoped he couldn’t detect her blush under the lampposts’ dim glow. She rested her wrist on her knee. “What are you and Turbo doing here, anyway?”

“The art studio had a zoo night. The kids decorated animal statues and then I did a presentation. I was just about to load my last animal, Turbo, into the van when you went flying.” He jerked his thumb toward the Zoo Mobile. “I’ve also got a red-eyed tree frog, bearded dragon, chinchilla, and domestic rabbit.”

“Is it a white rabbit?” Rory muttered.

Mr. Porcupine Expert elevated a brow. “Not this time. What’s your story? What were you doing here?”

“I’m an instructor at the dance studio. We were having an open house. I got a text, and apparently, I wasn’t watching where I was going.” Rory battled the temptation to peek under the gauze.

“Let me get this straight. You’re a dancer? I thought dancers were graceful.” His brown eyes crinkled with amusement. Their shade reminded her of a caramel latte, warm and inviting.

“I am graceful! This was an isolated incident.”

“Uh-huh. I’m Kyle, by the way. And you’re . . .?”


“How about I make it up to you with free zoo tickets? You can come meet Turbo’s parents. I’m sure they’ll forgive you if I explain that you’re a dancer with two left feet.”

He wore such a deadpan expression that Rory almost laughed. His dry comic delivery must enliven his presentations. Her grandmother Lois, Storybook Valley’s self-appointed entertainment director, would remark that Kyle had charisma.


Buy it on:

Ever wondered what those cheerful theme park princesses are really thinking? When twenty-five-year-old Jaine Andersen proposes a new marketing role to the local amusement park, general manager Dylan Callahan charms her into filling Cinderella’s glass slippers for the summer. Her reign transforms Jaine’s ordinary life into chaos that would bewilder a fairy godmother. Secretly dating her bad boy boss, running wedding errands for her ungrateful sisters, and defending herself from the park’s resident villain means Jaine needs lots more than a comfy pair of shoes to restore order in her kingdom…

Check out the Storybook Valley series at these retailers:
Amazon –  Barnes & NobleiBookstore –  Kobo

And if you discover that you love the Storybook Valley books, be sure to join Stacy’s street team, the Storybook Valley Sweethearts  on Facebook for book launch activities and exclusive sneak peeks. Members will get to hear the latest Storybook Valley news before anyone else, and even read excerpts of works-in-progress and give input on cover design.

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Advice For Aspiring Authors

Posted by mcm0704 on March 21, 2018 |

My guest today is Kate Murdoch, the author of Stone Circle, a historical  fantasy novel set in  Renaissance Italy that was released December 2017. She is sharing some tips on the business of writing for those considering writing a novel and seeking publication. As she says, getting from that first word on paper to a published book is not easy. 

I am not sure what a beverage of choice was in Renaissance Italy, but I am sure if it was some kind of wine, it might have been carried in a flask like this. Tip a swallow for yourself and enjoy…

First, thanks to Maryann for having me here on the blog. Yes, the road to publication can be long and arduous—here are some ideas of what to do, and what to avoid.


If you want to obtain an agent, don’t send your manuscript to any publishers. Agents like to be the first people to see a manuscript so they know that when they send it out, none of the targeted publishers have seen it before.

Don’t wait more than six months for a publisher to get back to you. If it takes that long, it’s time to try another.

Rejection is part of the process. Whilst rejection will always be painful, rather than let it flatten you, use it as fuel to steel you and power ahead. Prove them wrong.

Don’t compete with your fellow writers. You’re in this together, and the more you can offer emotional support and concrete help, the more you will receive. Let them know about competitions, critique their work and give them a shoulder to cry on.

Don’t forget lived experience. Writing doesn’t happen in isolation. Interact and observe, even take notes of conversations and visuals.

Don’t mimic your favourite authors. Be inspired, take elements of what resonates, but try to develop your own voice. Your perspective on life is special and unique. No one else can tell the same story as you.

Must Do

Attend workshops and take writing courses. Not only will you develop skills and confidence, you’ll meet new friends for the journey.

Write short fiction and submit it to publications. This was crucial for me. Short form is very challenging, and practising it regularly informed my long-form writing. In addition, when these pieces were published, it gave me much-needed confidence to keep submitting my novel.

Send multiple query letters to different agents. It’s unrealistic to do one at a time.

Beta readers are important. Try and have as many as possible give you feedback before sending out your manuscript. The more drafts you do, the better.

Enjoy the process of creating, of not having any real pressure. When you’re published, you’ll be working to a deadline and promoting your work. There will be less time to immerse yourself in the joy of writing.

Read widely and often. Good writing filters into your own if you fill your head with it. Bad writing can remind you what not to do.

Critique others’ work. This is a good way to figure out what’s important to you in your craft, what you value, what you find boring. Once this list of stylistic ‘do’s and don’ts’ are clear in your mind, your writing will improve. You will also learn an enormous amount from other writers.

The journey to publication should be lived fully, day by day. Don’t wish away time, every step is important. If it happened overnight, you may not be ready for it, and you probably wouldn’t value it as much. Know you’re not alone, and there are many who can support and encourage if you seek them. Onwards and upwards.

Book Blurb

Is the ability to read minds a blessing or a curse?  

When Antonius’s father dies, he must work to support his family. He finds employment as a servant in the Palazzo Ducal, home of Conte Valperga. Sixteenth-century Pesaro is a society governed by status, and Antonius has limited opportunities.

When a competition is announced, Antonius seizes his chance. The winner will be apprenticed to the town seer. Antonius shares first place with his employer’s son. The two men compete for their mentor’s approval. As their knowledge of magic and alchemy grows, so does the rivalry and animosity between them. When the love of a beautiful woman is at stake, Antonius must find a way to follow his heart and navigate his future.

Buy links:

Amazon:   ** Amazon Australia  **  Amazon UK **  Book Depository: ** Kobo

Barnes and Noble ** ibooks

Author Bio

Kate Murdoch is the author of Stone Circle. She exhibited widely as a painter both in Australia and internationally before turning her hand to writing. In between writing historical fiction, she enjoys writing short stories and flash fiction.

Her short-form fiction is regularly published in Australia, UK, US and Canada.

Stone Circle is a historical fantasy novel set in Renaissance Italy. It was released by Fireship Press December 1st 2017.

Her novel, The Orange Grove, about the passions and intrigues of court mistresses in 18th century France, will be published by Regal House Publishing in 2019.

Learn more about Kate on her website and follow her on social media:

Website ** Facebook **  Twitter: ** Pinterest  **  Instagram ** Goodreads 


Kate is offering to answer questions for anyone who would like more information about the writing business or about her books. Ask away in the comments.

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