Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Before dying by Eleanor Stem

White Light of Death

Once I worked in the upstairs offices of a bank, located in the Dallas area. A coworker was an older man who never married. He lived with his sisters and took care of his mother. We will call him Lewis.

One day, Lewis sat down on the chair next to my desk. He asked, “Do you believe in life after death?”

Being quite young, I hadn’t thought too much about it. I shrugged and said, “I guess. Why do you ask?”

Then he proceeded to tell me of his mother’s last day on this earth.

She had been on her deathbed. Lewis’ father was already gone. His parents were young during the Prohibition era and they loved to dance. As Lewis put it, “Every Saturday night, they’d go out and shake a leg.”

He sat on a chair by his mother’s bed. All of sudden, she raised her arms. “You come here and let me help you.”

She faced the other side of the bed and proceeded to attend to someone or something. Lewis asked, “What are you doing, Mama? Who do you see?”

“Oh, I’m just fixin’ this little boy’s collar. He’s dressed like they did at the turn of the century. One side of his collar's tucked under his coat.” She patted what would have been the little boy. “There now, fixed.”

She lay back and closed her eyes. Lewis’ mind wandered, thinking of his youth and his parents.

Mama said, “Do you think they’re in heaven?”

Lewis jerked awake. He must have drifted off. “Who Mama? Who do you see?”

“There, at the end of the bed. The Jacksons are here.”

They were the couple Lewis’ mama and daddy danced with on Saturday nights. Even though it was Prohibition, they’d go honky-tonkin’, kick their feet and swing around.

Lewis couldn’t see who mama saw, but he said, “I’m sure they are. They were good people.”

He no longer allowed his mind to wander, to drift off to sleep. His mama was having hallucinations. As the clock by her bed ticked away the afternoon, a little girl dressed in frills came to her bedside, neighbors from her past, church matrons and friends who had died in France during WW1.

“There are so many crowdin’ in, Lewis. I’m afraid they’ll move the bed.”

Lewis couldn’t see anyone or anything. All he saw was her lace covered chest-of-drawers. The lamp on her bedside table, the clock that ticked away the day.

“They want me to come with them,” she sighed heavily, “and I am tired.” Her voice weakened. “So very tired.”

Later that afternoon, Lewis’ mother passed away.

* * *

I was with my dad when he died. We were in a curtained room in the ER. An oxygen mask covered his face. I stood beside the gurney, my husband off to the side. My dad kept looking at where my husband stood. He pointed over and over, his glassy eyes wide. My husband looked where he pointed but we didn't see anything.

My dad died a few minutes later.

After the hospital’s minister came and gave us condolences, the ER doctor and nurse, who had attended my dad, came in. I asked, “Do you ever see the spirits of those who die?”

Without hesitation, the doctor nodded. “Yes.”

With a great deal of hesitation, the nurse finally nodded and said, “Yes, I have, too.”


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"August...die she must"

As summer comes to an end here in the northeastern U.S., I usually feel a sense of sadness come over me. I love summer and hate to see it go. Even this record-setting heat and humidity we’ve been experiencing for the past few weeks hasn’t put a damper on the season for me. We’ve been blessed with fresh tomatoes aplenty (three varieties), peppers, zucchinis (green and golden) and assorted herbs. And I love going shoeless in the yard :-)

The pool has been sparkling clear for my newly retired husband and Evie, our mutant springer spaniel (I don’t swim, though; don’t ask why). It’s astounding to realize that it will soon be Labor Day and schools have already reopened here. The season I wait for through the endless New England winters (which usually extend into spring) is over seemingly before it even started. 

One reason I’m feeling a bit blue is that for the umpteenth year in a row, I was unable to view the Perseid meteor showers. After a spectacular show of fireflies, the Perseid event is like the finale of a Fourth of July fireworks display. But for any number of reasons—cloudy skies for the most part, and the light pollution one experiences living close to cities—they came and went without much ado. Truly a pity since, according to astronomical forecasts, this year’s event was supposed to have been especially impressive, a “once in a decade outburst” that was seen in the southern hemisphere as well. (Read more about the Peseids here.)

I initially became excited over this phenomenon the summer I graduated
Evie, aka Dopus Dogimus, in the pool
from high school (ancient history by now), and I remember the awe and excitement of seeing them for the first time, as if I’d made some sort of unique discovery. It was a cool, mid-August night and my childhood pal, my beloved mutt Shadow, and I were sitting on one of the huge boulders at the foot of the driveway at my parents’ home in North Stamford (no light pollution there amid the trees far from city lights). We stretched out on the rock, soaking up the last warmth of the day, me on my back, Shadow in his sphinx-like doggy pose, and gazed up at the clear, starry sky. The sight was unexpected, with one “shooting star” after another, sometimes multiple streaking lights at once. Over the next few nights, Shadow and I made a point to return to our rock. On one night, I stopped counting after more than a hundred in less than an hour.

When my kids were small, I would rouse themand my husbandfrom their beds at around midnight when the meteor showers were at their height. We'd lie on chaise lounges or beach blankets in the back yard and stare up at the sky and wait. But here in Central Connecticut, the sky was never quite as bright or as clear as it was in those earlier years. After much mumbling and grumbling on the part of my progeny and hubby—they were bored or tired, or both—we’d call it quits, usually without seeing a single one.

And so it’s been for the last 25-plus years. On an occasional August night, I’ve seen one or two, at most a handful, but in my back yard I have yet to see the Perseid the way I remember during that magical night when I was eighteen. (Luckily, my life hasn’t been completely bereft, as they are particularly exquisite over the Great Paconic Bay on the East End of Long Island, where my husband grew up, or along the Connecticut River east of here.)

I’ve also found a place for the meteor showers of August in my writing. Along with fireflies, which I’ve used in two books, the Perseids make an appearance in Courting the Devil, book two of “The Serpent’s Tooth” historical series, in which my heroine, Anne, experiences their awe and wonder in much the same way I did, way back when, among the trees with my old dog Shadow.


Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, Lord Esterleigh's Daughter, Courting the DevilThe Partisan's Wife, and The Return of Tachlanad, her latest release, an epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her The Books We Love Author page or visit her website. All of Kathy’s books are available in e-book and in paperback from Amazon.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Pantser Confessions

I never thought I could get myself into such a tangle in the course of writing a plain, old-fashioned traditional romance. This book has taken a lot longer than I'd projected, but I think I've finally reached “The End.” After the editor gets it, there may yet prove to be a few slips between the cup and the lip, but that's the way it's been ever since I started this story, a sequel to Hand-Me-Down Bride, which is a story about a German mail order bride, brought to Pennsylvania to marry a wealthy older man. 
Another book, set in Pennsylvania farm country, in the home of the now happily married older sister, in the time just after the Civil War, looked, at first glance, to be a snap. A nice title, Butterfly Bride,  jumped into my head, instead of waiting until the last second to put in an appearance, like so many titles do. 
As you may know, in the writing world, I’m (more or less) a "pantser".  This used to feel easy-peasey, but in this case, it turned out to be a case of "not so much".  There was a sketchy  outline at first but the characters spent a lot of time avoiding me, going into hiding after I wrote the first four chapters.

It’s taken a long time to get to know anything about them.  And I know I’ve blamed the heroine, Miss Elfrieda Neiman, casually called “Elfie.” She’s very pretty and rather immature, this Butterfly Bride. She's not the only one who has fluttered around, though, refusing to follow my nice neat outline, not by a long chalk.

To be fair to my girl, Elfie has three suitors, all quite different, and each one offering things/experiences which are attractive. Of course, all of them are decidedly good looking. 

Bachelor #1 is filthy rich--or at least, lives as if he is. He's the heir-apparent sort of prospect a pretty lady from a down-on-their luck family is supposed to jump at. Bachelor #2 is a muscular smith/farrier, a veteran and proud owner of a winning trotting horse, whose large family works the timber on the nearby ridge. Bachelor #3 is a thoughtful, musical, educated man of the cloth, who lost a leg and nearly died fighting at the Battle of Spotsylvania.
All three of these characters, as soon as I began to imagine them beyond their cardboard cutouts, revealed unexplored depths as well as some serious demons. I was forced to confront the fact that it takes more exposition to establish characters who were so determined to pop into three dimensions.
As a result, what should have been a nice little bare-bones sequel got complicated. I’ve been enduring months of those writer’s nights where you go to bed and lie half-awake, running scenes in your head—some of which, by the light of day, turn out not to be so great. And that’s a pain in the you-know-what, because, despite remaining sleepless until 3 a.m., the nagging problem/plot point remains without a solution.

What are they saying? Where are they now? If it’s a party—and with pretty gad-about Elfie and her social young friends, it often seemed to be. Who else is there in the crowd scene that these willful characters have dragged me into? Are they dancing, eating, or just hanging out?  And, more to the point, what are they thinking? 
Finally, however, after a final week long marathon of 10 hour days and "No More waffling, Mrs. Waldron--FINISH THE STORY", my young heroine started to grow up a tad and at last settled upon Mr. Right. She just needed a few more jolts, some of those "learning experiences" which we all dread so much, to discover the truth of what had always been right there, inside her heart.

Juliet Waldron
All my novels:

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Final Weekly Winner ~ Get Fired Up For Summer Contest

Bob Wong wins a copy of Crazy Cat Kid by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey.

Bob, please email 
to claim your prize. 


Books We Love

Contest ends this week! Winner announced in September 1st newsletter. Last chance to enter below.

Find the contest details here


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How an Author Gets her Kicks on “Route 66” by Connie Vines

Having lived a great deal of my adult life in the Inland Empire, were the
famous Route 66 runs right through my backyard. One lazy Saturday morning I decided to set out and see what I could find on a brief stint down the historic road from Rancho Cucamonga to San Bernardino (I’ll save the drive to Santa Monica for a future post). The people I met and the stories I heard in these short four hours of my morning about the people and families that have built their lives on this road, are stories I’d like to share with you. While so much of the history has died in the commercialization of the area (I can’t help but think about the movie “Cars”) here are the spotlights that I saw from the stretch of Route 66 that starts in Rancho Cucamonga, California, USA and ends at the city of San Bernardino.

Everyone one recognizes The McDonald restaurant logo, but did you know that there is a museum, too?

In 1940, Dick and Mac McDonald opened McDonald’s Barbecue Restaurant in San Bernardino, California, at 14th st. and E st. They had a staff of 20 carhops and a 25 item menu that included barbecue ribs, beef, and pork sandwiches. They soon became the #1 teen hangout in the San Bernardino.

In October of 1948, the brothers took the plunge (against the advice of all their customers) and closed their successful restaurant, terminated all their carhops, reduced their menu to cheeseburgers, hamburgers, milkshakes, and fountain sodas, and reorganized their kitchen in order to specialize in speed of service, simplicity of menu, and low prices. Their revolutionary thinking forever changed the restaurant industry.

This 1,718 seat auditorium was built in 1928 and is a perfect example of the architecture and style of the time. It is a beautiful building, even better when it’s lit up at night, that has been renovated on the inside to become a modern theater that is still in use today.  Link to the events.


The approach of the mighty sprawl of metropolitan L.A. doesn't mean the ride's over. Just past San Bernardino, as the cityscape takes over, this kid-friendly motel is the best of the three remaining "wigwam" motels that appeared in the '30s, '40s, and '50s. And even if you ignore their infamous sign ("Do it in a teepee"), it's worth stopping for a night. Each concrete room is well kept up and faces a palm-dotted lawn with a pool. The drive continues to the Wigwam Motel, which is one of the most well know landmarks on this part of Route 66.

While I do not plan on every bit of research I found on my adventure, I can capture the ‘flavor’ of the experience.  Historical, Contemporary, YA cookbook?  An author is always game for a new writing adventure.

Happy Reading,


Shopping for one of my books?  here is the purchase link! 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Series: What to write next? - by author Vijaya Schartz

The Curse of the Lost Isle, a romantic medieval fantasy series, was twenty years in the making and is coming to a close. Of course, I wrote many other novels for various publishers in multiple genres during that time, since that series did not find a publisher right away, and required a great amount of historical research. As I am writing the last novel, Book eight, Angel of Lusignan, scheduled for release around the holidays, I realize with nostalgia that it has been a long labor of love. I’m going to miss living in that world.

As to what comes next, I’m still debating. I like writing in different genres and I have a habit of mixing them, which creates marketing nightmares for my publishers. But I like my stories to be original, different and unique. I write what I would want to read. In the Curse of the Lost Isle (from BWL), featuring a family of immortal ladies with Fae gifts, I mixed authentic legends with known history and romance. In the Ancient Enemy series, I mixed science fiction with romance, and several of my characters have paranormal abilities… sometimes created through technology. 
I also wrote a few contemporary romances, but always with a twist, like reincarnation, a mystery, or a thriller element. Whether writing about the past, the present, or the future, my main constants are action, adventure, and romance. I also have a predilection for cats, as they pop up as secondary characters almost everywhere (except in medieval times, but I do have a major dog character in Damsel of the Hawk). 

I would also like my next project to be a series. Like a reader, after I fall in love with a created world, I enjoy spending time in it. But I may choose to make these series shorter. Maybe three or four books, not six or eight like in my two latest series. It’s difficult to promote Book seven or eight to new readers who haven’t read any of the other books… even if it’s a standalone. 

Standalone is another requisite of mine. I like my series to be readable out of order, so each book should be a complete story as much as possible. As a reader, I hate cliffhanger endings and would never do that to my readers. I had to cut longer books into two parts before, not by choice, and although I still gave the first book a satisfying ending, I couldn’t tie up all the loose ends or resolve all the conflicts at the end, since that happened in the second book. It deeply bothered me. From the reviews, I know it bothered a few of my readers as well.

Now, for the time and place: Medieval? Futuristic? Contemporary? Post apocalyptic? On a space station? On an alien planet? In an alternate universe? I have used all of these in the past. Is there any other option?

As for the characters, I have a predilection for strong, kick-butt heroines. I also really enjoyed writing immortals. I once flirted with the idea of writing a series featuring angels, and I am still considering it. They could be fallen angels seeking redemption, or guardians of the human kind. Or, they could be aliens, alien/human hybrids, or AI (artificial intelligence).

So, my new writing project should definitely be a series with strong heroines, romance, action, adventure, and cats (you can never have too many of those). Each novel should be a complete story, and the series should lend itself to a different hero and heroine for each story. So, the constant would be the world in which the characters evolve.
In other words, writing a series revolves around creating a world in which strong, captivating characters can fight for what is just and good, and in the process, find their happily ever after. Writing this post helped me order my thoughts. Starting next year, look for the start of a new sci-fi romance series involving strong kick-butt heroines and gorgeous aliens with angel power. Now, back to finishing the Curse of the Lost Isle medieval series. 

Vijaya Schartz
Blasters, Swords, Romance with a Kick
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Friday, August 26, 2016

How fashion has changed—or has it? Tricia McGill

Fashion has played a large part in my life. Before my focus centered on writing I worked in the fashion industry for many years. My book A Heart in Conflict is set in the world of fashion and because of my past it was obvious that at least one of my books should feature the industry that was part of my life for so long.

It all began when I was a child. I guess it seemed inevitable that I turn to fashion as a trade as my mother was an expert seamstress and to be honest I can’t recall ever wearing a dress as a child that was not made by her or two of my eldest sisters who later took over the task. Joan was a pattern maker and also forelady of a clothing factory. It was she who more or less coerced me into fashion. I fought against it for a year after leaving school and argued that I did not wish to work in a factory. But a position in the cutting room where she worked became vacant and between her and my mother I was convinced to give it a try. Just as a side note, I wanted to work in stables or kennels. Ah,
Joan was the glamor girl
of the family-note the shirred
bathers (they were passed
down to me)
 that dream was never to reach fruition. My eldest sister was an expert embroiderer and so all my dresses from an early age were decorated with her wonderful smocking, a tradition that has more or less died out, as most of this type of work is now done by machines.

Joan would bring home fashion books and I spent many happy hours cutting out the ladies and lining them up for my impromptu fashion parades. My favorite of all time were the paper doll books. Not a birthday or Christmas went by when I was not given one of these books. I just loved changing the outfits to suit the occasion. On trying to find pictures to illustrate this I learned that the designs and dolls still exist but are certainly more elaborate than my early gifts. My sisters made me a rag doll and she got many a change of outfit, and hairstyle. Her hair was fashioned from thread wound around a book and stitched to her
The color and length was changed regularly as the whim took me. How I wish I had kept that cherished childhood love, but like many childhood mementos she disappeared. Once we reach teenage there are too many other intrusions. I did keep my old china doll for years and only parted with her
a short time ago when she finally fell apart.  I have kept the dress she wore and her bootees, as both were made by my eldest sister for her first child.
A early book of paper dolls.
I was so used to my sisters and mother making their own clothes that it didn’t seem unusual to me. Once I began in the cutting room, fabric became easily available so therefore I also made all my own clothes. For many years I didn’t possess a shop bought dress. I do have an admission to make here, for I cannot lie, I am not a good seamstress like my mother or sisters. Yes I can make a pattern from scratch and of course sew the garment up but I become impatient when it actually comes to the putting it together part. My mother had a Singer treadle machine, electric of course by now, a far cry from her early one that had to be hand driven. I learned to sew on that, and have never been without a sewing machine since I married and left home.

After my arrival in Australia I opened my own business for a while. Another sister came along with me as she is the expert sewer. It was fun while it lasted and some of the customers were dears who were always up for a chat while being fitted. I learnt many a family secret. Mind you, there were the hard to please women whose figures fluctuated with their tempers. There is nothing worse than having a bridal gown finished only to find that the bride has lost or put on weight suddenly, either through binge eating or fast dieting.

Aunt Flo (pictured) was also in the industry. This pic was taken circa 1040.

My dear little shop-note my
dogs always came to work
with m
This was in the days before all the rules and regulations began to make life difficult for starting up a small business. I simply rented a shop, got my husband to decorate it, bought some fabric, and away I went. Until one day an officious looking man carrying a clip board came into the shop wondering if I had registered. Registered? Er, well no. But this was soon rectified as he was a gentleman and soon explained how to go about it. It was hard work in that little shop, and long hours, and so I returned to the factory. I loved my work, even though it was often tough going at change of season times when everything was always wanted yesterday.
Note my sketch on the wall.
See, we did wear knee high
boots and mini skirts then.

They say what goes around comes around, this is so true in the world of fashion. I don’t
Alma Cogan
mean haute couture which is at times bizarre in order to be different and outstanding. But as far as the average woman and what she is wearing today, my sister and I often nudge each other and say, “Remember that outfit I had that was just like the one this woman on the TV has on.”  Yes, we went through the maxi phase and the mini phase, the high boots and the strappy sandals and high wedge phase, the high-busted and the dropped waistline. Even the full skirt with layers and layers of stiff petticoats beneath, favored by swing dancers, was a trend we endured. The older ones among you will recall Alma Cogan who wore the really full skirt, and so we followed suit. I just Googled Alma and would you believe heard a snip from one of my all-time favorite songs by her, “Little things mean a lot.” Sorry, I digressed to shed a tear. Even my wedding dress was full-skirted, with yards and yards of tulle.

  I think Bridal gowns have undergone the most changes. The bride of the 40s or 50s wouldn’t have
worn a strapless gown. Most brides had a long train and carried elaborate bouquets.
One thing that always disappointed me and my sisters was our parent’s lack of wedding photos. Our mother never talked about her wedding day, in 1914 or thereabouts, and it is likely they had a civil ceremony where she wore a suit that she would have made herself, like this one in the picture. She would have also made her hat. 

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