Tuesday, August 30, 2011

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING...SHY.

By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

The moment has come…something I have been dreading all month. Can’t you hear the menacing ‘dum-dum-dum’ playing in the background? That’s right; it’s time for me to tell you about myself. You might think it an easy task for a writer but it isn’t. You see, although it may come as a surprise to many, I’m shy…and it is something I've struggled with all my life.

Most people would be surprised to know that ‘shyness’ is a personality trait very often shared by artists, actors, and authors. It is a characteristic that, particularly in childhood, caused them to be quiet, and often overwhelmed – especially in public. And it could be painful, especially when targeted for teasing and taunts by mean-spirited kids (who shall remain nameless). Because of this, shyness often steers children toward the world of imagination where nothing is impossible; where books took you on unforgettable journeys, and watching movies brought new meaning to daydreams or playing ‘make-believe”.

From an early age, I was a voracious reader and often imagined myself as a character in a book. I also loved dressing up and pretending to be someone else, usually in a little play with my siblings, staged in the living room of our home for relatives. Some were our rendition of fairy tales, and others were penciled by yours truly. What I didn’t realize at the time was play-acting became not just a creative outlet for me, but a way of self-expression—although I hid behind a character to do so. It’s no surprise that a symbol for theatre is a pair of masks representing comedy and tragedy.

We are what we live…

Without going into detail, my childhood was at times both idyllic and turbulent—which pretty much describes my parents. My mother was a proud Texan, whose family came to Texas in covered wagons. She was soft-spoken, sweet, funny, and beautiful…very much like a fairy princess in my eyes. My father was a Yankee and, for lack of a better word, "complicated". He had very Victorian aspects to his personality, and no patience (or tolerance) of children—rather unfortunate since he had six of them. For him, being a father meant being a provider and strict disciplinarian. He had a stormy, often volatile temperament, depending on which way the wind was blowing. His mood was unpredictable and often frightening. Let's just say I avoided him...so did my siblings. I don't think it came as a surprise to any of us that our parents eventually divorced.


Despite the fact I was supposed to be born in Texas, (I got there as soon as I could years later) I was born in a small town named Troy, located in Upstate New York on the Hudson River. Troy was also the home of Uncle Sam, and where I spent my early childhood. Even now in memory, Troy seemed like a town that time forgot—filled with interesting characters. At the very least, it was in no hurry to embrace progress, and seemed to prefer an old-fashioned way of life. There were no supermarkets; instead, we had Borden milk delivered to our doorstep in real glass bottles, as well as other dairy products. Freihofer Bakery also delivered bread and other baked goods by a horse-drawn wagon. I’m serious! I still think they made the best Oatmeal Raisin cookies I’ve ever had. My favorite, however, was their Black-eyed Susan cookies—this big sugar cookie with a dollop of raspberry jelly in the center. But I digress…

Carrier Brothers was a farming family who had this big truck, the back of which resembled a colorful gypsy wagon. They would come to our street, and people would go inside to shop for produce. I remember being very little and walking up the steps with my mother. Wooden crates of fresh farm produce and fruits were tilted at an angle so customers could view the merchandise and serve themselves. The farmer would then weigh it on a hanging scale.

As you can tell, I was an observant child—especially about people and details—and I can attribute that quality to being shy. Even as an adult, especially at large social events where I don’t know anyone, I hang back to quietly listen and observe. Get a feel for the room, so to speak—and the true nature of people. I now realize that what may have started as a defense mechanism has helped make me a more visual writer.

Imagination takes root…

I am a firm believer that one must nurture imagination in children. How many of us built forts using blankets over tables and chairs on a rainy day? Or jumped all over the furniture pretending the floor was lava? (Okay, the lava game may just be me and my quirky family.) We lived in a white, turn-of-the-century wooden house that was narrow but tall, and had lots of Victorian features like this beautiful straight staircase with a mahogany banister and thick newel post. What better place to crawl down on my stomach with my siblings, pretending we were alligators of all things. The living room was also long and narrow, and had doors which pulled out to turn it into two rooms. We used one as a formal living room (for company) and the other was for the family’s use. Originally, this layout came from an age when men would talk amongst themselves over brandy after dinner, and the ladies had to go to a separate room. But what I remember most about this room is the carpet burns on my knees from walking around holding my ankles and quacking like a duck. (I never said I wasn’t weird.) I definitely had a vivid imagination, which often led to mischief. Take for example the time I pretended to be a spy looking for microfilm in the greenhouse of the corner florist. My mother had given me this silver pen she’d gotten as a welcome gift from our local bank. Let’s just say the florist did not appreciate a 7-year old practically ransacking his fragile merchandise. Police were summoned. I escaped by diving into a hydrangea bush until the coast was clear.

Two life-changing events occured when I was a teenager. First, I was seriously injured in a car accident. Among other injuries, I lost feeling in both my legs, and was told that without surgery I would never walk again. With surgery I had a 50/50 chance of walking, but likely with a permanent limp. Blessedly, I had a brilliant neurosurgeon that repaired my spine, a few guardian angels watching over me, and a wonderful mother who taught me to walk all over again.

The second life-changing event was that my parents divorced. I moved with my mother and younger siblings to Texas…finally. My shyness went into overdrive in a new place. My mother enrolled me in a Dallas modeling school, feeling it would help my self-confidence. I was too short for runway modeling; besides which, although I did not limp, maintaining balance was an issue. I did learn how to apply makeup and did some print fashion photography. It did help my self-esteem, or maybe it was the effect from dying my hair chestnut brown for a more dramatic photographic effect.

It should come as no surprise that I eventually ended up a theatre major at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. There I learned an actor should embrace their life experiences, (good and bad) and use them to connect emotionally with characters as well as bring reality and power to their performance. Much as I loved acting, I realized I wasn't cut out for the lifestyle. My observation of people in the business frightened me. I was quiet, didn't drink, didn't smoke, and seriously considered being a cloistered nun as an alternative. I also had a habit of changing dialogue and even certain aspects of characters I was playing. This was when one of my instructors suggested I take a new master class called Actor-Writer-Director.

The result was I wrote a 3-act dramatic play that was so well received at school, it was later staged at Actors Studio-West. The experience was so empowering and I loved the creative freedom I had as a writer. After all, there is no limit to the imagination. I also realized that the same life experiences that I had been taught to use in acting, now became an archive of resources that I could incorporate into my work, helping not only with plotting but development of characters that will, hopefully, resonate emotionally with the reader.

Long Story Short...

Sometimes life does throw curve balls at your dreams. You find yourself at a fork in the road and unsure what path to follow. One road may be faster, a more direct route to your goal, but the other represents the unknown. And if I see an interesting town or beautiful country road, I follow it. I know in my heart I may not pass that way again. I don’t want to miss something wonderful. And it was on one of these side trips, I met the love of my life…my future husband. I never gave up on my dream of writing, but also didn't want to miss a moment of the magic happening in my life at the moment. I don't regret a minute of it.

Today, with the support of my husband and three sons, I am an award-winning published author of historical romance with mystery, suspense, and/or paranormal elements. As a writer of historical fiction, my books are set in Regency England, Scotland, and the American West. At present I am completing the first in a Historical Parnaormal series set in Regency era England and Scotland, and a Historical Western Time Travel set in TEXAS!

My debut novel, The Sense of Honor, winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense, is now available in print and e-book format.

And since you have taken the time to read the saga of my life, I am going to give a copy of the print book to one lucky reader who posts a comment. I will put everyone's name in the proverbial hat and post the name of the winner on the 31st of August with instructions on where to send me your mailing information.

Thanks for stopping by, and best of luck! ~ AKB


Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Life and Times of Cheryl Pierson







Hi everyone,

Well, here’s a bit about me. I’m from Oklahoma, born and raised here. My parents and two “much older” sisters and I lived in Duncan, where I was born, until the summer I turned 6—that was 1963. That summer, my dad, who worked in the oilfields as a chemical engineer, was transferred to Seminole. My oldest sister Annette had managed to graduate from Duncan High School, but my middle sister, Karen, was going to have to do her last two years in Seminole.

We were pretty much the typical family, like the Cleavers, only Mom didn’t vacuum in high heels and pearls like June did. She kept busy with my sister Karen’s activities, and I started first grade that year at Woodrow Wilson Elementary, just a three-block hike from my front door.

I was lucky to have a stay-at-home mom, who loved to bake and cook things from scratch. Being a child of the Dustbowl and the Great Depression, it was the only way she knew to cook. A wonderful seamstress, she made a lot of our clothes, including my first prom dress!

Talk about an idyllic childhood. It was small-town America. The “neighborhood gang” rode our bicycles all over that part of town with no restraint, other than most of us were not to go past the main busy street, Strothers. However, there were plenty of other places to ride and we explored every inch of them. My best early childhood friend, Jane, moved in the same week I did, and she was only one year older than I. We grew to be as close as any sisters, and I was heartbroken when her father was transferred a few years later. I took dance lessons and played the flute in band. I was a classically trained pianist, and though I hated the hours of practice, if my mom was still here today, I would tell her what she always said I would—“THANK YOU.”

Going to the library was an every-Saturday affair. When Mom went to get her hair done, she dropped me off at the library. Goldie Barnett was the old maid librarian. Books were her life. She had a humped back and the sweetest, gentlest smile that you ever saw. She knew every book on the shelves, and loved to see young people come in and choose “no more than seven” to take home with them.

In the summers, we ran wild, playing sandlot baseball, riding bikes, climbing trees (yes, I was a bit of a tomboy!) and lying on an old packing quilt in the shade with a pitcher of cold lemonade and a favorite book for hours on end. We made frequent trips to Durant, in the southeastern corner of the state, where both my parents were from and where we still had many, many relatives on both sides. My dad’s parents had a huge garden that we would go down and help harvest. This was where I learned the fine art of shucking corn, picking beans and okra, and canning tomatoes.

When I finished my junior year in high school, my dad was transferred again--this time, to Charleston, West Virginia. I was told time and again how lucky I was to have been able to stay in school in one place all those years. I didn’t feel so lucky, though, to have to leave everyone I knew, and all that was familiar. I finished high school in Winfield, a small suburb of Charleston, and started college nearby. Turned out, the move was “in the cards” because I met my husband, Gary, there at college.

Gary and I were married in 1979, and here we are nearly 33 years later—still together. Only because we never owned a gun, I’m sure. (just kidding, really!)

Gary had been married before and had two children from his first marriage, Jennifer and Russell, who came to live with us in 1982. It was really a saving grace, because this was a very hectic time, and a time filled with upheaval, as Russell’s mom insisted on taking him back to live with her, leaving Jennifer with us. Time flew, and in 1986, our first child, Jessica, was born. I had started to write by then, but only at night when everyone else was in bed. In 1989, our son, Casey, came along, and by then Jennifer was a senior and ready to graduate.

We moved into Oklahoma City from one of the outlying suburbs and bought the home we still live in today. For many years, my life was full with taking the kids to their sporting events, play practices, and school activities. I worked part time during those years, and taught piano and guitar for many years, as well. Jessica, Casey and Jennifer all live nearby. Sadly, we lost Russell in a car accident when he was 18.

I’ve loved to write my entire life. I remember as a child, my mother would take little notepads to church with her in her purse for me to “occupy myself” with. In elementary school, I wrote poems, short stories and even a play that my 4th grade teacher let us practice and perform in class. My writing career took off a few years ago when I sold a short story to Adams Media for their Rocking Chair Reader collection. I sold several more to them, sold some newspaper articles, and then sold my first novel, FIRE EYES, a western historical, to The Wild Rose Press. I had a wonderful editor there, Helen Andrew, who really helped me find my way with the book, and will be forever grateful to her. I have since sold another novel there, SWEET DANGER, a contemporary romantic suspense, and a short story, a western historical, A NIGHT FOR MIRACLES.

Since then, I have sold many short stories with Victory Tales Press for their anthologies as well as having sold TIME PLAINS DRIFTER, a paranormal western, to Western Trail Blazer, an imprint of VTP. I’m really excited about TIME PLAINS DRIFTER, because it was given a 4 ½ star rating in Romantic Times Magazine, and has garnered many wonderful reviews. My daughter created the cover for it, and this book means a lot to me because of the rocky road it had on the way to publication.

My latest release is a short story called THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS, that appears in an anthology called THE TRADITIONAL WEST. This is an anthology of stories that was put together by a group of well-known western writers that I belong to called the Western Fictioneers. I am thrilled to be included in the group, and have gotten some great reviews on my story.

That’s my life in a nutshell. Not too greatly exciting, just a life mixed with some trials, tribulations, and wonderful happiness. I hope you haven’t been bored—I loved getting to read all about you all and getting to know you. I’ve been in and out a lot this month and haven’t always commented, but have read every single post, and feel glad that I got to know you all a little bit better.

Hugs to all my SWEETHEART sisters!
Cheryl

Friday, August 26, 2011

THE EXCITING STORY OF AUTHOR CAROLINE CLEMMONS!

That’s a Big, Fat Lie, of course! Mine is not an exciting story, but I had to get your attention, didn't I? Here I go with the not-so-exciting story of me.

Mom, Dad, and I in CA - I
may be wearing a skirt, but
in my heart I was a cowgirl!
See band-aid on my knee.
When I was a baby, my parents and I moved from Dodson in North Texas to Bakersfield in Southern California. Those are my first memories. We were near my half-siblings and life was good for everyone, especially me. Some of my best memories are of those CA years, even though I was asthmatic and anemic and generally puny. Eventually I contracted San Joaquin Fever and it attacked my lungs. My lungs worsened and, when I was seven, we were advised to leave the San Joaquin Valley or I would die. My father was doing well as a home builder, but instead of just moving to another part of California, my parents returned to Texas and the cotton business. Dad looked much younger than his chronological age, but he was still too old at 58 to have to relocate for a sick kid. When he saw me feeling better, though, he said the move was worth it. What a guy! He was 61 when my baby brother was born, Mom was 38, and I was ten. In retrospect it scares me to think of coping with a baby at Dad's age, but he did fine. I was the happiest, to finally have a younger sibling.

Dale Evans and Roy Rogers
My dream then was to ride the range with Roy Rogers, saving the west from all the rustlers and bank robbers I’d seen in the movies. I was thrilled to move to Texas and knew any minute I would see cowboys. Cowboys would be everywhere! How disappointing we moved to a cotton farming area where my dad managed a cotton gin. Talk about disappointed, my mom was crushed when I shunned a doll for my 8th birthday in favor of a Roy Rogers holster and cap gun. I was ready for the bad guys!

Dad tried to tell me that Texas was not at all as portrayed in the movies. A few weeks after we settled in our new home in West Texas, we traveled to Hollis, Oklahoma to visit my grandmother. The route took us through a ranching area and, sure enough, we saw cowboys on horses herding cattle for a fall roundup. I was over the moon. (Poor Dad. Moral: Don't tell your kids something is impossible because God has a sense of humor and always makes you eat your words.) From then on I knew Texas was the right place for me! Yeehaw, cowgirl!

Carolne at age 12,
a Nancy Drew
 wannabe
Although I have never lost my own love for cowboys, as a young girl in Lubbock, Texas I lost myself in books such as the Nancy Drew series and those by Louisa May Alcott. Every spare minute, I could be found with my nose in a book. Still can.

My best friend and I decided we would be detectives a la Nancy Drew. We were twelve, and nearly investigated too much. When we almost encountered a real-life criminal, our parents' threats of dire consequences ended our detective adventures. My friend moved away, but I'm sure it had nothing to do with me being a bad influence. Really. You can trust me on this.

Not to be daunted, I decided I would become a world famous reporter like Lois Lane. (No, I was never a practical person.) I did take several years of journalism classes, spent a year as editor of my school paper, and won several state awards. From then on, I was the publicity person or newsletter editor for every club or church group I joined--and I joined a lot as you'll see way below. Years later, as I’d done all my adult life, I submitted to the local newspaper several captioned photos and stories for a couple of community groups to which I belonged. We'd only lived in that town a year when, one day the editor greeted me and told me they'd just fired their featured columnist because she kept saying nothing happened. The editor asked if I’d like to get paid for writing the kind of stories I had just submitted. Paid? For what I did anyway? You bet!

But I explained I had two severely asthmatic children who were frequently ill. She said I could work from home when they were ill and that when they were in school I could come in after I took them to school and leave in time to pick them up. What a deal! Small newspapers do not pay small-time reporters/featured columnists much money, so I was definitely not getting rich. My husband figured that as much time as I spent searching leads and interviewing people, I made around fifty cents an hour. The good thing was that I was doing something I loved that was fun. Soon I knew half the people in the community. But, as engineers often do, we moved. Bye bye newspaper job.

Rare photo with me in it. Usually I take the photos.
Bea, me, and Stephanie. Bea is no longer a blonde,
and now I am blonde.After all, Anerica is where
women grow blonde as they age. Right?
This is one of my favorite photos of our daughters.
 Of course, my all-time favorite job had been stay-at-home mom! Best job in the world. But after working as a reporter/featured columnist, my next job was as assistant to the managing editor of a psychology journal at Texas Christian University. Great fodder for developing characters. After that, I worked as a bookkeeper. Then, one day, my husband told me that unless I simply liked working, I should quit and write full time. Woohoo! I did not hesitate and turned in my resignation the following day. Now, I’m a full-time writer. Ooh, I feel so empowered! Broke, but empowered.

Our Texas Pioneer,
Thomas Vestal Johnson
 Probably my love for Southwestern history was inspired by my dad’s stories of his family coming to Texas from Georgia in 1876. I loved hearing the tales of covered wagons, half dugouts, gunfights, fording rivers, founding a town, and all the other stories he told. I’d ask him to repeat them over and over because I never tired of them. A couple of history teachers also fueled my love for history, one in junior high and one at Texas Tech. I continue to immerse myself in history books so that my historical writing is as credible and accurate as I can achieve.

Several years earlier, my mother-in-law had brought me a grocery bag of romance novels her cousin had given her. My mother-in-law, who generally didn’t approve of me all that much, said she believed I could write a romance. She insisted my long, long letters to her about our family were like chapters from a book. My husband agreed that I could write a book and encouraged me. The main problem, in my oh-so-naive opinion, was that I was not a very good typist. I pounded chapters on the typewriter, thinking we should buy stock in Liquid Paper and carbons to get some return on what I used.

Hallelujah!
But then, (hear the angels singing?) we got a home computer! The sun shone brighter, the birds sang happier songs, and all was right with the world. No longer did I need to buy Liquid Paper by the case. I could cut and paste paragraphs. No more messy carbon paper. I could delete or backspace. On the computer keyboard, I could type really, really fast. I was going to be a famous writer just like my ideal, Nora Roberts!

Nora Roberts--not like me!

Sigh. Sadly, that’s not how it's turned out. The first book I wrote was bad. Sad and bad. Reading is not the same as writing. But then, I heard about Romance Writers of America and learned where the local chapter met. Each month speakers taught foreign (to me) subjects like character arc, point of view, pacing, hero's journey, developing characters, and more. The chapter had workshops and conferences. I found critique partners, some good and some really bad. I took a community ed class in writing fiction to sell. I read craft books. Eventually, my writing improved and is still evolving.

Now on Kindle
for 99 cents
Four women from the local RWA chapter sold to a new line at Kensington and told me the name of the acquiring editor. She bought my contemporary romance and it was released in 1998. It’s now on Kindle and Smashwords as BE MY GUEST. Next came western historicals THE MOST UNSUITABLE WIFE (Kincaids Book 1), THE MOST UNSUITABLE HUSBAND (Kincaids Book 2), and the novella HAPPY IS THE BRIDE. But then, tragedy struck. Western historicals fell out of general favor, I fell out of specific favor with the marketing director for reasons that I won't discuss here, and Kensington dropped me. A crushing blow for any author. My backlist is on Kindle, though, for 99 cents each and selling pretty well. The books are also on Smashwords.

Doesn't he look
sweet and soulful?
He's a great hero.
For several years I floundered around, writing westerns that I never submitted and writing cozy mysteries that I also never submitted (although one is now at an editor's desk) and feeling generally depressed about my non-career. Then some friends on a private loop invited me to participate in an anthology for The Wild Rose Press. Six of us each wrote a novella set around the Civil War. It was fun, but if you split a small royalty six ways, guess what? No cash, but we did final in the 2009 EPIC contest. Now I have the rights back to the novella, and it’s on Kindle as LONG WAY HOME. I love writing for The Wild Rose Press. Great editors, beautiful covers, lovely group of people. And they like western historicals! What could be better? Oh, yeah, NY Times bestselling author, right? Still, I love The Wild Rose Press and their staff and other authors. 

5 Hearts from TRS
So I submitted and they published the contemporary time travel OUT OF THE BLUE, western historicals THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE and novella SAVE YOUR HEART FOR ME, and the western contemporary HOME, SWEET TEXAS HOME. And hooray! HOME, SWEET TEXAS HOME has just received a 5 Heart review from The Romance Studio. Here's the buy link in case you're tempted, and I really hope your are: www.thewildrosepress.com/caroline-clemmons-m-638.html

The Wild Rose Press doesn't publish mysteries, so this week I've listed one of my mysteries with Kindle. ALMOST HOME is about a deputy sheriff, Link Dixon, who leaves Dallas PD and returns to his small hometown with his son after the death of his wife. Link thinks of his hometown as a haven from the world's problems, a wholesome place safe for his son to grow up surrounded by extended family--until he learns nothing stays the same and Mayberry has become America's Most Wanted. ALMOST HOME is the first of a series. Think Bill Crider's Sheriff Dan Rhodes meets Joan Hess' Maggody. Sort of. It's available for $2.99.
Me (left) back in my join-everything
days with my friend Marjorie King and
forrmer Texas Governor Ann Richards
at a reception given by our local
Business and Professional Women
for Ann Richard's campaign.
 Lest you think my life has been narrow and shallow, I have to tell you that during all this time I volunteered for community services like Meals on Wheels, the area food pantry, and in several areas of our church. Well, some of my life was fairly shallow--bridge clubs and garden clubs and such. Participating in League of Women Voters and Business and Professional Women seemed right at the time, though I have to admit I'd much rather write than attend either now. I am still involved with our church, in a book club, and in RWA chapters.

This is a stock photo. I don't have a
photo of my ribbons. They were
for peach jan, grape jelly, crab
apple jelly, and green beans.
My husband and I used to have a large garden and through the years I've canned hundreds of jars of vegetables and fruit, and made enough jelly and jam to send the entire state into a diabetic coma. On a cold winter day, nothing compares to the satisfaction of opening your pantry and taking out a jar of something you canned in the summer. But let me assure you that if you have a hectic schedule and positively cannot process fruit or vegetables on a certain day, that's the day the produce is ready to can! I also made crafts until I overdosed on them, but still enjoy painting in oils and water colors--just not as much as writing. At the State Fair of Texas I won ribbons (some blue) for my canning, and years ago at garden shows for floral arrangements and cut flowers. While I served as PTA President I helped pass needed legislation to protect our school children from stores selling alcoholic beverages nearby. Like many of you, I was a home room mother, school volunteer, and Brownie and Girl Scout leader. In short, I participated in all the things we do as parts of life and being a mom, wife, and daughter. Those are rich memories I treasure--but I like writing better than anything except being with my family!

Me behind Hero at a
party several years ago
Writing now is a balm for my soul. I love it, but I admit I neglect writing sometimes to spend more time with my husband. We've each had some health scares in the past few years and I realized that every minute together is precious. He is a wonderful man! I call him Hero on my blog because that’s who he is. My hero! He cooks for me, takes care of me, and supports all my schemes to the best of his ability--even my crazy ones. (Please don't ask him about my venture with our younger daughter into the antique business!) Our daughters bring us joy, but we don’t see them as often as we’d like. We live on a small acreage in the cutting horse area of North Central Texas with our dog and two cats and the wildlife that comes for our birdseed, birdbath, and pan of water. I'm finally living where real-life cowboys are a normal sight!

Through writing I’ve made wonderful friends and met amazing people who understand that hearing voices in your head is not unusual. My personal voices want me to write down their stories, and I can do that. I hope readers enjoy learning about these characters that spring from my subconscious. There are many more characters asking me to tell their stories.

Thanks for reading. Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sandra Crowley, Romantic Suspense Author

Hi y’all, I usually don’t yak about myself, but I’ll make an exception for this post. Hopefully, you won’t regret it.


Many of you may already know I spent a good deal of my childhood moving with my family. The constant change of environments and schools--thirteen in twelve years--taught me “home” isn’t necessarily defined by a location or the length of time spent there; it can be a state of mind nurtured by those who love each other. I believe that conviction flavors the stories I write.


Instead of boring you with a list of places we lived, learning which I believe impacted me most and why might interest you more. We had always lived in town until we moved to Oregon. We still lived on a street lined side by side by side with houses, yet who could resist the outdoor pleasures of an area called Treasure Valley?  It was there I fell in love with mountains and the wildness that offered me peace at the same time it demanded strength of body and soul. Riding horses became an extension of that for me. I wish I’d had opportunities to explore the high country more often from the back of a quarter horse during those years. But, now, that latent regret encourages me to seize each opportunity to saddle up and follow a narrow trail through alpine grasses, tall trees, or strike across country with only a cold stream or maybe a craggy peak to guide me.   


Treks like that, where experience, faith and trust carry one along, are what love is all about.


The love I treasure with my husband of many years sets up Texas as the place with the greatest impact on my adult life because it’s my husband’s birthplace as well as that of our children. Who could ignore that? Certainly not me! Even though I was happy to leave the heat and explore new areas such as Alaska, Puerto Rico, and others in between. Our current home is a high valley along Colorado’s western slope--it may hold us or we may eventually look for new horizons.


You probably want to know how I started writing. When our children reached their teen years, I seized the time to pursue my own interests. A need to send characters along paths I thought essential to stories I was reading convinced me to take extension courses in creative writing. Through those, I learned about Romance Writers of America. I joined its Yellow Rose chapter, a local Texas organization for me at that time. I quickly realized my imagination suited romantic suspense, and I joined the specialty chapter Kiss of Death. Workshops, online classes, and conferences offered by those organizations and others raised my confidence. I began to enter contests and then volunteered as a judge. Both help me improve my craft and create characters driven to danger. I hope my stories of murder, betrayal and redemption produce that Ahhh factor readers desire.


My first book, Caughtby a Clown, has received several strong reviews. The story follows a spontaneous freelance journalist on a mission of mercy who finds herself entangled with a methodical undercover agent out to settle a score. The Wild Rose Press published Caught by a Clown in both paperback and ebook. (It's also available at other online book outlets.) This spicy romantic suspense novel leads off three linked stories I hope will be published in the near future. Check my blog site Driven 2 Danger and website frequently for news of their progress. 



You’ll find bits of my life, past and present, as well as other subjects that catch my attention at Driven 2 Danger www.driven2danger.blogspot.com in posts I loosely describe as Trivia Tuesdays.  Fridays are reserved for interviews of people willing to share unique experiences. D2D’s visitors have met a rancher/blacksmith/metal artist, a CSI agent, a breast cancer survivor, and others. Even though I’m still relishing my summer hiatus, please stop in and scroll through earlier writings. I hope you’ll discover the site is like chocolate, a treat you want to indulge in often. (Driven2Danger posts will resume this fall.)

Visit my website www.sandracrowley.com  to read a little about the shyness that plagued my childhood. I’m learning to overcome it. Networking and marketing hammers away at it on a daily basis. Who would have guessed that the solitary craft of writing could generate the daunting tasks that line me front and center of audiences both live and virtual? Yikes!! Talk about shivers and racing heartbeats! Publishers still handled publicity when I started writing. Fortunately, virtual appearances occur far more often than live ones. Nevertheless, requests for book signings and how-to or inspirational presentations are increasing. I keep telling myself that’s a good thing. I wish I believed it.

Thanks for spending time with me. If you have questions or comments, please contact me through my blog Driven 2 Danger or my website.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Getting to know Nicole McCaffrey

Have you ever walked through a forest and looked up to see tall pine trees stretching toward Heaven, or paused to admire an impossibly wide maple tree? Beneath that dense shade squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits scurry about, deer munch lazily on nearby shrubs and song birds tweet from branches above... Well, welcome to my neighborhood.

Unlike most of the Sweethearts, I don’t live out west.  I make my home in the northeast, in a town nestled against  the shores of Lake Ontario in Rochester, New York.  Also unlike most of the Sweethearts, I’m a born and bred city girl.  I grew up in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Rochester, NY, in an area called Maplewood where old Victorian and post Victorian style houses and even older trees made up our  neighborhood.  I spent long summer days lounging on our porch swing reading—lucky for me our local library was just a short walk to the end of our street.  Most weeks during summer found my mother, sister and I making that trek and returning with bags of books.  

Which is not to say I was idle—swimming, biking, tennis and soccer were part of the daily neighborhood routine, but my favorite games were when we’d splash around in our pool and pretend to be mermaids, or jump around on our wide, open front porch and pretend to be pirates sailing the wide open seas—we’d stand on the railings and use an old cardboard paper towel tube as a telescope and look for any sign of land (at least until the streetlights came on, when we had to go inside.)  Other times, we’d play in the cool shade of the carriage house behind our house and pretend to be “outlaws”; we’d borrow my dad’s handkerchiefs, tie them about the lower part of our face and guard our buried treasure (some rocks my dad spray painted gold for us).  There’s no doubt in my mind all this pretending sparked this budding author’s imagination.  


Jump forward about twenty years and just a handful of miles from where I grew up.  I live in a town called Irondequoit, which is Iroquois for “where the land and waters meet”—and that’s a pretty accurate description of my neighborhood.  My backyard backs up to a park, and Lake Ontario is just a quick walk from here.  I live on less than an acre of land, yet I have eleven trees in my front yard and twenty in the back.  My husband and I have lived here for nearly eleven years now.  Our town is surrounded on three sides by water—a river, the aforementioned lake and a bay, so chances are if I’m going somewhere other than the local grocery store or to pick up my boys from school, I have to travel over water to get there.

These swans live near the lake just a short walk from my front door.

I’m not sure when my passion for writing first began, it’s something that’s always been with me.  My dad read to us constantly, and shared stories of his life during the depression and growing up a farmer.  When I was six, my older sister brought home a homework assignment to write a short story.  I don’t remember the details exactly but I do recall that was the exact moment it occurred to me that, rather than just read my favorite stories over and over, or feel dissatisfied that the books in my collection weren’t quite the adventure I was yearning for….I could write my own.  Suddenly a world full of possibilities opened up to me. I began writing stories to entertain myself right then and there.

It was several years before it ever occurred to me to share my stories with anyone else—for the most part, I wrote for my own pleasure.  In high school I began writing stories for friends—their own adventure starrting them and whatever teen heartthrob they wanted to be stranded on a desert island with.  Life moved on in a way that a friend of mine refers to as “lifus interruptus” and while somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I’d return to writing, for a long time I ignored “the voices”—the characters begging me to tell their stories-- and got on with the business of living. But I never stopped reading.  Somewhere along the way I set aside Nancy Drew mysteries and began reading Harlequin Romances—after reading my first romance novel, Nancy and Ned’s chaste relationship seemed far too boring.  So I read romance almost exclusively. But  something was still missing.  I was drawn to the big displays of books in the grocery store featuring covers with beautiful men and women in historical costumes –and that’s where I found my true passion.  Before long I was devouring historical romances and soon the writer in me became restless.  I didn’t just want to just read historical romances.  I wanted to write them.

Small Town Christmas - the story that started it all

Though I joined RWA and a local writing chapter in my early twenties, it really wasn’t until my early thirties that I began to seriously consider writing for something other than my own amusement again.  By now I ‘d met and married Peter, my best friend and the love of my life.  He encouraged me to follow my heart and write.  I wrote in my spare time, critiqued with small groups here and there but nothing clicked.  Then I lost my job in a major layoff at the hospital where I worked as a medical secretary.  Suddenly I had time to write.  Never one to be idle, and worried about money, I began my own business as a medical transcriptionist.  Since I was expecting our first child it was important to me to work from home—being self employed would allow me to set my own hours.

The Model Man - research I did for this story helped me during my dad's illness

I continued pursuing both careers—writing and transcription—over the next six years.  My oldest son was born in March of 2000 and was quite honestly the happiest baby I’ve ever met. He was content to sleep in my arms as I worked or wrote; new moms are supposed to be exhausted but he was a good sleeper, seldom fussed and I couldn’t wait to have more.  My youngest son came along in November 2002 (on my birthday, no less!) and quickly proved the opposite of his brother.  He fussed a great deal, seldom slept and never slept through the night until he was fourteen months old (we’re fond of joking that he was determined to stay the youngest by keeping mom and dad too exhausted to even think about adding to our family again, let alone doing anything about it).  Drained and frazzled, I cut back on my transcription gradually until I finally let the business go altogether.  I still wrote when I could, but for the next couple of years I didn’t actively pursue it.
My first historical western--so fun it practically wrote itself!

August 2006 is forever etched in my mind as “the best of times and the worst of times”.  My oldest was about to begin first grade and for the first time would be in school a full day.  My youngest would be starting preschool.  For the first time in nearly a decade I would have “me” time.  I was supposed to be excited about this, and friends and relatives teased constantly about what I’d do with all my free time.  I joked that I would sleep or catch up on reading, but inside I was heartsick.  I’d once overheard a mom on the playground lament that once your kids begin school there’s a whole part of their day that no longer includes you. I’ve wished many, many times I’d never overheard that, because it stuck in my mind and made it hard to be completely happy about this new transition—about my babies not needing me as much, and the parts of their day that I would know nothing about.  I was living my own version of empty nest syndrome --and my babies were barely out of diapers!
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With my boys, Wyatt and Colton,  aboard the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls last week.

In the midst of all this, my dad—my rock, my hero, my everything—had become ill.   I knew exactly what he had, even if it took the doctors a bit longer to figure it out.  Research for a story I was working on (The Model Man, a contemporary story with an over 40 heroine and a younger hero), had led me to TIA’s or trans ischemic attacks .  Years of medical transcription for an investigator who worked primarily on cases of nursing home neglect had taught me more than I ever thought I’d need to know about senile dementia and  Alzheimer’s disease.  With the brutal clarity that hindsight offers, things began adding up and I realized my dad had probably been suffering TIA’s,or mini strokes,  for a long time, we just never connected all the dots.  Now the trans ischemic attacks had led to a bigger stroke that left him with a form of dementia and forever changed our lives.  

My Dad in the rose garden outside his nursing home.

All of this was on my mind those early September mornings after I walked my oldest son to school, then drove the youngest to preschool.  The silence of the house drove me crazy—I jumped every time the cuckoo clock chimed, or the ice maker in the fridge switched on.  I’d begun to take Tanner, our dog, for long walks just to get out of the house. It was on one of those walks that I realized that for the rest of the world, when life gets hard, there’s therapy.  But for a writer…there’s no better therapy than writing.

I’d had an idea for a holiday story in my head for a while but hadn’t done anything with it.  I recalled hearing that The Wild Rose Press, a brand new e-publisher I’d heard wonderful things about, was looking for short stories for the holidays.  Id’ never written a short story before, but suddenly, I wanted to try. I cut Tanner’s walk short and headed back home.  Over the next few days I poured all the emotions I’d been feeling—the sadness, the worry, the fear, the little moments of joy—into that story. It took less than a week to finish it and by the time it was complete, I felt more like myself again.  The silence in my house had been replaced with the clickety-clack of my fingers on the keyboard, my youngest was adjusting to preschool and had made lots of friends, and my oldest loved the routine of  first grade.  The doctors had prescribed a new medication for my dad that kept him from being quite so confused and my mom had found a senior day care center to care for my dad while she worked.  Things were looking up.

Tanner—our daily walks still keep me focused and allow me time to brainstorm.

To make a long story short, I sold Small Town Christmas to The Wild Rose Press that October and it was released the week before my birthday in November 2006.  I turned 40 that year and while some would find that depressing, I felt as though I’d embarked on a brand new chapter of my life.  I’ve since sold several more stories to TWRP, including The Model Man, which has also been released on audio book (it’s an August special this month at TWRP—on sale for .99!); Wild Texas Wind, my first historical western, which was released last summer and  a short Civil War time travel due out early next year. I also have my first short erotica story under consideration with them.  
Coming Soon to The Wild Rose Press

My fingers and imagination are never idle, so there are plenty more stories in the works. These days I write full time these and do freelance editing.  My oldest son is about to enter sixth grade and my youngest third; both boys love school and while they aren’t allowed to read my books, they love to tell anyone who will listen that their mom is an author.  My dad is in a nursing home now but he still knows who we are when he sees us. In many ways he’s still the same person, his personality hasn’t changed much, even if he’s confused as to time and place more often than not.  My mom has retired so she can spend more time with my dad and her grandchildren. And even after thirteen years of marriage, Peter is still the love of my life, my best friend and my biggest supporter.  

Aboard the Maid of the Mist –still crazy (about each other) after all these years.

I begin most mornings with some gentle yoga stretches (I’m a lifelong migraine sufferer; yoga helps reduce the number of migraines I suffer each month) and as I stretch and breathe, I gaze out the family room windows that overlook the backyard and marvel at the impossibly wide maple trees and the pine trees that seem to be stretching toward Heaven …and count my blessings.  

Peter and the boys on a recent fishing expedition in the park

No blog about me would be complete without mentioning the Lord of the Manor himself, Gilbert. He's pretty sure I work from home solely to give him a warm lap to sleep on.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

GUEST GOLDIE BROWNING ON DR. NORMAN BAKER - 1882-1958



Goldie Browning, Author
 Throughout history, people have yearned for a quick, painless cure-all for what ails them—and the quacks keep coming to meet those needs. During the 1800’s travelling medicine men were a common sight on the western frontier, selling tonics and elixirs with staggering alcohol content and salves that professed to cure just about everything. Even in this century, magazine ads and television infomercials make astonishing health claims that would infuriate your family doctor if you tried them.


Dr Norman Baker

In the early Twentieth Century, however, the modern technology of radio communication was still in its infancy and didn’t become widely accessed by the common people until just before the Great Depression. This was a time of hopelessness and despair. What better time to fleece the masses of what little money they had left? Like the booming, disembodied voice of the mysterious wizard in The Wizard of Oz, the voice over the radio held authority. Dozens of "radio doctors" began to descend on the airwaves.

One of them was a man named Norman Baker. He was born in Muscatine, Iowa in 1882, the youngest of nine. Precocious. Restless. A little man with a huge ego. Leaving school at an early age, he went to work in a button factory as a machinist. He soon invented an automatic button machine, but lacked the financial means to develop it. Disappointed, he changed direction and became a mentalist in a Vaudeville show, travelling the country performing a hypnotism and mind reading act. Finally, he struck it rich when he invented something called a Calliaphone, which is basically a calliope that runs by air, rather than steam.

But Baker wasn’t satisfied with his Calliaphone business. He decided to become a doctor. But he didn’t go to medical school. He simply opened up his own hospital in Muscatine, hiring doctors who held degrees, some of them questionable. He called it the Baker Institute and he claimed to have the cure for cancer. People began lining up to see Dr. Baker. As a side note, one of the "doctors" who worked for him in Iowa was named Harry Hoxsey, who learned his medical skills from his father, a veterinary surgeon. He later moved to Dallas and started his own, very famous cancer cure business, which is still operating from Mexico and on the Internet to this day!

In order to keep the beds full at his hospital, Baker needed a way to advertise. So he built his own radio station. KTNT. Its call letters were a double entendre—a suggestion that his messages packed the punch of dynamite, as well as the acronym for "know the naked truth." He used this platform to preach his own brand of logic, which usually differed from the mainstream. Like an early Twentieth Century Don Quixote tilting at windmills, Baker feuded with the American Medical Association, calling it the "Medical Trust" and likening it to an octopus that monopolized the way medicine was practiced. He always felt that he was being persecuted.

It may be hard to believe in this day of television, videos, and Internet, but people in the 1920’s and 30’s actually travelled long distances to "see" Norman Baker’s radio performances. On holidays and summer Sundays, crowds that numbered in the thousands would gather to hear Baker’s radio talks and watch his troop of comedians and musicians. He even provided a restaurant, souvenir shop, and a gas station.

But one day he went too far. Before a crowd of 32,000 people who had gathered at KTNT, he performed a demonstration on a man named Mandus Johnson, who supposedly had cancer on the top of his head. The amazed crowd watched as a surgeon removed the top layer of Mr. Johnson’s scalp and skull to show how Dr. Baker had cured the man of cancer, after only three treatments with his concoction of spring water, watermelon seed, and carbolic acid. After this stunt, the authorities shut down his radio station and Baker fled to Nuevo Laredo in Mexico to avoid arrest and to build an even more powerful, unregulated radio station just across the border.

When the authorities managed to shut down his hospital in Iowa, Baker purchased the derelict Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas in about 1936 and moved his patients there. Baker called it his "Castle in the Sky." He reportedly boasted to his employees that he would "make a million dollars out of the suckers of the state" and in a mass mailing of over three million pamphlets sent nationwide, he advertised that he had a new paradise for cancer sufferers. The Grand Old Lady of the Ozarks, as the once-majestic hotel had been called, was now the Baker Cancer Hospital.

Norman Baker had an affinity for the color lavender. His trademark outfit was a white suit, with a lavender tie and purple suspenders. He even drove a lavender Cord convertible. When he remodeled the Crescent Hotel, he put purple blinds on the windows and painted the walls purple. He decked out the pillars and woodwork in bright red, yellow, and orange. He tore out the lovely old balconies and replaced them with concrete verandas to accommodate hospital beds so patients could "take the air."

Later on, rumors abounded that Baker would take advantage of patients without families nearby. That he would get them to sign letters in advance to administrators of their estates asking for extra money, when in truth, the patient might already have died. Sometimes, it was rumored, a person might sign over their entire estate to Baker to pay for their treatment. His advertisements "guaranteed" cures without operation, radium, or x-rays, but his treatments consisted of phony concoctions that didn’t actually harm the patients, but did nothing to cure their disease. People were dying in large numbers. But he also catered to hypochondriacs, diagnosing just about anybody who came to him with cancer. Their successful discharges greatly increased his "cure" statistics.

After an aborted raid by authorities on Baker’s radio station in Iowa in which dynamite and gunfire were involved, he became more and more paranoid. He set up his Arkansas office just down the hall from the main lobby, but he erected a bulletproof panel to protect himself. Two machine guns hung within easy reach, and he had trapdoors and a tunnel built in case he needed to make his escape. But his preparations were all in vain.

Within three years, Baker and some of his employees were indicted by the federal court. He was tried and convicted of mail fraud in 1940. Interestingly, his chief counsel, who was named A. George Bush, appealed the conviction on the grounds that the jurors in the case had been drunk. Baker was sentenced to four years in the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas and was fined four thousand dollars. He served three of those years and then bought a three-story yacht, where he lived out his days off the coast of Florida. Ironically, he died in 1958 of liver cancer. His former colleague, Harry Hoxsey, mentioned earlier, also died of cancer in 1974.

Available at Amazon and Smashwords
The Crescent Hotel has been fully renovated and is now a beautiful resort and venue for weddings and parties. But Dr. Baker’s legacy lives on in the nightly ghost tours that relate the legends and ghost sightings, and take you down into the bowels of the old hotel—to Dr. Baker’s morgue. You’ll hear the stories about how he and his doctors purportedly experimented on the bodies of patients who had died and then burned them in the incinerator—about how he locked away the ones who had gone insane in the padded walls of the annex asylum—about how years later, human skeletons were found in the walls and jars of human organs were found in a locked, secret room. None of these stories have been proven…but you can’t help wondering.

That’s how I came to write NIGHT JOURNEY. After taking the ghost tour, after hearing the stories about Dr. Baker and the other ghosts, and after having some uncanny experiences in the room where I stayed—Theodora’s room—I was inspired to write my novel. Reviewers have called it a "good old-fashioned ghost story where the ghosts help the romance in the past so the loving couple can be in the present" and "The Notebook meets The Shining."

NIGHT JOURNEY can be found on Amazon, Smashwords, or in the gift shop at the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

GETTING TO KNOW JEANMARIE HAMILTON

Jeanmarie Hamilton
aka Clare Adele
By the age of six years, I knew I wanted to write stories. My inspiration at that age came from nap-time stories my Texas grandmother often told us kids about her life growing up in Texas, as well as the children’s stories she made up. My mother’s afternoon reading to us also inspired me. She read all the Wizard of Oz books to us, as well as all the Raggedy Ann books. There were other fantasy stories she read to us that had to do with the adventures of human children and fairies. The illustrations were beautiful and as important to me as the printed page.

My school teachers inspired and encouraged me to write. My fourth grade teacher read the Black Stallion books to us while we rested after lunch at school. She inspired me to write horse stories. I entered a grade school writing contest and came in second in the finals. That was great encouragement. My mom has kept that story all these years. J My dad wrote a local newspaper gardening column that was put into a book form. I was so proud of him. In high school I wrote a dark poem about a man and woman. My sophomore English teacher gave me an A, and commented that the tone was very grown up, or something like that. I’ve always found my strongest writing to flow at night. Good thing, since I’ve always been a night owl.

My daughter kept me so busy that I didn’t have enough time to write when she was little. I painted and sketched instead. Being a lover of horses, I could never get enough of them, so I sketched and painted photos of horses. With my daughter and then the family garden center keeping me busy until she graduated from college, I tried to write, but never finished the books I started. I may yet. Those characters intrigued me.

When Wal Mart and Home Depot, etc., moved into town, our family garden center had to close. We hated to shut the doors, and still miss our customers. Holidays and decorations and flowers were the most fun times.

Meanwhile, my mom suggested we write a romance. I wanted to write a western so I could have horses in the story, and Mom wanted to write a time-travel. We compromised and incorporated both ideas into our story. It is a good story, but that was before I had honed my writing technique. We finally put it aside after many rejections from publishers.

I wanted to write another western without the paranormal elements, and my mom decided to go back to her oil painting classes which she had to give up while we had the garden center. Today, she’s an accomplished landscape artist.

I found my passion for writing historical romance, and it’s been a wonderful roller coaster ride, sometimes threatening my sanity and most often saving it and bringing me great friends.

My mom would love for me to take time off from writing to paint with her. Along with my mom, I’ve studied with Earline Barnes, as well as the books and dvds of another favorite artist, Kevin Macpherson. I’ve found that there are so many similarities between writing and oil painting. When I need a break I dabble a while in oils. But after a short while, a character is nagging at me to write a story. So back I go to the blank page, waiting for my characters to tell me their stories and inspire me.

I love to write and will keep writing with the encouragement of my readers and friends. I’ve enjoyed writing western historical romance. I know I have another one waiting to be told. My first western historical took me on a wild ride in the American Title II contest. SEDUCTION has since been published. ARE YOU GOING TO THE DANCE? followed in an EPIC Award placing anthology, NORTHERN ROSES AND SOUTHERN BELLES, published by Wild Rose Press. Next came DANGEROUS PERSUASION, an erotic western historical romance published by Siren BookStrand with my new writing name, Claire Adele.

I’ve also discovered the fun of writing werewolf western historical and contemporary romances. MOONLIGHT DESPERADO, writing as Jenette DuPris, was my first werewolf novella. I’ve since written the first in the series Wolves of West Texas, GUARDIAN OF HER HEART, a contemporary werewolf novella. GUARDIAN OF HIS SOUL is the second in the series, under my Claire Adele name, and it will be out soon. J

I’ve enjoyed a great adventure writing my stories. I hope you’ll find enjoyment reading them.

Wishing you inspiration and a wonderful story,
Jeanmarie Hamilton
Aka/ Claire Adele


GUARDIAN OF HER HEART, out now at Siren Bookstrand
Coming soon, GUARDIAN OF HIS SOUL.