It has always been an interest of mine to consider the nuances involved in my encounters with others, those that are nourishing and even those that are more distasteful for some reason. In recent years, my interest has broadened to include encounters with animals, nature, books, movies and now, online conversations with people who I treasure yet may never meet.

Monday, February 23, 2015

It’s interesting how life takes a turn and you find yourself doing something that you hadn’t planned to do: ADVENTURES IN MOTHER-SITTING has been revised. It has been a few years since the first publication, and due to several factors (friend’s urgings and well-meaning suggestions in a review), I decided to take a second look. It was time for me to read my own memoir.

 I’ve come a long way with regards to my writing abilities thanks to opportunities to be a beta reader of other authors’ stories, continuing to learn the craft, and teaching a GED class of adult students. Receiving helpful feedback from author friends while writing A SACRED JOURNEY, my first fictional story, taught me so much and nourished the writer in me in unexpected ways. I’m indebted to many authors for their support, but in particular to Lisette Brodey and Julia Hughes for their immeasurable helpfulness and confidence in me. So during this past summer, I pulled up the initial file of my memoir, put some glue on my seat, and took a walk back in time through one of the most poignant adventures of my life.

In this revision of ADVENTURES, the storyline itself is unchanged, but it's had a facelift —a cover that was beautifully designed by Charles Roth. I deleted some redundant passages, took out a few chapters (incorporating some parts into other chapters), and refined some of the experiences that I’d had with my mother. I’m told that the descriptions of those are more vividly expressed in this new version because of the way that I’ve learned to craft my words. It helped that time has passed since my mother’s death; my emotions didn’t overwhelm me. Instead, rewriting my memoir helped me go through some residual grieving more easily.
For the week of February 23 - 27, I'm on a blog tour, thanks to the coordination efforts of Juniper Grove Book Solutions.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Indie author kindness: OPERATION MALLORY

Indie authors support each other all the time, at least, that's my experience. Two co-authoring brothers with best selling novels on both sides of the Atlantic have taken support several steps farther. Sean and Dan Campbell have freely instituted an incredible marketing campaign for one of our own, with a blue print that can serve us all.
Many of you might know Stephen C Spencer as a world class author of thrillers. His Paul Mallory series are favorites of mine. During the past year, however, Stephen has stepped out of the stream.

It's difficult for any indie author to stay on top of the promotional game yet playing the game is the only way for books to get noticed. If you followed Stephen on Twitter, perhaps you've noticed that he stepped out of the stream a good while ago. He even updated his Twitter profile to reflect that he has cancer. Stephen has had to deal with a brain tumor for a while though kept it pretty quiet while undergoing surgery and chemotherapy. His attitude, though, attests to the strength in his character: "I may have cancer but cancer ain't got me!"  
Want to get involved or keep in touch with the campaign? Visit Sean and Dan Campbell's blog HERE to check out the campaign, Operation Mallory. There are details if it fits for you to get involved (tweet, share on Facebook, do a blog post, etc).
Also available are some giveaways for participation: free novels from various indie authors, including one of my favorite Paul Mallory novels:  It's Always Darkest. My review of this great thriller follows below.

'Baldacci’s Sean King, move over! Here comes Paul Mallory!’

Take a young sports journalist with an intense dislike of travel and complications, the haunting of an 11-years-ago traumatic sports event and an aversion to bearing any responsibility for others. Dangle before him the one thing that he cannot resist, well, two things:  A LOT of money and a news analyst position that is not even close to having a defined job description. Paul Mallory’s weakness or, perhaps this is more his strength, is an insatiable sense of curiosity. The result is an electrifying story that is chock full of danger and just too much fun to put down!
Stephen C. Spencer has ingeniously woven an intricate story laced with a blend of captivating characters; even those on the gritty side of life are memorable.  Even if women don’t fall in love with the protagonist, Paul Mallory, male and female readers alike will be enamored of his sarcastic witticisms, directed mostly at himself; and with his unswerving passion to follow even the most dangerous threads of the story.  Mr. Spencer captured well Paul’s adult-self thoughts and self-bantering remarks juxtaposed with a boyish flair of innocence.  Unlike Paul, I so enjoyed the story’s travel itinerary: from Southampton to the main center of the story, St. Petersburg, Russia, and interesting character- and plot-developing hops into Las Vegas, Germany and Greece.
I enjoy reading a novel with an exciting and intriguing plot. My favorite novels, however, are those in which the main character leaps off the page and becomes one who is endearing to me. David Baldacci has Sean King; Alex Berenson, his John Wells; Brian Haig has Sean Drummond; and, David Hosp, his Scott Finn. Stephen C. Spencer’s character, Paul Mallory, is now at the top of my list, ‘Endearing Characters.’ IT’S ALWAYS DARKEST sits in my bookcase, ‘Favorite Novels.’   

Monday, March 31, 2014

Treasures Found on a Late-Start Day

During a 3-month sabbatical out West, I had a most unexpected day. The encounters are true, as is the setting. Only the names have been changed, except for my own.

     Today was one of my late-start days. Clothes have to be washed sometime or other and, since I was next heading to no-man’s-land, the clothes had to be done; I was beginning to reek after camping for five days, the showers available only a trickle of tepid water. Arches National Park is smack dab in the desert region of Utah and without a lot of amenities; it being July, the desert was ‘h-o-t’ hot.
    Driving into Moab late the night before, I had treated myself to a hot shower and a comfy bed at the Parker Inn Motel, a family-owned place that had laundry facilities. Next door was an old-timer’s kind of diner so the next morning while my clothes were washing, I ate a home-cooked breakfast of eggs, spicy sausage, home fries and fresh coffee -  an experience of down-home gourmet heaven! 
   When you are on the road, it does not take long to pack up a car, especially when the car is a 1977 Fiat ragtop. There is only so much space. For some reason this morning, the trunk would not close. I was bent over moving stuff around, grumbling to myself and dropping sweat here and there when, all of a sudden, I screamed, popping up and clunking my head on the trunk’s lid; someone had grabbed my arm. The hand  left  my arm, went up to my head and began gently probing the clunked spot.
    “Sorry to have scared you,” Julie said, chuckling at my vain attempts to swallow a slew of the nice versions of four-letter words that had sputtered from my mouth. “Let me take a look.”
    Feeling like an idiot, I did as I was told; after all, Julie was a Park Ranger at Arches and they were trained in first aid. “You gave me a scare is all,” I said, laughing off my embarrassment.
     “Are you off today?” I asked, noting that she was not in uniform.
     “Not so you’d notice, but yep, I’m off,’ Julie jokingly responded, still probing my head.
     I winced as she found the sore spot. “Not too bad of an egg – and no broken skin. You have got a hard head just like I figured,’ she said, leaning now against the Fiat. “You still plan to head on to Canyonlands today?”
    Without waiting for my answer, Julie laughed and continued, “I guess getting stuck standing on top the toilet in a primitive bathroom during a flash flood thunderstorm is not your favorite memory of Arches, is it?” she asked. “But you made my day, Dody! Everyone in the group I was guiding got drenched but you walked out of that toilet high and dry, except for your boots!”
   Laughing along, I replied, “It was crazy, having to scramble up on top of the toilet ‘cause the rain water kept sloshing in and rising! My big mistake was looking into the toilet – nothing down there but a big hole that held a ton of things I never wanted to see; I swear looking made the stench worse! The scary part was watching the water rise almost to the top of the toilet seat. I had visions of floating out in a sea of fecal matter!’
    Julie caught her breath and then asked, “Hey, are you in a hurry to get to Canyonlands? It’s about a 3-4 hour drive from here but I think you would enjoy a side trip; it needs to be a surprise, though, and is about an hour and a half drive from here. You game?”
     How could I say no to a surprise adventure? Julie was a Park Ranger so the odds of my being safe were pretty high, or so it seemed to me. “My time is my own,” I responded: “Point me in the right direction.” Not wanting to leave my car, packed with most everything I now owned, I added, “How about taking the Fiat, top-down-it?”
     “Perfect! It’s going to be cooler up there,” Julie responded, pointing her finger towards the southeast. In the distance, I could barely make out what looked to be a small mountainous area rising out of the flat desert, one with tall trees, not the usual stubby juniper and pinyon trees found in the desert.

    Curiosity escalating, I took stock of my lunch supplies and figured I had enough for us both. Julie helped me get the trunk organized so I could shut it and then we put down the top and headed south out of Moab. Turning east on a two-lane road, the traffic lessened; we stopped smelling car exhaust and got a breath of fresher air. After about ten miles, the traffic became next to nothing.
     Riding with the top down in the desert does not seem like a good idea, usually. The Fiat, however, had no air conditioning; it did, though, have air – via windows when the sun was high in the sky and, via top-down when the sun was low like this morning. A hat helps; preferably one that can stay on the head when the wind blows. Julie and I had caps, pulled low.
    The best part about an unknown adventure is going with someone who not only knows the territory but, also, knows the history of a place; the ecological history. I had been to a few of the ranger talks at Arches, one done by Julie. During this ride, though, I learned so much more.
    100 million years of erosion by wind, rain and rivers that used to run through this area created Arches, a sculptured sandstone phenomenon.  It boasts the greatest density of natural arches in the world – more than two-hundred. The arches were certainly eye-catching but it was the many spires and pinnacles and balanced rocks perched atop another that I found to be spectacular. Julie called the big stand-alone ones, “monoliths,” and said that many were like England’s Stonehenge, works from some lost culture. Her talk of these gave me shivers – the good kind.
    Caught up in Julie’s passionate lecture, I was startled to feel a bit cooler. We had been tooling along a road that had very few ups and downs; now, we were definitely heading up and into a forest of tall pines. After being in a hot desert for the past six days, this cool was refreshing.
    I was trying to see the detail on the pines, wondering if they were like the ones in Florida when Julie grabbed my arm – again – and squealed,
“Stop the car!”
    Jerking to a stop on the side of the road, I stared at Julie and blurted out, “What! Did I run over a snake or something? You got to go to the bathroom? Did you have to yell?”
   “Get out!” she said, opening her door and getting out, jumping up and down. “You are going to love this, I promise! You didn’t go on my guided tour at Arches so you’re getting it now.”
   “Well, okay then,” I said, stepping out of the Fiat but carefully looking around for snakes or – bears? “Do you have bears?” I asked, standing at the still open car door.
   “No, silly – well, further up maybe, but you’re safe. Come over here to this tree,” Julie said.
   Still cautious, I walked around the front of the Fiat and stood near Julie, arms outstretched as if to ask, ‘What?’
     Laughing at my caution, she said, “Come over here, close your eyes and hug this tree. Come on – stop looking at me like I’m nuts! Hug the tree – right, like that. Now, take a big sniff. What do you smell?”
    Trees – any trees – do something to me. I am a sucker for trees, even the dead ones. So I hugged this tall tree and sniffed: “Oh - my – gosh! It smells like vanilla pudding!” I chortled, opening my eyes and grinning at Julie. “This is amazing!”
    “These are ponderosa pine trees, similar to other pines but unique in their vanilla pudding smell,” Julie said, hands on her hips, enjoying my amazement. “You will find these pines just off the desert areas where the elevation is above six or seven thousand feet. Ready to move on?” she asked. “Take a few more sniffs and let’s go. There are more wonders up ahead.”
    Still grinning, I took some last sniffs and hopped back into the Fiat, eyes now wide open. We continued to climb, steadily. The ponderosa pines gave way to a variety of tall beech, plump firs and slender aspen trees – their species, of course, provided by Julie. Rounding a curve, I screeched to a halt – just in time.
    Sheepishly, I looked at Julie and said, “I forgot.” Utah is a free range state and I had almost run smack into a small herd – seven cows were ambling from one side of the road to the next. Julie merely shrugged her shoulders and grinned.
    We had been quiet the previous few miles, as I took in the drastic change in ecology from desert to mountain, and in temperature. I had come prepared, though, and took this unplanned stop to dig out a long sleeved pull-over for me and a windbreaker for Julie. She had forgotten her own. I could handle some cool on my legs wearing shorts but always needed something to tamp down the goose bumps on my arms.
   “Not too much farther,” said Julie, “then we will have us a feast. Take the next left turn. The road is narrower and not as well maintained but the Fiat can make it.”
    I laughed out loud at her words, ‘a feast;’ I had not made a grocery run before heading out on this adventure. All we would have was a few apples, carrots, some cheese on bread and the last of a box of Hi-Ho crackers – yeah, we’ll feast, I chuckled but kept it to myself. At least I had some of my ever-present stash of chocolate chip cookies. Utah markets had some fresh made ones that were delicious!
     “Laugh all you want; you’ll see,” said Julie, an arrogant smirk on her face.
    We had to stop several more times for cows as up and up we went. The higher we got, the cooler it became; with the top down on the Fiat, my long-sleeved pullover no longer kept me from shivering. Julie still looked comfortable though how she adjusted so well to the change from desert heat to mountain cool, I could not guess. The Fiat was in a bit of a struggle; second gear was the only way to keep her going. The condition of the gravel road was not too bad but we were now moving in constant switchbacks of 90-degree turns – I figured we were nearing the top.
   The Fiat chugged its way up an even steeper incline on one switchback and I turned again into a 90-degree curve. Just as the car came out of the curve, we finally met level ground.
   Julie yelled, “Surprise!” startling me enough that I stalled the Fiat, letting up on the accelerator but forgetting to engage the clutch.
“  What is – I started then gasped, “oh my,” staring open-mouthed at what lay before me. Julie jumped out of the car and came around to my side, pulling open the door and dragging on my arm, trying to get me out.
     “I knew you would be surprised – don’t you just love it!” Waving her hands all around, Julie continued: “This is Trout Lake, a little piece of heaven in this neck of the woods.”
    And it was heavenly. Mesmerized, I walked slowly towards the lake, following Julie – taking it all in – and, at the edge, looked down. Emerald was its color – like a painting. So clear and deep, the Trout Lake shimmered; I could see fish swimming around, way down deep.
Stunned into silence by my view of the brilliant shimmering blues in the lake, I was startled by a loud booming voice: “Hey, Julie – You are right timely. Who’s your friend?”  My body stiffened as I turned and got accosted by a large rough-looking man who slapped his arms around Julie and me.
    “What the – Julie?” I blurted out, starting to shake, thoughts scrambling everywhere. This is it, Dode – you are done for…just like in that movie, Deliverance. You’ve been set up – Run! 
    Yanking my body away, the big man stumbled backwards as I ducked under his arm to make a run for it. But, I didn’t make it; my right foot slipped on the bank and I almost tumbled into the lake. Somehow, Julie snatched my arm and pulled me towards her; gravity did the rest. I landed hard on the packed ground though, fortunately, not in the ice-cold lake.
     Julie bent over laughing, trying to say something. I was not laughing, just trying to breathe. Finally catching her breath, Julie explained, “I’m sorry, Dody. I forget how mean-looking Dave can be out here in the wilderness; should have given you a warning. Are you okay?”
    Ever the park ranger, she knelt down beside me, eyeing my arms and legs, looking for injuries. Every part could move; I was just sore and scraped – and deeply embarrassed.
   “Dave, meet Dody. She’s a Florida gal who has got a taste for the desert. Been camping at Arches a few days and now heading on to Canyonlands. I got her to take a little side trip,” spoke up Julie.
    To me, she said, “Dave is a back country guide out of Moab; he always looks this rough. But he’s a married man with kids – a big gruff gentle bear. His family comes up here to fish and feast; I come when I can. Luckily, today is both our days off.”
    With that, Dave stepped over and reached out to help me up. “Not a nice way to meet anyone, though, but I’m glad you came. I guess my size and scruffy beard can look scary – ever had trout before?” Dave asked nonchalantly. Taking his hand, I stood up, shaking my head ‘no,’ still a bit stunned by it all.
      Dave rattled on, ignoring my embarrassment, acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. “Not many folks come up here; too many cattle to stumble into and a steep, narrow drive to boot. But this little lake has the best trout you will find anywhere.”
     My mouth caught up with my brain as I found my manners and held out my hand again. “Hi, Dave – I’m a bit stunned by everything.” Turning towards the lake, I waved my hand around.  “This lake and the trees - it is so beautiful; I feel as if I’m inside a painting.”
    Disregarding my hand, Dave gave me a quick hug. “Every time I come up here, I feel the same way as you, Dody. Come and meet the family,” he said waving towards our right, “and we’ll put something on those scrapes.”
    Upon our arrival, I had not noticed a small but tidy picnic area under the trees. Two grills were smoking away and the odor of burning pinyon and juniper wood sweetened the air – how could I not have smelled this? I wondered walking over and being introduced to Dave’s parents, wife and kids. Everyone was so nice and friendly, acting as if they had known me forever.
    Dave’s wife, Kathy, had gotten out a first aid kit; my scrapes got taken care of quickly. “Everything is about ready,” Dave said when his dad, a man of few words, waved for us all to take a seat. We sat down at the tables, the food was blessed and talking ceased as we feasted on freshly caught trout cooked over juniper branches; they had been brought up from the desert. There was fresh corn and baked potatoes too.
    I have eaten some good fish, being from Florida, but that trout was indescribable. Perhaps the word, ‘indescribable,’ fits for the entire experience. Here I am, a woman on a quest to ‘find herself;’ a bump on the head and a crash on the ground later, I’m eating lunch with strangers who treat me like family, beside a lake that was so strikingly beautiful it felt as if I was in a painting. This was surreal – an off-the-beaten-path adventure I will always cherish.

     After hugs from these wonderful people, Julie and I got in the Fiat and made our way back down the mountain. Both of us were quiet – perhaps, Julie was as caught up as I in savoring the experience. We put up the ragtop just before leaving the ponderosa pine forest; I did take time for a few last sniffs and then we drove down onto the desert again.
     I drove quickly, knowing that I still had a long drive ahead of me. As we neared Moab, Julie checked her watch and asked, “Want one more short adventure? I feel like I owe you one without any scary surprises.”
     I laughed and said, “You already know my answer. It doesn’t take a lot to twist my arm when you use the word, ‘adventure’ … but what could top Trout Lake and Dave?”
     She laughed and said, “Turn here.”
     ‘Here’ was a nondescript old paved road bordered by nothing but sparse grasses and rocky ground; none of the beautiful salmon-colored limestone formations found in Arches was anywhere to be seen. This area was barren. I could barely make out the town of Moab in the distance.
     “Are you sure this goes somewhere?” I asked, a slightly put-off feeling creeping in. Julie is a ton of fun but her surprises have turned out to be a bit disconcerting. All I could see in the distance was heat, the way it creates a shimmering effect above the desert.
    “Trust me,” Julie said, grinning at the frown that popped up on my face. “Sorry, Dody – couldn’t help ribbing you a little. I promise you will definitely be happy with this adventure.”

     So I drove on – I am such a curious sucker reverberating in my brain. About a half-hour in, we passed a sign: Reservoir. I saw exactly one car, or more accurately, a jeep; it was parked very close to the shore of a shimmering body of water, one that was not beautiful, emerald in color; this was more of a drab dusky green.  One small building with no windows was close by but absolutely no trees. This is weird played in my mind, my hands tightening on the steering wheel.
     “What’s up with this?” I asked, a bit of hesitancy and concern in my voice. Had I read her wrong – had she really set me up this time? I wondered. Julie was grinning at me and squirming in her seat, looking like she had just served up the ultimate in vacation spots.
      “Pull up real close so the rougher rocks don’t cut our feet,” she said. Just as I pulled up next to the jeep, Julie yelled, “Let’s go!” and gingerly stepped out of the car holding onto her day pack.
     Startled again, I almost put the gear in reverse to tear out of there; but Karen appeared from around the side of the jeep wearing a bathing suit.
    “Hey, Dody – what a great surprise to see you here,” she said. “Glad you’re up for a side trip – ready for a swim? Best water around – actually, the only one!”
     Julie and Karin stood next to the Fiat, laughing good naturedly. “If you could see the look on your face,” Julie sputtered, “you would be laughing too. Bet you thought we had set you up for something bad! I had arranged to meet Karen here for a workout but our lunch went a little longer than I had figured. Knowing that you’re a swimmer, I figured I’d invite you instead of asking you to drop me off. A swim will do you good before you take off on that long ride ahead. Come on! Got your suit and some sun screen?”
     With that, she slipped off clothes and shoes, a bathing suit underneath; then reached into her day pack and tossed me a bottle of sun screen. Julie had put some on while I was driving and I figured it was because of the hot sun. Silly me, I smiled – why not? So I turned off the car and stepped out.
     They hit the water while I scrounged around in the trunk for my suit – a never-leave-home-without-it item. Hopping quickly into the passenger seat of the Fiat, I scrambled out of my clothes and into my Speedo then slathered on some sunscreen. There was no need to lock up the car; we were the only ones here.
     Figuring that the water would be on the hot or tepid side, blasted by the incessant heat, I gingerly walked onto the half-sandy, half-rocky shore and cautiously stuck in my big toe – hot water swims are not refreshing. Sure enough, my big toe touched very warm water but it was not scorching. Julie and Karen were watching, though, so I walked in up to my knees.
    “Wow!” I shouted then did a shallow dive, straight into the water. “It’s cool!” I yelled, surfacing near Julie and Karen. “This is amazing! How can it be so cool just below the surface?”
     “This lake is fed by several very deep underground springs; the depth in the center of the reservoir is over thirty feet deep. Look how close to shore we are swimming – can you touch bottom?” Julie asked.
    Amazingly, I could not even get down to bottom. “Most folks don’t come here to get wet for pleasure because it is so deep,” spoke up Karen. “There’s not much of a shallow area and, what there is, is pretty rocky. Julie and I come to swim laps. It’s quite safe as the water is tested often for bacteria and such. Plus, we never come alone. You ready to swim?”
     We swam some laps, somehow without running into each other. Then we treaded water and I talked about living in Florida and the reason for my quest. They regaled me with hysterical tales of life as a Park Ranger. Karen looked up at the sun and guessed that it was around 2:00 p.m.
    “You still heading on to Canyonlands today?” she asked.
    “Yeah, I am and it’s time for me to hit the road,” I answered, knowing that I still needed to gas up and stop at a grocery.

    Julie gave me directions back to State Road 191 and then onto County Road 211, the road that would get me to the Squaw Flats campground part of Canyonlands. She reminded me to get some ice for my little cooler and several gallons of water. Julie and I had already exchanged addresses so, after more apologies from Julie for all the surprises and hugs all around, I swam towards shore until my feet found the bottom and stood up.
    Rocks dotted the partially sandy bottom so I carefully picked my way to shore. In thigh deep water, a piece of waving paper caught my eye, wedged under a small rock. I reached down and pulled up a $2 bill – an omen - I thought, shaking the water off the bill while walking to the car.
     Changing back into my shorts and t-shirt, I put the $2 bill in my pocket – for luck – and sat down in the driver’s seat. Just as I was starting up the Fiat, a large raven flew in and settled himself atop Karen’s jeep. “Caw – caw – caw!” was his raucous call.  
    “Hope you don’t leave a gift on her car,” I said, grinning at a memory…a seagull had once gifted me atop my head.
    Feeling rejuvenated, I waved goodbye to Julie and Karen; they were still treading water. Julie yelled something but I could not understand a word except, ‘….be….’ I waved again and tooted the horn. As I drove back down the old road that had seemingly led to nowhere special, it hit me that today had been a day of epiphany: take risks when the unknown beckons – an amazing adventure could be waiting just around the corner. But take stock, first, of the feeling in your gut.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Griffins are flying high! Free: THE GRIFFIN'S BOY

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to assist a favorite author in her launch of a FREE promotion, March 1 - 5. Julia Hughes is the author of some of my top-shelf novels yet also, she is an avid supporter of other indie authors. I count it a privilege that Julia has also graced me with an interview.  

Readers met The Rider in Julia Hughes’ extraordinary tale, The Griffin Cryer, yet were left with many unanswered questions as to his past. Book two of the Griffin Rider’s series take us back in time, as Julia reveals the young Rider’s earlier years. In the second thrilling tale of this series, the story is set on Ella Earth, our world’s twin in most respects – except, both evolution and science have taken a different path. On Ella Earth, an elite troop known as the Griffin Riders patrol the spiritual conduits known as ley lines; they separate the two worlds.  

The Rider, whom we learn to be a boy named ‘Neb,’ seeks to find his place amongst those who work with griffins. Instead of attaining a low status position, though, Neb is thrust into challenge after challenge, striving to survive what ends up becoming the adventure of a lifetime.
Neb will risk his life, then his soul and, finally, his heart in a quest to become, ‘The Griffin’s Boy.’

Julia is offering a special promotion of this masterful tale, March 1 through March 5. Download The Griffin’s Boy FREE from Amazon using this universal LINK

Special Bonus Offer: Book one, ‘The Griffin Cryer,” is an award-winning urban fantasy and can be downloaded during the promotion for $.99 (US) or 99p (UK). This highly rated novel has received over 85 reviews, averaging 4.7 stars. Click on this universal LINK to nab a copy of one of my all-time favorite tales!

SYNOPSIS: The Griffin’s Boy is The Rider’s story and is set on Ella-Earth – our world’s twin in an alternative universe. Evolution has taken a different path and mythical beasts exist. Britain remains an island of mists, populated by Celtic tribes and governed by a strict feudal hierarchy. Only noblemen’s sons are recruited into an elite troop known as the Griffin Riders. The best a nameless nobody like Neb can hope for is to become a griffin’s lad. But then his fate becomes entwined with the mischievous grey griffin, Balkind, who everyone knows is trouble….and sure enough, Balkind disgraces himself on recruitment day and is rejected by Griffin Master Romulus. But Neb is determined to change Romulus’s mind. Telling himself and anyone who will listen that Balkind deserves a second chance, Neb steals the beast and flies off on the adventure of a lifetime. He quickly realizes that riding griffins isn’t for the faint-hearted and girls are complicated beings, best treated with respect.

My interview of Julia:

I am an avid reader of Julia’s novels, loving the thrills of adventure in settings that are so vividly described that it feels as if I am there, in the stories themselves. She graciously agreed to answer of few of my questions.

Q: After finishing book one in the series, ‘The Griffin Cryer,’ I fell in love with griffins and have had a series of amazing griffin riding dreams. In ‘The Griffin’s Boy,’ the second tale you’ve created that features a griffin as a central character, there are some extraordinary griffin scenes. How did the idea to use a griffin in a tale come to you, and what is it about griffins that make them special?

A: I've always loved the statues that litter London – griffins are my home town's traditional guardians. I remember reading a story called "The One Eyed Griffin" as a kid, and of course, I wanted a griffin of my own. It's fairly surprising that they don't feature more in fantasy stories. However, that made them even more appealing for me. My ambition is to become an authority on griffins!

In my opinion, Julia, your ambition has been fulfilled. The griffin flying scenes are phenomenal and Balkind's griffin-affectations always make me laugh!

Q: There is a new character in 'The Griffin’s Boy’ that I find to be quite compelling. You’ve been masterful in the way you have scripted Samara; she is cast as somewhat of an enigma and I am curious as to how she will be featured in a third book (hint, hint!). Where did this character spring from?

A: Samara's self-contained and unafraid. She's realized early on that knowledge is power, and has also learned how to charm at will. She's looking pretty dangerous to me – and I've no idea from where she sprung!

NOTE: Take a free peek at this new character! ‘Samara’s Salvation’ is a short story that can be downloaded free on Smashwords or on Julia's site.

Q: I’ve read all of the books in your Celtic Cousins’ Adventure series and the two in the Griffin Rider’s series. Aside from the fantastical roller-coaster rides of adventure those reads have taken me on, an unexpected pleasure is your wonderfully vivid weave into the story of British history, culture and terrain. Which seed for a story comes first: the characters, the essential storyline or a snippet from history, a vision of place?

A: Thank you Dody. :-) I'm very grateful for your kind words. I think I was lucky to grow up surrounded by adults who lived to a great age. It wasn't unusual for three or four generations to live in the same house. You learn old legends, old songs, and then your – or my – mind just goes sleepwalking.

Q: I’m an American reader who can hardly wait for the next book from Julia Hughes to hit the shelf. An unexpected delight for me during my reads is coming upon an arcane, obscure British term (and thank you for expanding my vocabulary!). In keeping with the historical references, are these terms used because they add a unique flair to the tale?

A: I don't consciously set out to use arcane or obscure words. They present themselves and appear to me to sit well on the page – apart from "The Griffin's Boy". In this story, set in a parallel universe because the Norman Conquest never happened, certain French terms don't exist in the English language (beef, pork, etc. spring mainly to mind). At the risk of making dialogue appear stilted, I also imagined that the “old-time” speech would be more formal. It's good to know that you're enjoying the odd ‘odd’ word. J 

Q: I have to ask! I’m hearing whispers that a new DI Crombie story (from the Celtic Cousins’ series) might be in the works. Can you offer a few crumbs of storyline – please?

A: Of course – anything for you Dody! :-) It's really about time that the story of Crombie and The Great Elephant Stampede was told – do you think the world's ready for it though?

Indeed, I am always thirsting for more of DI Crombie, Julia. To me and anyone who asks, he is 'my Crombie!' I’m quite sure that many others agree with me.

A word from Julia: As a Londoner, I’m enchanted by the legend that griffins are the guardians of this ancient city. In my mind, they combine the characteristics of two of our most beloved animal companions: horses and dogs – with an added bonus, of course, as griffins have wings. As anyone who has read The Griffin Cryer knows, if you believe in yourself against all odds, help arrives from (very!) unexpected sources. If you have self-belief, then you have the will to succeed – and you will succeed! So dream big and fly high – the only limits are the ones we place on our imaginations.

Visit Julia on her website by clicking on her photo at the top right of this page.

Follow Julia on Twitter: @tinksaid

Words Unlimited is a wonderful site to visit as it's purpose is to help indie authors launch and promote their work. If you have a promotional event or Back Story for your novel, memoir or short story that you'd like to be featured, it is easy to complete a request. "140 Little Words" is a fun page where authors can tantalize us with fascinating snippets.
Here is the Link.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Reverie - a short story by Kathy Jensen

After a bit of arm-twisting, my sister, Kathy, allowed me to post her short story. The story poignantly portrays a slice in time out of a young girl's life. The names have been changed to protect the 'not-so-innocent.'

            I was getting ready for the party at my friend Sara’s house, and as I gazed at my reflection in the mirror, I noted with approval my striking cat eyes; they were a light green, edged with a darker green around the rim, giving them an intensity that my grandmother used to say “talked.”  For most of my life, I had felt embarrassed about my beauty, and couldn’t receive compliments gracefully.  Somehow, I didn’t feel that I deserved them, and perhaps I just didn’t want to be singled out in any way; it felt safer to simply blend in with everyone else.  As I grew older, I began to see myself one-dimensionally; my outer appearance seemed to me to be the only attribute worth mentioning, and I watched with envy the girls who had witty personalities, who seemed at ease with themselves, and who were the life of the party.  Admittedly, I was the one responsible for limiting myself, but at the time of puberty, I couldn’t see that, and it was very painful.  Somehow, I managed to grow up, and now, at forty years of age, divorced, and full of more self-knowledge and wisdom, I am beginning to enjoy myself in all of my aspects.  
            As I continued applying the makeup that I now used for enjoyment, rather than to cover up, I grinned at my reflection, auburn hair tinged with red, and flying in all directions, due to a perm that took really well.  After my divorce, I had experimented with different hair styles and clothing, and as I ducked my head down, shaking my hair, I emerged looking like some kind of wild animal-I loved it!  For energy, I chose a pair of red canvas tennis shoes, and topped off my khaki pants with a bright red sweater.  I felt wonderful, and free to be myself.
            Sara was a good friend.  We had both been in relationships that had, for various reasons, not worked out.  This had been very painful for me, because I still loved Steve, and had wanted to marry him; however, I had taken the time to mourn the loss, and was now ready to open myself to other men.  As I contemplated how I had changed, how I had grown, I felt comfortable with my new-found sense of inner strength, and I looked forward to meeting the single man Sara had told me would be at the party.  It’s amusing to me how my approach, and my taste in men have changed; where once, I actively sought them out, now, if they happen to be in my space, I gingerly observe them for awhile, and then gravitate towards the quiet, unassuming ones.
            As I made a final check in the mirror, I looked into my eyes and felt myself slipping back in time; I saw the little girl who first noticed boys and actively pursued them.
            It was during the summer of my tenth year, and my sisters and I were packing for our summer vacation to a nearby springs resort area.  I had one thought, and one thought only; to find a boyfriend, and I knew that I had to be quick about it, to catch him before any other available females had a chance!  But I had confidence in myself, even though I always managed to look and act so innocent.  In reality, I was a hawk, eagle eyes always on the lookout for prey, and full of ferocious intensity to swoop down on my innocent victims.
            This particular spring was a favorite of mine, and as we all squeezed into the car, I was excited, and even the usual fight over who got to sit next to the window failed to dampen my spirits.  It took us about an hour to get there, but back then, it seemed like an eternity, and by the time we drove down the dirt road leading to the spring and the cabins, we were all spitting and clawing like a bunch of cats.  My mother screamed at us, “If you kids don’t behave, this is the last time we ever take you anywhere!”  This served the immediate purpose of getting us to be quiet, but we knew that she didn’t really mean it; she needed to get away as badly as we did, and didn’t have any other choice but to take us along with her.
            As I looked out the window (I had won a coveted window seat), my adrenalin was surging, and I took in the familiar sights:  on my right, the crystal water of the spring, shades of blue and green mingling; carpets of green forming where the grasses joined together to provide hiding places for the crabs we would later catch and eat; the blue, where the springs bubbled up
from underground caverns.  On my left, I could see the cabins dotted here and there amidst a generous cover of trees, providing privacy and shade.  Not only was the beauty of the area breathtaking, but the feeling I most remember was one of peacefulness, for we were far away from the daily reminders of work and survival.
          As we pulled up next to our cabin, I could barely contain my enthusiasm, and jumped out exuberantly, intending to make a mad dash for the water; however, my parents had other plans for me, and I reluctantly joined in on the tedious job of unloading the car.  I didn’t need to change into my bathing suit, because, as usual, I had worn it underneath my clothes.  Gleefully now, when we were finally given the go-ahead signal to take off, we kicked off our shoes, dug into the Florida sand, and bounded down the hill, racing madly to see who would be the first one to dive into the water.  As we neared the swimming area, I decided to slow down and let someone else win-I wanted to check out the “scenery.”  Slowly now, I began my shy approach, noting that there were, indeed, some fine looking prospects.  As I dreamily looked around me, I was jarred out of my reverie by my sister, Jody, who shouted at me, “Hey, Katie, aren’t ya comin’ in?”  And with that, she bravely executed a racing dive from the end of the dock.  I say bravely, because the water was so cold, it took your breath away the moment you entered.  Not one to be the cow’s tail, I took off in a sprint, momentarily forgetting about boys; I wanted to get the agony over with right away, for I always had to talk myself into going in.  “Geronimo,” I yelled, as I, too, showed off with a perfect racing dive.  We were all members of the AAU; that stands for the Amateur Athletic Union, and meant that we spent our summers swimming with the local swim club, traveling to nearby towns for swim meets.  We were very proud of this fact, and showed off whenever possible; however, my prowess as a swimmer was diminished, as I came up sputtering and shivering, and made an immediate exit from the cold water.  “Wow, that was fun,” I exclaimed, while running for my towel.
            Now that I had proved my bravery, I took the time to continue my search for “the One,” the lucky boy who was destined to spend the next two weeks as the object of my fantasies.  I spread my towel out on the grass in front of the water, locked my arms around my knees, and nonchalantly scanned the area.  To my right, I noticed a couple of boys who I could tell out of the corner of my eye were checking me out.  Now, I must add that I am very picky, and neither of them were what I had in mind.  One of them was a veritable beanpole, with a shock of blond hair that he continuously flicked to one side as it fell over his eyes, and on the end of his nose I could see a ripe and ready pimple-yuk!  As for his buddy, I knew he was too young to be drinking beer, but from the looks of that white belly hanging over his bathing suit, I could have sworn that he was belting it down every day!  I also knew that he was too young to be in the army, but someone had taken a buzz saw to his hair, and if he didn’t lather it up with suntan oil, he would get a sunburn that would rival the one he was sure to get on that white belly of his!  Now, to my horror, they were approaching me with their best swagger.
            “Hi,” the pimply-faced one began, trying to put his hands in the nonexistent pockets on his swimming trunks.
            Now, I am not a heartless person, and was not about to make fun of him or his buddy, but I was faced with the dilemma of getting out of engaging them in conversation, and subtly letting them know that I was not interested.  Understand that I was an inexperienced ten year old, myself, and didn’t know how to get out of this sticky situation, so I did the only thing I knew how to do;  I simply stared straight ahead of me and pretended that they did not exist.
            “Hey,” the beer belly insisted, “My buddy here is talking to you.  Ain’t you got any ears?”
            I sat rigidly in my space, staring intently at the water, praying that they would get the message and leave me alone.
            “Ah, she ain’t worth it, George.  What a stuck up little creep,” he said disgustingly, and with that, they shuffled off to the store.
            Slowly, I began to breathe evenly again, but I was still somewhat irritated at their rude interruption, when Carla, another sister, teasingly called to me, “Hey Katie, all of the fish are here in the water.  Better come in before I catch all of them!”
            After glancing around one more time, I resignedly decided to cool my heels for awhile.  I liked to tease Carla as she was such a good sport, so I took a running start and did a jackknife right in front of her face.  With that, she grabbed my leg and jerked me under.  I came up sputtering and laughing at the
same time, only to be joined by Jody and Mary, the fourth and youngest sister.  Then it became a free-for-all, bodies tumbling and thrashing about, creating whirlpools of frothing water.  Well, at least I wasn’t cold anymore, and I was glad to see that it was going to be lots of fun, even if I didn’t find Mr. Right.
            There was a new addition to the dock this year-a diving board, and I was thrilled, because I had been working on some new dives at home.  For awhile, we took turns playing “Jump-Dive,” a crazy game whereby as one person made his approach, and bounced once on the board, another person called out to him either “jump,” or “dive.”  It was soooo tempting to cheat just a little, and as Mary took her turn at the board, I waited until she was in mid-air before calling out the signal, whereupon she proceeded, with a look of shear panic, to land flat on her face!  I laughed so hard it brought tears to my eyes, but Mary’s response was to pull herself indignantly out of the water, yelling, “That wasn’t funny, and I’m not playing anymore!”
            Well, I apologized, but she had had enough, and the game wasn’t quite as much fun after that, so I turned over and floated on my back.  The warmth of the sun on my face was relaxing, and I lay there looking at the clouds, taking pleasure in finding different shapes in each one.  I thought, “ Wouldn’t it be fun to just think myself up there, and in the blink of an eye be walking on air?”  My head was still in the clouds when I heard a voice say, “Wanta ride on my raft?”
            Hastily, I turned over, practically drowning myself in my hurry to identify the mystery voice.  I found myself looking into the most gorgeous chocolate brown eyes I had ever seen; it was him, “the One,” and here I stood, mouth agape, wet hair streaming over my eyes, and I was speechless-again!  Somehow I managed to sputter at tentative, “Yes,” and climbed aboard.
            For the remainder of the two weeks I ate, slept, swam, and played with only thoughts of Seth.  He had an older sister who alleviated her boredom by playing Cupid’s assistant, encouraging us to hold hands, sneak kisses, and take long rides on his raft.  We were Tarzan and Jane, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, inseparable partners, exploring new territory and storing up memories which would last for a lifetime.  It was a wonderful time in my life, and I cried when we had to leave, promising to write to one another; and we did, for a short time, but as our tans faded, so did our love, and I never saw Seth again.
            A deep sigh escaped my lips as I came out of my reverie, and once again gazed at my reflection.  The big difference between then and now was that I no longer felt the need to impress, hoping to be found desirable and pretty; I was no longer looking for “the One.”  I was simply having fun just being me, and as I applied the final touch of red-my lipstick, I took one last look in the mirror and smiled.  It was going to be a great party…because I would be there.

Kathy Jensen can be contacted on Facebook.

The first photo of Silver Glen Springs is courtesy of the St. John's River Water Management District.

The second photo of Silver Glen Springs is courtesy of Harley Measn/FDEP.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

"Is the noise in my head bothering you?"

There are moments in which I am driven crazy by the cacophony of noise in my head; when the demands to get this and that done is almost nonstop. Until a line from the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy, bursts through the noise: "Is the noise in my head bothering you?" This is my signal to stop trying to 'do' - to pause - to breathe and step outside for some fresh air.

                                     Watch a big blue heron in flight.....
Catch the sparkle of the sun's rays on the leaves of a tree.....
Take pleasure in the visits from those who require no words.....
                   Enjoy a pleasant dive into the part of my soul where peace dwells.....