You Never Stop Learning

Happy September, Readers!

Wow. Another month has zipped by. Last month I mentioned a weekend vacation down to Topeka, Kansas. The reason for the short trip was to attend Clinton Anderson’s Walkabout Tour Horsemanship Clinic. Now, if you aren’t a horsey person, or never watch RFD-TV and catch his TV show, you most likely don’t know who Clinton is. That’s okay. I’ll just give you a quick rundown!

In a nutshell Clinton Anderson is a horse trainer from Australia who has done extremely well for himself here in the states. And I mean extremely well! For years he’s worked to develop a surefire horse training method, aptly known as The Method that is simple to understand and apply, yet achieves results.You can watch a short video on his web site to learn more.

Since my husband and I are avid watchers of his show, have been for years, have read his books, Philosophy, and Down Under Horsemanship, and a member of his No Worries Club, I couldn’t wait to attend one of his clinics and see the man and The Method up close and personal. Yes, I’ve been using pieces of his Method for years, but I was eager to see it all live to make sure I was doing things right! I’m a firm believer that when it comes to horses, no matter how long you’ve been working with them, no matter how much you know—or think you know—there is always something new to learn. And if you think you know it all you need to pack it up and get out of Dodge because you’re lying! When it comes to horses you can never know it all! Even though I was very familiar with the majority of what Clinton was saying—because I watch him so much, I was still a sponge, soaking it all in as if I couldn’t get enough.  If you haven’t guessed it, horses are my passion!

And did I mention prizes? Clinton gave away a ton of prizes, including a saddle, but darn it, none of us won a thing, but it was still fun to have the chance, and shop Clinton’s store. I was like a kid in a candy store. I had a terrible time restraining myself! If you are a horse person, you know what I’m talking about when it comes to horse tack. Let’s just say that to a horse person a tack store is like Macy’s to others!

I won’t bore you with any more horsey details, but I will say we had a wonderful time. We were joined by two fellow 4-H families from our horse club who have become great friends over the last couple of years. We all had a wonderful time hanging out together, learning and improving our horsemanship skills, and giving our kids some time to have fun after a hectic week at the county fair—like doing synchronized swimming in the hotel pool each day after the clinic!

Will I attend another Clinton Anderson clinic? In a heartbeat! And I’m willing to save the bucks needed to take a trip down do his ranch in Stephenville, TX for one of his 10 day, hands on clinics. Wish I would win the lottery! In the meantime I will keep riding and writing!

How about you? Is there a skill you’d like to learn or improve upon? Or a trip you’d give your right arm to take? Remember, it’s never too late to learn. If something interests you, inspires you, go for it. Learning keeps you young!

Enjoy the transition of the seasons and we’ll see you all back here in October!

Sherry James

www.sherryjames.com

Irish Pride

My husband and I weren’t on Irish soil long during our trip in May of this year before we got a sense of Irish pride. In the same visit to Trinity College when we viewed the Book of Kells, we learned about Brian Boru, Ireland’s most famous king. Seems all people want to know that through their ancestors they can be linked to the Battle of Clontarf that occurred in 1014CE at a location several kilometers north of current-day Dublin. For those of Irish blood, this was a fateful battle. The fierce warrior king Brian Boru is hailed as the country’s most famous warrior because he was the Vikings most prominent opponent.

High King of Ireland

Boru became king of Munster in 976CE when his brother, Mathgamain, died. Boru worked over the next three decades to extend his power and draw the clans together under his rule.  He is recognized as being the High King of Ireland from 1002-1014, and a note in the Book Of Armagh in 1005 claims him to be the Emperor of Ireland.(a title given no other man) Although the Viking influence had been diminishing for years through intermarriage and Viking soldiers becoming farmers of Irish soil, the Battle at Clontarf is recognized as the event that banished the Vikings from Irish soil for good. The battle also marked Boru’s death on April 23, 1014, and during our visit the country was commemorating the centennial of his death. Imagine, he was 73 years old when he died.

Death of a King (note the flaming Viking ship in harbor past the Dublin gate)

A study of my paternal line of Clan Carroll (O’Caerbhal in Gaelic) indicates a connection to ancestors who fought at Clontarf. My quandary is that my maternal line is Scandinavian (mostly Norwegian) so probably I have ancestors that were being vanquished. Oh, how I love genealogy!

The Ring That Binds, my western historical novella set in 1880s Aspen, features an Irish heroine.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

Lucinda Parks is accustomed to all the things that can go wrong with a simple, fairly routine wedding. She’s seen it all. The groom’s plane is grounded on the other side of the country two hours before the wedding. The maid of honor and the best man elope right after the rehearsal dinner. The bride decides the morning of the wedding she hates her headpiece and it must be made over–NOW! Or just the usual hangover among the groomsmen, cat fights between the bridesmaids, and family feud blooming in the foyer. She can handle any of it–or  all of it at once.

What is concerning her isn’t the usual things that go wrong. She’s not even too worried about the double wedding for the Sinclair sisters, though Candace is the original American princess and her sister Shelby is a down-to-earth Texas rodeo queen. Lucinda is certain she will find a way to blend their opposing expectations, one totally formal and the other more closely aligned with a barn dance. She’ll find a way to make it work. The one aspect Lucinda doesn’t have firmly in her control is her overwhelming attraction to Jeff Sinclair, the enticing single father of the brides. Working to give his girls the wedding of their dreams throws the handsome developer and the marriage-shy wedding coordinator in constant contact. Lucinda can’t deny the attraction, but she has one unbreakable rule: Never, ever have a personal relationship with a client–not a friend, not a relative, and certainly not a lover!

But Jeff has rules of his own, and the first one is–give his daughters everything he can, but don’t let the woman of his dreams slip away in the confusion.

Double Wedding, Single Dad is my new novella from The Wild Rose Press. I’m so pleased that it’s being included in the “Dearly Beloved” series and will be released September 27. The heroine, Lucinda, is a mature woman of forty-something, never married, though she came close a couple of times. Jeff, father of two very different daughters, is more than attracted, but the pressures of their individual careers and this most complicated wedding threaten to keep them apart. That is, until a burlesque wedding and a sudden snowfall combine to create the perfect setting to draw them together. And then there’s that elusive blue farm house…but you’ll have to read the story to find out about that part. Telling Jeff and Lucinda’s story was such fun! It’s good to meet more mature characters and deal with the complications of people who have definite lives and individual histories before they come together. And the daughters, Candace and Shelby–they’re adorable. Difficult sometimes, but adorable.  I hope readers will find as much humor and tenderness in the story as I did. And I do hope they’ll let me hear from them.

Next month, I will be making the long trip ‘across the pond’ to finish the research for the current WIP. It’s tough to take on such an onerous task, but for the sake of accuracy (and the occasional scone with apricot jam) I will brave the challenge. Meanwhile, the Party Doll and I wish you a wonderful end of summer. Happy reading and rewarding writing!

Fleeta Cunningham

Branding

Branding yourself as an author is important. Branding helps a reader know what they’re getting when they pick up a book. Meeting reader expectations is vital is helping an author gain a following. In some ways, I feel like I have a good handle on this. Yet, in others, I feel like I have a long way to go.

For the most part I write sexy romance with cozy, small town settings. My heroes have more than their fair share of down home good ol’ boy charm. There tends to be a country music reference somewhere in the story. And pick up trucks are the preferred method of transportation.

I have one book that doesn’t follow this criteria at all. No pick ups. No country music. And my hero is a world-traveling photographer. About as far from a good ol’ boy as you can get. Interestingly, when I get my royalty statements each quarter and take a look at sales listings, this book always has the least amount of sales. The book has a great cover and has gotten good reviews. But it is definitely different than most of my stories.

My Christmas novella doesn’t quite follow the pattern, but it definitely has a cozy setting, and I think holiday books fall into their own category of things sometimes. And all of my holiday stories (I have three) have a similar style to their covers, which again, goes a long way in the branding department.

As I take a look at my current book, I wonder how things will shake out for it as time goes by. It, too, falls out of the mold a bit. My hero has a pick up truck and is a blue collar worker, but then my ‘norms’ fall off a bit. It’s set in a suburb of Chicago and there’s not one mention of country music. And I still say the guy on the cover is nothing like the hero which you’ll find on the pages within. One of my friends commented that it was her favorite book of mine, and my mother-in-law said it was a nice departure from the usual country ones. Hmn?

So, do readers prefer familiarity or diversity from authors? Now granted, those particular people picked up that book because I was the author. Romance might not even be their genre of preference, so the opinion may be a bit skewed.

The next books I have planned are definitely back on ‘track’ as far as the down home theme. But I’m sure somewhere along the way I’ll have an idea that departs a bit from that…and as we all know, if an idea hits…it’s best to go with it and see where it takes you, right?

One thing I definitely need to work on with branding is my web-site. When I first created one, I used an on-line template an chose a theme from the given list, which I’ve since changed. But I’ve always just used the available themes. As I was looking at it the other day, I realized it wasn’t really working for me anymore. It wasn’t me. So at some point I need to redesign it…or at the very least, find a theme that goes better with my writing style.

What other things do you do to brand yourself? How do you meet reader expectations? Do you ever veer from the beaten path?

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

Family Secrets – available now from The Wild Rose Press. Also at Amazon for Kindle.

On the Road Again!

As we prepare to drive my daughter and her dorm furnishings back to school, a four-day trek (round trip), I can’t help but be thankful to live in the 21st century. In the Victorian era, travel required a great deal more fortitude. For one thing, traveling hundreds of miles by land took weeks by coach, not days. And said vehicles lacked such delightful modern conveniences as air conditioning, radios, and shock absorbers.

In spite of this, wealthy Britons were enthusiastic travelers even before motorized travel. Prior to the Napoleonic Wars, they visited numerous cities in Europe. Young men would spend two years on the Grand Tour, encompassing Paris and Rome. Once they married, they honeymooned on the Continent or took their families to spa towns like Aix-le-Bains in France, Wiesbaden in Germany and Spa – yes, that’s why we call them spas – in Belgium. And they made these journeys at a time when a good speed on land was around 13 miles an hour.

A massive burst of speculation in the mid-1840s lead to the proliferation of railroads throughout Great Britain. At first, rail travel was considered unsafe due to accidents and uncomfortable because smoke and cinders blew into the coaches, while third class passengers had to ride on little more than an uncovered platform. However, once companies put glass in their windows and their third class passengers in actual railcars with roofs, even Queen Victoria didn’t turn her nose up at trains. She and Prince Albert took their first ride from Windsor to London, and Her Majesty was delighted with both the speed and the smoothness of the ride.

Britons followed their sovereign onto the cars and a new industry was born: travel. An enterprising fellow by the name of Thomas Cook organized an outing from Liverpool to Leicester only a few years after Victoria’s first ride. Over three hundred people signed up, paying up . He branched out to arrange tours, including lodgings and meals, to Scotland, London, Dublin, and in 1855, to Paris. The company he found now goes by the name of Thomas Cook Tours, and organizes excursions the world over.

Blackpool's Promenade

More independent travelers could simply by a train ticket and travel for an hour or two to a destination like Margate, with its sandy beaches; or Blackpool’s pier and promenade. Then at the end of the day, one could take the train back home.

To go further afield, packet boats could cross the English Channel in a day if the weather cooperated, and in the 1860s, that trip from London to Rome, which had taken 23 days in the age of the Grand Tour, could be accomplished in only two days and a half in 1860.

Most of the time, I enjoy road trips. With some coffee in the drink holder (also an amenity lacking in coaches), and some good road music coming through the speakers, I’m set.

Although taking a long journey by train is on my bucket list. If you could travel any way you wanted, in any era, where would you like to go, and how?

Till next month! Ann Stephens

Cheryl St. John–August Full Moon Guest!

When Sherri Shackelford and I made plans to go to New York for the Writers Digest Conference it seemed like a long time away, but our departure day was upon us before we knew it. Thank goodness we had the foresight to plan and purchase tickets in advance for the things we wanted to see and do, because priority lines were a snap, while others were impossibly long. Those impulsively deciding to go on a statue cruise waited hours, while we got right on the ferry.

For Nebraska girls, New York City was like another world, filled with scurrying people, cabs, buses and strollers, all vying to be first. Our introduction to the city couldn’t have been better, because two handsome young men picked us up and gave us history and geology lessons while dodging traffic like pros. I never knew Manhattan was built entirely on solid granite, except for one strip of marshland, which is The Village. The granite was clearly visible in Central Park as well as in the foundations of the Twin Towers, which remain on display at the 9-11 museum.

After the hustle and bustle of Times Square, Rockefeller Center and Grand Central Station, the 9-11 memorial was the quietest place in New York. I was especially thankful to see it opening this past Spring, knowing I’d be able to visit. There isn’t a person over 15 or 16 who doesn’t remember that day vividly. The images are familiar. The atmosphere is respectful.

The city truly never sleeps, and has a heartbeat all its own. We’ve already made plans to return. We stood on Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants entered on their way to new lives in America. We touched the names on the reflection pool which honors all those killed in the cruelest act of terrorism our country has known. We walked the streets where Funny Girl, Saturday Night Fever, Ghostbusters and You’ve Got Mail, among many, many other iconic movies were filmed. We listened to street musicians and saw a Broadway Show, ate at The Four Seasons, sat in Irish pubs, chatted with New Yorkers in delis, got separated at the top of 30 Rock, even bought metro cards took the subway, and those experiences only whetted our appetites for more.

Writers Digest plans an extremely well-organized and professional conference with a lot of energy and information. It was held in the historic Roosevelt Hotel on 45th & Madison. Agents and editors took pitches, which they call Pitch Slam. My editor was on a panel the first evening. The workshops I gave were well attended, and it was especially fun to read all the tweets containing quotes afterward. I learned all about metadata and amazon keywords and soaked in info on using social media to my advantage. In an atmosphere different than I’m used to at other conferences, I met writers from all over and enjoyed hearing their stories and about their writing. There’s nothing like getting a bunch of writers together. We get each other in a way no one else does. This was my first conference as a Writers Digest author, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Cheryl St.John is the award-winning author of fifty Harlequin and Silhouette books, which include historical romance as well as contemporary.  She was a voracious reader and admits her early passion was for horror and true crime. Eventually she read Victoria Holt and Catherine Cookson, but one fateful day browsing the book section, she took a chance on a different genre and bought Hummingbird by LaVyrle Spencer, then promptly drove back to the store for The Rainbow Season by Lisa Gregory. She was immediately taken by historical romance, enthralled by Americana, the American West and hooked for life.

And so, when she got serious and decided to write a book, it was, of course, a romance. A very badly written and poorly plotted romance. But eventually she joined Romance Writers of America and her local chapter (then Romance Authors of the Heartland), Heartland Writers Group, and was fortunate to have the late Diane Wicker Davis as her first mentor.

Her book on writing, Writing With Emotion, Tension & Conflict, released by Writers Digest Books, is available in print and ebook.

Cheryl believes in paying it forward, and her some of her most rewarding experiences have been sharing in the successes of writers she has coached over the years.

Cheryl loves hearing from readers.
email her at: SaintJohn@aol.com.
Visit her on the web: http://www.cherylstjohn.net/
Read her blog, From the Heart: http://cherylstjohn.blogspot.com/
Like her Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/CherylStJ
She’s a Pinterest junkie! http://pinterest.com/cheryl_stjohn/

Cheryl St. John joins us Aug. 19th!

Meow, readers! I’m thrilled to tell you one of my all time favorite authors, Cheryl St. John, will be making a return visit to the Authors By Moonlight on August 19th. Cheryl will be sharing some photos and fun from her recent and exciting trip to New York City for the Writers Digest Conference. Be sure and check it out. And if you haven’t read one of Cheryl’s books, go now and get one. She writes purrrfectly wonderful books I can’t put down! See you on the 19th!

A Visit to Arbor Lodge—Home of Arbor Day

With the county fair over, and summer quickly winding down to the start date of school, we managed to sneak in a two-and-a-half day mini vacation. That’s not enough time to do very much, but after a very hectic spring and summer, it was better than nothing, and very welcome.

Where did we go? Well, our destination was Topeka, Kansas, for a weekend long horsemanship clinic with renowned Aussie horseman Clinton Anderson during his Walkabout Tour. It was wonderful, and I’ll share more in my next post, but for today, I’m going to share about our very short visit to Arbor Lodge in Nebraska City where we stopped en route to Topeka. I’ve lived in Nebraska my entire life and I’ve never had the chance to visit Arbor Lodge. I wish we would have had more time, but I managed to squeeze in quite a bit.

The long bricked driveway with canopy of trees leading to the mansion.

I knew Arbor Lodge was big, but I never realized just how big. Now situated on 72 acres of wooded and rolling hills, the 52 room mansion can give any Southern Plantation a run for its money in grandeur and opulence. Founded in 1855 by J. Sterling Morton, Morton and his wife Caroline selected the highest point on their land to build a four room house that was the beginnings of a home that would grow exponentially over the next four and half decades. The home was completed in 1903 by the Morton’s oldest of four sons, Joy Morton, yes, Joy is the Morton of Morton Salt fame—you know, “When It Rains, It Pours”®. Check out the Morton Salt web site for information about the iconic Morton Salt girl and her 100th birthday celebration this year.

J. Sterling and Caroline were nature lovers, and soon after establishing their home, they set about planting trees and greenery on a treeless prairie. Caroline designed the original drives, walks, and gardens. She planted the first trees and oversaw the running of the farm while her husband was traveling for political reasons.

J. Sterling was a journalist by profession, and while in political office he wrote and spoke about the

One of three porticoes that grace the mansion.

benefits of trees and as early as 1872, when he was president of the State Board of Agriculture, he introduced a resolution calling for a tree planting day to be known as Arbor Day. In 1885, the Legislature made Arbor Day, April 22nd–Morton’s birthday, a legal holiday in Nebraska.

After the older Morton’s death in 1902, Joy set about one last addition to the home. For the next twenty years he and his family used the home as a summer retreat, and in 1923 he donated the house and grounds to the State of Nebraska to be preserved for future generations, and as a monument to his father. Lucky for us!

The main staircase. Joy Morton's daughter was married here surrounded by flowers.

In the house you can see Tiffany stained glass, Victorian and Empire style furniture, and a staircase that makes you think–Gone With the Wind. You can see the bedroom where President Grover Cleveland and his wife stayed, enjoy a vast sun room, and see the bowling alley in the basement. You can walk the brick paved drives under a never ending canopy of trees, and visit lush gardens where 300 varieties of lilacs grow. And the stone and brick carriage house would make any horse envious.

While touring the home my writer’s mind took hold and I couldn’t help thinking about the history that had taken place in those rooms. Oh, if the walls could talk! What a great setting Arbor Lodge would make for a ghost story, murder mystery, or a sweeping historical romance! There are so many rooms and staircases it’s easy to get lost and confused as to where you are. And talk about places for someone to hide–they abound! Although the home is so beautiful and well maintained, it’s hard to imagine anything sinister taking place there. But I can sure picture a playful ghost lurking, or two would-be lovers sneaking away for stolen moments.

The bedroom where President Grover Cleveland and his wife stayed while visiting Nebraska during his term in office.

So, if you ever get to Nebraska, be sure to put Arbor Lodge and Arbor Day Farm on your list of “must-see” spots.

Do you love trees? Do you love to plant trees? Like my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father before me, I do.  I think J. Sterling and Caroline Morton would be pleased to know how nationally know Arbor Day has become and how Nebraska isn’t quite the treeless prairie they saw when first arriving back in the mid 1800′s..

Have a great August and we’ll see you back here in September. In the meantime, go plant a tree!

Sherry James
www.sherryjames.com

Inspiring Book of Kells

Another favorite sight during our vacation trip to Ireland was The Book of Kells exhibit at the Trinity College Old Library (the oldest surviving college building constructed between 1712 and 1732). On our first full day in Ireland, we visited this Dublin museum that was within walking distance of our hotel. Being on the grounds of a learning institution that was founded more than 400 years ago (in 1592 by charter of Queen Elizabeth) was amazing in itself. The Book of Kells was sent to Trinity College to remain safe during the Cromwellian period around 1653.

Visitors get to view the actual manuscript that was probably created in the 9th century, and a new page is displayed every day. The book is protected within a temperature-controlled box. The Book of Kells is a manuscript that contains the four gospels in Latin with lavish and detailed drawings to accompany the text. Scholars agree the text was produced by the monks of Iona (island off the west coast of Scotland). The question remains if the manuscript was finished on Iona or after the monks moved to Kells in county Meath following a Viking attack in 806 CE. Drawing the intricate figures and designs must have provided the monks a sense of creative freedom in an otherwise structured life.

As an author, I was in awe of the sheer volume of books within the Old Library. Since 1801, a copy of all books published in Britain and Ireland can be claimed by the library. By the 1850s, the designated space was filled. In 1860, the roof was raised to allow for the construction of the barrel-vaulted ceiling and the gallery bookcases that are in the present-day visitor area. Nearly three million books are stored within eight buildings. Also on display were carved marble busts of famous literary persons.

This is a must-see exhibit for anyone visiting Dublin—book lover or not.

Linda is the author of a short story set in Ireland titled A Legend of Ireland. Maybe someday she will write a story set in Ireland that will be requested to reside in this hallowed hall.

I Guess I’m a Bit ‘Old School’

I know the current trend in publishing is electronic, and I do have a Kindle which I do some reading on, especially when I go on vacation. But for me there’s nothing more satisfying than curling up with a good book and turning pages.

Having a book in my hand is even more thrilling when it’s my own book.

This weekend a box arrived on my porch!

It was filled with copies of my latest release, Family Secrets!

This is my fifth print release, eighth overall, but having that box arrive and opening it to reveal books with MY name on them never gets old.

The official worldwide release date is this Friday, August 1, but paperback copies have been available for a couple of weeks.

Blurb:
Even after the death of her husband, Erika Garrett is still close to his family. She vows they’ll never discover he was cheating on her. She’s content with her play-by-the-rules life until Chase Stewart re-enters her life.
Chase is divorced from Erika’s sister-in-law and wants nothing to do with her family or they with him. If it weren’t for shared custody of his precious four-year old twins, he wouldn’t be a part of their lives at all.
He has no desire to marry again, so the only thing he can offer Erika is a secret summer fling. But when the secret is uncovered, can either of them ever face the family again?

Excerpt:
She shook off the feeling, and once again attempted to concentrate on the movie. Soon the girls drifted off and, eager for something to do to keep her mind off forbidden topics, she rose to gather the remains of their snack. She reached for the empty popcorn bowl as Chase did the same. Her hand brushed his, and she yanked it away as if burned.

“Erika.” Her name came out soft. Husky. Never before had it sounded so intimate on a man’s lips.

“I need to get this cleaned up.” She fled to the kitchen.

She stood by the sink, the snack dishes forgotten. Her hands gripped the edge of the granite so hard her knuckles turned white.

The soft pad of Chase’s bare feet announced his arrival a moment before his hands came to rest on her shoulders. She flinched.

“Erika.” How easily she could get used to him saying her name just like that. As though velvet secrets hid in the simple syllables. She shivered under his touch. “What are you thinking?”

As if he didn’t know. She shook her head, unable to speak, or unwilling to voice her thoughts aloud.

With gentle hands he turned her to face him. “Look at me.” He lifted her chin with a finger.

She tried to tear her gaze from his, but the intensity in the dark depths of his eyes made the task impossible. The silent communication spoke to her soul in a way nothing ever had before.

Family Secrets is available through The Wild Rose Press. (Writing that is also a thrill that never gets old!)

And even though I know sales are way better for electronic copies of my books, having that particular box arrive made me second-guess submitting my latest WIP, which is almost ready to go to my editor in query form, in a length which would only allow a digital release. At this point in the process, I really am not looking to make it any longer, but let me tell you, for a moment I was tempted!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

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Full Moon Guests

Jan. 14--Sherri Shackelford
April 22--Kate Bridges
May 27--Ann Lethbridge
Aug. 19--Cheryl St. John
Nov. 11--Pam Crooks

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This Feels Like Home by Debra St. John

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