So, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve last engaged in anything writing. Around March 8, to be exact. If I’m honest, it was intentional. But not in a, ‘give up eating my broccoli and dumping in the dog’s dish,’ way.
Some of you may know that I’ve been working on a career change, due to having my fill of mental health issues arising from years of working as a Correctional Officer. But that’s H20 under the proverbial bridge, as they say. Though it never leaves you, not quite. The mind can forgive, but it never forgets, not those things.
Just a bit of backdrop there. I haven’t forgotten any of you, though I feel regret for not reengaging with the community sooner. Today is a fresh start, and I’m recommitting to picking up where I left off. It felt good to actually write again this morning.
I’ve been involved with some career retraining, and it’s been eating up my time and energy, so I took a break from all things writing.
I apologize, not for the break, but for dropping out without a word. I have to reread a book I was going to give a review on back in early March.
Today I’ll start reading your blogs again, going as steadily as time and energy will permit.
Never too late to start again, for any of us. Today is the first day of the rest of your life!
After a warm spell, winter’s back with her arm’s spread wide to give a chilly embrace for anyone who ventures outdoors. Speaking of chills, I had to crank up the electric fireplace and huddle under my blanket as I dove into this delightfully spooky tale.
Ward Chatham, founder of Chatham Hollow, is infamous for two things—hidden treasure and a curse upon anyone bold enough to seek it. Since his passing in 1793, no one has discovered his riches, though his legend has only grown stronger.
In 1888, charlatan Benedict Fletcher holds a séance to determine the location of Chatham’s fortune. It’s all a hoax so he can search for the gold, but he doesn’t count on two things—Victor Rowe, a true spiritualist who sees through his ruse, and Chatham’s ghost wreaking havoc on the town.
More than a century later, the citizens of the Hollow gather for the annual Founder’s Day celebration. A paranormal research team intends to film a special at Chatham Manor, where the original séance will be reenacted. Reporter and skeptic Aiden Hale resents being assigned the story, but even he can’t deny the sudden outbreak of strange happenings. When he sets out to discover who or what is threatening the Hollow—supernatural or not—his investigation uncovers decades-old conflicts, bitter rivalries, and ruthless murders.
This time, solving the mystery isn’t about meeting his deadline. It’s about not ending up dead.
Personally, whenever I hear the word, “Hollow,” in a place name, I’m immediately intrigued as to its potential for supernatural events. Whether it be from a famous story I’m sure we’re all familiar with, or the fact that I grew up near a place called, “Plum Hollow,” which was storied to have a ‘seer’ back in the nineteenth century.
The title is but one link in the chain that rattled my enthusiastic anticipation each time I opened my Kindle. For me, this story had two key ingredients that I thoroughly enjoy; a good mystery and a rapid eye reading brush with the paranormal.
While I’m more familiar with Mae’s work and I know that Staci is also an excellent writer, when I bought this book, I wasn’t sure how well the two voices would blend. I can now testify that my concern was unfounded as their collaborative voices melded to form a flawless flow, even during the transition between several timelines.
Though all the characters brought something to the séance table, I especially enjoyed the banter between Aiden and Greer.
I highly recommend this book for those who relish a twisty tale, infused with history, humor, and netherworld antics, sans gore and slash.
Have I enticed you to learn more and grab a copy? Yes? Then please read on to meet Staci & Mae, and click on the links.
Staci grew up in Western Pennsylvania writing stories and poetry in my free time, so no one was surprised when I became a writing major in college. After receiving creative and professional writing degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, I went on to get my Master’s Degree in Professional Writing, and I worked in corporate communications until I had my children. Now I’m a freelance writer and editor and spend many of my days happily immersed in fictional worlds.
They say everyone has a story to tell. I wrote my first childish “masterpiece” at six and was immediately bitten by the writing bug. Since then, I’ve been composing nonstop, and have dabbled in multiple genres over the years, writing everything from fantasy, westerns, and horror to inspirational fiction, romance, and sci-fi.
It took me a while to find my niche, but I’ve settled comfortably into the mystery/suspense genre. I have a passion for folklore, myth, and urban legends and that attraction often factors into my writing. You’ll find threads of archaic tales, cryptids, and mysterious places woven throughout many of my novels.
Professionally, I am a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and a past president of the Central Pennsylvania Writer’s Organization. I’m also proud to be one of the founding members of the award-winning writing blog Story Empire.
If I’m not camped out at my keyboard or have my nose buried in a book, I’m likely looking up blurry images of cryptids on Google, sorting through vintage photographs, or imagining life as a cat.
Today I have the pleasure of hosting prehistoric fiction author, Jacqui Murray. I’m excited about the release of her latest novel, Natural Selection, which is book #3 in her Dawn of Humanity series. I’ve read and highly recommend the first in this trilogy, Born in a TreacherousTime!
In this post, she’ll tell you about the latest release, but first, please check out the list of actual criticisms and tips that Jacqui’s gleaned from Twitter.
12 Writing Tips and 9 Criticisms I Got from Twitter Those of you who are either established authors, in-training, or anything in between, you probably already know the learning curve to become a writer is steep and endless. I’ve read a ton of how-to books, attended more than my share of conferences, and currently meet with fellow writers twice a month to discuss our passion. In each of these situations, no matter how often I attend, I learn something new. It will surprise none of you that I also find epiphanies in social media. Some streams offer one person’s insight on a chronic problem I also have. Others answer questions I couldn’t put into words enough to ask.
Here are some of the best writing tips I’ve gathered from social media the past year:
Get over your perfectionist tendencies.
If you’re having trouble meeting the minimum word count, it’s probably because you’re not being specific enough.
Keep a notebook with you at all times, and write in it. A lot.
Don’t compare yourself to other authors. Find your unique voice and write your stories.
If your story idea involves zombies, it probably has been done already.
If your scene sounds too much like a TV show or movie you’ve seen, cut it!
Writing’s hard. Good writing is even harder.
To uncover the plot of your story, don’t ask what should happen; ask what should go wrong.
Don’t let your dumb show.
Perfect is the enemy of good.
There are those who can make a $75 off-the-rack outfit look hand-tailored. Not true in writing. You can’t turn a bad novel into a good one by attaching a pretty cover.
Boldly go where other writers won’t.
To share the criticism I’ve received, I broadened the scope from social media to query letter responses, agents at writer’s conferences, Amazon comments, beta readers, and well-meaning friends:
What this story lacked in ambiance, it didn’t make up for with anything else.
From a trusted beta reader whose day job is doctoring: “I find you have idiopathic thinking.” When I asked what that was, she explained, “It’s thinking of unknown origin. In other words: What the f*** were you saying?”
From an agent who rejected my novel: I was whelmed.
About a too-complicated story I submitted: A bridge too far and a euphemism too short.
You promised a world-class thriller. I got a rerun of Fantasy Island.
“Why the h*** did you waste my time?” Sorry. Autocorrect. I meant to say, “Thank you for the submittal.”
I asked one agent for suggestions on fixing my story. Her response: “I got nothin’.”
“You wrote your MC right into a corner and she couldn’t escape, like a defective Roomba.”
“Nothin’ to see there.”
Have you found any great tips on your favorite social media?
Here’s a brief summary of Natural Selection. In this conclusion to Lucy’s journey, she and her tribe leave their good home to rescue former-tribe members captured by the enemy. Lucy’s tribe includes a mix of species–a Canis, a Homotherium, and different iterations of early man. In this book, more join and some die, but that is the nature of prehistoric life, where survival depends on a combination of our developing intellect and our inexhaustible will to live. Each species brings unique skills to this task. Based on true events.
Set 1.8 million years ago in Africa, Lucy and her tribe struggle against the harsh reality of a world ruled by nature, where predators stalk them and a violent new species of man threatens to destroy their world. Only by changing can they prevail. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. Prepare to see this violent and beautiful world in a way you never imagined.
A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!
One Pack Ends, Another Begins
Africa The Canis’ packmates were all dead, each crumpled in a smeared puddle of blood, Upright killing sticks embedded where they should never be. His body shook, but he remembered his training. The killers’ scent filled the air. If they saw him—heard him—they would come for him, too, and he must survive. He was the last of his pack.
He padded quietly through the bodies, paused at his mate, broken, eyes open, tongue out, pup under her chest, his head crushed. A moan slipped from his muzzle and spread around him. He swallowed what remained in his mouth. Without a pack, silence was his only protection. He knew to be quiet, but today, now, failed.
To his horror, a departing Upright looked back, face covered in Canis blood, meaty shreds dripping from his mouth, the body of a dead pup slung over his shoulder. The Canis sank into the brittle grass and froze. The Upright scanned the massacre, saw the Canis’ lifeless body, thought him dead like the rest of the decimated pack. Satisfied, he turned away and rushed after his departing tribe. The Canis waited until the Upright was out of sight before cautiously rising and backing away from the onslaught, eyes on the vanished predators in case they changed their minds.
He had planned to descend into the gully behind him. Sun’s shadows were already covering it in darkness which would hide him for the night, but he had gauged his position wrong. Suddenly, earth disappeared beneath his huge paws. He tried to scrabble to solid ground, but his weight and size worked against him and he tumbled down the steep slope. The loose gravel made gripping impossible, but he dug his claws in anyway, whining once when his shoulder slammed into a rock, and again when his head bounced off a tree stump. Pain tore through his ear as flesh ripped, dangling in shreds as it slapped the ground. He kept his legs as close as possible to his body and head tucked, thankful this hill ended in a flat field, not a river.
Or a cliff.
When it finally leveled out, he scrambled to his paws, managed to ignore the white-hot spikes shrieking through his head as he spread his legs wide. Blood wafted across his muzzle. He didn’t realize it was his until the tart globs dripped down his face and plopped to the ground beneath his quaking chest. The injured animal odor, raw flesh and fresh blood, drew predators. In a pack, his mate would purge it by licking the wound. She would pronounce him Ragged-ear, the survivor.
Ragged-ear is a strong name. A good one.
He panted, tail sweeping side to side, and his indomitable spirit re-emerged.
But no one else in his pack did.
Except, maybe, the female called White-streak. She often traveled alone, even when told not to. If she was away during the raid, she may have escaped. He would find her. Together, they would start over.
Ragged-ear shook, dislodging the grit and twigs from his now-grungy fur. That done, he sniffed out White-streak’s odor, discovered she had also descended here. His injuries forced him to limp and blood dripping from his tattered ear obstructed his sight. He stumbled trying to leap over a crack and fell into the fissure. Fire shot through his shoulder, exploded up his neck and down his chest. Normally, that jump was easy. He clambered up its crumbling far wall, breaking several of his yellowed claws.
All of that he ignored because it didn’t matter to his goal.
Daylight came and went as he followed White-streak, out of a forest onto dry savannah that was nothing like his homeland.
Why did she go here?
He embraced the tenderness that pulsed throughout his usually-limber body. It kept him angry and that made him vicious. He picked his way across streams stepping carefully on smooth stones, their damp surfaces slippery from the recent heavy rain, ignoring whoever hammered with a sharp rock inside his head. His thinking was fuzzy, but he didn’t slow. Survival was more important than comfort, or rest.
Ragged-ear stopped abruptly, nose up, sniffing. What had alerted him? Chest pounding, breathing shallow, he studied the forest that blocked his path, seeking anything that shouldn’t be there.
But the throbbing in his head made him miss Megantereon.
Ragged-ear padded forward, slowly, toward the first tree, leaving only the lightest of trails, the voice of Mother in his head.
Yes, your fur color matches the dry stalks, but the grass sways when you move. That gives away your location so always pay attention.
His hackles stiffened and he snarled, out of instinct, not because he saw Megantereon. Its shadowy hiding place was too dark for Ragged-ear’s still-fuzzy thinking. The She-cat should have waited for Ragged-ear to come closer, but she was hungry, or eager, or some other reason, and sprang. Her distance gave the Canis time to back pedal, protecting his soft underbelly from her attack. Ragged-ear was expert at escaping, but his stomach spasmed and he lurched to a stop with a yowl of pain. Megantereon’s next leap would land her on Ragged-ear, but to the Canis’ surprise, the She-cat staggered to a stop, and then howled.
While she had been stalking Ragged-ear, a giant Snake had been stalking her. When she prepared her death leap, Snake dropped to her back and began to wrap itself around her chest. With massive coils the size of Megantereon’s leg, trying to squirm away did no good.
Ragged-ear tried to run, but his legs buckled. Megantereon didn’t care because she now fought a rival that always won. The She-cat’s wails grew softer and then silent. Ragged-ear tasted her death as he dragged himself into a hole at the base of an old tree, as far as possible from scavengers who would be drawn to the feast.
He awoke with Sun’s light, tried to stand, but his legs again folded. Ragged-ear remained in the hole, eyes closed, curled around himself to protect his vulnerable stomach, his tail tickling his nose, comforting.
He survived the Upright’s assault because they deemed him dead. He would not allow them to be right.
Sun came and went. Ragged-ear consumed anything he could find, even eggs, offal, and long-dead carcasses his pack normally avoided. His legs improved until he could chase rats, fat round ground birds, and moles, a welcome addition to his diet. Sometimes, he vomited what he ate and swallowed it again. The day came he once again set out after what remained of his pack, his pace more sluggish than prior to the attack, but quick enough for safety.
Ragged-ear picked up the female’s scent again and tracked her to another den. He slept there for the night and repeated his hunt the next day and the next. When he couldn’t find her trace, instinct drove him and memories of the dying howls of his pack, from the adults who trusted their Alpha Ragged-ear to protect them to the whelps who didn’t understand the presence of evil in their bright world.
Everywhere he traveled, when he crossed paths with an Upright, it was their final battle.
Interested? Find out how you can grab your copies of this series and come meet Jacqui!
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics.
We’re just climbing out of a deep freeze that saw temperatures plummet to below -30 Celsius, that’s around -22 Fahrenheit for my southern friends. I can hear your teeth chattering from here.
So of course, I went skiing with my Dad. Just a pair of Canucks wrapped like Egyptian mummies, snow pants crinkling like cellophane giftwrap, careening downhill, as a toothy wind whistled across our goggles and helmets. A tad bit loopy? Perhaps. But a bonding and pleasant memory forged, another chapter written in our life stories . . . that’s a certainty.
In my opinion, that’s precisely what this wonderful compilation of poetry and short stories is about. A blend more satisfying than a cup of freshly brewed specialty coffee on a sunny back yard deck in late June. Perhaps I’m being watched by a marmalade cat who disapproves of my intrusion into her afternoon routine of prowling the garden.
The world spins billions of individual tales every day; most go unnoticed. That caterpillar munching on that leaf may struggle with a desire to remain wingless, despite the insistence of the butterflies that his inclination is unnatural.
Guilty secrets, locked for decades, in the conscience of an elderly woman are laid bare for a beloved few, while a village holds its collective breath as it awaits some devastating news.
We never know when a smile or small act of kindness may save a life.
Reading this book is like sitting on the front porch with a trusted friend as he shares some cherished lore. Every now and again, he pauses to give you an earnest glance before speaking in a gentle voice. “And this is the way of things, not all bad, and not all good.”
I recommend this book to those who appreciate fine wordsmithing about discovering gems hidden in the guise of the mundane.
Have I enticed you to learn more and grab your copy? Yes? Then please read on to meet Sally and click on the links.
Sally Cronin is the author of sixteen books including her memoir Size Matters: Especially when you weigh 330lb first published in 2001. This has been followed by another fifteen books both fiction and non-fiction including multi-genre collections of short stories and poetry.
As an author she understands how important it is to have support in marketing books and offers a number of FREE promotional opportunities on her blog and across her social media. The Smorgasbord Bookshelf
Her podcast shares book reviews, poetry and short stories Sally Cronin Soundcloud
After leading a nomadic existence exploring the world, she now lives with her husband on the coast of Southern Ireland enjoying the seasonal fluctuations in the temperature of the rain.
First off I want to start out by saying we had crazy weather last evening. I’m talking a major snowstorm and a thunderstorm at the same time! It’s called ‘Thundersnow’ and this is the first time I’ve personally witnessed it. Nothing like the sight of a blizzard backdropped by flashes of lightning, let me tell you.
But now I’m moving on to discuss a place that never sees snow, and a story that will nest in your heart forever.
Interested? Please read on!
Here’s the Gist:
In this commercial fiction novel with an historical backdrop, The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint, Isaac Breda seeks to renew the revolution of his famous forefather, Toussaint Louverture. He is depressed that a revolution which had so much potential, and which had cost so much, seemed to have so little to show for it. He resolves to start a non-violent revolution to make their freedom real. In the first half of the novel, the story is told by alternating chapters between historical sections, telling the story of Toussaint and his compatriots, and contemporary sections, where Isaac seeks to renew Toussaint’s spirit in his people. Isaac’s story intersects with that of his best friend’s beautiful sister, Marie-Noëlle. At first she is mainly focused on moving to the United States and making her fame and fortune in modeling. But her character develops into a powerful agent of change herself. When Isaac dies at the hands of entrenched interests in Haiti, the revolution falls on her shoulders. The immense challenge transforms both her and her country.
When I was a kid, my dad went to Haiti several times to help with a number of construction projects. While he often told me stories about his experiences, two things stick out in my memory. The photos of treeless and eroding mountainsides, with small shanties built at their bases, and the resilience of the people.
This is exactly what I found on the pages of this inspiring novel. A nation that has struggled to gain a foothold in the climb towards democracy, despite being under constant assault by dictators, gangs, and natural disasters.
Madsen paints a vivid and accurate picture of the trials and triumphs of a land under constant pressure, and it starts with the historical revolution led by Toussaint Louverture. As a student of history, I appreciated the switching perspectives between Toussaint’s day and the twenty-first century revolution led by Isaac. Bravery in the face of tremendous danger is realistically tempered with the protagonist’s bouts of self doubt and discouragement.
Buoyed by the courageous support of the people, his closest allies, and the love of his life, Marie-Noelle, Isaac finds the strength to face the monsters. With an eye towards changing the national political landscape and Haiti’s global reputation, Isaac learns to savour the smaller victories. One scene depicts him standing beside a litter free river that had once been choked with garbage. The locals had banded together for the clean up. He smiles even though his ultimate goal remains distant.
But this is about more than just one man, and the hearts of the people continue to beat strongly long after he’s gone. Marie continues what Isaac began as she lives up to the bold statement, “Nou pa pè!”
I am a retired minister, living in East Wenatchee, Wa., who teaches chess to children, works for AmeriCorps, teaching about the Opioid Pandemic, AND writing fiction!
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