That Bluidy Mackenzie!

nancy-jardine-nov-2014This post is by Nancy Jardine.

Research and accessible libraries. I’m constantly accessing sources of historical information from various internet sites as I write my historical adventures. Often a simple question that I want answered will have me digressing for hours as I latch onto something only vaguely related to my initial inquiry, but which in its own right is engrossing.


kim traynor -creative commons

Over the last decade, I’ve found it increasingly easier to access useful information from highly respected online sources because that information has been gradually released for public use. Just days ago, I picked up a prompt from an author colleague that more visual information had been released via The National Library of Scotland, specifically photographs of my birth city of Glasgow which were taken during the 1860s. Though the photos indicate the absolute squalor that existed in the slums of Glasgow, they’ll be very useful for one of my writing projects that I temporarily shelved some months ago in favour of my most current writing. Viewing the portfolio of photographs made me appreciate how much information they contain and which I can access free of charge.


I’ve been to many public buildings in Edinburgh but not to the National Library of Scotland, though I’ve often passed it en route to somewhere else.  It’s possible to get access to reading rooms and Tourist Centre but thorough research in it is only practical if you live around our capital city. However, I have been using the online sources for years now and love how useful it can be. What I’ve never thought about before is how long the library has been functioning and who started it. Scottish history is full of positives and negatives and, in my opinion, is never dull!


Sir George Mackenzie -Wikimedia Commons

Skip back with me to March 1st 1682. According to one historical events site March 1st, 1682, was the day that the library started though not called ‘National’ at that time. Sir George Mackenzie was the current Lord Advocate, a member of the Scottish Parliament. (The original one before the 1707 Union of the Parliaments of Scotland, England and Wales but the dodgy politics of that can wait for another day!) George Mackenzie was also a member of the Privy Council of Scotland which meant advising the monarch, an extremely exalted position to hold.

He was reputed to be a learned man with literal tendencies. He wrote several books and essays—legal, political and antiquarian. As Dean of the Faculty of Advocates he was the founder of The Library of the Faculty of Advocates in 1682. By 1689, the building was formally inaugurated and the collection of works grew and grew.

In 1710, the Copyright Act meant the Library had the legal right to claim a copy of every book written in Britain. The collection continued and eventually outgrew its original building. In 1925 the collection became the National Library of Scotland, formalised by an Act of the UK Parliament. Since then the collection has been housed and re-housed in different places and we are now fortunate that much of it is available to the public online.

That’s all very commendable but where does the ‘Bluidy’ Mackenzie bit come from. As well as being a man of letters, Mackenzie was also in a position of power during many of the Scottish Witch trials that I’ve mentioned before on this blog. He was also responsible for the persecution of many of the Covenanters, sending large numbers to a nasty death, their tortured bodies buried near the Covenanters’ Prison in Edinburgh. The history of the Covenanters is a long one and would need a number of blog posts to cover but at the time, the adherents of the Protestant forms of Christian worship were greatly at odds with those who were of the Roman Catholic faith.


Mackenzie Mausoleum-Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh

Sir George Mackenzie is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard which is not far from the Covenanters grave site. It’s no real surprise that thousands of tourists flock past Mackenzie’s ‘Black Mausoleum’ as they partake of a ‘Graveyard Tour of Edinburgh’. There’s a heavy chain kept in place by a stout padlock across the door which it’s said is there  – not to keep the dead in, but to keep the living out! You can read the gory details here;:

I took that Graveyard Tour some years ago and it can be a creepy experience for many. Oh, the shivers? Well, I’m personally not normally inclined to spiritual occurrences so any frisson of feeling down my spine was probably due to the fact that it was a chilly September evening and that I was there with a bunch of ladies at a ‘Hen Do’ – during the fun-filled weekend spent with my daughter’s friends prior to her wedding in 2008.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that I have Mackenzie blood in me on my mother’s side. I probably should get back to my ancestry studies and see if there’s any connection to Bluidy Mackenzie.  

Have a fun week!

Nancy Jardine’s Celtic Fervour Series of historical romantic adventures is set in first century northern Roman Britain.

new-twittterHer contemporary romantic mysteries are set in fabulous world-wide cities, Topaz Eyes being a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2014.

The Taexali Game, her Teen time-travel adventure, is set in third century Roman Scotland.

She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists Association,  The Scottish Association of Writers and The Federation of Writers, Scotland. 

You can find her at these places: Blog:  Website:   Facebook: & email:  Twitter @nansjar

Amazon Author page


Posted in Edinburgh, History, public library collections, Scotland, Tourist haunts, unique | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

MishMash and Thoughts

Post (c) Doris McCraw


According to Merriam-Webster the definition of mishmash is a confused mixture of things. It perfectly defines life right now. (No, I’m not talking politics. I leave that to those who are passionate about it.)

So what do I mean by life right now? Life is and always has been confusing. We learn as we go along, making mistakes and enjoying triumphs. We plan our journey, and do everything the way we think it should be, then…bam…some challenge gets thrown your way. The key to getting somewhere, go with the flow.


I always thought I would be a performer, and I have been. I decided at fifteen I would work with criminals. Been there, done that. I’ve always written, but didn’t think non-fiction would be in the picture. *OOPS* Teach me to think life didn’t have another idea.

The thing is, life really is a mishmash, but it isn’t such a bad thing. Instead, I prefer to think of all the wonderful experiences I’ve had in my lifetime as gifts. If I hadn’t started spending weekends in the research section of the library, I’d have missed out on some great friendships. I also probably would never have found the women doctors, and written scholarly papers on such diverse subjects as ancient volcanos, film commissioners and of course women doctors.


If my parents hadn’t encouraged me to take chances, to follow dreams and not worry about how others viewed me, I wouldn’t have been an acting teacher, played music professionally and been an actor. Because no one told me I couldn’t, I live a blessed life. So bring on the mishmash.

I’d like to share some of the thoughts of Mark Twain about life. Hope you enjoy the mishmash.

  1. You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
  2. Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.
  3. The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.
  4. Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.
  5.  It is curious–curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.
  6. There are not enough morally brave men in stock. We are out of moral-courage material.

And my favorite:
Let us endeavor so to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.

Angela Raines is the pen name for Doris McCraw
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women’s History

For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Photo and Poem: Click Here A

Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here


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Keep the Promises You Make to Yourself

CindyCarrollESome promises take longer to keep than others but promises you make to yourself are important. Promises for me come in different forms. Goals I set for myself every year. Daily, weekly, or monthly promises I’ll make. They’re easy to off handedly say, “I’ll read more this week.” Or “I’ll watch what I eat.” Even promises to take better care of yourself are easy to think and forget. This year I’m doing a better job at keeping those promises I made to myself.

Copyright JanPietruszka from Bigstock

The first promise I make to myself every year is to lose weight and get into better shape. But this time the promise had another one attached to it. Something I desperately wanted to do but not if I was overweight. So maybe that promise was promise number one. In any case, I’ve stuck to my weight loss plan because I had the other promise in mind. The Supernatural convention in Toronto this year has been a goal since I found out they had the conventions in Toronto. This year’s is even more important because they aren’t coming back to Toronto next year. I didn’t know this when I made the initial weight loss goal so I’m glad I stuck to the weight loss plan all these months. As of last weigh in I’m down 42.6 pounds. Those photo ops I have planned should turn out really well!

Another promise I make every year is to save money. But what does that look like? How much money? I tended to be vague but this time I knew I needed the money for something specific. The Supernatural convention. Targets help a lot. I had a weight loss target for a specific date so I’ve stayed on track. I had a monetary target so I could go to the convention and do the photo ops I wanted so I went without shopping, specialty coffees, buying lunch at work so I could save.

I promised I would actually publish something longer than a short story. I still haven’t done that yet but that’s in the works. Success at publishing can’t happen unless you release your work into the wild and let people read it. For the longest time I’ve been concentrating on getting words written. Have to get more words done. Have to write when I get home. Have to take a week off to write. But I wasn’t revising works that were already written and releasing them. After a talk with my husband and a good friend who is also a writer I realized I’m afraid to release something in my name. I have over twenty stories up under pen names. But only four short stories under mine, three of those are in anthologies. I made the decision to work on revisions of two completed stories so I can release those. Then I’ll work on new words.

I promised I would read more this year and so far I’m on track but I’m still behind where I wanted to be. So far this year I’ve read two books. I was hoping to be at four by now at least. The year is still young and I can do more to read more.

What promises have you made to yourself? Are you keeping them?


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newcomer-coverI have a new story out in an anthology! The Newcomer has twelve science fiction short stories from authors across the globe.

From a young couple struggling to look after their baby to a new captain’s reluctance to take command of her ship, and from a sun-addled stranger’s appearance in town to the emergence of a sentient AI, the twelve tales presented here explore the central theme of an arrival by someone or something new. There’s even an alien puppy.

The stories are:

Tithe by Griffin Carmichael
Exodus by Alec Hutson
First Bonding by Tom Germann
Ice Dreamer by J J Green
The Nanny by Cindy Carroll
Right Hand by Jonathan C Gillespie
What Make is Your Cat? by Richard Crawford
Kaxian Duty by Cherise Kelley
Lessons Learned by J Naomi Ay
The Humra by Laura Greenwood
The Hawk of Destiny’s Fist by James S Aaron
Repulse by Alasdair Shaw

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For the Birds

gayle-at-estesThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

In about one month, spring will officially arrive. Most people I know are looking forward to the new season, the increasing daylight, the green sprigs of grass that arise from winter’s sleep, the color of flowers like daffodils and tulips in bloom. Some regions enjoy an early spring, with warming weather and less (or no) snow, while other places, like where I live, don’t see “real spring” until May or even June (when others are already experiencing summer!).

No matter where one lives, though, spring, whenever it does arrive, is welcomed by most people I know.

One of the reasons I enjoy spring so much is the quantity of birdlife that arrives during this new season. Robins hop around yards, looking for worms in the warming earth. Bluebirds trill from fenceposts along the highways, and Canada geese honk overhead as they return from snowbirding sections of the country. Two birds I especially enjoy witnessing return are the American kestrel and the sandhill crane.

Kestrels are North America’s smallest falcons. One of the most colorful of all raptors, the male sports a slate-blue head and wings with a rusty-colored back and tail. Females are a dull brown but patches of white mix with grey create a crown upon their head. One is likely to see these striking birds perched atop wires or hovering in the wind. They eat insects as well as small rodents, and have been known to add snakes and frogs to their diet. Kestrels are found throughout the United States and take up summer residence in the northern part of the country. They live in a variety of habitats, from prairies and woodlands to towns.

Sandhill cranes are among my most favorite large bird species. I learned so much about these amazing animals while working for a summer in Wisconsin at the International Crane Foundation (ICF). I served as an educational tour guide and contributed content to the Education Department’s classroom and on-site curricula. That was a fun job! I would have returned for another season, but I’d decided it was time to settle down to something more permanent … and I’d met Greg by then. During our one-year anniversary, he and I visited the site, and he became even more intrigued by cranes as well.

The largest migration of sandhill cranes takes place in Nebraska from early March to early April. More than 600,000 of these tall, lanky birds (or about 80% of the world’s sandhill crane population) use the Platte River as a resting ground; many of these birds travel 2,000 miles from their winter grounds in the southwestern U.S. (or even farther south) and return to summer residences throughout northern America as well as Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. The cranes are welcomed in Nebraska as are the numerous white snow geese and other birds that use the Platte River during migration. Thousands of tourists, nature photographers, and writers converge on the communities of Kearney and Gibbon. Mid-month, Kearney hosts a Crane Festival, with speakers, exhibits, and tours to bird blinds along the river. Greg and I have often talked of going, as Kearney is a day’s drive from our home in Casper. This adventure remains on our bucket list.



Sandhill Crane at JKL Ranch, Kaycee, Wyoming – G. Irwin photo

We do occasionally see the 3- to 4-foot tall sandhills in the Casper area; however, most often they are observed in other parts of our state, particularly farther west. We’ve seen them in Yellowstone and the Jackson, Wyoming areas, as well as in various parts of Montana. Near my parents’ residence outside Lewistown, Montana, we often see and hear cranes, especially at dusk in ranchers’ fields. Sandhills snack on grain, insects, and small rodents. Their calls and ritualistic dances are sounds and sights that take your breath away!

Another large gathering of sandhill cranes takes place during winter months at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Near the town of Socorro, this special place provides haven not only for sandhills, but also for thousands of ducks, geese, shorebirds, and other wildlife. Greg and I have both visited this majestic sanctuary along the Rio Grande River, but not at the same time. We hope to change that as we’re looking to make a southwest U.S. tour, through Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, this fall.

There are 15 species of cranes found around the world; only two live in the United States – the sandhill and the whooping crane. Whoopers are distinguished by their unique call and their tall, white bodies. An endangered species, these animals were at a low of only 15 birds in 1941; today nearly 600 live in the wild and in captivity. Theirs is a conservation success story, but still a fledgling one. Occasionally a whooping crane or two will be seen among the flocks of sandhills in Nebraska, and once or twice they have been spotted in Yellowstone. They are becoming more abundant during summertime in Wisconsin, thanks to a major partnership effort to re-establish populations by ICF, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others. The birds in these small migrating flocks winter in Florida and wing north for summers in Wisconsin, often residing at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. I have seen a few there when I’ve returned to the state to visit the friends I made back in 1998 when I worked for ICF. I hope to do that again in the short-run.

Temperatures rise, buds sprout, and winged creatures migrate north. As spring returns, so do the birds – I look forward to both!


Gayle M. Irwin enjoys nature, pets, writing, travel, and photography. She is the author of several inspirational pet stories for children and adults and is a contributing writer to six Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She also writes articles for magazines and newspapers. Learn more at

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Pah! Too many characters?


This post is by Nancy Jardine.

Yesterday I posted a question on two of my Facebook places where I appealed to those who are readers. I asked them:

“What would you consider to be the maximum amount of main characters you’d be comfortable with in a historical adventure novel?”  (NB I pronounce the ‘h’ so I don’t use ‘an’ before the word historical)

I had some excellent and varied replies, one from a fellow Wranglers who contributes to this blog. It might just be the friends who replied but I was delighted to find that, on average, they said they felt comfortable with at least 3 main characters and a few others who play minor roles. Since I’ve currently got a good cast of characters in my ongoing manuscript, I’m feeling totally relieved! What isn’t so easy for the author is to ensure that each character’s POV (point of view) is clear and not a dog’s breakfast.

Only one person categorically said they preferred a novel to have only 2 main characters. I wasn’t surprised by that response because I’m fairly sure that person tends to prefer historical romances which have a slightly different remit from general historical novels.

Speaking broadly, I’d say Historical Romance needs to have 2 main characters, the whole story being constructed around their developing romance. Another element to historical romance is that it must have a happy ending and the expected norm is the happy ever after for those 2 main characters, who will love each other forever.

Historical Novels are something else and it’s a genre that’s harder to define. Again, this is a broad definition (and may easily be disputed by many) but I think a historical novel needs a setting that’s in a period of history (often no earlier than 50 years before the publication of the novel) and is a story which conveys the day to day elements of the political, social and living conditions of the time. It’s a story which has realistic detail, is credible and faithful to the era as is known. It’s often centred on identified historical figures, or a known historical situation. In many historical novels there are a lot of characters but that’s not the same as them all having their own POV as the story progresses because they might just be people who are mentioned as the tale unfolds. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel has multiple characters, and many confusing POV shifts, so and I found it quite hard to keep things clear as I read that story.

Historical Adventure is probably even harder to classify. Taking the ‘adventure’ part first—broadly speaking, it’s a series of events and challenges which happen out with the daily norm for the characters involved. The protagonists find themselves in unusual, sometimes unexpected situations of danger. There tends to be a lot of physical action involved as characters resolve their predicament. The historical context generally places the protagonists in a known era where they battle their wits against the conditions they find themselves in. This might make the elements of historical accuracy become overshadowed if the action happens to characters that are not known figures in history texts. I’ve also found that it’s perfectly possible to have many characters, though it’s all about whose point  of view is being presented by the author.

If I lined up my cast it just might resemble something like this image of the cast of The Three Musketeers  film of 1921. Thankfully most will just be ‘popping in and out’!


Cast The Three Musketeers 1921 – Wikimedia Commons 

Then we come to Historical Fantasy Adventure. Those that I’ve read often have multiple characters inhabiting their version of a historical setting with similar characteristics and events as Historical Adventure. However, when it comes to POV what is the tendency? Is it for each character to have sections where they are centre stage and their POV is the ongoing one for that section? J.R.R.Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings has an enormous cast of characters but since it would have been an impossible task to present it in Frodo or Bilbo’s perspective then Tolkein opted for a Narrator and wrote in Third Person (Omniscient) so we get all thoughts and feelings from that one perspective. This can be odd at times!

Add a dash of romance into the historical adventure and it means you have to have at least 2 of your characters involved in their developing relationship alongside a whole gamut of people and other happenings.

I asked the question on Facebook because I’ve a lot of characters in my current writing—Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series- which is a Historical Romantic Adventure. In my series the initial main characters in Book 1 make reappearances in later books, though other family members ‘take their turn’ at being the main characters. As I write Book 4, I presently have 3 main characters and 2 others who have ‘episodes’ where I’m also writing in their perspective. Whether or not my final manuscript will be the same, is yet to be determined. What I’m trying very hard to avoid is a dog’s breakfast of points of view!

In an effort to clarify characters for my readers, I intend to include a ‘cast of characters’ at the beginning of the novel, as I had in Book 3. I might even draw a family tree structure for my Garrigill kin for Book 4 as well as maps of the country as I did for Books 2 & 3.

Now I’m wondering what your answer would be to the question?  “What would you consider to be the maximum amount of main characters you’d be comfortable with in a historical adventure novel?”

(Mike Staton you are excused, if you wish,  since you’ve already commented.)

Nancy Jardine’s Celtic Fervour Series of historical romantic adventures is set in first century northern Roman Britain whereas her contemporary romantic mysteries are set in fabulous world-wide cities, Topaz Eyes being a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2014. The Taexali Game, her Teen time-travel adventure, is set in third century Roman Scotland. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Scottish Association of Writers.You can find her at these places:

Blog:  Website:   Facebook: &

email:  Twitter @nansjar

Amazon Author page



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Success Comes in How We Treat People by Darrah J. Perez


So, I just had this awesome theory about the way people, how they become successful and how they get these signs and these messages to become better people and try to lead other people to live better lives and make better choices and better decisions. So, what if in our journeys the people who we are good to, the people who are also on that journey of art and trying to figure out the meaning of life. What if we are good to them we help them and when they pass on they come back and help us to achieve our dreams and to be successful. It’s important to treat people good. That is the whole point along our path. The people that you meet. Some people can come into our life for a day or maybe even just a moment. Just to meet them and the things you get from them. The lesson we are supposed to learn from them. I never understood meeting people quickly and learning nothing from them. What if passing by means it’s about first appearance. What do they say, ‘first impressions are the biggest’ that is when you’re supposed to present yourself in your humblest form so the humbler you are, and the way you are they are like angels send down to test to see how you really are? What type of person you are, how you respond, how you react, how you treat people? And that is how you get success in life, not this other stuff these other people are talking about. They don’t completely understand the meaning to life they don’t completely understand the why and jest of things. This is the why and just of it is because it’s the spirits that keep us going, keep us being productive, the way you treat people, so on and so forth. get it?



I had a goal at the beginning of this year. My goal was to make sure everyone knew who I was. I am Darrah J. Perez from the Wind River Indian Reservation. I am an author of three books & a poet of many short films.

Most of my work can be found here on my YouTube channel Darrah J. Perez YouTube Channel

My books are called, It Never Happened, It Always Happens, It’s Forever Happening. You may purchase them by clicking the link: Purchase Darrah J. Perez Books



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Can NASA and aerospace companies return to glory days?


Mike Staton wrote this post.

‘To the moon, Alice!’

For those not old enough to remember Jackie Gleason and his hugely popular Honeymooners TV show back in the day, that moon quip would be used whenever Gleason’s character Ralph would get in an argument with his wife.

That now seems to be the advice from President Trump’s transition team for NASA and manned space exploration. While Mars remains a distant goal, they are urging the space agency to do something spectacular during Trump’s first four-year term. That means a non-landing moon flight in 2019 or 2020.


Jackie Gleason in his TV series of the 1950s had a famous saying: To the moon, Alice. Maybe we’ll soon update it: To the Moon again, America.

Here what Robert Lightfoot, the agency’s acting administrator, said to space workers on February 15: “I have asked Bill Gerstenmaier to initiate a study to assess the feasibility of adding a crew to Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of SLS and Orion. I know the challenges associated with such a proposition, like reviewing the technical feasibility, additional resources needed, and clearly the extra work would require a different launch date. That said, I also want to hear about the opportunities it could present to accelerate the effort of the first crewed flight and what it would take to accomplish that first step of pushing humans farther into space. The SLS and ORION missions, coupled with those promised from record levels of private investment in space, will help put NASA and America in a position to unlock those mysteries and to ensure this nation’s world preeminence in exploring the cosmos.”


The first shuttle test flight in April 1981 flew with two astronauts aboard.

It’s a gutsy move, like what NASA did in 1981 when astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen flew the first space shuttle flight into orbit. No automated unmanned mission in April 1981… men piloted the Columbia into space. When the first flight of NASA new exploration rocket, a monster with more thrust than the legendary Saturn 5, four astronauts will probably be aboard the Orion spacecraft.

The mission is called Exploration Mission One (EM-1), and agency officials still must determine the parameters of the mission – if it turns out to be manned. Will it merely fly to the space station? That doesn’t sound Trumpesque, so I am guessing it will have to be out to the moon. An orbital mission, like Apollo 8 at Christmastime 1968? A non-orbital flight that loops the moon and returns quickly to Earth? A Lagrange point mission out to 930,000 miles from Earth, the farthest astronauts would have ever traveled in space. By contrast, the moon is about 230,000 miles from Earth.


Currently, Exploration Mission One calls for the SLS rocket to launch an Orion on an unmanned flight beyond the moon sometime in 2018 or 2019.

As of now, NASA intends to propel an unmanned Orion to a deep retrograde orbit near the moon, a stable orbit in the Earth-moons system where an asteroid may be relocated by a space probe sometime in the 2020s for a future Orion visit. The 25-day mission will send Orion more than 40,000 miles beyond the moon. The retrograde orbit could also be an option for the astronaut mission.

If you read all of Gerstenmaier’s words, you will recall that he mentioned “record levels of private investment in space.” Those are code words for another option being advanced by Trump’s space transition team. If the early reports are to be believed, the Trump administration would like to channel federal funds into a New Space effort to land private astronauts on the moon by 2020.


The manned Dragon 2 from SpaceX has thrusters that can be used to soft land after a return to orbit. However, initially the craft will land in the ocean via parachutes.

With that speed-of-light timeline for a moon landing, SpaceX is probably the only New Space firm that can make it happen. The cutting-edge company is already landing its Falcon 9 first stages on landing pads or ocean barges on a routine basis. Entrepreneur Elon Musk and his SpaceX employees are already planning to land their manned Dragon 2 spacecraft on land using eight Super-Draco thruster engines. The Draco engines have even been tested. I’m not an engineer, so I don’t know how hard it would be to adapt the Dragon 2 to land and take off from the moon’s surface? If the federal government funds such a mission, I’m sure Musk and other space entrepreneurs will tackle the challenges and try to meet the deadline.


Let’s breathe the future. SpaceX boss Elon Musk wants to land unmanned Dragons on Mars in the 2020s.

I’ve learned about NASA’s proposed new direction by renewing’s L2 subscription level. Then I followed links to magazine and newspaper articles about President Trump’s possible plans for the space agency.

Whatever mission or missions get the nod, I expect there’ll be opposition. I don’t need to explain why… it’s been crazy since the November election, and it has gotten wilder since the inauguration. Some people will see space spectaculars as Roman-style circuses. We don’t even know yet what kind of budget bump will be required to fund one or both missions. Still, I find myself waiting to see what marching orders NASA gets – and how the future unfolds.

# # #

I’m an author. I’ve sent Blessed Shadows Dark and Deep, my Civil War romance novel, to my publisher and await a verdict. Wings ePress published my other three novels, a fantasy trilogy, so I am very optimistic. The trilogy consists of The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin, and Assassins’ Lair.

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My Alter Ego

sarah-m-chenby Sarah M. Chen / S. Michele Chen

It’s tough establishing a new identity. I know a few of you Wranglers have pen names so you probably know what I’m talking about. My children’s chapter book, SUPERBEETLE, is scheduled to release next month on March 11. My publisher alerted me to this a couple weeks ago and it’s been a mad scramble to establish my alter ego’s social media presence in time for the launch. SUPERBEETLE has been in the works for a few years now. There have been hiccups along the way, things out of the publisher’s control, and at times I wasn’t sure if my children’s book about an eight-year-old girl visiting Taiwan for the first time would ever see the light of day. Now that it’s finally here I’m totally unprepared (but thrilled, of course!).


I’d reserved a domain name a while back and had a “coming soon” page on the website. I figured I’d have plenty of time to update it but suddenly that time is now. I’ve spent the last couple weeks tinkering with it and now I think it’s finally ready for the public. Let me know what you think if you get a chance. SUPERBEETLE

The original Superbeetle

You may be wondering why I’m creating all this secret identity / alter ego nonsense. I posted about using a pen name a while back and received lots of feedback and good advice. I decided to go with S. Michele Chen as my pen name for this children’s book (my first initial and middle name). My previous works are all published under Sarah M. Chen and it’s definitely the darker side of crime fiction. As a friend of mine said, if she checked out my website for additional books to purchase for her children, she would be scared off by titles such as “Hardboiled: Dames and Sin” or “Fast Women and Neon Lights.” I don’t blame her, hence the alter ego.

I checked a few other writers who write dark crime fiction and children’s books / young adult. They have a separate presence on Twitter, Amazon, and two separate websites. I decided to do the same. It’s too hard to do another Facebook page. My own author FB page doesn’t get the reach I think it should (unless I boost it for $5) and I often neglect it for my own personal profile. So I scrapped the separate Superbeetle FB page.

But I think Twitter is important and a great way to gain followers I normally wouldn’t elsewhere. So I set up a new Superbeetle Twitter account today and it was a headache. Apparently if you link two Twitter accounts to the same phone number, the most recent account has full control which I didn’t like. My primary Twitter account is still going to be my original one so I had to figure out something else. I ended up putting Superbeetle under my mom’s cell phone number (she was very confused about what I was doing but went along with it – thanks, Mom!). Now I can truly keep everything separate (separate text alerts, etc.).

20170219_154028Then I set up my own Amazon author page for S. Michele Chen. In time, I’ll do GoodReads as well.

Next is researching how to approach schools, reviewers, libraries, and children’s bookstores. My publisher would love for me to speak to classrooms and I have no idea how to go about that. I have a couple contacts with children’s bookstores so it’d be great to do a signing / reading. At the very least, hopefully they’d carry my book.

I feel like a newbie author all over again which is both exhilarating and unnerving. Any other writers out there who had to go through this same process?



img_2788S. Michele Chen is the author of SUPERBEETLE, a story of eight-year-old Hong who visits Taiwan for the first time. She’s excited to meet her grandmother…but there are two big problems: 1) There is a GIANT beetle in her grandmother’s bathtub. 2) Her grandmother’s market is on the brink of closing! Can she save her grandma’s market while staying away from this scary SUPERBEETLE? Hint: maybe the beetle isn’t so scary. Perfect for readers ages 6-9.


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The History of Valentine’s Day by Barbara Schlichting

img_3160          The history of Valentine’s Day, legend says, originated during the third century in Rome. During this time, Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers, so he outlawed marriage for young men. A young priest named Valentine was furious with this injustice and defied Claudius by continuing to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Claudius eventually discovered Valentine’s actions and sentenced him to death.

During his time in jail, Valentine fell in love with his jailer’s daughter, who visited him in prison. Before he was put to death, Valentine sent a letter to the girl and signed it, “From Your Valentine” — an expression we still use today. Valentine was executed on February 14, 270 AD. Later, around 496 AD, Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 a day to honor Valentine, who by that time had become a saint.

Today, we continue to honor St. Valentine and recall the history of Valentine’s Day each year on February 14 by celebrating our love for significant others, friends, and family. For thousands of years, the middle of February has been a time for fertility festival celebrations, so it is no wonder Valentine’s Day flowers are often the Valentine’s Day gift of choice around this time of year. For centuries, flowers have symbolized fertility, love, marriage, and romance.

           August 23 2012 ProFlowers

Many couples are married on Valentine’s Day. I have photos of Presidents and First Ladies featured on my blog. They’re fun to look at and remember some of the families that lived in our White House.  Here are a couple pictures.

Mr. and Mrs. Obama   Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy   Mr. and Mrs. Wilson  Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln

My mystery series, The First Ladies Mystery Series is set in a White House Dollhouse Shop in Minneapolis, MN.  Please take a look at my website and First Lady blog to learn more about me and my books.

Barb’s Books              First Lady Blog




Posted in Holidays, mysteries, mystery novel, St. Valentine's Day, unique | 7 Comments

Alive in Death Valley


Me at the China Ranch Date Farm, a used-to-be ranch owned by a Chinese man who may have been murdered.

by Neva Bodin

We just returned from a Valentine’s night meal at our favorite restaurant: Strawberry Daiquiri, Caesar salad, hot hard crust buttered rolls with soft luscious middles, blackened prime rib, loaded baked potato, string beans, coffee. Anyone hungry? This restaurant has the best prime rib anywhere. I am satiated food-wise. I returned home from Death Valley last week satiated scenery wise.

We spent nine nights at a campground close to Death Valley and every other day packed a lunch and took a day trip into the desert. The highest temp we encountered was 73 above at the lowest point in the US, 282 miles below sea level at Bad Water Basin. But it was sunny and the Valley/Desert was wearing its colorful clothes for us, even though they weren’t adorned with flowers this time of year. For this blog, I will share our trip with you in pictures.

dscn4069We visited the ghost town of Rhyolite, once an enterprising mining town began in 1904 that had a school, hospital, ice cream parlor, depot and bustling social life. There an enterprising miner named Tom T. Kelly built a house out of 50,000 beer and liquor bottles.  In 1925 this house was restored by Paramount Pictures. I don’t know why.

While at Rhyolite I was able to photograph a Black Tailed Jack Rabbit, also known as the American Desert Hare. I was exploring an old trash pile as I find treasures in them sometimes and he jumped up from behind a bush and paused long enough for me to click the camera. They have huge ears and eyes, a black tail and black back feet.dscn4058

We visited a date farm, an oasis hidden in the crevice of sand and stone hills and mountains, at the end of a steep and winding dirt road. Beautiful and peaceful and a favorite hiking place for groups. Date shakes taste amazing under hot sun and palm branches. They complimented our sandwiches.


Looking up at one of many different kinds of date palms.


The ghost town was complete with ghosts, I particularly identified with the artist one. dscn4080

Death Valley is adorned with colorful cliffs. Ribbons of reds, blues, yellows and browns border the highway as we drove in our air-conditioned car and I tried to imagine crossing this vast salt-white land on foot, when the temperature is 110 degrees like you see in the movies.

dscn4084We saw lots of sign of wild burros before we saw some live ones. They were shy about being photographed.


And we visited two sites where pre-historic pupfish live and have lived in isolation for perhaps 10,000 years. Once thought extinct, they were discovered in Devil’s Hole, a not-so-big but very deep crevice in the ground, and genetic analysis offers that they may have formed 60,000 years ago. The Devil’s Hole species at Ash Meadows National Preserve grow to an inch long and breeding males are a beautiful blue. There are more than one species in Death Valley. They are endangered.


These little guys grow to 2.5 inches and not as blue, live in streams flowing from the mountain by Shoshone, CA.



The 1-inch long blue pupfish were discovered in this hole 8 feet by 35 feet, (Devil’s Hole) in the mountains with no known bottom. 

There was so much more to see, but it was time to end our vacation. So we came home and I am now attending a writing class, classes on the history of Cattle Kate and James Averil, and using photoshop. My life is as full as my tummy right now. Hope you enjoyed the pictures.



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