Trees Were Us, by Stevie Turner

After 27 years of living in our current house in the Suffolk countryside, we decided the time was right to have our driveway tarmacked. The old concrete was cracking up and it was a constant battle to stop weeds growing up through the cracks. We obtained the usual 3 quotes and decided on the middle one, not too cheap and nasty, but £6000 cheaper than the most expensive offer.

Came the day in early July when a digger and 3 burly workmen arrived in our garden to start on the edging along the main drive and then along the path to the front door. Sam was supposed to have trimmed the sides of two large evergreen trees overhanging the side of the path (planted by the previous owners back in the 1980s), but what with our holiday and his business trip to Italy, this never got done.

Within a short time the doorbell rang. The workmen were having difficulty installing the edging, as the two evergreens with their huge roots were in the way. It was a case of ending the edging three quarters of the way along the path before it got to the trees, or removing the trees and continuing the edging and tarmacking along the path to the front door.

With Sam in Italy it was down to me (with a heavy heart I might add) to give the instruction to remove the trees. Sam had never liked them anyway, so I knew he wouldn’t mind, but now he would need to find somewhere else to twist his Christmas lights around. I hate the thought of chopping down any tree, but to end the tarmac and edging before the end of the path would definitely have looked rather odd.

This picture charts the first stage in the process. The trees in question took up the spaces just in front of the two small bushes by the front door. Within the blink of an eye they were gone. They had been over 8ft tall, and all of a sudden our downstairs rooms at the front seemed much lighter.  Note the poor grass because we’ve had no rain for 6 weeks.

First day.JPG

Here’s a picture from Christmas 2015 where you can just see one of the two bushes and also one of the contentious trees in front (without any lights on that year):

My house.jpg

I must say, the finished driveway and path looks lovely now it’s done, but it was at the expense of two living plants.  Perhaps I’m just sentimental about trees!

Now all we need is some topsoil around the edges and rather a lot of rain…



A Positive Spin #writerslife #amreading

By Ronel Janse van Vuuren

I’ve had an interesting month thus far. Well, “interesting” is putting a positive spin on things.

Tony spent a week at the vet’s: he was listless and losing weight for no apparent reason. After numerous tests (mostly to rule out the really scary stuff like cancer), it finally turned out to be a rare form of Addison’s Disease. And it’s treatable. Yay! He still needs ‘round the clock care by mummy (I have to watch his temperature, make sure he eats, make sure that what comes out looks healthy, give him his meds, keep him calm, etc.), but he’s home and looking a lot better.

Here’s a pic from last week at the vet’s:

Yesterday he barked at the neighbours! Fabulous improvement. I can only hope that he gets back to being my mischievous boy who always asks “why not?”.

I couldn’t write at all, of course. So I read. A lot. (I have reviews for Goodreads ready until end of September…)

One of the best non-fiction books I read was Jane Friedman’s “The Business of Being a Writer”. I only gave it four stars, but the reasons are explained within the review (see link).

The reason I really like this book is because I learned something new about my own published works:

“Short story collections are distinctly literary work.” And literary work doesn’t sell as well as commercial work.

Wow. And here I thought I was just a dark fantasy author. But it does explain the odd sales, amazing ranks on the different Amazon stores during launch week and glowing reviews

The book also gave me hope for the future:

“Committed writers succeed: recognise that most careers are launched, not with a single fabulous manuscript, but through a series of small successes that builds the writer’s network and visibility, step by step.”

Though the month hadn’t gone as planned – neither did last month – I feel positive that things can only improve from here on out.

On a side note: Tony is actually currently as grumpy as a faery dog character I’d based on him. Seems I know my boy a lot better than I thought.

Have you had any surprising revelations about your writing?

Ronel Janse van Vuuren is the author of New Adult, Young Adult and children’s fiction filled with mythology and folklore. Her dark fantasy stories can be read for free on Wattpad and on her blog Ronel the Mythmaker. She won Fiction Writer of the Year 2016 for her Afrikaans stories on INK: Skryf in Afrikaans. Her published works can be viewed on Goodreads.

Ronel can be found tweeting about writing and other things that interest her, arguing with her characters, researching folklore for her newest story or playing with her Rottweilers when she’s not actually writing.

All of her books are available for purchase on Amazon and other online retailers.

Connect with Ronel:

Amazon : Twitter : Pinterest : Google+ : Goodreads : Ronel the Mythmaker : Instagram : Newsletter


Running Through the Sprinkler, a Poem by Abbie Johnson Taylor


The following poem was recently published in The Weekly Avocet. This is a haibun, a poetry form that combines a paragraph of prose with a stanza of haiku. You can click the link below to hear me read it.


Running through the sprinkler.mp3



I stand on the sidewalk, a jet of cold water in front of me, my impaired eyes unable to find a way around it, as cars whoosh by on the busy street. The ninety-degree sun beats down. A tepid breeze caresses my face. I remember how fun it was to run through the sprinkler as a kid. Why not, I think. With a hearty “Yahoo!” I dash into the water’s inviting coolness.

a hot summer day
cold water sweeps over me
I’m a child again


What did you do to cool off in the summer when you were a kid?


I’m the author of a romance novel, two poetry collections, and a memoir. I’m currently working on another novel. My work has appeared in The Avocet and Magnets and Ladders. I have a visual impairment and live in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, I cared for my late husband, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. Before that, I worked as a registered music therapist in a nursing home and other facilities that served senior citizens. For more information, please visit my website and blog.


Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.




Book Review by Renee Kimball: David and Goliath – Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants

renee kimball dog photo written by Renee Kimball

“Giants are not as powerful as they seem
and sometimes the shepherd
has a sling in his pocket.”
~ Malcom Gladwell

2018-07-13 www wiki pd renee kimball David_with_the_Head_of_Goliath-Caravaggio_(1610)
David with the head of Goliath by Caravaggio, [Public domain], via Wikipedia
Malcom Gladwell is not a “new author.”  He has been writing for the New York Times since 1996, and is the best-selling author of many books. But more than that, Gladwell is a one-of-a-kind writer–there is no one like him.   “. . . Gladwell’s true genius lies here, in identifying common assumptions that lie just beneath the surface—beliefs that are so widely accepted, so taken for granted, that we don’t even know we believe in them.” (Adam Grant).

Gladwell’s strength is taking the ordinary and
making it interesting. (Adam Grant)

In his book David and Goliath -Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants, Gladwell tests our presumptions by asking us to consider two questions:  When does an advantage (strong) become a disadvantage (weak)?  At what point does a disadvantage (weak) become an advantage (strong)?  

Gladwell shows why finding the answers are not as easy as they appear.  By the end of this book, the reader finds that their once comfortable presumptions have been turned on their heads.

There is no better introduction for Gladwell’s, David and Goliath, than the story of David and Goliath – the most well-known underdog vs. giant story of all time.  It is much more than we thought– David was a lucky young man who delivered a one-in-a-million shot instantly slaying the giant.  David did do those things, but thanks to Gladwell, we now know there were other reasons that played a very large part in David’s victory.

No one disputes the fact that Goliath was a giant of a man for his day.  He was a scary guy– overwhelmingly huge compared to others.  What was not known is that Goliath suffered from a debilitating growth condition, now known as “acromegaly, a benign tumor of the pituitary gland” (Gladwell).  Acromegaly caused Goliath’s unchecked growth and also impacted his eyesight–Goliath could not see well.  And because of his size, Goliath’s responses were delayed, and because of his disease, he was not only slow, he could not see clearly.   For this famous battle at least, these two facts substantially reduced Goliath’s chances of victory.

2018-07-13 www wiki renee kimball 256px-Osmar_Schindler_David_und_Goliath
David and Goliath by Osmar Schindler (1869-1927)  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
While Goliath was already a proven warrior, he was primarily successful engaged within hand-to-hand combat — traditional warfare.  Traditional hand combat mandated certain behaviors and dress. Combatants wore a heavily armored breast plate, needed the ability to carry and wield a large and heavy sword with alacrity, must have the ability to target and throw a javelin, and all this, while wearing a heavy metal helmet.

The fully dressed combatant was restricted both in movement and sheer weight.  Moreover, to be effective wielding the sword, the warrior must be very close to their opponent—face-to-face.  In this story, David was at the bottom of a ravine, while Goliath was standing at the top of a slope bellowing demands while walking in a downward direction towards David.  Unbeknownst to Goliath, the fight with David would not follow the familiar traditional rules of either dress, weapon, or combat, and there would be no face-to-face contact.

Unlike Goliath, the young shepherd David, had never worn armor, fought hand to hand combat, or a major battle.  David was small, lithe, unencumbered, and his only weapon a sling – and in that –slinging– he was an expert.  David refused an offer of armor because he knew it would weigh him down.  David approached the fight with excellent eyesight, a honed skill, unburdened by armor and no predisposed concepts of traditional warfare.  David would not be close enough for hand-to-hand combat, and he carried no sword.

“So here we have a big, lumbering guy weighed down with armor, who can’t see much more than a few feet in front of his face, up against a kid running at him with a devastating weapon and a rock traveling with the stopping power of a .45 caliber handgun. That’s not a story of an underdog and a favorite. David has a ton of advantages in that battle, they’re just not obvious. That’s what gets the book rolling is this notion that we need to do a better job of looking at what an advantage is.”  Malcom Gladwell (Interview,

2018-07-13 David and Goliath by Gladwell cover amazon renee kimball 41xQkhvrU8L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

We know the end of this story, and the underdog (weak) (disadvantaged) proves to be no underdog at all, and becomes in this situation the winner, (strong) (advantaged).  This type of scrutiny is where Gladwell shines, taking a subject, stripping away assumptions, turning it on its head–making the story something else entirely.

Gladwell’s precise and skillful analysis continues on throughout the book’s nine sections, all equally thought-provoking, and all dealing with preconceived assumptions of weak and strong, advantages or disadvantages.  In one of his more bewildering propositions, Gladwell questions the impact of certain types of disability and asks:  Can disability ever be desirable? (Gladwell).   A premise that at first blush, appears both jarring and indistinctly hopeful.  We answer we cannot imagine that there is an appropriate answer.

To structure his premise, Gladwell reviews the impact of living with dyslexia – “a learning disability that makes it difficult to read, write, and spell, no matter how hard the person tries or how intelligent he or she is” (LDOnline). The root cause for dyslexia is still being studied, however, so far what we do know is that the brain’s mechanical functions are unable to link the vital connection of essential neuron transmitters that allow an individual to learn, to read, to speak, and to write.

Dyslexic individuals struggle every day, normal activities take a very long time and exhaustive concentration.  Gladwell suggests that for dyslexics, the harder it is to learn, the more they excel in adulthood. The premise —they excel because they have worked so very hard from the very beginning to cope, to fit in, to make it through daily life.  

2018-07-13 pixabay CC00 RENEE KIMBALL dyslexia-3014152_640This may seem improbable, but it has been found that “a high number of entrepreneurs are dyslexic” (Gladwell).  Within one entrepreneurial group studied, it was found that approximately one-third of those participating had some type of learning disability.   Which begs the question, would you want your child to have a disability?  It is a tough question and a harder one to answer (Gladwell).

The success stories of affected individuals winning over dyslexia exist because they were forced to compensate from a very early age and developed skills to overcome learning roadblocks—they were and are, flexible and adaptive and found a way to exist in a very cloudy and disorganized world.   Dyslexia forced them to learn to listen acutely, memorize large amounts of information, and develop a razor-sharp ability to read people, retain complex nuances and facts, not on paper, but in their minds.  So, under Gladwell’s premise, there are benefits to a disability – which may not be easily understood.

While there is much, much more within Gladwell’s stories, in the end, the reader must decide which speaks to them. Which story is the most relatable, plausible?   Gladwell writes simply, his premises, rebuttal, and results, are presented in an easy to read format while challenging the reader to think deeply.

And if you stay the course to the end of the book, you will be given a glimmer of hope, because that is what Gladwell gives – hope.  Hope that despite incredible odds, things are not as they seem –there is always more.  Gladwell’s gift is to leave the reader questioning everything – and that is what Gladwell does better than anyone.  


Dyslexia puzzle by Gerd Altman is from Pixabay

A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate, fosters and rescues both dogs and cats from shelters, and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.

What’s In a Name?

By S. J. Brown

On the day each of us was born our parents gave us a special name they pondered over for weeks or even months. Parents have been known to name their children after friends or relatives, places, objects, and myths. Many people who aren’t fond of their given name will use their middle name or a nick name. But does it really matter?
Let’s think about this, would Hulk Hogan have been taken seriously if he used his given name Terry Jean Bollette? How popular would dear Abby’s column be if it was called Dear Pauline?

How would using the scientific name for animals change your perception of them? Isa Eutamias as cute as a chipmunk?

SJBrown Chipmunk

Could you image calling our national symbol, Haliaeetus leucocephalus ?

SJBrown Bald Eagle

How about having Meleagris gallopavo for Thanksgiving dinner?

SJBrown Turkey

Do you think you would watch a Geococcyx californianus cartoon?

SJBrown Road Runner

I am often asked about my name. Once you say it a few times it doesn’t sound odd. It is a form of my given name. Why not just use my name? It’s not a bad name, just very popular among my generation. Early in my wildlife photography career I switched to using my initials in an attempt to get my work looked at and considered for publication.

S J Brown Photo vertical

Most publishers then and several now believe a woman couldn’t get the kinds of wildlife they were looking for. The train of thought here is that only a man would get close enough to capture the a bear, or alligator photograph that would captivate their audience.

Most photo submissions are done over the internet and don’t require any real interaction between me and the publishers that purchase my work. That means the majority of publishers assume I am a man when they review my work. Yes the check is made out to MR. S. J. Brown, but the bank will cash it for me.

Have you ever considered changing your name? Has someone’s name caused you to make assumptions about them?

Thanks for stopping by

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My books, Close Ups and Close Encounters, All the Birds I See, Clancy’s Cat Nap. Bennie the Butterfly and two coloring books based on my images are all available through my website



The Chaos Theory of Writing

In a post on Telling the Truth–Mainly, I defined my writing process as chaos.

In the beginning, it wasn’t chaos. When I was in elementary school and junior high, writing was easy. I started at the beginning and stopped at the end.

My early writing process

When I entered the eighth grade, trouble began. I thought about the assignment for about ten seconds; then my brain vaporized and was replaced by a vacuum.

I realize now that things got all balled up because assignments became more complicated: a certain form, a certain length, a topic more abstract than I’d ever wrestled* with.

About thirty minutes before deadline, my brain started up again, but in fits and starts, like it had the hiccups. I always produced the essay, but writing was a harrowing experience. Chaotic. It still works that way.

My current writing process


I like to think of it as the Chaos Theory. Through the years, I’ve gathered a body of supporting evidence. In this post, I’ll share observations.

One caveat: I know nothing about the writing process. The Theory isn’t finished yet.  When I’ve completed my research and fleshed it out to the nth degree, I’ll put it all in a book.


There is no one way to write a book or a story or anything else. With all due respect to Robert Olen Butler, you do not have to write every scene on a note card and arrange them in sequence; and if you decide to change sequence while you write, you do not have to rearrange cards (because you were smart and didn’t buy any cards); and you do not have to refrain from writing scenes that will occur later in the book because you cannot imagine the characters’ emotional states until you’ve written what comes before.

I spent a zillion dollars on note cards, trying time after time to make it work, and time after time discarding note cards after about five scenes because I didn’t know what happened after that, except for some scenes here and there, and at the very end, which I could write, thank you very much.

2. You don’t have to know the end before you start. You don’t have to outline. If you don’t believe me, read Tony Hillerman on the subject. I read his essay about planning in a book, but I’ve forgotten the title, so I googled and found the following passages from a different source:

‘He wanted to know how Tony outlined his books. Tony said, “I don’t do that.” Then how do you know when to end? “I just get to the end.”’ ,’When I got a two-book deal with HarperCollins, the contract said that for the second book, they would pay half the advance upon approval of an outline. I said to Tony, “I can’t outline a book in advance.” He said, “Neither can I. Don’t worry about it, just write up anything for the outline, and then turn in the book you want to do.” . . .

‘Hillerman said he outlined one book and it turned out not so good. So he just started. He needed to know four or five things at the outset, but that was enough for him to write a novel. ~ New Mexico Magazine

3. When you write fiction, you can break a lot of rules you learned in school. I often divide a compound predicate with a comma. In fact, I sprinkle commas all over the place, but I leave a lot out, too. I use incomplete sentences. (Frags) Apostrophes, however, are best used in the traditional manner. It’s not good to experiment with them.

4. Number 4 is True, the Truest statement about writing that I can give. It isn’t just a Truth; it is a Rule.

When you run out of words and are in such a miserable state that the brownies in the kitchen aren’t just calling your name, but popping the lid off the Tupperware, flying into your office, and landing in your lap, then it’s okay to play a game of Candy Crush. Sometimes it’s okay to play a full round of Candy Crush, when it tries to get money out of you for another life.

At that point, you must stop. You may not buy, or ask friends for, extra lives. You may not spend any money. You may play only one version of Candy Crush. I recommend Candy Crush Saga, but whichever you choose, you must restrict yourself to that.

If a game ends in fifteen seconds because a bomb went off, and Candy Crush says you have no more lives and kicks you out for thirty minutes, that’s it. You’re finished. Sentence; period; paragiraffe, as my mother used to say.

When you complete the game, or the round, you must go back to your manuscript and find more words. After thirty minutes, when you get another life, if you’re desperate, it’s okay to go back.

5. Another Rule: Don’t open Facebook for any reason, except to get to Candy Crush, and then be darned careful. Don’t read posts, don’t post comments, don’t click on goat or cat videos. Stay away from everything that looks cute.

There’s a reason this blog is titled Writing Wranglers and Warriors.  I didn’t come up with the name, and that’s evidence that at least one other writer wrangles. It’s more evidence that the Chaos Theory is sound.

I repeat: there is no one way to write. I have shared shards of my experience. Yours may be different. I hope it is.

Numbers 4 and 5, however, are fact. Disregard them at your peril.

I wish I could.


chaos – utter confusion ~

The comment about Robert Olen Butler applies to a book, not to Mr. Butler himself, and represents my experience, but I could be wrong.

Wrestle is a synonym for wrangle.
wrangle – late 14c., from Low German wrangeln “to dispute, to wrestle,” related to Middle Low German wringen, from Proto-Germanic *wrang-, from PIE *wrengh-, nasalized variant of *wergh- “to turn” (see wring). Related: Wrangledwrangling. The noun is recorded from 1540s. ~


Wet magic and the painting

Mike StatonThis post is written by Mike Staton. Too lazy to write a column from scratch, he decided to go with the tried and true — a short story from his Facebook author’s page. Some of you may have read it. Many haven’t. Please enjoy.

# # #

Dora Turner scrutinized the painting hanging in the Le Jardine art gallery in New Orleans’ French quarter, then turned to her fiancé, Gabin Boutilier. “It looks so real, like a wave might roar out of the painting and splash me.” Gabin adored Dora’s Cajun accent. He never tired of hearing her voice. It made him eager to escort her back to their hotel room for some hanky-panky antics.

“Agree. Looks quite stormy.” Gabin rested his arm on Dora’s shoulders. “Ship’s about to capsize.” He tickled skin beneath her blouse sleeve. “Who painted it?”

Dora peered closer, studying the scribbles on the lower left. “Looks like it says Eden Conley.” Her forehead furrowed. “I’ve heard of her. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Give me a second, sweetheart. I’ll remember.” She closed her eyes, her mouth tightened.

Powerful painting“Doesn’t sound familiar.” He wasn’t a connoisseur of art; that was Dora’s bailiwick.

“I’ve got it.” Her mouth relaxed, then widened into a satisfied grin. “The artist claims to be a witch. Even holds séances. ‘American Artist’ profiled her in its latest edition. Quite the oddball, but she’s flamboyant. Men flock around her.”

“She sounds crazy to me. I hope you don’t believe her, don’t believe in witchcraft.”

“Heavens no!” She rearranged the polka-dot shell hat atop her black hair pulled back into a chignon. “But I do like her personality … so rebellious, so over-the-top. Like I said, she’s an aphrodisiac for men.” Dora giggled. “Wish I could be more like her. Our bedroom time would leave you exhausted.” She gave him a peck on the mouth.

Sweeping his hair away from his eyes, Gabin stepped closer to the painting. “Those sailors in the painting? They’re doomed. The waves are going to win the battle.”

“I want it, darling. Buy it for me.”

image1“Really?” Open mouthed, Gabin eyed the tiny price tag. “Too pricey for my blood. $3,000.”

“Please. It can be an early Christmas gift. I can see above our parlor fireplace in the Victorian we’re going to buy.” She kissed him on the cheek.

“Let’s get married first,” he rejoined, laughing then shaking his head, his eyebrows arched. “We don’t even own a Victorian.”

She traced her finger along his lower lip. “We will.”

Gabin rolled his eyes. “I can see that having you as my bride is going to be expensive.”

“I’m your princess, right? That’s what you told me.” Dora took his hand and twined her fingers around his. “A Victorian has always been my dream. I want to return from our honeymoon and have a glorious home warming. You’ve two bestsellers and a third one on the way. And always the most sought VIP at sci-fi and fantasy conventions. We can afford the Victorian and this painting.”

“Okay, but only if you ask Sam for a raise.” He swept her into his arms and kissed her full on the mouth.

Dora worked for Sam Nuttingham, the American artist famous for his sunset landscapes. She handled his marketing and helped out in his Tampa gallery. He was notoriously stingy with his money, proof the bah-humbug mien that rarely left Sam’s face.

“I will. At the right time. He thinks he’s going to win an Impressionism – Landscape award in the American Art competition. He’ll be feeling magnanimous. That’s when I’ll ask.”

Gabin harrumphed. “If he wins. Eden Conley thinks she’s a witch. Maybe you can ask her for help. Have her mix a potion that will put him in the mood to give you a generous raise.”

“Don’t be silly. Witchcraft can backfire, a spell can blow up like a threadbare tire. Then again it might do the reverse, make him never want to give me a raise.”

Image2“You seem to know a lot about witchcraft, Dora.” He gave her a hard stare.

“Kid stuff, darling. Girlfriends getting together and playing with an Ouija board. I was twelve I think. We’d ask it about boyfriends and” – she giggled again – “when and how we’d lose our virginity.”

“Okay… I’ll buy the painting if you ask for a raise.”

“You have a deal, my husband-to-be.” She ran her finger along the painting’s frame. “We’ll have a costume ball for the home warming in the Victorian we’re going to buy. It’ll be so much fun. I’ll even invite Sam.”

Gabin sighed. “I can’t wait.” He hated parties.

# # #

Back from the honeymoon in the Loire Valley, Gabin watched his new wife glide among the guests, all dressed in Victorian garb rented from the Vintage Dancer store in downtown Tampa. As expected, Dora got her Eden Conley painting, her Victorian house, her costume ball, and a raise. She was Gabin’s princess after all.

Dress in a glittery gold gown that sparkled in the candlelight, Dora chatted with Milly Nuttingham, Sam’s wife. Standing at the unlit fireplace – it was summer after all – they were gesturing to a spot above the mantel where Eden Conley’s ‘Ship Tossing on Storm Waves’ hung.

On her tiptoes, Milly reached up to the painting and tapped the ocean spray with her finger. “It’s wet. Weird!”

“Really?” Dora balanced herself on her toes tucked inside antique silk evening pumps and touched the same spot on Conley’s seascape painting. “Somehow the humidity’s seeping in.”

Milly shrugged. “If you–”

“How did you like this week’s beefier check, Dora?” Sam interrupted, approaching Dora and Milly. “You’re worth it. My sales are skyrocketing, and I owe it all to you – and the American Art Awards, of course.”

A boisterous laugh lured Gabin away from Sam, Milly and Dora. Dora’s father, Colonel Terrence Turner, ushered a gaggle of tittering older ladies to a stained-glass window near the stairs. “While Dora and Gabin were on their honeymoon,” the colonel began, “I cleaned years of grime from this wonderful art-glass. Dora got her love of Victorian–”

A scream silenced the room.

Gabin jerked his head toward the skin-prickling sound. Partygoers stood motionless, their mouths unnaturally open as if frozen in place by something otherworldly. The Bluesound media player continued to play ‘Never My Love,’ even though the dancing couples had stopped mid-step and now stared toward the fireplace.

Image3A voice – Gabin immediately identified it as Milly – gasped, “Oh God, Dora!”

Sam half-shrieked, half-laughed, “Trickery!”

The Nuttinghams teetered backward as seawater sprayed out from the waves buffering the sailing ship, soaking Dora. Droplets gushed down her hair, loosening pins, sending orchards tumbling to the floor. More water cascaded down her gown, dulling the silk’s shimmer. Her eyes fixed on Gabin, uneasiness in them. Help me, they seemed to say.

And so he did, scurrying to her side. He wrapped his arms around her as the seawater drenched his hair and face and left his suit waterlogged. “I knew I shouldn’t have bought the damned thing. How are we going to explain this?”

Dora dropped her shoulders. “I have no idea.” A smell of salt permeated the air around them.

A lone clap punctured the silence elsewhere in the room. And then another, and another, and another. Soon, everyone clapped. “Bravo! Bravo!” Sam enthused. “How did you do it, Dora? What a fine trick!”

“Yes, tell us,” someone else in the room implored.

Gabin stammered. Dora cleared her throat and answered as rainwater continued to splash her and Gabin, “Tiny pinpricks in the painting, a hose in the wall and a waterskin filled with saltwater on the other side of the wall.”

“Won’t it ruin the painting?” Sam said critically as the spray petered out and then stopped.

“But what a fine joke,” Gabin piped up.

“And a costly one,” Dora’s father said, a stern look wrinkling his face. The head of the paymaster department at an Army base before he retired, Terrence hated wasting money.

“It’s a fake, daddy,” Dora lied. “Bought so we could pull off this joke. Well done, eh?”

“Well done, daughter, but you nearly gave me a heart attack.”

Later that night after everyone had departed and Dora and Gabin had changed into dry nightclothes, they examined the painting. “Eden Conley must have spelled it,” Dora ventured. “How else to explain it? Only someone with witch blood could trigger the spell. That’s my guess.”

“Witch blood?”

Mothership“I did a 23andMe DNA test last year. Discovered I have a Salem ancestor who was hung as a witch. Looks like she was the real thing.”

“We’re putting the cursed thing up in the attic.”

“No way,” Dora shot back. “It’s staying right up here above the mantel.” She touched the foamy sea spray. “Dry as a witch’s tit.”

# # #

The artist of the painting that illustrates my short story is Miss Aniela, born in Leeds, United Kingdom, in 1986. She graduated from the University of Sussex with a BA in English and Media. Her career as an artist began while still at Sussex. Shortly after graduation, she was sought to speak in the U.S. for Microsoft and was offered solo shows in London and Madrid

Take-aways from a Great Conference

Energizing and Inspiring Take-aways from a Great Conference

Post by Cole Smith

I’m home, still glowing from the annual West Virginia Writer’s Conference. It’s always so good to see other mountain-state scribes, and to spend time in a space that’s devoted to creativity and craft. When I come back home, I want to carefully record all the special moments from the weekend. For me, these are the best take-aways from a great conference:


Many years ago, I went to a poetry reading. As the poet recited his work, my brain started coughing up ideas. I stealthily wrote a few down, worrying that the poet would think I was plaigiarizing.

Since then, I’ve heard several creatives talk about how great work inspires them, how it gets their own ideas flowing. It’s almost like a creative elevation takes place. The synergy buzzes from person to person.

It’s like that at a fantastic conference. In fact, it’s a little spooky. Surround yourself with a group of like-minded people and see what happens! Just be sure to have your note-taking app or pen and paper ready to jot those ideas down.


I’m not the most tech-savvy writer out there. I like pen and a spiral notebook for outlining. For my last novel, I used a length of blank wrapping paper taped to my office wall. Low-tech, over here!

So when someone lets me in on a time-saving, simplifying short-cut that doesn’t require a ton of training, I’m listening. Tips like social media management strategies, marketing advice, and how to organize ideas are as valuable as rubies for me.

Also, I went to this year’s conference stumped with a POV problem. Wouldn’t you know? Different POVs came up in one workshop, and I got just the direction I needed to sort out my issue. That kind of organic solution can be better than a bunch of opinionated replies in an online message forum.


Each year, I always meet new, interesting people. I’ve set an intention to try and maintain that synergistic momentum through the summer months. I friend, follow, and email when I return home—soon enough that people will actually remember me! Then, because I’m such an introverted nerd, I set reminders each week to stay in touch with friends, both new and old. This one habit has made such a huge difference in both my social and creative lives!

A writer’s conference can start your summer off on an inspiring note. If you get an opportunity, GO! Take lots of notes, and see what you can immediately incorporate into your writing routine. You won’t be sorry.

What’s your favorite conference? What valuable take-aways came with your experience?



Cole Smith is a writer, teacher, and mountain biker in West Virginia. She enjoys good coffee and great stories. She shares inspiration, encouragement, and tips for creative overwhelm at

Cole Smith

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Perfection at the Expense of Integrity?

By N. M. Cedeño



The 2012 Josephson Institute survey on cheating in high schools found 51 percent of high school students admitted to cheating on a test. Another study found cheating to be common in highly competitive, economically well-off schools. In fact, where the pressure to achieve high scores is emphasized over mastery, students are more likely to cheat according to a 2018 study by Eric Anderman, et al. If you search for cheating scandals in the news, you can read about the many and varied ways students have found to cheat.

Wordcloud by me

When I was in high school, the only students who felt the need to cheat on tests or assignments were academically disinclined students who were trying to pass a class. These students were either lazy and didn’t want to do the work, or they weren’t particularly gifted when it came to academic work and needed all the help they could get to graduate. The students on the other end of the spectrum, the academically inclined students, had no reason to cheat. They could do the work quite well on their own. They didn’t worry about the need for a better than perfect GPA.

In the 1990s a long-fought lawsuit over college admissions procedures, Hopwood v. Texas, caused Texas public universities (and other states’ universities as well) to re-examine and redefine their admissions processes. In Texas, from that re-examination of admissions procedures was born the Top 10 Percent Rule.

Enshrined in law by the legislature (Texas House Bill 588) in 1997, the Top 10 Percent Rule, provides that if a student is in the top 10 percent of a Texas high school’s graduating class, the student will get automatic admission to a public university within the state. Over the years, this law had to be adjusted for the University of Texas at Austin, the flagship school of the UT system, because of the increasing number of applicants and how little room was left for admissions beyond the top 10 percent of students. Currently for the University of Texas at Austin, the standard is even more stringent. A student must be in the top 6 percent of a high school’s graduating class to receive automatic admission there.

The intent of the Top 10 percent Law was to increase diversity in state universities and to increase opportunities for students from smaller school districts. While the law has mostly accomplished that goal, it has had unintended consequences for academic integrity. The people who passed the law didn’t realize that the students seeking college admission would see being in the top ten percent as an absolute requirement, a goal to be achieved by any means necessary. As high achieving students fought to get into the top 10 percent of their graduating class, the upper limits of grade point averages were pushed higher and higher, until bonus points have become the norm and a 3.99 out of 4.0 GPA is no longer good enough. Students began to believe that nothing short of perfection would get them into the top 10 percent.

Parents got into the game, pushing their children to achieve those better than perfect grade point averages because automatic admission to the best in-state colleges depended on it. The pressure on students steadily increased. Suddenly, students were no longer cheating to pass classes. They were cheating to attain perfection: the perfect test score, the perfect grades, the better than perfect GPA. Every class and every test from freshman year to senior year of high school had to be perfect.

The pressure on the students in some highly competitive, high-performing schools can be unbearable. And while student mental health is suffering terribly, so is academic integrity. The drive to perfection has placed academic integrity on the chopping block. Plagiarism, group work to achieve perfect answers, trading of information on test questions, and various methods of discovering test answers ahead of time have become the norm in many schools. Use of electronic devices to cheat became widespread. The methods of cheating have become so prevalent that many students don’t even recognize them as cheating. It’s simply what everyone does to achieve perfection.

What harm is this doing to our society? When our highest scholastic achievers from our best schools, the kids who want to be doctors, lawyers, and engineers, have no sense of ethics or integrity, what kind of adults will they be? We need to return to an emphasis on learning and mastery of skills. We need to move away from a system that makes a numerical goal the only goal in the eyes of the students. Several studies by Dr. Anderman found students were much less likely to cheat in an atmosphere that emphasized learning, in classrooms where the teachers evaluated students on mastery of skills. We may not be able to eradicate cheating, but we can certainly make huge strides to reduce it.


N. M. Cedeño writes short stories and novels that are typically set in Texas. Her stories vary from traditional mystery, to science fiction, to paranormal mystery in genre. Her début novel, All in Her Head, was published in 2014, followed by her second novel, For the Children’s Sake, in 2015. In 2016, For the Children’s Sake was selected as a finalist for the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category. Most recently, she has begun writing the Bad Vibes Removal Services Series which includes short stories and the novel The Walls Can Talk (2017).