Steph_2 copy (2)


By Stephanie Stamm


In preparation for the new year and in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, I’ve been thinking a lot about balance.

Webster’s defines “balance” as

  • the state of having your weight spread equally so that you do not fall;
  • the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling;
  • a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance.

All of those definitions fit together, don’t they? When we are out of balance, we feel like we might fall; when our lives are out of balance, they (or we) feel like we might fall apart.

As I’ve thought about this post, I’ve pictured images of a seesaw…


or a scale.


We have so many things to balance in our lives. Work and play, sleeping and waking, family and friends, and for many of us writers, day job and writing. In fact, the seesaw and balance seem a little too limited with only two ends. We might better think about juggling multiple items…

person juggling

or apportioning the pieces of a pie chart.

Balance Pie Chart

It’s very easy for certain aspects of our lives to get out of balance. Maybe we work too much. Maybe we don’t spend enough time with our family. Maybe we don’t work on our writing enough. Maybe we neglect to exercise. We can convince ourselves that we’ll find that balance later, when things settle down, when we have more time, or fewer balls to juggle.

But I’ve been thinking about how we get this one gift of a life—and I’m finding that waiting until later to find balance doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Life isn’t happening later. Life is happening now. Now seems like a good time to get those pieces in order.

So, that’s one of my goals for the new year. To find a sense of balance in all the pieces-parts of life that I want to fit together. I’m tired of tipping from one end of the seesaw to the other. I don’t want to weigh my life in the balance and find important pieces wanting.

Are there particular things you want to balance in the new year? What, if any, resolutions have you made?


Seesaw 1902:  By Chicago Daily News [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Apothecary’s Balance: [CC BY 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Connect with me:

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I am the author of the New Adult/Young Adult urban fantasy series, The Light-Bringer:




I have also contributed stories (one fictional and one true) to the following volumes:

Undead of Winter Front Only Into the Storm Cover


2015 Writing Resolution Resource by Erin Farwell

IMG_3021_12014 has been a year of ups and downs but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Still, there is much to be grateful for. My family and I are healthy, the house is almost back together and it’s better than before. My freelance writing career is going strong, despite a few bumps along the way. I have a book contract for the next two Cabel Evans mysteries. And I have great friends. There are the ones I see on a regular basis, others I haven’t seen in years but love keeping in touch with on Facebook, and ones I’ve “met” through this blog and other on-line activities. So, overall, 2014 was not a bad year.

As January 1st approaches, there is the excitement of the New Year along with the requisite resolutions. I have several NewYearperennial ones such as lose weight (have had some success this year) and keep the house clean (ha). As an author, I always have many writing goals. Last year’s got side tracked with the house disaster and kick-off of the freelance writing career but that’s the past. This year I have several goals including finishing my work in progress and finding a home for a short story I wrote.

Since many of you who read this blog are also authors, I thought I would share with you a tool that I have used with great success and which you might find useful in fulfilling your own writing goals in 2015. Jamie Raintree is an author whom I met on-line, I think through the Sisters in Crime mystery writers group. In addition to being a wonderful author of both books and blogs, Jamie has created an amazing spread sheet sinclogomediumredsystem to keep track of your goals and progress with your various writing projects.

Broken down by month, you can track your word count for up to eight projects. There are goals, graphs, progress reports, year-to-date totals, and more. You can learn more about her spread sheet and down load a copy to use at: You might also consider following her blog, which I enjoy.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and that each of you finds health and fulfillment in 2015.

You can learn more about me at:

ShadowlandsAHE New Cover8149g0+Rz-L._SL1500_


Post copyright 2014 by Doris McCraw







History, love it or hate it. For most researchers there is a love/hate relationship. You love what you find, but it leads to more. You end up asking more questions than you answer. Still that is what leads to new ideas, new stories or new assumptions. There I said it, assumptions.

Usually when you start a research project you have an idea of what you are looking for and what the outcome will be. For the purpose of this post, I will be starting with the assumption that women had a hard time being accepted as doctors. That is what most of the writing and research has said.

I started there also, but here is where I challenge that assumption. The research I have done shows there are many women doctors in Colorado from the 1870’s to 1900.  There are far more women who went to medical school, received licenses and practiced in the state than one would expect. Add to this the overall state population during that  time  you will see how one could challenge the accepted norm. The research also led to making a connection to the women’s movement of the 1960′ & 70’s.

Census Pop.
1860 34,277
1870 39,864 16.3%
1880 194,327 387.5%
1890 413,249 112.7%
1900 539,700 30.6%

Prior to 1974 when Angie Dickinson starred in “Police Woman”, there had not been a successful television drama with a female lead. Yes, women had television shows but most were not weekly dramas. Now, women consistently star in and have their own television dramas, comedies, even their own networks.

Dickinson as Pepper Anderson, 1975 in Police Woman


If women can become equals in an industry that has been dominated by men within such a short period of time, who says the same may not have occurred in the 1800’s. There were many women who were practicing along side husbands, or singly in hospitals, sanatoriums and private practice. They could not have survived if they were not accepted and had a clientele. They not only survived, a number of them thrived.

Am I correct in my assumption? Perhaps not, but by challenging the norm I have allowed myself to look for other pieces of information. You only find what you are looking for, unless of course you challenge that assumption and see what else you can find.  Time and research will tell. But for now, I’m off on the adventure of a lifetime in research.

Product Details
also available as an ebook on Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

Doris Gardner-McCraw/Angela Raines
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women’s History

Author Page:
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The Christmas Day the guns of the Western Front grew silent

This post just three days after Christmas is by Mike Staton.
This post just three days after Christmas is by Mike Staton.

In December of 1914 the new war was as fresh as the corsage of a girl at a Christmastime Boston cotillion ball.

In the United States in 1914, the war had yet to mangle the lives of American boys and wouldn’t do so until much later. In Europe, the war was less than five months old and the trenches still newly dug. While the casualties in Flanders were disheartening, the death tolls would become much worse in the years ahead – until the guns grew silent on November 11, 1918.

On Christmas Eve one hundred years ago, soldiers were still innocent enough – even naive enough – to believe they could fraternize with the enemy on the day of Christ’s birth – sing carols together, share cigarettes and booze, exchange presents, even play a game of soccer.

So they unofficially organized a ceasefire for Christmas Day. The Germans made the first move. They sent a chocolate cake to the British line on Christmas Eve, along with a note that proposed a truce so that the Germans could hold a concert. The generous British accepted the ceasefire and offered tobacco as their present to the Germans.

British and German soldiers stand together during the unofficial Christmas Day truce of 1914. As the war progressed and million were maimed and killed, such ceasefires became harder to make happen.
British and German soldiers stand together during the unofficial Christmas Day truce of 1914. As the war progressed and million were maimed and killed, such ceasefires became harder to make happen.

Even nowadays, the Christmas Day in No-Man’s Land on Flanders fields is remembered as a moment where the spirit of “Joyeux Noel” prevailed in what was otherwise a brutal, no-quarters-given war, the first to be called a world war.

During the ceasefire, more than 100,000 British and German soldiers lowered their guns. Soldiers exchanged gifts and played soccer with the enemy. There are many accounts of the Christmas Day ceasefire in diaries and letters. Nearly all are from men who later died in the war that stole away an entire generation of European men. One such soldier was Staff Sergeant Clement Barker, a British soldier.

Barker wrote to his brother, “…a messenger come over from the German lines and said that if they did not fire on Xmas day, they (the Germans) wouldn’t do so in the morning (Xmas day). A German looked over the trench – no shots – our men did the same, and then a few of our men went out and brought the dead in and buried them and the next thing happened, a football kicked out of our trenches and Germans and English played football.”

Newspapers of the time featured the Christmas Day truce on their front pages. Here British and German officers stand together for a portrait.
Newspapers of the time featured the Christmas Day truce on their front pages. Here British and German officers stand together for a portrait.

Other accounts say the two armies – only two hundred yards apart – sang “Home Sweet Home” together and then “God Save the King.”

The two sides even agreed to a warning system if the two sides were ordered by higher-ups to resume firing their guns. A British soldier wrote, “Then a German officer said to one of ours: ‘Look here, we don’t want to shoot you and you don’t want to shoot us. So the arrangement between us… is that neither of them shoot and if they have to begin they will fire three volleys over their heads as a warning.’”

The two sides were not totally lovey-dovey; at least one British regiment refused to take part, and Allied authorities prevented some regiments from playing soccer with the Germans.

German and British soldiers share cigarettes in no-man's-land during the 1914 Christmas Day truce. It makes you wonder why the hell their leaders went to war.
German and British soldiers share cigarettes in no-man’s-land during the 1914 Christmas Day truce. It makes you wonder why the hell their leaders went to war.

British Major John Hawksley of the Royal Field Artillery wrote to his sister, “The Seaforths… would have none of it and when the Germans tried to fraternize and leave their trenches, the Seaforths warned them that they would shoot.” In a second letter, he wrote that the wished-for soccer game in their quadrant was stopped by “our authorities.”

Back in the ’70s, I first became familiar with the World War I Christmas truce when I saw an animation version on PBS television. Later, in 2006, I saw the film “Joyeux Noel,” a fictionalized account of the ceasefire.

There were impromptu efforts to agree to other ceasefires, but the battles of Verdun and the Somme and the use of poison gas by the Germans made the Allies angry and unwilling to fraternize. The war went on for four more years, with the loss of ten million lives.


105182105411111CDPBy Neva Bodin

Recently an article appeared in our local paper regarding a dog shooting his owner. It seems the dog was standing in the front seat of a truck, and his master told him to get in the back. The dog complied, but shot the master in the arm. A rifle was on the backseat. It discharged. The article didn’t explain why, but it wouldn’t take much imagination to figure the dog stepped on it. I was chuckling, (I do feel sorry for the injured man of course). The county sheriff, in his wisdom, said the shooting appeared to be an accident. You think?

Immediately my mind began to look for motives from the dog. I could find some.

I went to the cupboard to grab the peanut butter to put on my toast. I wondered what all the ingredients were in the peanut butter as it boasted it was “natural.” After it listed quite a few ingredients that didn’t sound all that natural, a bigger statement warned, “Contains Peanuts.” You think? (I kind of like that new cliché.)

I began wondering if there was peanut butter for sale that didn’t contain peanuts. I’m going to have to be more observant about the products offered for sale.

This led to my thinking of the movie recently released: Dumb and Dumber 2, and to hearing the phrased “dumbing down America.” And to a statement I heard from a presenter at a writers’ conference that the average reading level for adults is fourth grade. With a little research online, I find it is grade 5.2, at least for seniors in high school. And while college may change that for some, there would be quite a few readers who will not progress above that.

According to

“• The average difficulty level of independently read books steadily increases through elementary school and peaks at 5.2 in grade 12 (see table A1 in the Appendix, p. 51).

  • The difficulty level of books read independently by high school students is roughly comparable to bestselling books that adults read; however, the average difficulty level of books students read is lower than many newspaper articles, and is considerably lower than what may be required for college and career.”

So perhaps attaching what I think of as obvious conclusions, aren’t so “dumb” after all, and I am “dumber” for not thinking of it! These facts also have obvious implications for us as writers.

I am working on a young adult novel that involves time travel. Should I include a lot of “likes” in my verbiage for today’s teen? Actually including “like” every few words, as I heard from a young female I had a conversation with recently, would make it verbiage, which can mean an excess of words. Like I don’t know what I’m doing, which is not, like, what I had in mind. But would be, like, at the level of the, like, reader perhaps.

Today I read of a man in trouble because he shot a cow with a stolen gun. While the meaning of course is clear, with common sense, I can still chuckle as I wonder why the cow had a stolen gun.

I also own the book, Eats Shoots & Leaves, by Lynn Truss—a book about punctuation and how the above sentence changes in meaning by inserting commas. I love that title.

All this rambling, and how I entertain myself with the newspaper, is really about wondering how you, as a writer, work to make your articles/books at the level of the average reader. Do you worry about that? Do it naturally? Consciously write to a fifth grade level? What’s your secret? I’d like to know.

Holiday to Holiday between Christmas and New Year De-Stress by Cher’ley


This blog by Cher’ley Grogg


Last Christmas, grandpa was feeling his age and found that shopping for Christmas gifts had become too difficult. So he decided to send checks to everyone instead.

In each card, he wrote, “Buy your own present!” and mailed them early.

He enjoyed the usual flurry of family festivities, and it was only after the holiday that he noticed that he had received very few cards in return. Puzzled over this, he went into his study, intending to write a couple of his relatives and ask what had happened. It was then, as he cleared off his cluttered desk that he got his answer. Under a stack of papers, he was horrified to find the gift checks which he had forgotten to enclose with the cards. 


Guests have gone; gifts have found a home, and if you are lucky you have the decorations down for another year or perhaps you enjoy keeping them up until after the New Year. Whichever, there are no right or wrong ways to spend the holidays, and there are no right or wrong ways to spend the time between the Holidays, but try to:


The aftermath of the annual gift-unwrapping fr...




The gifts you have so carefully chosen have been tossed aside, for the boxes or just one game.


A Sad/Happy Feeling takes over your body. You have just come down from an Ultimate High.


Christmas Stress Relief: A Mindful Guide


Take baby-steps towards the things that you used to like doing but have since forgotten about. You can make a start by choosing one or two of the following things to do (or perhaps come up with your own ideas):


  • Be kind to your body. Have a nice hot bath; have a nap for thirty minutes (or perhaps a little less). Treat yourself to your favorite food without feeling guilty– sit and enjoy a nice candy bar-all by yourself-you and your candy-have your favorite hot drink.
  •  Do something you enjoy. Visit or phone a friend (particularly if you’ve been out of contact for a while). Get together what you need so you can do your favorite hobby. Do some exercise; bake a cake; read something that gives you pleasure (not ‘serious’ reading) a forgotten magazine-Teen or Hot Rod. Listen to some music that you have not listened to in a long while.

    The first song that came to my mind was The Little Ole Lady from Pasadena.


Now to come down and relax: Follow the Bouncing Ball and Sing Along with O Little Town of Bethlehem. It’s a great song for any time of the year.



**What do you do to distress? Remember my guilty pleasure?**



Cher’ley’s Books are listed below and on sale at Amazon and local bookstores. And she has a new one that is freshly published with 11 other authors. 


Stamp Out Murder”.


The Secret in Grandma’s Trunk” This is an especially good book for your Tween Children and Grandchildren.

The Journey Back-One Joy at a Time and the B&W Edition of The Journey BackThe JourneyBack 3

Boys Will Be Boys   The Joys and Terrors of Raising Boys-An Anthology

 Cowboys, Creatures, and Calico 

Fans of Cher'ley Grogg,AuthorAnd please join me on my Facebook Fanpage, that’s managed by one of my most faithful fans: Cindy Ferrell

Here’s a link to Cher’ley’s WEBSITE


off7 Guilty Pleasure by Cher’ley

Christmas Presents or Christmas Presence?

Steph_2 copy (2)This post by Stephanie Stamm.

In this season of stockings hung by the chimney, presents under the tree, and multitudes of ads telling us just what we need to buy for our loved ones or to ask them to buy for us, it can be easy to get caught up in trying to purchase the perfect Christmas. We ask our children to make Christmas lists, and we want to give them as many of the things they want as we can. We search for just the right presents, and we agonize over our choices (see Jennifer Flaten’s post on gift-giving anxiety here.) And many of us go into debt and spend the rest of the year paying off those Christmas purchases.

Some of that is understandable. We want to give things to the people we love. We express that love in a shower of presents.

But the overwhelming emphasis on piles of presents sometimes seems like too much. I wonder if the accumulation of packages means that each one loses a little of its value. I remember my parents talking about the joys of getting oranges at Christmas when they were children. That was the only time they had them, so the simple gift of that citrus fruit most of us take for granted was something special.


My favorite Christmas memories are about experiences, not individual presents. Like walking through the snow with my dad into the woods on our farm to cut a Christmas tree. Like looking for Stringing Popcorn from Abovebittersweet to put in a vase. Like painting sycamore balls or stringing popcorn with my sisters. Like making cookies with my mother. Like decorating the tree with cookie cutouts made using a regular molasses cookie recipe and having them drop off the tree one by one as they softened from the moisture in the air and broke at the hole for the hook. That was Oriental-bittersweet-produces-flowers-and-berries-along-the-length-of-the-vinemy worst Christmas tree decorating idea ever—and, yes, it was my idea. My mother just went along with me. My family laughed every time we heard a cookie plop. Of course, sometimes the experience and the present were rolled into one—like the year my sister gave me a big-pawed puppy. That experience lasted for years.

The real presents of Christmas are the presence of our families and friends, the memories of those we’ve lost but still cherish, and the peace and faith and love embodied in the season.

Wishing you the merriest of Christmases, filled with presence!



Popcorn picture from

Bittersweet picture from

South for Christmas

Greetings from sunny Florida where it’s two days before Christmas, and my brother and his family and I are in the midst of the hustle and bustle before our holiday festivities begin. Last month as part of Robert Lee Brewer’s poem a day challenge on his blog at blogs/poetic-asides , I wrote the following poem which will eventually be included in another chapbook. It’s based on the lyrics to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” I’ll include a link below to where you can hear me sing the song.

I’ll be South for Christmas

My Florida relatives count on me.

There won’t be snow but maybe mistletoe

and presents under the tree.

On Christmas Eve, we’ll go to the beach,

fly kites, maybe try boogie boarding.

It won’t feel like Christmas,

but Santa will come with bounty for the children.

I’ll be there if only in my heart.

Where will you be for Christmas? I hope you have a good one.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

Order That’s Life from Amazon.

Perception and Priority

Travis Richardson_5x7_300dpi (1)




by Travis Richardson



The end of the year is nigh! Yesterday was winter solstice, the darkest part of the winter. My wife and I saw the sunset from my in-laws’ Vegas timeshare.

Winter solstice sunset in south Las Vegas.
Winter solstice sunset in south Las Vegas.


There’s something about the desert – endless sand and scrub brush – that doesn’t seem very Christmassy. In America we’ve been conditioned through decades of marketing to expect snow-covered hamlets with wreaths hanging on every front door and a warm glowing fire crackling within each home. Christmases like that do exist and I’ve been fortunate to have a few white Christmases in Oklahoma, but that doesn’t happen for everybody. It doesn’t mean other people are doing Christmas wrong, it is just different.

The same can be said about the stereotypical image of a writer hunkered down at a manual typewriter, cigarette hanging from the corner of one mouth, a bottle of booze nearby and crumpled up paper on the floor. This antiquated image may have been replaced by the newer stereotype of a hyper-caffeinated keyboard puncher gazing at their laptop in a Starbucks while sipping a grande mochaccino latte with an extra shot of espresso. Again, this image is true for some of us, but not all. Many writers have day jobs, families, and other commitments that make either stereotype hard to maintain even if you’re trying to achieve the image.

While there are no fixed rules, I think it is safe to say that the substance you write trumps any image you can convey of being a serious writer. Of course there are exceptions, especially when I think of art. It should be the work that matters, however it is achieved (in underwear at the kitchen counter, a notebook at a truckstop, during a lunch break at work, etc.). Marketing may come around later, but having a quality product that people want to read should be your paramount priority. Just as Christmas is not about being in the perfect Hallmark location, it is about being with family and friends, sharing quality time with them.

How do you feel about the perception of being a writer versus the reality?

Wishing you a merry Christmas, happy holidays and a happy New Year!




Travis Richardson is fortunate to have been nominated for both the Anthony and Macavity short story awards for “Incident on the 405,” featured in MALFEASANCE OCCASIONAL: GIRL TROUBLE. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in several online zines and anthologies. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime LA newsletter, reviews Chekhov shorts at and sometimes shoots a short movie. His latest novella is KEEPING THE RECORD.

smaller Lost in Clover for web








PS. Travis’ last published short story of the year, “A Village Called Eden,” appeared yesterday in the pulp genre anthology Dark Corners, Vol. 1, Issue 2.



Which Would You Choose?

PortraitThis post by Craig Snider

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where the character must make a decision in a difficult situation, and when you thought about it, you had trouble trying to decide what you would do if you were in their place? For example, in the book and movie, Sophie’s Choice, a mother of two children is in a concentration camp, and the nazi doctor tells her she must choose which of her children will die, and which will continue to live in the camp. Whoa. Who would want to have to make that decision? And, if you did, which would you choose? There are lots of different justifications for every choice, including not choosing at all and risking the possibility of something worse happening to all three of them.

This is called an Ethical Dilemma (or also a thought experiment), defined by Wikipedia as: “An ethical dilemma is a complex situation that often involves an apparent mental conflict between moral imperatives , in which to obey one would result in transgressing another.”

For some, there is no problem distinguishing between what they believe to be right or wrong, with no delineation between the polar opposites of good and evil. But, without getting into a philosophical debate, I think we can mostly agree the world is less black and white, and much more many shades of gray.

“Okay, so which one of these do I have to pick so someone doesn’t have to die? Oh yeah, none of them…”

How does this apply to fiction? That’s right, I’m not just ranting about stuff as usual. I find the most interesting fiction is that which causes us to question something about the world, about society, about God, about life, and most importantly about ourselves. One of the ways to do that is to create an ethical dilemma for your character to deal with. If you create one that has no obvious answer between right and wrong, the reader will be forced to ask themselves what they would do in that situation, and even to question your character’s motives for the choice they made.

For example, your hero is forced to choose who to save. Either their friend, or someone who can save the lives of many others. Or, you character must decide if they are willing to sacrifice someone they love to save thousands of lives. Perhaps, the character has two children, as Sophie, and the must choose which one to save. It is important to find those situations where, no matter what the choice turns out to be, the character has suffered some kind of loss.

While no one ever would want to have to make a decision like that, it is the responsibility of the writer to heap just such issues onto the shoulders of the protagonist. They must endure these things so the reader doesn’t have to, or to provide the reader with an opportunity to tackle them from a safe distance. This is the allure of many types of fiction.

“What is he trying to say? That the entire premise for our movie is a convoluted setup created entirely so that I am Batman can be put into a ridiculous situation to see which person I would save, and what that says about me as a person?”
“…Uh, no. No, he’s saying that, uh. Wanna know how I got these scars?”

Do some reading about ethical dilemmas. Find some good examples. But, don’t use them directly in your fiction, as they work only as a theoretical tool with which to isolate certain relative moral thinking. Instead, look at the specific morals they hit on. Find the ones that really stump you, and then expand those into a realistic scenario. To do so, it is necessary to weave the “set up” into the narrative. Like anything else, such a dilemma must arise naturally from the narrative itself. It is not sufficient to have someone merely put the protagonist into the situation to see what they would do, no offense to Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger, but that really only works (and really, not very well) in superhero movies.

For your story, make sure it makes sense in the broad scope of the tale. If it does, use it to its full effect. Really make sure both the reader and the protagonist feel it where it hurts. This is nothing new. These types of dilemmas have been used again and again. But, the good ones resist being cliches because there are no clear-cut answers to them, and someone always loses.

For a general example of an ethical dilemma, read here about the Trolley Problem.