Ladies and gentleman, time to unveil…

Mike Staton

This post is by Mike Staton.

My fellow Writing Wranglers & Warriors are getting the public’s first look at the cover of my Civil War novel, Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep. It’s a sexy one, isn’t it?

If you paid a visit to my Facebook Author’s Page sometime during the last few days, you got a look at how artist Richard Stroud worked through three preliminary versions of the artwork to come up with this good-to-go one.

When I got my first peek at an early version of the artwork, I wasn’t sure I wanted such a suggestive cover for the Civil War novel.

Blessed Shadows cover-final

Here’s the cover for my Civil War novel. As you can see, I went the romantic route with some trepidation.

The book’s a hybrid work – serious historical fiction with some intense lovemaking scenes. Let’s be honest… the cover depiction of blond-haired Franny Neale in a near topless state is appropriate for the novel’s most important love scene.

Even so, I did wonder if I should have asked Richard to perhaps do a ballroom scene of my Confederate soldier Bill Stamford dancing with Franny. I expect the cover showing Franny luring Bill onto the bed for a tipping the velvet moment will draw the interest of women readers. I do fear that some male readers who like historical Civil War novels will shy away, thinking the book isn’t a serious, historically accurate look at the war and the 1860s.

I wrote it to be historically accurate – rural life in Bill’s hometown of Kenansville, North Carolina, the rigors of camp life and forced marches, and the black-powder chaos of battle. My reviewers were impressed with my authentic depiction of the Civil War era in North Carolina and Virginia. I put hours and hours of research into the various settings before I actually wrote the tale.

romance and the civil war

I could have discussed going this route with my artist, Richard Stroud, but decided to stay with the more racy version.

I began thinking about writing a Civil War novel many years ago. Back in the 1970s, I’d been a re-enactor in a Confederate outfit based out of Lancaster, Ohio. In more recent years, as I wrote my fantasy genre trilogy, I came to recognize that I needed to improve and refine love scenes. I decided that doing a Civil War novel with a heavy dose of romance would allow me to improve my lovemaking scenes. I wanted them to be not only romantic, but sensual as well.

The cover scene hints at some flirtatious games before the main event in the cottage’s bedroom. Remember, it’s a time of war and death. Bill and Franny’s sexually charged encounter begins at a Fredericksburg New Year’s ball. The couple dance waltzes and polkas. Then Bill ushers her into a greenhouse where they discover other couples sneaking passionate kisses. Soon, Bill and Franny are doing the same. She entices Bill to accompany her across a courtyard to a vacant overseer cottage. In the upstairs bedroom, they begin time-honored foreplay games – just like what’s depicted on the cover. I made the removal of Franny’s copious Victorian underthings part of my spicy buildup. I make Bill work to reach the Promised Land.

sex during the civil war

When I put a foreplay scene on an online workshop for review, a reviewer told me no self-respecting Victorian girl would risk public humiliation by getting caught petting with a boy. My view? He’s going off to war and maybe death. It’s worth the risk to give him something special.

The detailed outline for book 2 is done. It came to 123 pages – 49 chapters. You didn’t read this paragraph’s first two sentences wrong. The outline mostly includes dialogue and some preliminary description to set mood for the settings. Action scenes take place in Kenansville; on a train bound for Virginia; Richmond’s Capitol Square; a blockade runner; a theatre in London, England; Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina, and downtown Richmond at the close of the war.

As I researched and wrote the outline, I did have one in-my-mind debate about allowing an action scene to become a tad trashy. In Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep, Bill’s torn between two women – Becky, his first love and hometown sweetheart, and Franny, the Fredericksburg belle who teaches him the finer points of what to do between the sheets. In the first novel, I kept the two girls apart. In the second novel, they’re going to meet. My dilemma? Should their encounter devolve into a catfight?

Civil War catfight

While doing the outline for my Civil War novel sequel, I debated including a catfight. I kept it tame… just a bit of shoving.

Catfights are fun to write. In my fantasy series, one of my main characters, Stealth the thief, had a knife fight with a female enemy that saw both of them badly wounded. While I did mull a hair-pulling, eye-gouging donnybrook, I decided against it. They almost fight, but stop short after a shove or two and a pesky tree branch that disrupts potential fun for any readers who enjoy ribald tales.

I’ve come up with a working title for the second novel in the Civil War series. I’ve decided on Deepening Homefront Shadows. It continues the theme begun with Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep. The initial draft of the first four chapters is done. I’m keeping them short, since the only action is the unexpected death of a loved one. Those early chapters explore the complications that occur after the shocking death. And for fans of love scenes, the first one happens in Chapter Five. I intend to start writing that chapter in a day or two. I can’t wait. I’d better do some googling and refresh my memory on the finer points of Victorian ladies undergarments.

# # #

I’m an author with three fantasy novels to my credit – The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. The books make up a trilogy titled Larenia’s Shadow. A fourth novel, this one a historical romance set during the Civil War, is scheduled for publication in October. It’s called Blessed Shadows Dark and Deep. I’ve begun writing my second Civil War novel – Deepening Homefront Shadows. All my novels can be purchased via the website of my publisher, Wings ePress, as well as the websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Posted in unique | 11 Comments

The Murderous Marva Lu

Posted by M. K. Waller


The past month: June 2. June 2. June 2. My post is due on June 2.

12:30 a.m., on the way to bed: It’s June 2.

June 2: Sleep was necessary. Up late. Have to hit the road for Houston and a June 3 writing class.

To have a chance of getting on the road before midnight, I’m sharing an excerpt from “Hell on Wheels,” which appeared on Telling the Truth, Mainly, in 2015. I chose it because Marva Lu is one of my favorite people.


The day I found Mama stirring ground glass into the filling for a lemon meringue pie, I took the bowl away from her and called a family conference. We had to do something before she dispatched some poor, unsuspecting soul to his heavenly rest and got herself thrown so far back into prison she couldn’t see daylight.

The next day, while Mama was down at Essie’s Salon de Beauté, my brothers and sister and I crowded into a booth at the old Dairy Queen, just across the corner from the library where I worked. The DQ was practically empty. The only customers—besides Frank and Lonnie and Bonita and me—were senior citizens, and most of them had their hearing aids turned off.

A typical Dairy Queen restaurant, located alon...

A typical Dairy Queen restaurant, located along U.S. Route 67 in Texarkana (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Public domain.

When the waitress had delivered our orders and retreated behind the counter to her copy of People magazine, I explained why I had called the meeting.

“It hurts me to say it, but the time has come to put Mama out of her misery.”

Lonnie stabbed his straw through the plastic lid on his frosted Coke. “Mama don’t have no misery. I never seen nobody so contented with her lot.”

Bonita poked her pointy elbow into my side and reached across the table to pat Lonnie’s hand. “I think Marva Lu’s talking about a different kind of misery, baby brother. I’ll explain later.”

That was a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Bonita’s explaining was why it took Lonnie till he was twenty-nine to get his GED.

Frank, sitting across the table from me, grabbed a napkin and wriggled his way out of the booth. “Now look what you made me do. Scared me half to death, making such a mean joke about Mama.”

He dabbed at his tie with a napkin. “This necktie is a souvenir from when we took the kids to Disney World. That gravy landed right on Donald Duck’s tail feathers.”

I glanced over my shoulder at the other diners, several of whom were looking our way. “Frank Dewayne Urquhart, stop carrying on and sit back down,” I hissed. “You’re attracting attention.”

Frank unclipped his tie and laid it across the back of the booth. By the time he settled down to finish his steak fingers, the senior citizens had turned back to their burgers.

“Now, quit worrying about that duck’s derriere and look me in the eye,” I said, in the steely tone of voice I used on seventh-grade boys I found hiding in the how-to books, giggling over The Joy of Sex. “I am not joking. This is serious.”

Frank stuffed a couple of napkins into his collar and dunked another steak finger. “Serious?” He leaned toward me, his eyes wide and his voice just a whisper. “You want to … put Mama down … just because you saw her add something to the pie? I bet you didn’t have your contacts in. Might’ve been powdered sugar. She’s probably practicing something new for the Methodist ladies’ fundraiser cook-off.”

“The new bishop’s going to judge the cook-off.” I took a sip of my Diet Dr. Pepper and gave Frank time to think. “I can see the headlines now: ‘Murderous Methodist Does in Bishop with Omelet’. And every penny of our inheritance will go to pay a lawyer to try to keep Mama out of prison. Squeaky Vardaman says defense attorneys charge more when the client’s guilty. And Squeaky’s the district attorney, so he ought to know.”

Bonita stabbed me again with her elbow. “Uh-oh, look who’s coming.” We all followed her gaze.

A bright red Corvette was racing up the street. Ignoring the stop sign, the driver shot through the intersection, just missing a pedestrian, who scrambled onto the high curb and wrapped his arms around a light pole for support.

“There she is, on her way to Essie’s to get her hair screwed up.” Lonnie grinned. “Man, Mama can drive that car, can’t she?”

Frank cleared his throat and wiped his fingers on a napkin. “Yeah, Marva Lu, I see your point.”

Bonita wrinkled her nose and wound a blonde curl around her finger, a habit she’d gotten into when she was five years old and people told her it was cute. “Why don’t we keep a real close watch on Mama and make sure she doesn’t have a chance to put anything bad in the food? I mean, killing her seems a little extreme.”

“Are you volunteering to babysit around the clock?” I said.

Bonita wrinkled her nose again. “Well, what about putting her in the Silver Seniors Retirement home? We could have her committed. Then she couldn’t cook at all.”

“No way,” said Frank. “Old Dr. Briggs is as loony as Mama. He isn’t about to certify her. Hell, there’s not a man, woman, or child in the county, including us, who’d dare to cross her. After all, she owns the bank.” He wadded his napkin into a ball and dropped it into the empty basket. “You going to convince her to move to the home, Bonita?”

Before Bonita could get her nose back in gear, Lonnie finally caught up with the conversation. He sat up straight. “Killing her? What do you mean, killing her? You saying you want to kill Mama?”

“Shhh. Use your library voice, Lonnie.” Bonita patted his hand again. “Kill is just a figure of speech. Like one of those smilies we talked about before your test.”

I rolled my eyes. “No, it’s not a smilie. We’d better make sure right now that everybody understands what we’re doing.”

“I’m not doing anything,” whispered Lonnie. “If you’re going to kill Mama, I’m heading for the sheriff right now. Move, Frank, and let me out of this booth.”

I glared at Frank. He stayed put. I smacked Bonita’s hand off Lonnie’s and closed my hand around his. Poor Lonnie, he’d always been Mama’s favorite, and so softhearted. I should have known our talk would upset him.

I assumed the sympathetic tone I used when citizens called to complain about the library having dirty books. “Lonnie, sweetheart, you heard what I said about Mama’s new recipe. And you remember how Uncle Percy died last month, just hours after Mama cooked him a special birthday lunch.”

“Dr. Briggs said that was Uncle Percy’s ulcer.” Lonnie jerked his hand back. “Frank, let me out.”

I grabbed his hand again and hung on. “Jasper Alonzo, calm down. I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to think about it carefully and then give me an honest answer. After that, Frank will let you out, and you can go to the sheriff or anywhere else you want.

“Now, here’s the question: How would it make you feel if they put Mama on trial for killing Uncle Percy? Or somebody else she fed bad food to? And what if she had to spend the rest of her natural life locked up in the prison at Huntsville?”

Lonnie’s brow wrinkled like it always did when he was turning something over in his mind. One thing about my baby brother, he never made snap decisions. I usually admired him for that. In this case, however, even with the answer so obvious, I threw in some details.

“Think about what prison’s like, Lonnie. There wouldn’t be a soul Mama knows. And most of those inmates are so common, not our kind of people at all. Mama would have to share a room, and you know how she values her privacy. There’d be no more trips up to Neiman Marcus, and she’d have to dress just like everybody else, in horizontal stripes. She’s always been dead-set against horizontal stripes. Essie wouldn’t be there to keep up her weekly White Mink rinse, and without that, her gray hair would get that ugly yellow tinge to it. And how would she survive without her Friday bridge club? Think about it, Lonnie. What kind of life would Mama have?”

By the time I got to “yellow tinge,” all the fight had gone out of Lonnie. His brow unwrinkled. Tears welled up in his soft brown eyes. It was just the saddest expression I’d ever seen on that sweet face. He looked so miserable I was tempted to toss the rest of my chocolate sundae into the big red waste bin and tell my siblings to forget the whole thing.

But I didn’t get to be Director of the Kilburn County Public Library and Archives by caving in to every pathetic face that stared at me across the circulation desk.

“All right, Lonnie,” I said. “What’s your answer?”

He pulled on his straw but got only a gurgle, so he quit stalling. “Mama wouldn’t like prison at all. So I guess I’d feel pretty bad.” He shook his cup and managed to suck up one more taste of frosted Coke. “But I still don’t feel good about planning to kill her.”

I looked out the window. Old Judge Vardaman was shuffling down the sidewalk from the courthouse, heading for the library, where he would spend his usual hour dozing over the Wall Street Journal. On his way out, he would tiptoe into my office and sit down for what he called “a little visit with my sweetie-pie.”

Bonita saw me watching him and smirked. “Well, here comes Big Sister’s gentleman caller. Honestly, Marva Lu, I don’t know how you can stand to have that old goat around. He’s older than God.”

“You should talk,” I said. “The way you drool over the old goat’s son since he got elected D. A. is a disgrace.” I passed the remainder of my sundae across the table to Lonnie and smiled. “Anyway, Bonita, he’s not so bad. Goats can be very useful animals.” I shouldered my purse and stood up to leave. “Don’t worry, Lonnie,” I said. “You won’t have to do a thing. I’ll take care of all the planning myself.”


Another Marva Lu story will appear in
to be released by Wildside Press on July 21, 2107,
exactly one month before the upcoming solar eclipse.

“Hell on Wheels” appears in Austin Mystery Writers

M. K. Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly.

Posted in unique | 6 Comments

How do you go about writing a picture book?


First and foremost, you should have an idea.  And, where on earth do they come from?  I think they’re whispered in my ear.  I’d always wanted to write a picture book, but how?  I knew they were shorter, obviously, than my longer mystery books.  They’re approximately 70,000 words or more.  I researched the length of a picture book, and the wordage ranges from 350-800 words.

How does a person learn to write short?  You know, tell a story with only a few words?  I couldn’t send a note to my kids’s teachers without making a longer story about being home with a fever.  How can I do it?


It’s called the bare bones.

I loved red shoes.  My mom’s nickname was Maggie.  I have redhair cousins.  I was born with redhair. I needed a ginger colored kitty.  A kitty needs a puppy and why not a bunny?  Let’s add a bird into the mix?


Okay.  I now have some fuzzy, furry friends.  What am I going to do with the animals?

After some thought, I decided the kitty must lose her shoes.  Let’s notch the bar line up a bit, and give her three legs instead of the usual four.   Now, I have a story with a plot.


But I don’t know how to draw.  Period.  Not even a little bit.

Our small town gallery has big town talent.  I met with a wonderful retired art teacher who loves to draw puppies, kitties and bunnies.  I hired her. We were a team.

I’d make a few suggestions and so would she.  She was terrific.


The final title: Red Shoes.  I used my middle name and wrote under the pseudonym of Barbie Marie.


You can buy purchase it here:  Red Shoes        Barb’s Books


Posted in animal stories, Art, author, author exposure to potential readers, Authors, Childhood, Easter, Education, unique | 9 Comments

Returning to the Call of Conference

Gayle_signing photoThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

This weekend the Wyoming Writers, Inc., (WW, Inc.) conference takes place. I’ll be returning to the conference after a three-year absence. I’ve missed previous years due to the distance of the gathering and financial setbacks. Although I had planned to go this year when the conference date and speakers were first announced in January, once again financial setbacks, including a hospital stay, prompted me to reconsider the expenditure.

However, WW, Inc., offers a few scholarships each year, and before I totally chucked the idea of attending, I applied for one of those financial helps… and received one! So, early Saturday I will get in a car with another Casper writer, and we’ll drive two hours northeast to Gillette, once touted as ‘the energy capital of the world’ and just an hour’s drive from America’s first national monument, Devil’s Tower, to attend conference. I’m excited!

Nina McC_at NIC_Prior to Reading

Nina McConigley

Not only do I get to carpool with a fellow children’s writer, Casey Rislov, with whom I’ve shared a few book reading and signing events, but I’ll also have opportunity to reconnect with Wyoming (and some Colorado) writers whom I haven’t seen in several years. I’ll also be tutored in the craft and marketing of writing by special speakers, including children’s book author and current Wyoming Poet Laureate Eugene Gagliano, creative non-fiction writer and director of American Indian Studies at the University of Wyoming Dr. Christopher “Caskey” Russell, and keynote speaker, fiction author and freelance writer Nina McConigley. Nina is a special friend of mine – my husband has known Nina and her family for more than 30 years, and this incredible writer, winner of both a Penn Open Book Award and 2014 High Plains Book Award in 2014 who is also a professor at the University of Wyoming, served as one of my bridesmaids; Nina is the keynote speaker for this conference, and for that reason alone I wanted to attend. I’m very happy that I don’t have to miss this year’s WW, Inc., conference!

There will be many learning opportunities through the various workshops, time to mingle with fellow writers and the presenters, and occasion to sell my tomes. I’ve written and published several works since the last conference I attended, including new children’s books and a collection of short stories; therefore, I’ll have “new products” for my fellow writers to purchase. Plus, I’ll see what products they have created since I last saw them. It’s always wonderful to support and network with other writers, and that is another reason I’m glad to be attending.

IMG_7405I met another writer friend for coffee last Friday, and we shared pieces of our works in progress. She and I attended the Colorado Christian Writers Conference together six years ago, and we each came away with a book contract from Cladach, a small publishing house in Greely, Colorado; her short story was published in the company’s release Journeys to Mother Love in spring 2012, and my book Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, was published that fall. During our coffee time, we decided to make it a goal to complete our works in progress by next spring, attend CCWC next May, and pitch those works during one-on-one time with editors. That gives us about 11 months to plan and prepare. Hopefully, it won’t snow four feet at the conference site next May as it did this year! (this conference is held every year in Estes Park, Colorado, next door to Rocky Mountain National Park, a beautiful location, but heavy snow is not unusual at that elevation at that time of year!)

As I pack and plan for this weekend’s Wyoming Writers, Inc., conference, a tingle of anticipation wafts through my heart and mind. What nuggets will I glean which I can apply to my own writing and marketing endeavors? What snippets of information will resonate and excite me to put my fingers on the keyboard and create new stories and/or improve works-in-progress? There’s always something to learn from a conference – sometimes many somethings. I look forward to what lessons, tidbits, and knowledge I’ll garner this weekend!

Neva Gayle and Elizabeth_Whistlestop Books

Writer friends are some of the very best!


Gayle & Mary outsideGayle M. Irwin writes inspirational pet stories for children and adults. She weaves life lessons in her works, including courage, perseverance, kindness, and friendship. She is also a contributing writer to six Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and has a story accepted in the upcoming release “The Dog Really Did That?”; this will be her 7th Chicken Soup book! She also writes articles for various newspapers and magazines and conducts speaking engagements. Learn more at



Mary Book Cover   Sage Finds Friends_front cover   SageBigAdventureFront-small   cody-cabin-cover2   bookcover_tail-tales_front-cover    Walking_FrontCover_small

Posted in unique, Writing, Writing Conference, writing conferences | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Remember! Don’t Let Them Be Forgotten

Post by Doris McCraw


There is something about devotion to the awareness we are meant for something bigger than ourselves. As we in the United States celebrate Memorial Day, it seemed appropriate to honor and learn about a few who did just that.

Sarah Bryn Rickman has devoted many hours, days, weeks and years to researching and telling the stories of the WAFS and WASP of World War II. Take the time to visit her website and the biographies and books she has written. There are stories there that will make you proud to be a woman.  WASP WAFS

So, what is WASP, and how did it fit into the larger picture of WWII? It is an acronym for the Women Airforce Service Pilots. With the war pulling so many young men into service overseas and at home, there was a need for pilots to ferry planes from factories to shipping points overseas. The women who made up the WAFS and WASP flew every type of military aircraft of the period. They taught others, were test pilots, ferried aircraft and flew decoy planes for training exercises.


Front row, left to right: WAFS Esther (Nelson) Carpenter, Barbara Jane (Erickson) London, Teresa James, Esther Manning, and Bernice Batten. In the back are a captain and stewardess from American Airlines. After ferrying the planes from the factories to the airfields for transport to overseas battle areas, the WAFS sometimes returned by way of commercial airlines. [Special Collections, Texas Woman’s University]

Some of the women who made up this organization went on to live such quiet lives after the war, many who met them had no concept of the contribution they’d made. One lady, who according to staff. visited the library I use, was one such. Many were surprised to learn of her exploits. I often regret never getting the chance to meet and get to know her.

These brave women are now getting some of the recognition they richly deserve. They were granted Veteran status in 1977 and given the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009. Unfortunately not all lived to see these awards, but all are worth remembering and honoring.

Here is a list of the first group of WAFS, a predecessor to the WASP:
Bernice L Batten, Delphine Bohn, Aline Rhonie Brooks, Esther L N Carpenter, Helen Mary Clark, Nancy Batson Crews, Barbara Towne Fasken, Kathryn Bernheim Fine, Cornelia Fort, Phyllis B Fulton, Betty Huyler Gillies, Teresa D James, Gertrude Meserve Tuffs LeValley, Barbara J Erickson London, Nancy Harkness Love, Lenora L McElroy, Helen McGilvery, Helen Richards Prosser, Katherine Thompson Rawls, Barbara Donahue Ross, Adela Reik Scharr, Dorothy Scott, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Poole Shoemaker, Dorothy Fulton Slinn, Florene Miller Watson, Esther Manning Westervelt, Betsy Ferguson Woodward.
You can find additional information and additional class lists at:

I strongly urge each reader of this post find out more about these amazing women, for their stories will not disappoint. I am not the expert on these women, but I know enough to want to know more.

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

For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here

Photo and Poem: Click Here
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here

Posted in Memorial Day, Memorial Weekend, Military Women, unique, World War II, WWII | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Home Sweet Home…or was it?


Nancy Jardine

This post is by Nancy Jardine.

You’ll find a multitude of sayings about ‘home’ on the internet. These few are particularly useful for my topic today.  Home is where the heart is.  Pliny the Elder; He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; A man’s home is his castle. Proverb

We all know of the huge variety of domiciles that we could call home, nowadays, but an assortment of architectural house styles wasn’t always the norm. As a hobby historian, I’m quite fascinated by the earliest types of habitation and the effort it took to create them. (Admittedly, I’m more familiar with the most primitive dwellings in my homeland area of Scotland than those in other parts of the globe.)

Skara Brae

Skara Brae 1989

I’ve crawled into a reconstruction of a Hunter Gatherer’s hide but that’s not quite the same as walking your way around someone’s home that’s connected to others, making them into a tiny communal hamlet. Probably the earliest type of collective living I’ve wandered around were the homes of Stone Age Neolithic people on the island of Orkney at Skara BraeWhat remains of these stone dwellings from c. 5000 years ago is totally remarkable, though only because they lay under sand dunes for millennia before the wind and waves uncovered them in the mid 19th century.

skara Brae 2

Skara Brae 1989

At Skara Brae we can envisage a day in the life of the people. The delineated areas of the homes (minus original roofs) are easily visible as in a ‘bird’s eye view’. Their cupboards are built into the wall, the fireplace is central and their sleeping cots are blocked off with large slabs. There is even a built-in channel that is essentially primitive drainage, as in for toilet use: functional but effective buildings.

Were the Skara Brae houses fortified in any way? It doesn’t seem the case but there are some new theories going around (resulting from recent excavation) that the nearby timber/standing stone circles in the Orkney Isles may have had a community aspect to their construction.

Ring of Brodgar wiki

Ring of Brodgar

It’s now believed by some current archaeologists that the earliest of these stone henges at the Ness of Brodgar pre-date that of Stonehenge in England and that the culture of building such henges may have travelled southwards, rather than northwards. Regardless of the direction of architectural influence, the massive wooden and stone circles were most likely built for religious observance and for people to congregate for positive reasons without the need for defence from outside entities, as in human raiders. Some archaeologists now think there was a religious community living alongside the henge monument at the Ring of Brodgar, though the type of dwelling is unknown, as is any need for defence. (A recent BBC programme covered the issues-albeit a little dramatically and some critics might say fancifully. )

On mainland Scotland, Bronze Age and Iron Age tribes seemed to have mainly lived in Hut Circles, some with stone foundations (probably where wood was less available) and the bulk in wooden ‘Celtic’ Roundhouses. There’s sufficient evidence around Scotland for some variety in shape – some were oval though most were circular.  Some individual roundhouse dwellings have been found but it was more common for them to have been erected in a small cluster situated near strip- field farms.


Crannog- Nancy Jardine

Crannog dwellings, similar to roundhouse construction, though built on wooden platforms are a fine example of Bronze and Iron Age living. By the time crannogs were erected out over the water of inland lochs they were probably fortifying themselves mainly from marauding wild animals rather then marauding tribesmen. However, along with the Bronze Age and Iron Age technology—effective weaponry in particular—there came a greater need for tribespeople to defend themselves.


Mousa shetlands wiki

Broch of Mousa, Shetland Isles – Wikimedia commons

I’m currently very interested in a type of dwelling that’s almost exclusively found in Scotland – the Broch. But was it Home Sweet Home or not? Broch building is very difficult to define. Until recently not enough time or effort was given to investigating this unique style of building. Broch remains are found in southern Scotland but the bulk are to be found in northern Scotland, the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.


So how does a Broch differ from a Celtic roundhouse, or from a crannog? A Broch is a massive drystone built hollow-walled tower. Some of these towers were thought to have been as high as 50 feet with walls of around 4 feet thick- like the Broch of Mousa in Shetland. Staircases wind their way up the hollow wall structure to give access to upper levels and some of the evidence shows there could have been multiple platforms, circular balconies or partial floors, inside a broch.

Dun Carloway steps wiki

Dun Carloway -Wikimedia Commons

Many brochs are thought to be from the Neolithic period but intriguingly others situated towards the south of Scotland have been dated to 1st century AD, during the Roman occupation.  Brochs have no windows and only one low entrance way so the interior would have been extremely dark. How damp they were inside, I don’t even want to imagine! What the roofs were constructed of is a matter of interpretation: possibly thatched like roundhouses. A corbelled stone roof is thought to be less likely, though that would have been a remarkable feat of engineering and the technique not unknown because Neolithic people used it in structures like the Maes Howe chambered cairn on Orkney.

Earliest archaeological thinking was that Brochs were built as a defensive structure but that’s hard to believe since there were no windows to give access for repelling invaders. Some experts then thought they were built more as a status symbol by the local chief to show his superiority in the region. However, some recent archaeologists aren’t ruling out the idea that people maybe ‘holed up’ in them like in a self-sufficient ‘siege’ when invaders threatened the area, and that they normally lived outwith the broch in some other form of dwelling house. I’m not sure I’d want to be inside one for months on end.

The theories are all fascinating conjecture! I’ve been following a Facebook page named the Caithness Broch Project which has an aim of properly identifying the multitude of Brochs that litter Caithness. They also intend to build a replica Broch to satisfy the curiosity of tourists like me. I’m eagerly waiting for that to be built so that I can pop up and visit it though that’s likely to mean a 400 mile round trip for me.

That’s enough on brochs from me- What is your favourite ‘Home Sweet Home’?


Nancy Jardine writes historical and contemporary novels. Find her at the following:

Blog:  Website:   Facebook: &

email:  Twitter @nansjar

Amazon Author page Her novels are also available via Smashwords, B&N, KOBO, AppleItunes and other ebook stores.

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Elusive peace…

Mike Staton

This post was written by Mike Staton.

In late 1864 and January 1865, two American Presidents on the continent – Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis — used back-channel contacts to try to negotiate an armistice and peace agreement that would end the Civil War.

Early efforts had failed, but Lincoln, haunted by all the killings, kept hoping to restore the Union short of a total annihilation of the Southern states in rebellion. But he faced radicals in his own party – Republicans – who wanted to punish the South and inflict hardships on Southerners via military occupation and reconstruction.


In some newspapers of the era, this is how Lincoln was portrayed compared to the Confederate peace delegation. Who do you think held all the cards?

As the two presidents tried to set up a peace meeting, they were having trouble getting past two preconditions, one by Lincoln and one by Davis. Lincoln required the states in rebellion to lay down their arms and agree to rejoin the Union. Davis insisted the Northern government recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation.

With two such conditions, it hardly seemed possible a peace meeting could ever take place. Yet it did – on February 3, 1865, aboard Lincoln’s personal steamship, the River Queen, moored at Hampton Roads, Virginia. I thought it would be intriguing to have Captain Bill Stamford, assigned to the Confederate War Department in Richmond, on the River Queen for that conference. After all, one of Bill’s bosses, Assistant Secretary of War John Campbell, was one of the Southern commissioners.

I’m now writing the outline for the chapters covering the peace conference. It has turned out to be more difficult and complicated than I expected. The Machiavellian maneuverings plotted by Northern and Southern politicians are too byzantine. The discussions at that peace meeting aboard Lincoln’s ship may prove too tedious for the reader more interested in adventure and sex.

Appromattox Plantation Manorhouse

This is the Appomattox manor house, Grant’s headquarters during the Petersburg siege in 1864 and 1865. Grant wined and dined the Confederate peace commissioners before sending them on to meet with Lincoln aboard his boat. 

I’ve had to rewrite the outline for those chapters dealing with the Hampton Roads conference as I’ve learned more about those negotiations. My earlier versions were based on overviews I found on the Civil War Trust and Encyclopedia Virginia websites. I’ve since come across the writings of Campbell and another of the Confederate delegates, Vice President Alexander Stephens. They shifted me away from doing a scene on the River Queen.

I know the Confederate peace commissioners in late January wheeled through Confederate and Yankee lines to General Grant’s headquarters at City Point. At first I thought the details were ironed out and they moved smoothly through the lines. Upon further reading, it turned out not to be the case. Grant was still up north visiting his wife and kids, so he couldn’t tell Union General Edward Ord to send the Confederates through the Federal lines to his headquarters. Instead, Lincoln got involved and eventually telegraphed Ord to send the Confederate peace commissioners through the lines to Grant’s headquarters. It was an unexpected delay revealing that Lincoln was still debating whether or not to meet with them.

Julia, Jesse and Grant

This is an entrance to a cabin at City Point, Virginia, where General Grant, his wife Julia and boy Jesse lived at various times during the Petersburg siege. I put Julia in one of my scenes, since I found her a fascinating woman.

Historical details are sketchy on the mode of transportation used to get to City Point, so I decided to put the CSA delegation in buggies. The eventual passage through the lines and the trip to City Point will be my first scene. It has some drama. Confederate and Union troops cheered when the delegates passed through. One historical account said they were shouting, “Peace! Peace! Peace!” I want to use the buggy ride as a way to use dialogue between Bill, his buddy Charlie and Campbell to discuss their hopes and fears for the peace conference and the future.

When I get Bill and Charlie to Grant’s headquarters, I intend to continue exploring the hopes and fears and the overall difficulty of negotiating a war-ending peace treaty. Grant put on a full-on charm offensive, wining and dining the Confederate delegates, then telegraphing Lincoln that they were open to restoration of the Union. So Lincoln agreed to meet with them. Grant liked having his wife Julia with him, and I’ve seen photos of them and their son Jesse at City Point. Julia Grant is an intriguing woman, one caught between her husband, commander of all U.S. armies, and her father, a fanatical supporter of the Confederacy. She’s very much like Bill, who has an Ohioan mother and a Tar Heel father. I’m convinced Julia and Bill need to have a heart-to-heart chat about a divided nation, divided families and the issue that split the nation apart – slavery. The Missouri woman had a worrisome time releasing her household help, all slaves. That’s right… the future first lady early in the war didn’t want to give up her slaves.

John Archibald Campbell

This bald gentleman is John Campbell, one the peace delegates and Assistant Secretary of War for the Confederacy. He’s one of Bill’s bosses, and I put him in a scene so he, Bill and Bill’s buddy Charlie can discuss if a negotiated peace is possible.

There’s another scene I want to do. It’ll take place back in Richmond inside the apartment of Bill and his wife Franny. Bill will reveal the results of the peace meeting to her, and then he’ll tell her that he expects to be ordered into the trenches. He knows Grant will soon launch his spring offensive that will likely lead to the fall of Richmond and Petersburg. Franny will be furious. She worked hard to get Bill the War Department job. He has already suffered a shell-fragment wound that required surgery and recuperation back in North Carolina. With the war all but over, she fears her new husband will die – and for nothing.

Franny won’t be right about Bill dying. But ten thousand Confederate and Union troops will die in those last weeks of the war. Those cheers when the peace commissioners went through Confederate and Yankee lines went for nothing.

# # #

I’m an author with three fantasy novels to my credit – The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. The books make up a trilogy titled Larenia’s Shadow. A fourth novel, this one a historical romance set during the Civil War, is scheduled for publication in October. It’s called Blessed Shadows Dark and Deep. All my novels can be purchased via the website of my publisher, Wings ePress, as well as the websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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Singing for Spring

Gayle and Mary_river walkThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

Many signs of spring greeted me while visiting my parents in Montana last weekend, including lilacs blooming in neighborhoods and the weeping birch in my parents’ front yard displaying fresh, green palmate leaves. Outside of town yellow balsam root and purple lupine flaunted their wild regalia, emerald meadows carpeted hillsides under still snowy mountain peaks, and bank-filled rivers rushed across fields and forests from snowmelt.

The season’s majesty laced with bird life. Turkeys scratched in sheep-filled pastures. Sandhill crane parents with their young sought bugs for breakfast in farmers’ fields. Robins hunted worms on lawns and harrier hawks soared in the sky, seeking mice and rabbits for lunch. Songbirds of all sorts fed at feeders and sang from hedgerows while ring-necked pheasants searched for grain and other tasty tidbits along roadsides. The music of the nature, from flowing fountains to bird song, echoed across Wyoming and Montana, choruses of the landscape cascading with new-season abundance.

owletts_100 dpiI walked my friends’ ranch outside of Kaycee, staying one night along my journey north. A mother owl’s hoot took me to a tree where I’d observed her last month as she sat on a nest. This time, three owlets stared at me, peering with curiosity and alertness with large amber eyes. The fledglings, which were likely just tiny nestlings unable to hop out of the tree’s crevice in April, now perched on the cottonwood’s branches. Downiness still covered parts of their bodies, but wing bars were also apparent, indicating flying lessons on the nearby horizon. Mother’s vigilant hoots reverberated from a nearby tree as she eyed me suspiciously and cautioned her youngsters.

crane parents and chicks.jpgThe following day in Montana, bird calls continued as I observed crane parents with two chicks in a field about 20 miles from my parents’ home. The adults’ warning call kept the two youngsters close to them; all four trotted across the field to find safer sanctuary from peering human eyes on the highway.

Songs of spring persisted through the weekend as I listened to and observed wrens, red finches, and robins in my parents’ yards as well as the nearby town park. Swallows also made appearances, much like actors returning from hiatus, staking out territory for the best bird house, while sparrows also tried to reserve seasonal housing. The warbling wrens and finches courted partners, serenading from sprigs of caragana hedges and nearby power lines.

finches_100 dpi.jpgI listened, watched, walked, and photographed, enjoying the splendor of the season. I reminisced with my mother about my growing up years and our little farm in Iowa as well as the years I had also lived in Montana. We talked of nature’s impact upon our spirits and our lives, of family heritage and history, of the joys of the past and present and of what likely lies ahead in the future. Dad and I continued planning our summer trip to Alaska, and mom and I shared walks through town and drives to the countryside. The splendor of nature entwined with relaxation and reflection, generating monumental moments of joy.

Just as nature sang its song of spring, so, too, did my heart.

Wren singing


Gayle_CHS booktable34Gayle M. Irwin is an award-winning Wyoming writer. She is the author of several inspirational pet stories for children and adults, and she freelances for newspapers and magazines. Gayle has contributed stories to six different Chicken Soup for the Soul books, including the 2014 release The Dog Did What? and last year’s release The Spirit of America, in which she writes about America’s national parks. She supports various pet rescue organizations with contributions from her book sales. Learn more about Gayle and her writing and speaking endeavors at


Mary book cover     Sage Finds Friends_front cover   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014  Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover   cody-cabin-cover2   bookcover_tail-tales_front-cover   Chicken Soup_DogDidWhat_Cover   Spirit of America book

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Seize the Moment by Cher’ley


This blog by Cher’ley Grogg

A young soldier and his commanding officer got on a train together. The only available seats were across from an attractive young women who was traveling with her grandmother. As they engaged in pleasant conversation, the soldier and the young woman kept eyeing one another; the attraction was obviously mutual. Suddenly the train went into a tunnel and the car became pitch black.

Immediately two sounds were heard: the “smack” of a kiss, and the “whack” of a slap across the face. The grandmother thought “I can’t believe he kissed my granddaughter, but I’m glad she gave him the slap he deserved.”

The commanding officer thought, “I don’t blame the boy for kissing girl, but it’s a shame that she missed his face and hit me instead.”

The young girl thought, “I’m glad he kissed me, but I wish my grandmother hadn’t slapped him for doing it.”

And as the train broke into the sunlight, the soldier could not wipe the smile off his face. He had just seized the opportunity to kiss a pretty girl and slap his commanding officer and had gotten away with both!

Now, that young soldier knew how seize the opportunity! In the same way, we must take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way to fulfill our purpose in life.

Unfortunately, many times we get so caught up in the details of every day to day living that we just don’t have the time to seize the moment!

My work days have filled my time. I drive 11 hours a day, get a bite to eat, and drop into bed. When I’m not driving, eating, and sleeping—I’m cleaning the truck, doing the laundry, and shopping for supplies. I am determined to find some time to write. Optimistically, I bought my clogging shoes, and my watercolor supplies on the road with me this time. I haven’t had the time to do much of anything. That being said, this weekend I get to see my Grandson, his wife, and my two youngest great grandchildren.

Image result for Carpe Diem

Seize the moment. Sometimes we have to grab a moment here or therImage result for Carpe Dieme. I know each person reading this is probably doing the same thing. No matter your interest, life gets in the way.


Do the characters in a book seize the moment? I think they do. I am working on the sequel to “Stamp Out Murder”, “Cancel Out Murder” and the main character is seizing the moment. After all the calamity, and uproar over the murder, he tries to concentrate on a pre-planned fishing trip. I’m hoping to finish this book by the end of the year. In the meantime, James is busy learning to make friends and secure his love interest, and his interest in antiques, and stamps. He’s a major collector, and a crime solver.

Seize the moment. What catches your moments in between the adventure called life?

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 JourneyBack 3The Journey Back-One Joy at a Time and the B&W Edition of The Journey Back
Boys Will Be Boys   The Joys and Terrors of Raising Boys-An Anthology
 Cowboys, Creatures, and Calico 

All About the Girls 5(3)

Four Moons and Fair Ladies Four Moons and Fair Maidens

Memories from Maple Street U.S.A: Pawprints on My Heartlink coming soon
And 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
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Seeing 3 Dimentional

IMG_1663by Neva Bodin defines stereoscope (ster·e·o·scope ster-ee- uh-skohp,) as a noun and “an optical instrument through which two pictures of the same object, taken from slightly different points of view, are viewed, one by each eye, producing the effect of a single picture of the object, with the appearance of depth or relief.”

I hadn’t thought of my old Viewmasters as stereoscopes, but that’s what they are too. Anyone lost yet?

Without realizing it, each of our eyes sees a slightly different angle of everything, allowing our brains to form the 3 dimensional images of everyday life.


One of the image cards for my stereoscope. They look identical with the naked eye, but viewed through the stereoscope have amazing depth.

As early as 1823, a teacher of mathematics in Edinburgh, Scotland conceived the idea of creating a 3 D image to view on paper. The first stereoscopes were made of rather large boxes. Finally by 1851 a smaller hand held one was invented, and the one I have from my family was designed in 1861 by Oliver Wendell Holmes, when he was twenty years old. (Holmes went on to become quite a celebrated US Supreme Court Justice until he was 90.)


This is my stereoscope.

They are fascinating to look through and see how the image is set up. And of course, interesting to me also, because the images are of late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

The Viewmaster uses a round disc with pictures that rotates as you flip a switch on the side. Little stories accompany the discs. I have Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, The Christmas Story, Alice in Wonderland and more.


One of my viewmasters–like looking into a different world, or maybe Alice’s looking glass!

I also used the viewmaster to play nurse when I was young. In the doctor’s offices in those days, the nurse looked at your blood through a microscope and had a little counter gadget in her hand that she clicked every time she saw a white or red blood cell. Very untechy to today’s lab techs, but it worked. In my case, this act was usually followed by a shot in the butt.

When young, I pretended my viewmaster was a microscope and clicked the little lever as I looked into it and counted the cells of my pretend blood. That was when I wasn’t playing a teacher, waitress, housewife or preacher. (Amazing I had no trouble choosing my career of nursing.)

As I thought of the ingenuity of people who invented these devices I thought of how we need to remember we see everyone and everything at a little different angle by each eye. And instead of allowing our brain to combine these angles into one impression, perhaps we should evaluate our image of others a bit. Even the characters in our lives and stories. Perhaps while our brain combines the physical image into one 3-D visual impression, we should train our brains to work on the emotional or subjective image of the person or situation we see. Consider them from different angles.


The apparent father coming around the corner has a sizable stick in his hand. I hear the “whack” coming.

I know, it’s a bit of a stretch to see the simile, but there’s where my brain went.

And maybe we already do. For we create 3-D images of people in our stories—no one being totally good or bad usually, unless we plan it that way. We want people to identify with our characters, so they must have depth, even if they are shallow sometimes.

Have I lost anyone again? Anyway, just some random thoughts as I gazed at pictures through my stereoscope tonight, and then dug out my Viewmastsers (I have two). Nostalgia and amazement at the human mind that is always inventing, be it good or bad.

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