Reflections: Looking Back and Moving Ahead

Gayle_BozemanFamilyChristian_smallThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

Last week another year passed, and I turned 53. I recall being told antiques are things that are 50+ years old, so I guess I’m now an official antique!

I took a few moments on my birthday to reflect upon my life. Some memories weren’t the best: hurt from past relationships, including work-related associations, death of beloved friends and family … but other memories were wonderful: camping and fishing trips with my parents, walking the stage to receive my bachelor’s degree, visiting the ocean for the first time, listening to elk bugle on a September night in Yellowstone Park with geysers flaring toward a starry sky, sharing food and fodder with girlfriends, my wedding day with Greg… Then of course, there are the publications: articles in newspapers and magazines, stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and the books and booksignings as well as the school visits with Sage. Memories, good and not-so-good, can roll in like a tidal wave.

School Kids_Mary
Gayle and Mary at school.

My “special day” can be a bummer because Sage died the day before my birthday, two years ago. In fact, I remember feeling overwhelmingly sad last year, but this year, though I could have traveled down that same sad trail, I found myself in a classroom of kindergarteners with Mary, the springer spaniel Greg and I adopted last year. I talked with the kids about taking care of pets, about Mary and her story of losing her special person, and of Sage’s passing – then I read my book Sage Learns to Share. We talked about how special our pets are and how they help us. Even with Sage’s passing, she still impacts kids with lessons of friendship, courage, perseverance, and acceptance of differences … and I smile despite the fact I still miss her greatly. Having Mary helps, and I’m thankful she’s as good with kids as Sage was – the kids can learn from both dogs simultaneously, and I get to be part of that – what an amazing journey!

Friendship was evident in my human relationships as well last week, as many friends sent me wonderful greetings, and my colleagues at the office gave me roses and wrote encouraging words on a lovely card. True friendship is an amazing gift!

BDayRoses 2014My husband, too, gave me a beautiful card and made me a special dinner, and we watched my favorite TV show together with the dogs between us. My cup-of-life truly overflowed!

I called my parents and did something I’ve been thinking about for a long time: I thanked them for being such supportive, loving parents, for setting my feet on a good path, and for always being there to cheer me on and to catch me when I fall. The three of us were choked up as I hung up the phone. I give my husband credit for this part – he wrote his parents a wonderful, loving letter last fall to thank them for raising him (and his siblings) as they did. His words touched their hearts … and mine, and prompted me to do something similar. I thought a phone call on my birthday was appropriate – and I guess it was.

As we get older, we have more things to look back on – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. Hopefully, we won’t dwell so much on the bad and the ugly, but instead will cherish the good and the beautiful. We can’t change the past, and we don’t always have control of the future, but we do have the present – opportunity to relish the blessings we experience, and when we do reflect, we can focus on those beautiful, good things in our lives.

Grandma Mardy2
Grandma Mardy at 91 years old.

My maternal grandmother’s birthday was exactly a week after mine; April 1 will mark 115 years since her birth. Grandma Mardy, a stout German woman, died at age 91. Like Sage, she lived a persevering life, surviving the Depression, running a store and then a farm, and living nearly 24 years longer than her husband. She took her first plane ride when she was 80 and her third, and final one, at age 85. She possessed a strong faith and a fierce love for her only child (my mother) and her only grandchild (me). We shared many dinners at home and in our Iowa town, and when she came west to visit, I was able to share Yellowstone with her. Wonderful memories of a great lady … and great times together! She didn’t get to see me walk across that stage to receive my bachelor’s degree in communication, she never saw one of my newspaper articles or books, nor did she ever meet Sage or Mary, but she helped me with school expenses and encouraged my passion for pets – and because of my Grandma Mardy I finished my degree and eventually became an author of dog books and stories.

My latest birthday is now in my rear view mirror, but my freelance career is just beyond the windshield … and I have many people, and circumstances, to thank – the good and beautiful as well as the bad and the ugly … I wouldn’t be where I am today without them all.

Gayle and Mary at KnowledgeNook

Gayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Sage Learns to Share, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God. She is also a contributing writer to editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, to articles in Creation Illustrated and Our Town Casper magazines as well as the Casper Journal and River Press newspapers. Her future plans include creating newsletter and brochure content for businesses, writing more magazine articles, and authoring additional books. Learn more at

SageBigAdventureFront-small   SageLearnsShareFront-small  Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Walking_FrontCover_small

Judging a Book by the Cover


by Alethea Williams

I designed the cover of my first book with the help of my editor. I thought it was beautiful. It looked so classy to me. The tree picture was free from a stock photo site. The cover color I chose reminded me of antique, yellowed, handmade paper—perfect, I thought, for a book set in the 1920s. I wanted my grandma’s passport picture in an oval frame at the bottom, because her story was the inspiration for my fictional account of an immigrant’s journey to happiness in America.

51WyJNthFML__SS500_The comments I got on my perfect cover almost broke my heart. My father-in-law thought my grandmother had a mean look on her face in her passport photo. My son wasn’t looking forward to reading the book because he thought the cover indicated it would be a sad story. Everyone who reviewed the book assumed it was a true story because of my grandmother’s picture, even though I tried to be clear it was a work of fiction.

New Picture
Image credit: Jargon Media LLC

One of the editor’s suggestions was that I use a cover picture of an old house with lots of sunny blue sky. When I solicited comments from family, I was told the bright sky blue color indicated cheerfulness and hopefulness. I thought it looked spooky and abandoned, not the first impression I wanted potential buyers to have of the book, and so I discarded the blue.

I thought the book would have more electronic sales than paperback, completely misjudging my audience. I thought the audience for this book would read Westerns, and historicals, and maybe sweet romance. Sales were okay for a first book, but not great.

New Picture (1)
Image credit: Jargon Media LLC

If I had it to do over, maybe I would change several things:

  • Find a picture of a ranch.
  • Make my grandmother’s picture less prominent, or perhaps bite the bullet and leave it off the cover.
  • I think I misjudged my audience. Maybe I would try to sell the book as mainstream literary fiction, lower the price of the paperback, and really push paper sales. I don’t think the people who really liked the book read Westerns, or sweet romance, or even historical. I don’t think they own an e-reader. I don’t know how many times I heard, “My mom (or grandma) really loved this book.” If the reader was familiar with coal mining towns, so much the better. My aunt warned me she doesn’t read fiction, and she read it twice.
  • Maybe I would listen a little more closely to the editor, whose opinion I had paid for and who certainly had more experience in publishing than I did.
  • In thumbnail, which is how the cover is seen on most sales sites, my name is so tiny it almost can’t be read. I would make it bigger.

Perhaps part of getting published is realizing how much of our cherished illusions we’re willing to give up in order to see our name on the cover of a book. All in all, publishing my first novel was a good experience. I learned a lot. I sold the industry average number of books for a self-publisher. But, in the end, maybe I wouldn’t change anything. I still secretly like my cover best…although if I could sneak back in time and change the size of my name, I would make it bigger.

The author of historical novel Willow Vale, available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Jargon Media, Alethea Williams blogs on Actually Alethea about writing, writers, and Wyoming history.  Follow on Twitter @actuallyalethea, or visit Alethea Williams, author on Facebook.  Comments and honest feedback always welcome!

Bright Birds, Bright Ideas, and Brilliant Memories

This post by Cher’ley Grogg

My Mom loved birds, she loved everything about them, she loved the vivid or subtle colors, she loved their sounds, she loved their nests, and the little eggs that hatched into little birds. I’m not someone who can tell one bird from another, but I know a few of them when I see them. I want to know more. 

I fed my back yard birds this week, and ended up with a few that I had never seen before. These little creatures bought me great pleasure. Several times over the last couple of days I watched them peck away at the food. One day there was 5 brilliant red cardinals and one brown female with the orange bill and orange tuft on top of her head. I had blue jays, blue birds, wrens, a chick-a-dee and a red-headed wood pecker, among many others. I got some photos.

Whippoorwill Bird

Birds make me think of my Mom. When I was little, we’d sit on the front porch and she’d say, “Listen, they’re calling your name-Cher-ley` (accent on ley-kind of high shrilled).” I would listen and I could hear them calling to me. Dad always told me if I put salt on a birds tail I could catch it. My grandma said if children weren’t tucked into bed by dark the Whippoorwill bird would get them.  She had a willow tree and when that bird would scream, “Whip you I will”, we’d all (my brothers, cousins, and I) would practically run over each other to get into bed.

From birds I draw inspiration.

                                              In Stamp Out Murder and in my next book that will be coming out later this year Cancel Out Murder, every chapter starts with a description of a stamp, (maybe new, or maybe canceled) that’s worth a lot of money. Many stamps have birds on them. Can you think of a year where a bird was featured on a Stamp? Here’s a link to an Ebay page featuring bird stamps. And these stamps are now worth Eleven Dollars. Not a lot in the Stamp Collecting World, but a $9.00 dollar profit for the collector.

Birds calm my soul, God’s little gifts of joy to me. Is there an animal that has been a part of your growing up years? I lived in the country, so there are more animal tales I can tell about.

Stamp Out Murder”.

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

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

A couple of related articles.