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In Search of Authenticity by D.J. Niko                                                                                                                  

In Search of Authenticity

                                                                                                                                             by D.J. Niko


In writing believable fiction, research is imperative. Everyone knows that. But how far should an author go to delight her readers by making scenes plausible and characters authentic? I’ve always believed that firsthand research is best, even if it comes with a high degree of adventure (or, as is often the case, misadventure), so I try to visit the places I write about (yes, even the remote ones), get to know people of the cultures represented in my pages, and maybe put myself in some unusual situations, just to see what happens. No risk, no reward—right?

As an example, I’d like to share a story about a personal experience that informed one of the scenes in the first novel of The Sarah Weston Chronicles, my series of archaeological thrillers: The Tenth Saint.

In Chapter 7, Gabriel warns the Bedouins about an imminent sandstorm. As a Western man and a scientist, Gabriel knows with mathematical accuracy the storm is coming. The Bedouins do not listen to him, instead pressing toward the oasis so they do not miss their turn in the fertile lands. Sure enough, the storm comes, wiping out the Bedouins’ caravan and brutally claiming lives.

Describing this sandstorm in an authentic, realistic manner came naturally to me, because I had experienced it firsthand. I was with four friends in the Moroccan Sahara, near the Mali border. We had been traveling on camelback for about a week, heading toward an oasis to replenish supplies.

Just before dusk, we saw the cloud approach from the south and knew we were in for a long night. Typical Westerners, we covered our backpacks and camera gear in blankets so that sand would not get in. We had no tents, and there was no cover anywhere in sight, so we built perimeter fences from bed linens, holding the contraption down with sand bags. We were industrious. We were resourceful.

We were scared.

Meanwhile, our Berber camel drivers were calm as could be. Without breaking a sweat, they built a fire and boiled some murky water we’d collected earlier from a sand depression. They made tea and cooked some noodles. I shook my head. Who could think of food at a time like this?

The nomads were unruffled because they knew there was nothing they could do in the face of such fury. They couldn’t stop it; they couldn’t hide from it. So they went on with life. Whatever would come, would come, tea or no tea.

The sandstorm did come, and it battered our camp from sundown until four in the morning. It was the longest eight hours of my life. I still recall the constant grit of sand between my teeth and the violent stinging of my eyes as I lay there, in the fetal position in total darkness, waiting for the hissing to stop, hoping we would not be buried alive.

At dawn, as the shreds of our perimeter fence whipped in an errant breeze, we surveyed the damage. We shook pounds of sand off ourselves and searched for our belongings, which had been scattered by the wind. I recall inscribing “LIFE” with my fingernail on my sand-caked arm, in the same way you’d write “WASH ME” on a dirty car. But what I remember most vividly is Mohammed the Berber blowing into the belly of a meager fire, coaxing some flames, as if nothing had happened.

I learned something that day, and it is summed up this way in The Tenth Saint: “The way of the nomad is to accept everything as it comes: there is no anticipation of better days, no longing for the unrequited, no despair for loss.”

For my next book, the fourth Sarah Weston adventure, I have traveled to Morocco and the American Southwest, looking for the genuine soul of these places. Stay tuned for more on that release!

Daphne Nikolopoulos in an award-winning journalist, novelist, lecturer, and writing instructor. Under the pen name D.J. Niko, she has written three novels in an archaeological thriller series titled The Sarah Weston Chronicles and a historical novel titled: The Judgment (Medallion Press, 2016). Her debut novel, The Tenth Saint (Medallion Press, 2012), won the Gold Medal (popular fiction) in the prestigious, juried Florida Book Awards. The Judgment won a national Bronze Medal in historical fiction in the IPPY Awards 2017 and first place in historical fiction (pre-published) in the Royal Palm Literary Awards.

All four books have been translated and published internationally, and The Tenth Saint has been an Amazon best-seller in Germany. Daphne has just completed book 4 in the Sarah Weston series, tentatively titled Firebird.

Find D.J. Niko on FacebookTwitter, and

The Tenth Saint on Amazon


Hanging the Swags:The Art of Historical Fiction by Ruth Hull Chatlien

Hanging the Swags:The Art of Historical Fiction

                                                by Ruth Hull Chatlien

One of my favorite analogies for writing historical fiction is “hanging the swags.” My first two novels are both based on the lives of real woman. The first, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, is about Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, the American beauty who married Napoleon’s youngest brother and became embroiled in conflict with the emperor because of it. Her life is extremely well documented. The Maryland Historical Society has something like eighteen boxes of letters, account books, and newspaper clippings related to her life.

My second novel, Blood Moon: A Captive’s Tale, is based on the captivity narrative written by Sarah Wakefield, recounting her time as a prisoner during the bloody Dakota War of 1862, which took place in southern Minnesota. In her case, I had her own words on which to base my narrative.

For both women, however, there are plenty of things that historians just don’t know. No one’s life is perfectly recorded for posterity. This is where my analogy of hanging the swags comes into play. I think of the known events of my characters’ lives as metal brackets extending at irregular intervals along a wall. They are solid and dependable, but they often look rather sparse. As a novelist, my job is to fill in the gaps between those brackets with luxurious fabric, draped from known event to known event, filling in the blank spots of the story with imagined episodes and dialogues to flesh out the people I’m writing about.

As a historical novelist, I can’t just weave these episodes out of thin air. Rather, I must pull together threads of research and use them for the warp and weft of my storyteller’s fabric. Let me give you a couple of illustrations of this.

About a year after Jerome and Betsy Bonaparte’s marriage, they took a trip to Niagara Falls. Niagara was not the tourist attraction it is today. It was located in what was still wilderness. No settlements existed near the falls, so to traveling there, people had to be willing to rough it. The Bonapartes learned from Aaron Burr that his daughter Theodosia and her husband took a honeymoon journey to Niagara, the first couple known to do so. Jerome decided he had to see the falls for himself. From what I’ve been read, for the rest of her life Betsy viewed that trip as a wonderful adventure, but she left no written descriptions of it—at least none that survived. To tell that part of her story, I had to read the account of an explorer who traveled to the falls a few years before the Bonapartes. From his narrative, I was able to glean the kind of vivid details I needed to make Betsy’s journey come to life. For instance, I learned to my surprise that in the early 1800s, rattlesnakes could be found in upstate New York, so I made certain to put that detail in the story.

Sarah Wakefield’s written account of her captivity among the Sioux is a very short book that summarizes much of Sarah’s experience rather than elaborating on it. She states that she adopted Indian dress and customs to survive the war, but she doesn’t give many specific examples of what that means. One thing I did know about Sarah was that she was a seamstress who loved sewing and fashion. I decided to use this personality trait to develop her character. One reason Sarah and her children survived the war was that a Dakota acquaintance named Chaska took her into his mother’s tepee to make sure that she would be safe until the conflict was over. About halfway through her captivity, I portray Sarah as making Chaska a pair of beaded moccasins in gratitude for his protection. I don’t know that Sarah did any such thing, but because it was an action that combined her love of sewing with her survival tactic of assimilating, I thought it was an appropriate fictional episode to include.

Next time you read historical fiction, ask yourself where the author might have embellished the known facts with fictional flourishes. I’m certain that you’ll discover I’m not the only writer who practices hanging the swags.



Author Bio:

Ruth Hull Chatlien has been a writer and editor of educational materials for nearly thirty years, specializing in U.S. and world history. She is the author of MODERN AMERICAN INDIAN LEADERS for middle-grade readers. Her award-winning first novel, THE AMBITIOUS MADAME BONAPARTE, portrays the tumultuous life of Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson Bonaparte, and BLOOD MOON: A CAPTIVE’S TALE is based on the captivity narrative of Sarah Wakefield. Ruth lives in northeastern Illinois with her husband, Michael. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found gardening, knitting, drawing, painting, or studying Swedish.

Amazon author page:

Facebook page:

Twitter: @RHCHatlien


Writing a Horse-Themed Novel by Emily Williams

Guest post by Emily Williams –

Writing a horse themed novel
– a dream since childhood pony books?

Horses have been my life for a very long time, as has reading novels. My earliest memories were sitting on the Shetland pony that lived behind my childhood home on the Isle of Wight when I was around four years old. My Dad had started to make up pony stories to tell us, which my sister and I loved and I’d developed an interest in the pony. Then, trips through the New Forest (despite being kicked) to see the wild ponies ignited my passion for equines even more. Ponies and pony stories have always been a part of my life since these early years.

When we moved to Shropshire, there were again ponies behind the house, in a meadow at the bottom of the garden. I wrote to the pony’s owners but, sadly, she didn’t want any help with them. I then, around age ten, started visiting a local Victorian farm museum and became a regular. Soon, I knew the family that owned the farm well and was given tasks to help out with day to day running of the farm animals. I was also able to ride their Shetland pony, Neddy. Around this time I had a passion for reading anything horse related, from non-fiction horse manuals to billions upon billions of pony novels. Saddle Club and the Jinny series by Patricia Leitch were particular favourites.


This love for horses continued over the years, and I began to help with the farm’s shire horses and rode another pony, a piebald cob, as I’d grown too tall for Neddy. By the time I reached my teens, I was desperate for my own pony and started saving. My love for horse novels continued, however, I ran out of new books to read that were age-related. The horse whisperer became a book I read until it turned dog-eared!

When we moved down to Worthing, we again had ponies next to the house! It seemed like fate but also quite bizarre to find in the garden of an end terrace townhouse. I offered to help care for the miniature Shetland ponies before, thankfully, the owners re-homed them to somewhere more suitable.

It wasn’t until I was twenty-one that I finally bought my horse, a beautiful red bay American Quarter Horse mare Profits Red Ridge, aka Bella. She is now retired and has a Welsh Mountain pony Lucy, for company. I am unfortunately unable to ride due to an accident that caused wrist and arm problems, which later has developed into rheumatoid arthritis. Luckily, dictation software aided the completion of the novel.


Bella was the inspiration for the racehorse in the novel, also called Profits Red Ridge but what the teenagers affectionately named Minty, due to his love of mints. As an adult, I still miss reading novels about horses and I am open to any recommendations about good ones you find out there! Writing Rafferty Lincoln Loves… filled that void for me. I hope you’ll enjoy my novel too.


The blurb of Rafferty Lincoln Loves…

Rafferty Lincoln doesn’t like horses. Not one bit. But when the popular high school girl of his dreams, Liberty Ashburn, pulls him into a world of lead ropes and horse brushes, who is he to say no?

Except this isn’t any old horse. This is the missing racehorse, Profits Red Ridge. The horse Rafferty and three of his friends are hiding from the world. And Liberty Ashburn isn’t just any ordinary high school girl. How far will Rafferty go to win her over?

An intense, witty and powerful coming of age story with startling consequences.

Advanced reviews of ‘Rafferty Lincoln Loves…’

‘A heart-warming and emotional story that will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page. With one of the most beautiful writing styles I’ve ever read, an emotionally charged story and brilliantly created characters – this book is sure to stay with you for a very long time.’ @MegsTyas Between the Pages

‘A story full of heart, this took me by the reins and left me breathless.’ @hayleylipsquid Lipsquid Bookblog

About the charity ‘The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre’


The proceeds from the novel ‘Rafferty Lincoln Loves…’ will be donated to The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre.

BTRC is dedicated to improving and promoting the welfare of retired racehorses through education, retraining and suitable rehoming in order to ensure that our Thoroughbreds have a rewarding and valuable life after their racing careers have ended.

Each year thousands of horses leave racing, some because they reach the natural end of their career and others through injury or lack of ability. Established in 1991, The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre was the UK’s first charity dedicated to ex-racehorse welfare, retraining, rehoming and protection for life.

‘It is fantastic to see a contemporary novel for young adults embracing passion and love for horses, as well as advocating for their welfare. Emily’s fast-paced novel not only explores the relationship and incredible bond between horse and rider but also delves into darker aspects relevant to today’s challenging world of growing up. Rafferty Lincoln Loves… deserves to be celebrated for bringing an important cause to the forefront of today’s young adults.’ Frankie Dettori MBE

I am thrilled to have written this novel for the BTRC and to be donating the proceeds to such an important and dedicated charity for the welfare of retired racehorses.’ Emily Williams

Author Bio

Emily Williams lives by the seaside in West Sussex with her family and a menagerie of small pets. After graduating from Sussex University with a BA in Psychology, Emily trained as a primary school teacher and teaches in a local school.

Rafferty Lincoln Loves… is her first YA novel after the success of her debut adult novel, Letters to Eloise, released in 2017.


Confessions of a Mid-List Author by Susan Mary Malone

Confessions of a Mid-List Author

                                               by Susan Mary Malone


Publishing has changed drastically in the last two decades. I know—not exactly a news flash, right? But for those of us who’ve been in the trenches all this time, the speed at which that happened crossed our eyes.

My first novel, By the Book (Baskerville Press), came out in 1993, from a very nice literary publisher. And oh, the fun! Reviews and book signings and lots of press. All the trappings of what it meant, then, to be a real author.

Of course, this wasn’t my first novel written. Nor my second. But actually, my third. I cut my writer teeth on the first two 🙂

Two co-authored books of nonfiction quickly followed: BodySculpting: The Weisbeck Way (Eaken Press, 1993), and Fourth and Long: The Kent Waldrep Story (Crossroads Publishing 1996).

I was on my way as an author!

My books resided firmly in what the industry once called the Mid-List.

It was the backbone of publishing, as while big-sellers have always filled publishing’s coffers, the Mid-List was the bread and butter that backed it all up.

But a funny thing happened on the way to success.

As the ‘90s progressed, and into the new millennium, technology soared. What once was a very pricey process to self-publish, became inexpensive and easy.  Books flooded the market.

Year after year, the number of books published rose through the stratosphere. To the point that according to Bowkermore than 725K self-published works were registered in 2015.

That’s a whale of a lot of books.

And it ushered in a powerful sea change in this industry. Much of what we knew of traditional publishing simply drowned.

With the new millennium, the Mid-List author vanished.

Some genres still exist with journeymen writers, such as Westerns and category Romance, etc. But I write Literary Fiction, where the Mid-List ceased to exist.

I had two more co-authored books of nonfiction published, and another novel, I Just Came Here to Dance (which is still in print), by hybrid publishers. Different from self-publishing, these houses didn’t charge the author, but didn’t do traditional press runs either.

Still, my books saw print. Still, I was in the game.

Into the second decade of the new millennium, traditional publishing took a huge hit. Houses closed down (including those that published my books), combined, and greatly scaled back the number of titles published every year.

I’m also a book editor, and have seen over 50 of the books I’ve edited traditionally published, many award-winners, and some made into film.

Funny thing though, the editor side of me and the author one don’t really cross market well.

And as most writers know, or will soon learn, it’s a jungle out there trying to sell books!

Going through the huge change, however, was heartbreaking. I saw my fledgling career die on the vine. And watched other authors I knew and respected suffer the same fate.

Writing well is oh-so difficult. Delving into the publishing side of things has taken many a great writer to his knees. I can’t tell you how many I’ve known who have simply quit it. And I never blame them.

As you know as well, this isn’t an endeavor for the faint of heart. You truly do have to forge that backbone of steel.

Publishing is a fickle business. I know—not exactly another news flash! But no one can predict trends. No one has that crystal ball, showing us what comes next.

Not even my friends who are editors and VPs at major publishing houses. Many of them were taken every bit as much by surprise by the industry’s changes, and no one knows where this will all go from here.

But one thing I know for true: the essence still comes down to why one writes.

Yes, my heart was broken. Yes, the industry humbled me to my knees as well.

All of that, however, is on the outside. And we can’t control outer events now, can we. We can only roll with the punches as they come.

What we can control, however, is our own internal foundations. Because even though I wished things had worked out differently, and would by lying (mostly to myself!) if I said otherwise, the flame that burns so brightly within has never ceased.

Probably like you, I write because I love writing. Through all the ups and downs, through all the insanity, I kept writing.

I have a short-story collection coming out very soon from Dark Horse Fiction. Many of these stories were previously published in literary journals and anthologies. Some are new to print. But how wonderful to see them out again!

I finished another novel last year, and am going out to agents with it now. I’ve recently queried a few, and while none has taken it on yet, the rejections have been glowing.

Writers can live on those for a while 🙂

I’m also knee deep into a new novel. And, well, just loving it.

Because of course, as we all know, writers write. No matter what.

And it’s funny what sustains us, no? One of my fondest quotes is by Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet:  “Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must,” then build your life upon it.” 

Wishing you all the joy and passion of creativity.


Author bio:

Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, I Just Came Here to Dance and By the Book, as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, and many published short stories.  A freelance book editor, fifty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to Traditional publishers.

Channeling Coltrane by Lenny Della Rocca

Channeling Coltrane

                                            by Lenny Della Rocca


I seem to unleash lines that come from the ether. Many of my poems start as a musical phrase in my head. A little Coltrane at midnight is a phrase that came to me in the 1990s and ended up in a poem. I run with the initial riff. An exception is when I write something topical. After reading a Life Magazine article on the 75th anniversary of the beloved film, “Casablanca”, I knew I had to write the poem. It was a challenge to fit “Here’s looking at you, kid” and “Major Strasser has been shot!” in it. When I saw a mention of an annual meeting in Australia called the Festival of Dangerous Ideas—off I went—It’s now a book-length collection, and if all goes as planned it will be released January 2019.

More often than not, however, something comes over me—a spell, the Muse, a flashback—and that mysterious musical line imagines itself in my head. And as soon as I grab a pen (keyboard always comes after the hand-written first or second draft) it’s pretty much automatic writing and word association. I usually tweak as I write deleting words or lines that are uneventful. But before the juice runs out, I explore where the lines take me. In a blurb on the back of my chapbook, The Sleep Talker (NightBallet Press, 2015), Denise Duhamel says “he does what every poet (and driver on wet roads) should do—he steers into the skid”. Of course, too much steering into the skid could cause a crash. My dear friend, poet Gary Kay, tells me that I need to Slay My Darlings, and he’s usually right.

Once I have the first draft—like all of us—I begin editing. I look for a solid center, a location in time and place, and depending on the poem, I ask myself to whom is this being addressed? Who is speaking? Then I start removing anything that doesn’t fit what might be a theme, or central narrative. I ask what am I saying? What does this mean? But meaning is not always the point. I love obscure poetry. I love a mystery. (How many interpretations of The Beatles’ “I am the Walrus” have there been?) I air out the lines using leaps to suggest rather than “mean” as long as the language is compelling. This short poem of mine means nothing other than what it may evoke.

Eight Lines

Three ripe pears in the sun.

Smell of lavender in the dark.

Earth upheaved in the wake of a plow.

A triangle of birds in the sky.

Children under the spell of puppets.

Madness in an ordinary home.

The way history finds its way to your door.

Women who love girls and fire.


*Published by Every Day Poems, (2015)

One could argue each of the lines could be developed into their own poem. I like them as they are without exploring what they might be in eight different poems. There is, I think, something about them on the page, something magical. I don’t need to know what it “means”. My poem “Prisons” goes on for five full pages of anaphora: “A prison of 2s./A prison of angry ventriloquists/ A prison of spiritual sodomy/…” As in “Eight Lines” each line in “Prisons” could be considered a one-line poem. And it doesn’t mean anything. At least not overtly. There is something to be said about what it might mean in the subconscious mind, the dream-world. Readers should re-read a poem at least two or three times, not so much to get a literal meaning, (although there is that, too) but to let the “music” seep into the body and occupy a space where it meshes with the visceral and intellect. Poetry is not for those who want to be told something (although exceptions certainly apply). Poetry is for those who want to open their imaginations, to let the words and music move inside like lightning or a jazz.

Like most poets I write several drafts. I’ll put it away for a time and then go back to it. I’ll change lines around, take the ending and make it the beginning. Etc. Sometimes changing a word here or there makes a difference between good and great. I like to put two words together in the same line for contrast and surprise: “You are an infant, too, curled in the dark chocolate of history among proverbs and calculus, inhaling passages from the lives of oracles and thieves”—from my poem “History of the Invisible Child” (The Sleep Talker, NightBallet Press, 2015).

I’ll workshop new poems with friends and listen to their ideas, too. But too much work—shopping and/or editing can ruin a poem. As poets we must trust ourselves.  Often a poem just doesn’t want to appear. But I don’t throw uncooperative poems away. I put them in my Junk Heap folder. Every now and then I’ll go through it to find something I can shape into something acceptable. Mostly those poems live the rest of their unfinished lives in that blue box on my computer screen.

I usually write very late at night or very early in the morning. It’s 2:52 a.m. right now! I love a cup of coffee next to me at my desk; A brew for the muse. And when the jazz starts all I do is get out of the way.


Author Bio

Lenny DellaRocca won of the 2017 Yellow Jacket Poetry Chapbook Contest for his collection Things I See in the Fire.  He is founder and co-publisher of South Florida Poetry Journal: SoFloPoJo. A former president of the Hannah Kahn Poetry Foundation, his work has appeared in Fairy Tale Review, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Seattle Review and other literary magazines. His second book-length collection, Festival of Dangerous Ideas is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press in January 2019. Della Rocca has two other poetry collections.


From Writer’s Block to Half Million Words by S. S. Bazinet


                                                                                                                                            by S. S. Bazinet

An extraordinary thing happened to me in 2008! After almost twenty years of writer’s block, I couldn’t write fast enough. I barely slept, yet I was filled with a boundless energy. I went from being rather sedentary to walking three miles a day. And to my great surprise, I felt inspired to write a series of books. By the end of that first year, my word count reached 570,876 words. When I look back on what transpired, I’m still amazed.

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to find answers to life’s questions about why we’re here and how we can improve mankind’s plight. I scoured the library for books that might have answers. After many years of questing for knowledge, I tried to put my ideas and the things I’d learned on paper. It became a very frustrating venture. I could never get very far. I’d write a few pages, and then I’d reach a roadblock that felt impossible to breach.

Finally, in 2008, I’d had it. I gave up! Some part of me kept saying that I needed to write something meaningful, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do it. So I made a declaration to myself and to the “Universe.” I would write, but I would give myself a total break and just have fun with writing. A few minutes after that, I went out into my back yard and sat down. I put pen to paper. I hadn’t thought about what to write. I didn’t have to. A story simply flowed out on its own, a story about a vampire who wanted redemption and an angel who wanted to help him.

The strange thing is that I never thought about writing that kind of story. Why would I want to write about a vampire? A short time later, when I went to a local writer’s club meeting, the speaker was very adamant about the subject. He admonished all of us in a stern voice. “Please, don’t write about vampires! They are old news.” I tried not to be discouraged. I had to believe in the story that came to me. I knew was a gift.

I guess you would say that inspiration had taken hold of my writing process. By not having an agenda, I believe I allowed my spirit to come forth. By the end of one year, I had completed the first drafts of six books. It was a wonderful accomplishment, but so much more came out of the experience. The stories I wrote helped me to connect to emotions I didn’t realize I was harboring. By relating to the plight of my characters, I began to purge many of my fears and doubts. Later I learned that science had discovered that writing can help ease stress and trauma. Music also helped. I felt inspired to listen to music as I wrote. The music and writing combined to help me clear my negative emotions in a way I’d never imagined.

It wasn’t always an easy process. Many emotions surfaced, including hopelessness, but I hung in there. With a steadfast attitude, trust in my spirit and lots of prayers, everything slowly came into balance. Now, years later, I feel blessed and happy. I’m very grateful that I gave up my need to “push the river” when it came to writing. I’m grateful that I decided to have fun and open the doors to that light, bright spirit that resides in all of us. And guess what! It cured my writer’s block!

More about S. S. Bazinet:

Writing and my stories have been a wonderful, transformative process for both my characters and for me. My fondest wish is that they entertain my readers and also provide them with moments of clarity and a deeper connection to themselves. My books include The Vampire Reclamation Project series, the Sentenced to Heavenseries, as well as the YA thriller, My Brother’s Keeper, and a dystopian novel, Dying Takes It Out of You.

Author page on Amazon:





Below are some helpful articles on the benefits of writing and music:

Informative articles on writing and music:

“Writing To Heal”

“Writing About Emotions May Ease Stress And Trauma”

“Scientists Find 15 Amazing Benefits Of Listening To Music”

“20 Surprising, Science-Backed Health Benefits Of Music”

It’s All About Atmosphere by Gabriel Constans

It’s All About Atmosphere by Gabriel Constans

Some people like to do it in bed; others in a car, on a plane, or a train. A few prefer using other people’s houses, and caffeine addicts like doing it at coffee shops. What? No, I’m not talking about sex or eating. It’s all about writing. Well, usually.

You can see people going to retreats, or renting out cottages far away from there abode, or hanging out at Starbucks, furiously typing, looking off into space, or talking to themselves. You know these people. You may BE one of these people. For me, there’s nothing like creating at home.

Writing at home gives me a sense of security and safety, so that I can write about horrendous, dangerous, wild scenes, and acts, that I may never have done, or want to do, personally, yet the story, and/or characters, call for them to come forth and be manifested on the page (or screen).

I can take a break at home, without running into others, or being distracted from my train of thought or ideas. Grabbing something to eat is as easy as walking into the kitchen. Taking a nap, or reading someone else’s story, is as simple as laying down, or picking up a book. And, there are no lines, or waiting, for the bathroom.

There are a variety of places to write at home, including my desk, chairs, couches, in the garden, or in bed. It is also cheaper to do one’s writing where you live, as there are no expenses, or time, for transportation, workshop fees, or cabin rental.

Now that I think of it, it can be enjoyable to have sex at a restaurant, in a writer’s cabin, in a car, on a plane, or a train, but I think I prefer that most at home too, just like writing. If I plan it just right, I could write and have sex in bed at the same time. Ah, there’s no place like home.


The Last Conception was conceived and written entirely at home.

Gabriel Constans’s Bio:

Gabriel Constans’s works of fiction include The Last ConceptionBuddhas WifeZen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire, and Loving Annalise. Works of non-fiction range from A B.R.A.V.E. Year: 52 Weeks Being Mindful, and Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter, toLuscious Chocolate Smoothies, and The Penis Dialogues: Handle With Care. Gabe’s screenplays have been produced, optioned, and several are presently in development. Website:

Writing Suspense by Kathryn Gauci

Writing Suspense by Kathryn Gauci



Writing is a journey of self discovery for an author. I have just completed my third book and now realise that my writing is taking on a strong element of suspense. I didn’t deliberately set out to do this, I just knew I had a good story to tell. So what is it that makes me write in this manner. Perhaps it’s because, subconsciously or otherwise, that is what I like to read myself, whether it be historical fiction, crime or even a biography, I like to read something that takes me out of my comfort zone and makes my hair stand on end. A good suspense/thriller takes us on a roller-coaster of emotions and although we may think we know where the plot is heading, the twists and turns take us in another direction.

I think the art of suspense is like a slow-burn. It builds up and the reader is caught in the moment, unable to put the book down. At the same time, all the senses must be alive. Sight, sound, smell, taste – they all create the mood and add drama and emotion to the story. The reader has to be captivated by the protagonists and they need to identify with them, to put themselves in their shoes and get swept up in the unfolding events. If they care about them, they will care about the outcome. Will they survive and if so, how? Of course not every situation is life or death but the reader must still be kept engaged and guessing.

Alexandra Sokoloff says in her book, “Stealing Hollywood: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors”, that suspense is “emotional manipulation” so manipulatingany situation will increase suspense. She also describes pacing and rhythm as “a ticking clock”. For me, a good plot is like a painting, it has to have light and shade, variables which gradually turn up the notch both in pacing and emotion. A way to do this is by finishing each chapter with a cliff-hanger in which the reader cannot resist turning the page to find out more. By the time the ending draws near, the pace has quickened considerably and the emotions are also heightened. So far I have found that the ending of each book to be the hardest part to write. I can visualise the scenes but putting it into words is not easy and I believe that much of this has to do with pacing. We cannot let the pace flag and neither can we overly hasten it, or worse still, draw it out. A trick I use now is to just write it down and then pare it back by reading it aloud as if I were acting out the drama. The superfluous elements soon start to fall away.

And when it comes to the end, I dislike unresolved endings or ones that are too obvious and simplistic. As a reader I need to feel satisfied. It may not be the ending I was expecting and it may be subtle. That is fine but in the end, the story and the outcome have to be believable – “I didn’t see that coming” – or suspense falls flat.

If we can transport the reader away from the comfort of their armchair for a brief moment and allow them to live in another world tinged with danger and the unexpected, then we have succeeded.


Author Bio

Kathryn Gauci was born in Leicestershire, England, and studied textile design at Loughborough College of Art and later at Kidderminster College of Art and Design where she specialised in carpet design and technology. After graduating, Kathryn spent a year in Vienna, Austria before moving to Greece where she worked as a carpet designer in Athens for six years. There followed another brief period in New Zealand before eventually settling in Melbourne, Australia.

Before turning to writing full-time, Kathryn ran her own textile design studio in Melbourne for over fifteen years, work which she enjoyed tremendously as it allowed her the luxury of travelling worldwide, often taking her off the beaten track and exploring other cultures. The Embroiderer is her first novel; a sweeping historical saga set in Greece and Turkey during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire until the Nazi invasion of Athens. Spanning 150 years and based on actual events, it has also been translated into Greek.

Her second novel, Conspiracy of Lies, is set in France during WWII. It is based on the stories of real life agents in the service of the Special Operations Executive and the Resistance under Nazi occupied Europe. To put one’s life on the line for your country in the pursuit of freedom took immense courage and many never survived. Kathryn’s interest in WWII started when she lived in Vienna and has continued ever since. She is a regular visitor to France and has spent time in several of the areas in which this novel is set.

Seraphina’s Song, is a novella set in Piraeus, Greece during the 1920’s & 30’s. It is about the harsh lives of the newly resettled Asia-Minor Greek refugees in the shanty towns around Piraeus and a love between a bouzouki player and a night-club singer. It is the second in the Asia Minor Trilogy, The Embroiderer being the first.

The Embroiderer

Conspiracy of Lies Conspiracy of Lies (9780648123507): Kathryn Gauci: Books Conspiracy of Lies (9780648123507): Kathryn Gauci: Books

Seraphina’s Song

Seraphina’s Song – Kindle edition by Kathryn Gauci. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @

Seraphina’s Song – Kindle edition by Kathryn Gauci. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. Use features like bookmarks, note taking and highlighting while reading Seraphina’s Song.

MAKE ME LAUGH  by Kiersten Hall

by Kiersten Hall

The Fact:

Three or four weeks ago, I was asked to put together a piece on how to write humor. Here’s my advice to you…

The Reality:

Three or four weeks ago, I was asked to put together a piece on how to write humor. I figured that’ll be a piece of cake because I’m a pretty funny person, then put it on the backburner and went about everything else that was due sooner than today. Fast-forward to today, sitting in front of my computer screen… Kicking myself for not working on this sooner and realizing I may not be as funny as I would like to think I am.

Truth be told, I do my best ‘thinking’ when I’m either driving or right about to go to sleep. Or, at least when I think I’m going to go to sleep… Hoping to go to sleep, soon. Well, maybe.

I can think of every single thing I need to do when I’m behind my steering wheel, or when I’m tucked into my bed, but the minute I’m sitting at my computer, all sense of any purpose flies right out of my memory. Gone! If I ever need to remember what in the world I’m supposed to be doing, all I need to do is get into bed and see if it comes back to me – when I wake up two hours later.

Fortunately, over the past four decades, I have managed to put together – and remember – a few tidbits of experience which have become my uneducated but tried and true advice for writing (and speaking) humor:

1. You’re not going to entertain every single person, all of the time. As soon as you accept that important and key fact, you will be able to give yourself full license to write whatever and however, you want. Write what’s funny to you. DON’T try to be funny to accommodate others. Trying to be funny is unnatural and awkward; if it doesn’t fit the story/character/situation, your forced attempt at ‘funny’ isn’t going to work.

2. Pull your audience into the story – take them on a journey. Keep it real. ‘Real’ evokes imagery and memories for everyone. If you can get your audience to relate to you and your story, be it fiction or non-fiction, the appropriate humor at the appropriate time will be detected and accepted by your audience. Readers will be involved in your story; wrapped up, immersed.  If you can get your audience, be it readers, or listeners, to smile and nod their heads or laugh to the point of crying, you’ve got the art of humor down.  They’re going to keep reading to find out what else they’ll get to laugh about or relate to in your writing.

3. Keep your writing conversational: Be entertaining – not dry and factual. Use dialects and/or colloquialisms when appropriate. Bring in the human aspect: Use memories, the five senses, pauses (or no pauses), and short sentences – even when it’s only one word. Be willing to laugh at yourself/have your character laugh at their own self. Have a backstory to draw-in your audience who will be able to relate to the similarities in their own lives. It’s okay to be unsure of yourself; show that you’re human.

4. Be truthful; lay it out there for all to see and read.  People will definitely relate.  They’ll find humor in the fact that someone else, out there, is just like them.  Everyone is used to hearing excuses, coming up with excuses, for their faults.  In everyday life, people are not used to hearing or reading (and commiserating with) someone who has similar experiences.  Look at my first line under ‘The Fact’, and then the rest of the writing under ‘The Reality’.  My truth is, I’m busy.  But rather than simply saying that, or coming up with a publicly acceptable and generic excuse, I explained my action and took the audience on the ride between driving and sleeping.  I ‘veered’ (pun intended) off the expected path, and took the audience on a little side trip with me.

5. Speaking of little side trips, think of it more as side stories; you’re giving the background of where your thoughts are coming from.  Now, you shouldn’t get so carried away where your story has the duration of three trips around the sun, but you can throw in a little something here and there to mix things up and keep your audience on the trip with you rather than having them abandon your ‘story-wagon’ and jump to their deaths.  We don’t need anyone dying on your journey of humor!

6. Use adjectives – those wonderful, glorious, descriptive adjectives!  And be creative in their use, too.  Embellish.  Have fun with your storytelling.  You’re creating a whole world for your audience.  Be sure to share with them everything you experienced/are experiencing.

7. If you’re good at a particular type of advice, or you are known for some type of specialty, definitely use that in your presentation.  For me, it’s the ‘Mom’ thing.  The last line of point #5, I told you we don’t need anyone leaping to their deaths out of boredom.  You can hear your Mom saying that, can’t you?

8. View life in a different way; go against the grain.  While on your humorous journey, as you lead your audience down the intended path, throw a mental curve ball at them and snap them into another ‘space in time’ for a few seconds before you pop them back into the here and now, and continue on.

When my kids were toddlers, we would work on counting, and naming different items including body parts, etc.  I was very serious about their education and getting them ready for school so they could start Kindergarten, right off the bat, as little Einsteins.  However, the first few times they would ask for a cookie, I would hand them three and tell them, “One for each hand.”  Until they caught onto my teasing them (also teaching them the virtue of humor), my brilliant children would point out they only had two hands which prompted me to say, “Oops!  Then you’d better give me one cookie back!”  Laughter ensued, and they would quickly exit the kitchen with their prized extra cookie.

As another example, if you’re on FaceBook, you’ve probably seen that meme game of ‘The first 3 words you see in this box of letters is what your future reveals/what next year holds for you.’  My friends all listed words such as ‘happiness’, ‘fortune’, ‘money’, ‘luck’, etc.  For fun, I posted the letters between the words and an opinion:  Keetvozzt, Adokokva, Lyrumffr  (Typical, but still interesting.)  I received instant laugh emojis.

Walk the edge of reality and bend your audience’s mind; they will appreciate the exhilarating and refreshing workout received when reading your words.

9. Don’t forget to be ‘human.’  People relate well to others humans.  Whether they like them or not is not important, but quite useful, all the same.

10. If you’re new to humor, or you haven’t had much luck in writing humor, or you’re simply not a funny person, I would suggest assembling an audience of guinea pigs.  Well, not real guinea pigs…  It would be hard to get them to hold still and listen, or if you give them a piece of paper to read, they’ll only wind up eating it and…  well, you can use your imagination on what else they would do with your manuscript.  Plus, and let’s be real here, their only interest in you is whether or not you feed them.  Ideally, an audience of humans would work the best.  Most won’t eat the paper you give them, and you can reason with them to hold still and stay on task with the promise of food, later.

11. For a break from writing, watch videos of comedians – a lot of them can be found on YouTube or other streaming websites.  They’re the industry professionals of humor:  I think I’m funny, but they’re the ones with sold out shows at Carnegie Hall!

12. Lastly, if possible, have something ‘in the pocket.’ For a tight story which gives your audience one final laugh, bring something from the beginning of your story around to the end of your story, tying it all together, which will give you that bonus laugh and your audience a good, lasting impression of you and your work.

The Example:
Using the ‘Reality’ paragraphs above, the reader can easily pick up how I would normally speak since the writing is ‘real’ by using real stories. The reader is brought on a journey; imagery and memories are evoked, and similar experiences are shared. I have the short sentences, the conversational pauses, the self-doubt on whether or not I really am as funny as I think I am. Lastly, regarding the issues surrounding my lack of being able to retain information, I’m not actually trying to be funny – I’m simply ‘telling it like it is’; I truly do have a memory the size of a flea.

By the way, did you notice the last sentence was my ‘in-the-pocket-bonus-laugh’?

The ‘Backstory’:
The advice shared with you, above, comes from 33 years of being in the public eye in some form or fashion, mainly through self-employment and sales.  Jump back to the late 70s and early 80s, I was so much of a ‘wall-flower’, I was hiding between the boards of sheetrock with the wall studs!  I was not very interested in talking with anyone and was an extreme loner; very shy.  But, when I started working with the ‘scary’ public filled with strangers and then moved on to owning my own business, I quickly discovered if I wanted to pay my bills and eat, I had to talk with people.

To begin with, I wasn’t a very funny person.  I was an awkward and quiet child who had an affinity for Erma Bombeck at the age of five.  My literary preferences went from Seussical creatures with stars on their bellies straight to a middle-aged newspaper columnist turned author who wrote about life without sugar-coating her experiences; which, by the way, was a trailblazing accomplishment for a female all of those decades ago.

From there, preferring to a be a brainy, self-classified nerd complete with the over-sized plastic Liz Claiborne glasses of the late 70s/early 80s, I stayed away from people I didn’t know and read about all things academic.  You name it, and I probably know something about it…  Or at least can feign my way through a conversation without looking too stupid.  When I was forced to socialize with the public… and (gulp) talk to people… I used the ‘techniques’ I picked up from Erma’s storytelling abilities:  No candy-coating, tell-it-like-it-is, straight talk.  Essentially, I used comedy when talking with people; it broke the ice with all parties involved.  People’s social barriers decreased, and my self-confidence increased.

Society, for the most part, is used to public speaking/writing utilizing refinement, manners…  candy-coating.  But when we hear or read the truth about a subject familiar to most of us, everyone involved can be a part of the journey.  Whether you’re speaking or writing, the crucial part to conveying humor is engaging your audience and taking them along for the ride.

I’m sure you’ve already picked up on some of my inserts of humor in this writing – some obvious, and some not so obvious. Again, humor is universal.  Give it a whirl and see what you come up with; You never know what will happen unless you try.  (There’s another piece of ‘Mom advice’ for you.)

Thank you for taking the time to read my advice on humor. I truly hope my two-cents has been of use to you, and I look forward to reading your future writings.

Keep Laughing ~
Kiersten Hall, Author


Kiersten Hall has been writing stories all her life… in her head. She is finally taking the time to put those stories down on paper for others to read. Kiersten is planning on publishing one book per year, or at least, that’s the goal.

Most days, she can be found at ‘Command Central’ (her beloved desk.) It’s 7′ x 7′ with lots of storage, yet there’s only 1 square foot of space (on a good day) available for her to utilize due to all the stacks of ‘things to do’ when she has the time; which could literally be years from now. Command Central has been an integral part of Kiersten’s ‘Master Plan’ for taking over the world, which is currently going on 20 years. It’s seen a lot of work get done, and a lot of stories written. Kiersten is also a firm believer in the fact that ‘duct tape fixes everything,’ since that is what’s currently helping to hold her desk together, at the moment.

When Kiersten is not sitting at Command Central, busy at work, she can sometimes be found jockeying for rations of food in the kitchen with her two teenage sons or refilling her coffee IV tree. She does admit to having a plethora of hiding spaces for edible contraband (candy and other snacks which shouldn’t be consumed with a sedentary lifestyle), in the 49 square feet of her beloved desk. However, she also has her suspicions that her kids know exactly where those hiding spots are, and patiently wait until they are sure Kiersten has completely forgotten about the hidden treats, and claim them for their own.

For more of what Kiersten is up to while sitting at Command Central, noshing on contraband her sons haven’t yet found, please check out:






Current/Upcoming Titles:

* “I Do” Fifteen Years of Wedding Misadventures (June 2015 Release)

* Corner Confessions – A Novel (September 2016 Release)

* The Lies We Live… (January 2018 Release)

* …And The Burdens We Keep (December 2018 Release)

Note the physical and mental reactions you’re having when reading the excerpts below.  Are you smiling and nodding?  Heart racing?  Curious?  Have you been in a similar situation, or heard of a similar situation?  Are you flat out laughing?  If you’re experiencing any of these or other (positive) reactions, then I have succeeded in taking you on my journey of humor.

From “I Do” ~ Fifteen Years of Wedding Misadventures

‘Back in the late ‘90s, I had one wedding coming up which had two wedding coordinators working on it – same company, but partners.  I had worked with both coordinators, numerous times, but only one at a time; they were both working on this wedding.  As I have done with every couple over the past 15 years, I call the couple a week or so in advance of their wedding date, to confirm all necessary points and to see if there are any changes, questions, concerns, etc.  In this case, however, the two wedding coordinators were the contacts for this wedding, not the bride or groom.  The one coordinator whom I had dealt with most often was going to be out of town until two days before the wedding so, I called the one coordinator who was still in town.  I went over the contract and all the pertinent points including the start times.  Since the origination of the contract, the start time for this wedding was 6:30pm which meant that I would need to arrive at the church at 5:00pm to find a place to park, get a two-camera ceremony set up and finally, to look like I had calmly been prepared and hadn’t been sweating when the guests started to arrive at 6:00pm (I was eight months pregnant.)  I went over all of this information with the wedding coordinator and she confirmed with me the ceremony start time was set for 6:30pm.

There is no reason other than that by the grace of the heavens above, before I left the house, I checked the invitation envelope for a map to the church since the coordinator I spoke with couldn’t remember the directions, address, or cross-streets for the church.  There wasn’t a map so, I grabbed the entire invitation and figured that from the address printed on the invitation alone, I could find the church in this city.  If I had trouble, I would stop at a gas station and ask for directions or look it up in the local phone book.

By 4:15pm, I had just dropped my two older children off at daycare and got into line at a fast food restaurant to pick up something to tide me over until dinner which would probably be served around 9:00pm.  I was still 30 minutes away from the church, but had 45 minutes to get there.  No problem.  While sitting in line waiting for my food, I opened the invitation to look at the address of the church to see if I had any clue as to where it was or if I was going to have to stop and ask for directions as soon as I got into town.  To my horror, not only did the invitation not have an address printed on it, but the ceremony time was listed as 5:30pm!!!  (Just writing about this memory has elevated my blood pressure!)  Needless to say, I did not wait for my food, but instead tore out of line and screeched out of the parking lot and onto the highway as fast I could.  To just make things worse, this wedding took place on a Friday.

So, not only was I now running one hour late, but I had to put up with the beginning of rush hour traffic on a major trunk highway leading out of the city.  I had 30 miles to go.  I’m sweating.  I’m stressed and the last time I ate was around noon and I’m voraciously hungry (remember my eight months pregnant status.)  I’m thinking about how I now need to find ‘Holy Redeemer’ without an address and get set up within 30 minutes while the guests are sitting in the pews.  I’m thinking about how convenient it would be to find a parking space relatively close to the church since I have over 60 pounds of equipment that I now have to lug all at once rather than on a couple of trips.  I am thinking about how this could be the beginning of the end; my first wedding ever missed because the wedding coordinator confirmed the wrong time.  I am hoping that I don’t get a speeding ticket for the NASCAR moves I am making out on this highway.

I got to the suburb in 20 minutes flat.  I stopped at a gas station for my directions.  I first consulted the local phone book to get the address and then asked anyone within earshot where the address was located.  Some people looked at me with blank expressions and another was kind enough to respond with, “I think it’s down the street.”  Once the cashier was not busy, they confirmed it was “down the street” and over by five blocks.  I was back in the car at lightning speed (or as fast as a pregnant woman, who is freaking out, can move in the heat of July.)

I made it to the church after navigating around some dead-end streets and one-ways, and sure enough, found that I was not going to find a parking spot in this residential neighborhood.  The church didn’t have a parking lot and the majority of the guests had already arrived.  With all the time spent trying to find the church, I had just 20 minutes to set up before the bride walked down the aisle.  I threw caution to the wind and parked in a ‘no parking’ zone and raced inside with all of my equipment.  (Once again, the term ‘raced’ used loosely with the physical and mental state I was in.)  On the verge of tears and collapsing, I set up in record time.  The one coordinator whom I would have normally spoken with caught me as I was racing around and asked me why I was late.  I informed her that her colleague had given me the wrong start time and that only by a stroke of pure luck had I looked at the invitation to find the address and then had seen the correct ceremony time.  If I hadn’t looked at the invitation when I did, I would have continued to sit in line for my food and then driven down the highway at a respectable speed.  By the time I would have arrived at the church, I would have missed the wedding.’


‘While we are on the subject of releasing winged creatures at the end of ceremonies, dove releases are a popular touch.  I have seen many of these and all of the releases were quite successful – except for one.  The parents of the bride thought this would be a nice touch and arranged the release of doves as a surprise.  Typically, the bride and groom will each hold a bird and release them at the same time, but since this was both a surprise for the couple and the bride harbored this ‘thing’ about birds, it was planned that the release would be done behind the bride and groom as soon as they walked out of the church.

As planned, the bride and groom walked out and 10 doves were released.  The groom and especially the bride were startled and the crowd “ooohed” and “aaahed” and nine doves flew away gracefully.  One bird, however, hadn’t successfully planned its flight path.  The aerodynamically-challenged bird flew right into the bride’s cathedral length veil and then the excitement really started.  It was a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock movie ‘The Birds’ right there on the church steps.  The bride was shrieking hysterically and running around as if her hair was on fire.  The bird was doing its best to flap free of this crazed human being but was just getting further entangled in the veil with its claws and beak.  Meanwhile, the parents were trying to restrain the flailing bride to get the veil and headpiece off her head so the bird could free itself.

After what I’m sure felt like an eternity for both of the bride and the dove, the headpiece and veil were off her head and the bird was untangled and safely put back into its cage.  A word to the wise:  Always think through a plan before you surprise people.’


‘The other ‘joy’ of pregnancy, of course, is having the need to visit the restroom, often.  Actually, the word ‘often’ really doesn’t describe the situation.  It’s more like I should have just lived in the bathroom.  Besides the agonies of being in the middle of one-hour ceremonies, or two hours of nonstop toasts during dinner, or four hours of constant action on the dance floor, I’m reminded of a wedding I shot at a private residence.  The ceremony had finished, I had my equipment packed and in the car, but I really needed to use a restroom before getting out on the road.  I walked back into the house and the mother of the bride directed me to the first door on the right, down the hallway.  I rushed to the bathroom and thankfully found it unoccupied.  I opened the door and yes, it was a bathroom with all the fixtures including a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall window.  The entire wall was a window and the toilet was right next to it!!!  I desperately searched for curtains, a shade, blinds, something!  I hurriedly walked back out of the bathroom and again sought the mom of the bride to ask if there was a hidden curtain in that bathroom or something I was missing, or perhaps another bathroom I could use that did not have a huge window looking out onto a backyard where all 200 guests were sipping champagne and nibbling on canapés two feet from the toilet?!?!  I was dying; my eyes were starting to water.  She calmly assured me with a light chuckle that it was a one-way window.  I rushed back to the bathroom, closed the door, and then proceeded to make funny faces and gestured at the window to see if anyone would notice.  After assuring myself that no one could see in, I finally relaxed.  But good grief!  When you have to take care of business and there’s this huge window next to where you sit and you can watch party-goers chit chat, eat, drink, and have a gay old time adjacent to you – it’s very disconcerting.  In retrospect, it was funny; but absolutely unnerving, at the time.’


‘Continuing on wedding cakes, some of the cutest footage I have ever taken was of children, especially those who don’t know they are being watched by a video camera.  The true personalities of these kids come out when they are looking at a wedding cake, up close.  There are some children who remain standing three to four feet away from the cake table.  They have been trained well.  There are some kids who will get closer or will stand at the table’s edge and say nothing, but the looks on their faces are just priceless.  You just know they want to grab a handful and duck under the nearest table, and cram the cake into their little mouths.  Some, usually little girls, will stand near the table’s edge and point out the intricacies of the frosting and the decorations used such as fountains, staircases, motorized cake toppers, etc. but while never actually touch the cake.

Then you have the kids – usually the little boys – who dare to reach the extra couple of inches and actually touch the cake.  These kids are obviously in-training for their future occupations as agents involved in covert operations for a governmental agency.  First, they casually walk up to the cake and look around.  Some will use the ruse of looking bored and might even walk away with their hands in their pockets only to return within a minute or two.  Once they have established that no one is paying attention to them, whatsoever, they will take an in-depth look at the cake:  What part of the cake should they touch so no one will notice that the frosting has been tampered with?  How thick is the frosting, really?  Where are the supports for the cake?  (One must be sure it doesn’t fall down in the middle of the covert operation.)  Which way, through the room, will provide the quickest and cleanest escape route out of the immediate area?  One more check over each shoulder to make sure no one is looking…  Within a blink of an eye, the crime is done and the perpetrator is gone.  The child is back over by the punch bowl just looking at the foil-embossed napkins.

The perfect execution of this mission, however, begins to fall apart on subsequent visits to the cake because either all the precautions are not executed to the nth degree as they were the first time around and/or he has shared his secret indulgence with a select few of his friends, who in turn, have shared the secret with their friends, and so on down the line.  Inevitably, the mission is interrupted by an adult and needs to be aborted for the evening.  There are also a handful of kids who sidestep the attendant difficulties and just stick their fingers in and take some frosting, no matter who is watching.’


‘A couple of years ago, when my eldest son was four years old, I shot a wedding that had a single beta fish in a small glass globe surrounded by seashells and a handful of sand for the table centerpieces, at the reception.  At the end of the night, people were urged to take a fish home.  I was one of the last people there and the couple knew I had kids so, they urged me to take one, too.  Like a good Mom, I took a fish home to add to our happy little family.  The next morning, my son was all excited about the new addition and asked where it came from?  After I had explained the fish had come from the wedding the night before, he concluded that every subsequent wedding should produce some type of living creature, as well.  He would give me a short list of animals to look for during my weddings, and if I saw one, I should put it in my equipment bag and bring it home.  If all else failed, I should at least bring home another fish.’

From Corner Confessions – A Novel

‘“I hear ya’!” Jimmy said with a snort.  “I only got the golf cart ‘cuz I thought it would be fun to screw around on!” Jimmy confessed.  “But the only place I can drive it is out on the golf course now ‘cuz I once had it out in my neighborhood and wound up having a sneezin’ fit which caused me to drive the cart onto someone’s lawn and land on top of a prized rose bush!”
“Uh oh!”
“Yeah, everyone got into a big ol’ stink about this thorny monstrosity out in this yard!  So, my wife told me I’d better keep to a golf course so I don’t piss any more people off!” Jimmy said with another loud chortle as he slapped his left knee.
“How did the rose bush fare?”

“Oh, I tore it up pretty good; shredded it, as a matter of fact!”  Jimmy divulged while he continued to laugh rather loudly.  “Drivin’ over it didn’t do it any good, and then tryin’ to get off of it, well….  That definitely finished

it off!  Had to pay the neighbor 500 freakin’ dollars to ensure they didn’t make a stink out of it with the cops.  Friggin’ blood money is what that was all about!” Jimmy said as he leaned back in his chair.  “If that’s what those damn bushes truly cost, no wonder long-stemmed roses are always an arm and a leg when ya’ have to buy ‘em!”
“When you have to buy them?” Steph asked with an arch of her eyebrow.
“Yeah, ya’ know for Valentine’s and when you get into trouble and ya’ wanna smooth everything over with the wife,” Jimmy admitted.’


‘“Did you get to play in the NFL, too?”
“Unfortunately, no…  During tryouts, I blew out my knee right in front of the scouts,” Pete said, shaking his head and looking down at the edge of the table.  “Boy!  That still really pisses me off!”
“Yeah….” Steph started to answer in agreement when Pete cut her off.
“Oh, pardon my French….  I didn’t mean to swear.”
“You swore?”
“Yeah, I just said the ‘p’ word.”
“You did?”
“Yeah, how I still feel about blowing my knee out in front of the NFL scouts.”
Steph sat there for a moment looking at Pete with a puzzled look on her face while mentally rewinding through the few lines they had exchanged since he’d just sat down not 10 minutes earlier, and then she figured out what he was talking about.  “Oh, you mean pisses?”
“Yeah, I’m really sorry about that.  I should have said it angers me,” Pete said as he sheepishly looked back up at Steph who was smiling at him from across the table.
“That’s not a swear word,” Steph said, waving her hand through the air as though she were shooing away such nonsense.  “You certainly didn’t offend me.  Don’t worry about it…  I’d be pretty torqued myself if I wound up doing the same thing…  By the way, how’d that happen?”
“We were all running through some basic plays, and one of the guys decided to be funny and tackle me just when I caught the ball.  I wasn’t expecting him to do that being he was nearly 20 feet to my right a few seconds earlier.  But when he ran into me, he fell in front of me just as I was stepping into the throw, and I wound up tripping over his body and I landed just the right way to shatter my kneecap.”
“Oh, that sucks!” Steph agreed with Pete again.
“That was the ‘s’ word,” Pete announced as he smiled at Steph.
“What?” Steph asked even more confused since they were just talking about football plays.
“Sucked…  That’s the ‘s’ word.”
“Did you grow up in a strict house?”
“Yes.  My Momma made sure all of us boys spoke correctly and could spell, and hold an intelligent conversation,” Pete answered proudly, sitting up a bit straighter.
“Ah,” Steph acknowledged with a smile.  “In the household, I grew up in, your version of the ‘s’ word was not the same as our ‘s’ word… and no one had any problem using the more extreme version of the ‘s’ word, either.  But I will do my best to not offend you by my polished ability of being able to swear sailors underneath the table.”
“Weren’t you wearing pads and stuff when you were playing, though?” Steph asked while using her hands to motion around her body to suggest various football safety gear.
“Oh yeah, I was.  But for whatever reason, I managed to hit my knee at just the right angle at just the right place, and with all of my weight behind it….  Well, it just shattered and that was that.  The ambulance came and scooped me up, and that was the end of my possible football career, and here we are 13 years later.”
“What do you do now?” Steph asked.
“I work in the financial industry.”
“Oh!  That’s definitely different than a sports-related career.  Do you like what you do?”
“Yeah, yeah…” Pete said while he looked out the window for a moment and then looked back at Steph.  “Every so often, I think back to what could have been.  But then again, maybe it was better I wound up going this route rather than putting my body through all of that battering.  I still have my brain and spine somewhat intact versus if I’d been playing pro-ball all of these years…”  Pete began to trail off with his verbal thought and then with a wave of his hand and a long sigh, Pete confirmed his own destiny, “Ah, no complaints.”
By the look on Pete’s face, Steph realized he was sliding into the glory year memories of his youth, so she took the opportunity to change the subject.  “So, what brings you to this fine coffee shop to meet with me besides reminding me of my bad habit of being able to swear so well?”
“Oh, yeah!” Pete exclaimed, snapping back into the present and sat up a bit straighter.  “Yep, I’m here to tell you about what I did back in high school which enabled me to stay in sports for so long.”
“Did you inject horse testosterone?” Steph asked on a lark.
“Isn’t that what some athletes do to gain an edge over their competition?”
“It’s not?”  Steph asked and then suggested another alternative.  “Or was it horse piss?”
Steph caught herself and exclaimed, “Oh, I just said the ‘p’ word.  Sorry…”
On the verge of getting up and leaving since he had no idea as to how the conversation suddenly got routed to the bodily fluids of horses, Pete decided to give Steph one more chance to explain.  “I’m not following.  What are you talking about?”
“Extreme steroids…  Isn’t that what you’re talking about?”
“No.  I’m talking about…” Pete started to explain as Steph interrupted again.
“Hold on!”  Steph said as she put her hand up in between them.  “I have to tell you my disclaimer first before you go any further…  I’m a law-abiding citizen who would rather not hear about anything illegal done by you or anyone you know because I don’t want to be put into the position of knowing something that should be reported.  Cool?”
“Yeah, I didn’t do anything illegal,” Pete finally had a chance to clarify.
“Well then, good!  So, okay…”  Steph said while she sat up straight, ready to hear all Pete had to confess.  “Where were we now?  Was it horse urine?  Or were we beyond that?”
Pete, realizing Steph was more sharp-witted rather than confused, also began to find her rather congenial.  He smiled and pointed out, “You’re a funny gal!”’


‘“About nine years ago when I was the Best Man at my brother’s wedding, as a joke I asked my soon to be sister-in-law if I was designated as the Best Man, what was she doing marrying my brother?”
“And she answered me with something along the lines of ‘If you’re the Best Man, you’ve got less than an hour to prove it’ and that’s when it all started,” Weston confessed and then looked down at the floor, not necessarily with shame, but still looked down.
Steph didn’t say anything immediately which caused Weston to look back up at her.  From the contorted looks on Steph’s face, as she was trying to muster the right sentences, or at least sets of words to say something, Weston could see she finally figured out what he was talking about.  After nearly a minute of silence, Steph asked, “How many women have you proved your Best Man status to over the years?”
“Total?  Or just brides?”
“The number is that high where you have categories?”
“Yeah,” Weston said as he reached for a sugar packet and started playing with it nervously in his hands.
“What are the categories?” Steph asked.
Weston looked up in the air and started counting on his fingers, “Well, there are the brides…  I can’t help myself with a wedding gown!  Then there are the Maids and Matrons of Honor – I categorize them as one.  Then the Bridesmaids but sometimes I have to card them.  I’m not robbing the cradle on those…”
Steph leaned forward and in a hushed tone asked, “Can I just interject here and agree with your opinion of being a cad?”
“Yes, you can.  Do you want to hear more?”
“You have 40 minutes left…” Steph confirmed as she sat up straight in her chair again.
“Then you have the Mothers of either the Bride or Groom…”
“What?!?!?” Steph exclaimed and she dropped her forearms onto the table top.
“And sometimes the Grandmas want to go for a little ride…  It depends on their age and agility, though.”
“I’m speechless.”
Flashing that devious smile at Steph again, Weston reminded her, “You have to remember it takes two to tango, though…”
Steph blurted out, rather loudly this time, “Instead of a Best Man, you sound more like a party favor!”’

‘Make Me Laugh’
All Copy & Materials Contained Within, 
Copyright 2017
Kiersten Hall

An Awful, Amazing, and Gratifying Privilege by Cynthia A. Graham


by Cynthia A. Graham


As writers I’m sure you’ve all been told by someone, “Someday I’m going to write a book.” I was once at a writer’s conference where a woman declared she had decided to write a book to pay for her child’s college tuition. It is nigh on impossible to explain to a non-writer how difficult writing is. They do not understand the extreme frustration of writer’s block, where it feels like you are being crushed beneath the weight of a story that will just not tell itself.

Conversely, they can’t feel the elation of those days when the words gush like a waterfall onto the page and you can exclaim, “the thing has legs!” It is a great understatement to say that writers are misunderstood. We are judged by an income that cannot begin to compensate for the hours, the blood, and the agony of what the reader holds in their hand. Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “Easy reading is damned hard writing” and only writers can understand how true this is. Writers write, not for the glory, but because they have to write. There is no other way for them to process the world. To non-writers this makes no sense and writers are, indeed, a difficult organism to define.

My definition is very basic. A writer is a storyteller who writes things down.

In ancient times, storytellers were esteemed and revered for the knowledge and wisdom they possessed. Oral tradition was the way history, beliefs, proverbs, legends, and practical knowledge were passed along. Ancient man told stories because stories helped them to understand the world. And story is still necessary to teach human beings their place in the universe. Stories are necessary because lives are not made up of abstract dates and events, but experiences, achievements, and accomplishments. Without the recognition of the human person we become labels, objects, and things. As writers, we have a solemn vocation – the privilege of giving a voice to characters – characters that our readers fall in love with, characters that they care about and identify with, characters that help them gain a different perspective. We are responsible for humanizing these characters, and in turn helping the reader look at the world through a different set of eyes — and we are charged with the task of creating understanding and empathy. In fact our writing can bring hope to the hopeless, solace to the broken-hearted, enlightenment, and enrichment.

We are all unique in our experiences, in our family history, in our cultural traditions, and in the way we look at the world. Our uniqueness is what gives us our own voice. As a writer you must first ask yourself: What do I want to say? What do I want to tell my reader? Never forget that it is your story that you want to tell. Virginia Woolf once said, “Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.” Find your own voice. Don’t try and imitate other writers regardless of how much you admire them. The world does not need another (insert name here). I wrote Beneath Still Waters because I felt like there had been enough soldier stories about heroism and I wanted to give a voice to those who came home and never fully put the demons of war behind them. I wrote Beulah’s House of Prayer because so much of the dust bowl mystique inspired by John Steinbeck was wrong. I wanted to tell the story of the experiences of the vast majority of Oklahomans, those who stayed home.

When Ernest Hemingway came onto the scene he was a revelation because he wrote in concise sentences. In fact, William Faulkner criticized him saying, “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” And yet Hemingway’s style endured and he inspired many. I’m not saying any of us will be the next Ernest Hemingway, but I would encourage you, in Hemingway’s own words to “write the truest sentence you know.” It is your story. Say it I n the manner you want to say it. For me, writing is the equivalent to a bloodletting. It is hard, it is frustrating, it is, at times, agonizing, but we all know that it is something we are compelled to do. It is the most awful, amazing, and gratifying privilege I can imagine.

Author’s Bio

Cynthia A. Graham is the winner of several writing awards, including a Gold IPPY, and two Midwest Book Awards. Her short stories have appeared in both university and national literary publications. She is the author of three works of historical mystery: Beneath Still Waters, Behind Every Door, and the forthcoming Between the Lies (due out in March, 2018). In addition, her novel Beulah’s House of Prayer was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award.





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