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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Where the Heck is Mountain Meadow?

I am so excited. Special Delivery, the debut book of my new series, Mountain Meadow Homecomings, is just four weeks away from release. I love reading and writing series. I guess the real payoff for me is in being able to breathe an extended life into characters and locations like Mountain Meadow Virginia
So…Is it real?
The simple answer to this question is no. You won’t find a town by this name in Virginia. However, I will admit to Mountain Meadow being loosely based on several communities. The first is Meadows of Dan. This was the first inspiration for the town because I used to drive through this community along U.S. 58 as I crossed southern Virginia to reach I-77 during trips to visit my family in the Louisville, Kentucky area. It is a very picturesque area, and honestly, since they’ve constructed a highway by-pass around it, I miss winding past its collection of businesses. However, Meadows of Dan, as beautiful as it is, simply wasn’t big enough to accommodate my story vision, so I had to turn to other communities to help flesh out that vision of what I wanted Mountain Meadow to be.
I turned to a couple of towns in North Carolina for help: Yanceyville for its town square and Hillsborough for its atmosphere and thriving business area. Together, all three of these towns melded in my imagination to become Mountain Meadow, Virginia.
I also borrowed from Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for the county in which Mountain Meadow is located. For this, I researched the area from which my mother’s family, the McAfees, originally hailed more than 250 years ago, before they moved into Kentucky and beyond. Botetourt (BOT-a-tot) County helped me create Castle County, as much for government structure as its setting in the Blue Ridge. With a county population under 35,000 according to the most recent census, Botetourt was about the size I wanted Castle County to be.
If you have never visited the Appalachians, including the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, among others, then you have missed a beautiful and historic area of our country. There are still many areas nearly untouched by man. These are not the more rugged mountains of the western United States. Instead, they are aged and mellowed by eons into areas of lush, green growth, through which wind everything from tiny streams to rivers that can alternate between lazy to crazy in the span of just a few miles.

All of these areas are places I love, so I’ve combined them together to create a place I hope you, my readers, will also love—Mountain Meadow, Virginia.
Special Delivery will release on May 12, 2015, but it is already available for pre-order at your favorite e-book retailer.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

What's with book trailers?

Check out this short book trailer for my upcoming release of Special Delivery...
Special Delivery

I decided to play around a little bit with Animoto. I'm still not completely sold on the idea of book trailers, although I have heard from some authors who absolutely adore them.

This is a shorty...just 30 seconds long, and you know, that's okay with me. As a former TV news producer, :30 is a lot of time. The average television commercial is just :30. I have seen book trailers come in around 2:00 to 2:30 minutes long. Way tooooo long.

So I may play around with this, but I have to say, I'd like to see some hard data that these things increase visibility and sales because to do one right, it would require a lot more investment of time and money than it might well be worth.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Life's Little Blessings

As I sit here at the computer this Christmas Eve, unable to really concentrate on serious writing, bored with reading, and unwilling to do anymore work around the house, I have spent some time thinking back on 2014, only a week away from coming to an end.
It has been a year filled with change for our family.
My husband lost his job in February. While it has forced us to live on my income as a teacher and the royalties I make as a writer (not yet where I wish them to be!), I considered it to be a blessing. For the past six years, he had worked at a job far enough from our home that he had to live there during the week and was only home for weekends. Maintaining a family life long distance is never easy. It also brings with it enough increased expenses in maintaining a second household (even though his lodgings were rent-free) that I often questioned whether we were really better off.
Adjusting our lifestyle to such a cut in income has had its ups and downs, sometimes like the most insane roller coaster ride you can ever imagine. Yet each time that I have grown concerned that we couldn’t possibly make it through a month, somehow we did. Royalty checks, big and small, arrived just in the nick of time, or my husband picked up some freelance work that helped to tide us over. A litter of puppies brought in additional income.
We planted a garden, then added a watermelon and cantaloupe patch in a different location on our mini-farm. Plentiful rain and moderate temperatures provided us with an abundance of fresh vegetables and incredibly flavorful melons. A neighbor killed and butchered one of his steers and brought us a box of beef. Just before Thanksgiving, my husband expressed the wish that he could add a deer ham to our smoker, and less than an hour later we were hauling an eight point buck home in the back of our truck.
In May, I earned my masters in education. Thanks to a gift from two very good friends, we had gas money so we could attend commencement in Virginia Beach. The pomp and ceremony had a wonderful bonus effect: my son, who was not at all excited about his own upcoming high school graduation ceremony, suddenly looked forward to the event. The smile on his face after that ceremony will live in my memory forever. School was not the easy academic ride for him that it had been for me and his father.
With the change in his employment, my husband decided to take a hard look at what he wanted to do. He had already completed a course in fixing small engines, which—to my thinking—paid for itself when he was able to fix our riding lawnmower himself.  He is now back in school and has completed his first semester of a very fine gunsmithing program.
My career as a writer has continued to grow and expand this year. I had a book release under a different pen name in July, which has done very well. My next release as Laura Browning, Special Delivery, will come out May 12, 2015, and is already available for pre-order.
Just this week, my husband finally secured a part-time job that he can fit around his schedule as a student and as the coach of a high school fencing team. My son has matured during this year, now holding down two part-time jobs as he continues to explore what he would like to do for a career.
In all, though this year has been filled with tremendous change, it has also been filled with such timely blessings, I can’t help but believe in the divine hand of providence at work. Through the many adventures and misadventures during my life, I have always felt I must have a very special guardian angel. Now I am sure of it.
I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve. Maybe that’s a function of being a Lutheran, maybe it’s just my personality. However, I have spent many moments this year thanking God for his assistance in so many little ways. So this holiday season, when we think about the miracle of faith embodied in the birth of God’s son, remember that miracles occur every day in many little ways. It might be the garden blessed with good weather or a timely gift from a friend. It might even be that longer than usual wait in a checkout line that put you two cars behind the impaired driver instead of right next to him when he lost control of his vehicle and crashed.
As Walt Whitman says, “Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.”

So as 2014 winds down and 2015 begins, remember to look for the best in every situation. Find those little blessings that can brighten your day and help you brighten the day of someone else. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Love Will Bring You Home

Welcome to Mountain Meadow, Virginia -- home of some hot guys, some nosy church ladies, and the newest residents, Holly Morgan and her little brother. Oh yeah, and Holly's soon-to-be-born baby.

Special Delivery kicks off my new series: Mountain Meadow Homecomings with Kensington's Lyrical Press imprint.

I can't wait for you to meet Holly and the hunky cop who helps her out, Jake Allred.

Special Delivery will release May 12, 2015. It's available for pre-order now from Amazon, Kobo, and Nook. I hope you will love all the folks of Mountain Meadow as much as I do!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

One of my writer friends had posted a question on Facebook: “What did you really want to be when you were growing up?” I flippantly replied: archaeologist, veterinarian, horse trainer, and artist. None of my careers have taken me down those paths. I have been a television journalist – in front of and behind the camera. I write for money—more or less. I am also a teacher—not a career that I would have told you would EVER be on my radar.

However, my response to the question of what I really wanted to be got me thinking. I have done all of these careers. They are part of the everyday fabric of my life.

First of all, let’s look at archaeologist. One look around my house would be enough to show you that I am indeed an archaeologist. Just this morning, I excavated a heating pad from the hinterlands of my office bookshelf. Every time I open the refrigerator…well that’s an archaeological expedition in and of itself. Entering my teenager’s bedroom—need I say more?

Veterinarian, medic…Yup, that’s me. When you have as many animals as we have had over the years, particularly horses which seem especially accident prone, you have to a) be made of money, b) marry a veterinarian, or c) learn to do that stuff yourself. So, here’s a probably incomplete list of my animal medical skills:
·         Expert foot bandager – horse and dog
·         Expert “bits” cleaner – trust me, you don’t want to know
·         Can treat eye wounds
·         Worm horses and dogs
·         Dock tails
·         Remove dew claws
·         Give shots – IM and subcutaneously on cats, dogs, and horses
Then of course, there are the human medical needs:
·         Tick removal from places you simply don’t want to know
·         Road rash cleaner outer
·         Butterfly bandages for the “hell no, it doesn’t need stitches” people in my world.
·         Applier of splints, ace bandages, and masseuse
·         Bandage changer for the “hell no, I don’t need to go to the doctor” people in my world
·         2nd and 3rd degree burn care…see above.
So, yes, I have gained extensive veterinary and human medical experience over the years. My husband, bless him, has spared me experience in the one area I’m not sure I could handle—putting down my favorite horse and my first JRT.

Next, horse trainer. I’ve had horses for going on 30 years now. That doesn’t count when I was a kid. I have fox hunted, evented, and played polocrosse. I have remediated three horses who were petrified of getting on horse trailers. One horse had been in a trailer accident in which the trailer came loose form the tow vehicle (before I owned him). No, nobody paid me, but I ended up with lovely horses over the years who always managed to get the job done for me.

Finally, artist. I don’t paint, unless it’s a wall or a table. I doodle. However, there are other media – I have photographs, sculpture, and of course, my writing because it is also art. Over the years, with my son, there have been homemade Halloween costumes, grease-painted faces, clay and craft projects, and carved and painted pumpkins. This year, I might add watermelon jack-o-lanterns to the mix if our melon patch doesn’t hurry up. 

So, no, I might not have studied archaeology or veterinary medicine. I might not be training the next Olympic wonder horse or giving Rembrandt a run for his money. I have, however, enjoyed a very rich, adventuresome life that was never limited by believing I could only do ONE thing when I grow up. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Broken Heat Pumps, High-Stakes Testing, and Biting Dogs

Sometimes, life gets in the way of the best of plans. When my newest book released at the beginning of this month I thought, great! I’ll get a plan together to promote it, do some book giveaways, some guest blogging and all those other fun things.

Screech…. That would be the sound of the train derailing.

Somehow, my publisher didn’t get the word that the release date for my books was right in the final week of two simultaneous graduate level courses in which I had papers due…in each class…at the same time. Hey, that was okay. I got the papers turned in…just in time to have to push hot and heavy into prepping my high school students for their End of Course Writing exams. I’ve analyzed more reasons, evidence and counterarguments in the last month than I really want to see—at least until next semester when we’ll do it all over again.

So, while I was deep in the middle of reviewing parallelism and using specific vocabulary, I woke up one morning and thought, “Gee, it’s cold in here.” However, with a terrier curled against my back, I didn’t think too much about it, until I finally stumbled into the bathroom where I could hear the outdoor portion of the heat pump running madly, but couldn’t feel any air blowing out of the vent.
Not good.

The final distraction to promoting Broken Heart came from this cute guy whose picture you see here. Sweet face, soulful eyes. In fact, this is the little cutie who likes to curl up to my back at night. He is also the dog that my son takes great pleasure in teasing. This is not a good thing. Said cute, cuddly, worshipful Jack Russell Terrier is also a former abuse case. His previous owners saw fit to toss him out a car window, which is how we ended up with him. We quickly discovered he has real fear issues with men. It took him two years to warm up to my husband. He blows hot and cold with the teenager.
Which is why I usually find myself saying: “Get out of his face. He’s going to bite you.”  I don’t even stick my face in this dog’s face, and he thinks I walk on water, dance on the moon, and need to have him lying near my feet or sitting on my lap whenever I remain motionless for any length of time.

However, teenagers being the way they are. I don’t know what I’m talking about when I say: “Get out of his face. He’s going to bite  you.”

Which is why I spent Saturday evening wiping up blood, soaking a prized T-shirt in cold water, and examining my son’s upper lip to decide if it needed stitches or not. I refrained from being the first one to say: “I told you so.” My spouse took care of that.

My teenager’s gone to school with an ice pack this week.

All I finally said was: “I’m sorry this turned into such a painful lesson son, but I hope you’ve learned it this time.”

And he said: “I have. I don’t want to repeat it.”

Which just goes to show you, teenagers can learn something.

So, where does that leave me with promoting Broken Heart, which—if I do say so myself—is a darn good story? Leave a comment and I’ll enter you in a drawing to win a copy of it. To be fair, I'll give away two copies. So I'm going to hold off and hold the drawing on November 9th.