Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving Day - November 28, 2019

Most of us who live in the United States participate in—or at least are familiar with—the observance of Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday in November. Traditionally, families and often friends get together for a meal of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, veggies, cranberry concoctions, pumpkin pie, and a host of other goodies, as well as the warmth and good feelings generated by the company, the food, and the occasion.

When and where did this tradition begin? As a child, I heard stories of Pilgrims and local Indians sitting down together for a meal to celebrate a successful fall harvest. Ink drawings cemented an image of sharing and camaraderie in my mind that remains to this day, but sometimes stories and images don't tell the real stories or the whole stories. So, wanting to know the truthfulness of my youthful impressions, I sought historical verification. The results of my search were somewhat surprising and occasionally disconcerting. Rather than writing a long article about this celebration that has been observed off and on for some 400 years, I will list the highlights.
  • Considered by many the be the first Thanksgiving, a 3-day-long feast attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 English settlers took place in the fall of 1621 in the Massachusetts Bay area. For the religious Pilgrims, it was a celebration of thanks to their God for his material provisions.
  • However, earlier documented thanksgiving observances were conducted during the 1500s by the Spanish and French in what is now US territory. Settlers in the Virginia Commonwealth held thanksgiving services in 1607, and in 1619 the London Company charter required an annual holy day "in the land of Virginia" to thank their "Almighty God" for his blessings.
  • President George Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26, 1789, to be a day of public thanksgiving. He later declared another thanksgiving day would be observed on Thursday, February 19, 1795. Decades later, November 26, 1863, was proclaimed to be a national day of thanksgiving by President Lincoln.
  • Thanksgiving days were celebrated differently in various areas of the country during the last half of the 1800s. Raffles, shooting matches, feasts, and football games were among the festivities.
  • During World War II, Republicans and Democrats disagreed on when Thanksgiving Day should be celebrated, resulting in some states observing it on November 30 (Republicans) and others on November 23 (Democrats). In December 1942, the Senate amended a previously passed bill and declared that the 4th Thursday of November would be a nationally celebrated Thanksgiving Day, adding an extra week to the upcoming Christmas shopping to please the nation's merchants. Today, the observance is traditionally a turkey day highlighted by eagerly anticipated football games that follow (or precede) a sumptuous meal. Politics has usurped the original celebration of gratitude for God's bounty.
  • Unfortunately, Thanksgiving also has a dark side. For example, in 1637 the governor of Massachusetts proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to celebrate the colonial soldiers' annihilation of some 700 Native American men, women, and children. Those endearing stories of thanks to God for a bountiful harvest that was celebrated by the Pilgrims and local Indians was again splattered with the blood of thousands more casualties, both Native American and colonists, who died in numerous battles as the Europeans pushed forward to claim as their own the land belonging to all Indian tribes that stood in their way.

Now, in 2019, Thanksgiving Day leads straight to the door of massive discounts that kick-start the Christmas shopping season. The day after turkey day, dubbed Black Friday for good reason, is the largest (and most dangerous) shopping day of the year. Huge numbers of people wait in long lines for stores to open, often standing for hours in the cold and dark so they can grab some coveted item off the shelf before somebody else gets it first. Shoppers have been trampled to death by mobs pushing through the opened doors just hours after supposedly being thankful for their blessings.

My heart sinks. In my mind's eye, the ink drawings of peace and camaraderie fade. In their place a profoundly different picture emerges.

This research revealed a harsh reality, one I found both sad and unnerving. How do you feel about the day of thanks that began as a religious expression of gratitude to God and evolved quickly into something quite different—something that at times has commemorated violence and murder? Does it seem likely to you that the original intent of the day will ever again be celebrated on a grand scale? 

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thrillers. You can contact her at websites: and

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

National Make your Pets' Food Day

I’ve been making my dog's food for a couple of months now because of all the talk about grain-free diets being bad for your dog's heart, then all the talk saying that wasn’t true. I’ve been feeding Bogie a grain free salmon diet but thought why not give him both? So I started to experiment.

Ellis Vidler, my talented writer and editor friend, and her husband, have been making their dog’s food for years. My choice to try this became even more a determining factor when I saw all the commercials for a packaged “fresh” dog food that is now the rave. I don’t know how expensive it is, but it couldn’t be fresher than cooking the food myself. I researched the Internet for recipes and came up with a few of my own. I also decided not to give fresh food only, so Bogie gets the homemade food in the morning and dry food in the evening. That way he has the best of both food worlds.

Bogie isn’t one of those dogs who gobbles his food in two seconds, like my son’s dog. No, sometimes he doesn’t touch his food. I’ve tried different kinds of kibble, but he’s never been excited about eating, which was another reason I decided to try the fresh alternative. Needless to say, he loves it, and he’s not so picky about eating the dry food in the evening. (My husband sprinkles a bit of cheese on it, though, when I’m not looking.)

I decided that ground turkey would be the base. I buy 93% lean at the Lidl grocery store, then add a mixture of vegetables. This last time it was three pounds of turkey, a 15 oz. can of pumpkin with nothing else in it, peas, brown rice, spinach, blueberries for anti-oxidants, green beans, and some crushed rosemary. Other times I’ve mixed a package of frozen mixed veggies—carrots, peas, and corn—in with the turkey and rice, adding cooked sweet potato, spinach and whatever else I have that’s on the acceptable list. There are a few things to avoid: onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, avocados, and chocolate. If you have concerns, it’s easy to research.

When I have everything cooked on the stove, I put a solid scoop of the food in a muffin tin, which is the perfect amount for Bogie's size, put it in the freezer long enough to solidify, then pack them in a zip lock bag, and return them to the freezer. The last batch yielded thirty-four days’ worth of breakfast. Every morning I take one out of the bag, defrost, and warm it, and Bogie becomes a gobbler. There are tons of recipes online. I’ve tried ground beef and cooked chicken, and he loves those too, so there are many options to try. Your dog is the best critic.

I do understand those who think this kind of thing is a totally self-absorbed and wasteful indulgence. I get it. There are children who don’t eat as well as my dog in this country, but there’s always an either/or argument that pit pet lovers against others who don’t understand our commitment. To be fair, I fed my kids well every single day that they lived in my house too. If I could feed the world, I would, so I make a point to vote for those who will protect school breakfasts and lunches (sometimes the only good food some children eat on a daily basis), vow to take care of veterans (many do that as lip service only), and care about people—all people, but I won’t get into that argument any more than what I just stated. My dog makes me happy daily just by the way he looks at me, so if I can make him happy by serving him one fresh food meal a day, so be it.

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

National Espresso Day: Musings on coffee and critique groups

Happy National Espresso Day to you!! If you are a tea drinker, your day will come (April 21st, specifically), but no need to wait to celebrate. You are welcome here today as well.

Whether coffee, tea, or something else, gathering together with people of like minds to hash through things over a cuppa is a wonderful way to connect. In the world of writing, such kaffeeklatsches can often be found in the form of critique groups. As for me, I'm a critique-group believer and an unrepentant consumer of triple-shot lattes.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Right now, I belong to two face-to-face critique groups. One meets regularly every Friday at lunch. We share chapters by email beforehand (sometimes the chapters come flying in the night before), and gather for sandwiches, coffee, and critiquing a bit before noon on Fridays. We are fast and efficient. Our meetings usually last about an hour, occasionally stretching to an hour and a half, if there's a lot of material to go through.

The second group meets on an "as needed" basis. Sometimes, months go by before one or the other of us says, "Hey, can we meet?" This second group tends to gather on a Saturday or Sunday for a longer stretch of time—five hours is not uncommon. This group tends to critique larger chunks of writing—100-page submittals are not unheard of. The gatherings also involve lunch, coffee, much noshing of chocolate, and catching up on life in general. These meetings tend to be more free-form than the Friday noon get-togethers: Sometimes we critique page-by-page, sometimes we offer more general overall commentary, and, if a writer asks, we sometimes spend time brainstorming specific issues.

So, what makes a "critiquing kaffeeklatsch" work? Why do some groups continue and others implode in impressive (sometimes damaging) fashion?

For me, for a group to work, the writers involved usually have three qualities: Respect for the other members of the group, a thick skin when it comes to one's own work, and flexibility. But of course, every writer (and every group) is different. For more on critique groups—how to build them and how to keep them going—check out these posts:
 If you happen to be part of a critique group that works for you, raise your cup of espresso/tea/soda/water on high and thank your fellow scribes. You are one of the lucky ones!

If you have insights into "what works" (or doesn't) in critique groups, please add a comment. We'd love to hear from you...
Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press, an imprint of Sourcebooks. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for "editor/writer"). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit for more information.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

National Take a Hike Day is November 17th

Taking a hike is a great idea, but this year on National Take a Hike Day, November 17th, I will be six days post-total-knee-surgery. Taking a hike will consist of trips to the physical therapist three days a week and trips to the bathroom or kitchen on weekends and non-PT days.


However, when I’m mobile again, taking a hike might include one of the wonderful natural areas or walking trails in my own Northern Colorado town, a more ambitious climb into the small hills to the west, or even a real hike up the big hill to look out over Horsetooth Reservoir in Larimer County.

I’m more of an armchair hiker these days than a real adventure-seeker, so reading about extreme hiking or watching a film or two helps give me a sense of life outside my neighborhood walks.

One of my favorite reads is A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson  The trail stretches from Georgia to Maine over 2100 miles of this beautiful country. I once had a dream of walking this trail but when my sister-in-law and a couple of her friends decided to give it a try, they lasted less than a week before someone fell and sprained an ankle and their adventure ended. I decided then to stick with reading Bryson’s version which is very funny and not a bit painful.

Heading to the west coast for a long hike, you could try the Pacific Crest Trail described in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. I liked the book, but it has a very different tone and lacks the extremely funny anecdotes Bryson told so well.

One of the best known books is Into the Wild by climber Jon Krakauer, about a hike into the Alaskan wilderness by 22-year-old Chris McCandless.  I won’t tell you anything about that story because if you love outdoor adventures, you’ve probably already read the book or watched the film. Krakauer also wrote Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster.

Those giant mountains like Everest are mystical heights I can only dream about. I follow climber, motivational speaker, and author Jim Davidson on Facebook as he hikes and climbs, tackling a small trail one week and a Colorado fourteener another. The Ledge: An Inspirational Story of Friendship and Survival, written by Jim with journalist Kevin Vaughn, is a terrifying tale of a Mount Ranier descent gone horribly wrong. Jim survived to climb again, but if you want to read a truly terrifying tale of survival, I highly recommend this book. On the Facebook page you can also learn more about Jim’s two attempts to summit Everest and his inspirational advice to achieve resilience and accomplish goals.

There’s an amazing story behind an upcoming memoir by Susan Spann, a mystery author and literary attorney who experienced a profound life disruption that led to her giving up the practice of law, undergoing a long period of treatment for breast cancer, and a move to Japan to continue writing her mystery series and as a side project, climb 100 summits in that beautiful country.

I first met Susan at a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference before she found an agent and launched her Hiro Hattori Novels (Shinobi Mysteries) featuring master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. It’s a wonderful series, especially if you love exotic locations and fascinating history.

Climb: Leaving Safe and Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan will release in January 2020 and can be pre-ordered right now.

I read these books and watch the films and marvel at the determination, training, and persistence it takes to tackle the big hikes. But once I’ve been through all that physical therapy to rehab my knee and set on my first adventure, I suspect it will be a short walk on one of our many park and natural area trails in town. They’re mostly flat, paved, and close to civilization. That’s the hike for me, at least until good weather and a well-recovered knee.

Are you a hiker? Where do you like to do your walking, hiking, or climbing?

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is also now available in a large print edition. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” will appear in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, scheduled to be released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Books In Target Stores

After we write our book and get a publishing contract, or publish it ourselves, the really hard work of marketing and promoting takes over our lives. We invest in some advertising and do a lot of social media marketing, but sometimes it feels like we're throwing wet pasta at the wall to see what will stick. It's often a crap-shoot when it comes to seeing a return on investment in terms of actual sales, not to mention all the time we put into these endeavors - time that we are not using to write that next book.

When it comes to getting books into the hands of readers, most publishers and indie authors target book stores. After all, that's where people go to buy books unless they buy from online retailers. But what about other brick-and-mortar stores?

For a short time I was connected with a group that held signings at Kroger grocery stores in 2012.  When I first heard about those, I was surprised at the idea of selling books along with the lettuce, but I thought, what the heck. It's worth a try. Twice, I went to a store not far from where I lived in East Texas, then my personal life started falling apart, and I had to back out of the program. In my two visits, I sold a handful of books at each, but others in the program sold more, and for some authors it was a fairly successful endeavor.

I couldn't find out if the program is still running. There was no current information on the Internet, with the last reference I could find being this blog post from Marc Liebman about his 2018 experience at the grocery store.

While things worked out okay at Kroger, I've always thought that getting a book on a shelf in one of the large retail stores like Target, Walmart, and Sam's Club, would be better. Especially if that book could be on a shelf in more than one of those stores, and I didn't have to be there to hawk the book.

Some stores have a fairly large section for books, and when I browse the shelves I'm primarily seeing titles from top-selling authors. Any fantasy that I might be entertaining about having one of my books among those others was just that, a dream.

That's why I was so delighted when Arcadia Publishing sent me an email the other day to let me know that my book, Images of America; Winnsboro is going to be in select Target Stores. Arcadia already has an extensive online catalog with Target, but this year they are putting a few select books in a few select stores, and one of those select books is mine.

That's right. I  have a book in Target stores. Doing the happy dance.

Okay. I'm back down to earth now. I know I should probably practice the philosophy of the stoics - free from passion and unmoved by joy or grief, but I can't help myself. It's just the way I roll, as some folks say.

I wonder if  James Patterson has done the happy dance? Maybe he has. Just not in public. :-)

Anyway, this book came to be after a previous out-of-the-blue contact from Arcadia back in 2012, in the form of an email asking if I'd be interested in writing a book about Winnsboro for their Images of America line. They had found me online; probably because I had been the managing editor of the online community magazine The acquisitions editor at Arcadia asked if I would be interested in writing a historical book about my small town, and I said, Sure, if it would be okay if I pulled in the official Winnsboro Historian to work with me. I'd not lived in the area long enough to really know the history, or met enough people to try to find the historical stories.

The editor agreed, so Bill Jones and I got together and wrote the book. Bill supplied most of the pictures because of his connections to The Winnsboro News. He's been a columnist for them for many years, so they were quite willing to let him use many of the photographs in their morgue. During the creation of our book,  I did most of the writing, using stories that Bill told me while I frantically typed on my little laptop to get those stories down the way he told them.

Working with Bill on that project was a great experience, and being with this small publisher has also been rewarding on many levels. Not that royalties have allowed either of us to buy a new Ferrari, but the editing and marketing staff are easy to work with, and overall very author-friendly.

Do you have books in large retail stores? Did you get them in yourself, or did your publisher? Have you had surprises like I received from Arcadia that led to great opportunities? Do share.

Posted by Maryann Miller  You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page, read her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE

Friday, November 8, 2019

#FridayReads - Dracula

On this day in 1431, the inspiration of one of literature's most famous and most enigmatic villains was born -- Vlad Dracula the Impaler. Interestingly enough, today is also the birthday of Bram Stoker (1847), the author who immortalised the legend of the blood-thirsty Romanian prince in his character the vampire Dracula.

How about you? Who in history was born on the same day as you? Or how about historical events? If you have a dig, you might find something that inspires a story... just as the fearsome voivode of Transylvania captured the imagination of a middle-aged Irish novelist over a century ago.

If you'd rather read a classic than write one this weekend, Dracula is available for download from Gutenberg.

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at or

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Holiday Tie-Ins

Related novellas and short stories are a way of keeping your readers' attention between releases. Stories that tie in to the holidays offer unique marketing opportunities.

January: A new year's celebration can be utilized in any genre. Characters can face a celebration gone wrong, review the past, or make resolutions for the new year. There is a reason it is referred to as the "bleak midwinter."

February: Valentines Day is a perfect fit for the Romance genre. A novella gives you an opportunity to explore the love lives of secondary characters. There could also be a Valentine murder or a paranormal celebration.

March and April: The spring equinox is ripe with opportunity for paranormal rituals, childbirth or expectant parenthood, perhaps madness that leads to murder.

May and June: May Day was a time for celebrating new life. It is a good month for a wedding, paranormal conflict, or a slighted lover to take his revenge.

July and August: The summer heat can lead to love or madness. The days are long, tempers run high, or lovers can get frisky on a beach.

September and October: Fall brings nostalgia, perhaps a touch of melancholy. The veil between worlds becomes thin on All Hallows Eve. Costume parties are perfect for romantic intrigue, ghost stories, or masked murderers.

November: It is the season of harvesting and giving thanks, perhaps a ritual murder to ensure a plentiful harvest in the spring. It is the perfect setting for gatherings leading to family conflict or relationship stress points.

December: Christmas is the most popular holiday tie-in for books. There is feasting and presents and dashed expectations. Snow and storms isolate and trap characters. Potential lovers can be forced together at a romantic inn. Families and friends gather to celebrate, perfect for a locked room mystery.

In addition to holiday-related novellas and short stories, you can create lists of holiday related books in your genre to help market your work. Group promotion is a great way to increase your audience.

Further Reading:

Short Stories, Serials, and Novellas

Writers Gotta Read, Right?

Scary Night to a New Beginning

Let it Snow! Season's Readings

Holiday Reading

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Are All Lawyers Really Sleazes?

This year (2019), Love Your Lawyer Day falls on Friday, November 1. Because the three protagonists in my second novel are lawyers, I couldn't pass up this holiday. 

My book research took me face to face (or phone to phone) with three attorneys, all willing to share information and answer my questions. To my surprise, one interviewee noted upfront, "All lawyers are sleazes." Since he was in a position to know, he must have spoken the truth—or so I first assumed. Then I began to wonder. Were those words really accurate? Was he parroting a commonly held belief about his profession? Or was he being sarcastic? I don't know.

My personal need for those of the legal profession has been (gratefully) limited. However, my first experience seemed to bear out the sleaze designation. The man was nothing short of lecherous. Shocked and horrified at his unwelcome advances, I quickly left and never again visited his office alone. (Unfortunately, I'd already paid him, and it was decades before the Me Too movement.) 

A visit several years later was to a pro bono attorney after a contractor took all the money we had to build a home and filed bankruptcy. We filed a suit against him to get our money back, but the judge granted us only about half of it. I was unhappy with that, but our attorney told me I should be thrilled to have gotten anything because no one else who went after their money received a dime. Years later, another lawyer told me that pro bono attorneys are often the best around. Our free lawyer—the one I was unhappy with—had been one of the good guys.

My grandfather was an attorney. He earned his degree in the early 1900s but didn't practice law until he was 80 and his wife had died; my grandmother believed they couldn't count on a steady income in
the legal field. (His first case after her death netted him $5000, big money back in the day when he made it and many times more than he'd ever earned in any other occupation.) Grandpa was one of the most sincere, honest, humble people I've ever known; his integrity was always above reproach. Another vote for the good guys.

Back to my novel. Honest, caring attorneys make great protagonists, but sleazy ones add spice to a story. So my three (one legal aid lawyer, one defense attorney, and one prosecutor) are good guys. However, a member of the prosecutor's team is not so much. His ability to become a thorn in the sides of the others makes him a viable character and is my nod to the sleazes who tarnish the scales of justice.

What has been your experience with lawyers? Do you ever include them in your stories? Do you enjoy reading "legal eagle" books by authors like John Grisham?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thrillers. You can contact her at websites: and