Pondering the Muse by Darby Harn – Guest Blog and Giveaway

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Pondering the Muse

I rarely think about a muse, but I’m always thinking about craft. How do I start a story? How do I finish? How do I sustain myself through periods lacking inspiration or motivation? My experience being autistic mirrors my writing process in many ways. I want to go out and be social; I also really don’t. I want to write the story in my head, and I don’t know how. My worst moments come in literally standing in the door, on the threshold of going out, but never leaving. Many of my stories exist in this space, unrealized.

This tension generates enormous anxiety and exhaustion from the same, eroding the energy I have to do anything, including write. Producing In Between: Stories of the Eververse represents a major accomplishment for me. When I settled on the idea of creating this series about Kit Baldwin, fighting to simply help people in a world where superheroes charge for their services, I had some strong ideas and goals. I knew I wanted to do nine books, and I knew I wanted to do a story collection that would land in the pause between books three and four. I knew this collection would serve both as a bridge and an entry point for readers, as much as it would serve to build out the world even more.

Despite the inspiration guiding me, getting the collection to print took years. The stories and novellas that make up the collection, loosely linked together in a kind of parenthetical novel, first emerged in 2018. I often think a long time on a story, write it fast, and then think on it more for ever longer. I’ve gotten better recently, as I’m more aware I’m threading into this loop, but I still do it. That requires me to apply enormous focus on my work. Inspiration always guides me, and my muse – such as it is – plays a role in seizing on an idea in the first place. But for myself and perhaps for other writers, hard work and dedication are what gets you through to the end.

The final novella in the collection, “The Other Kit,” lingered in my head for years as I teetered on the brink of what the story would be. I had an idea, and an ambition, but I also feared writing it. This novella acknowledges Kit’s autism in the text for the first time and I struggled with whether or not to do so. Many neurodivergent writers leave this aspect of their characters unacknowledged, but I felt for Kit and for myself, I needed to say. I didn’t know how for a long time.

Book five in the series, which I’m writing now, similarly gestated in my head for years. It will be years before it sees the light of day. Some stories come quick. I wrote a new short story recently in just a day, but it too will simmer for a long time before seeing print. I accept this. I understand now the inhibition in my writing, and I work toward taking those steps knowing inspiration will get me off the ground, but won’t keep me in the air.

Telepathic wolves. Zombie gangsters. Sentient houses. Just another day for Kit Baldwin.

Fifty years after an alien ship crashed in Break Pointe, the only protection in a strange new world is Great Power, a corporation of superhumans. If you can afford them. Most people can’t.

Enter Kit Baldwin, a young woman who helps people to help people. Except her power is the alien’s power, and she may be more of a danger to her city than she is a help.
This collection of stories and novellas follows Kit’s journey in a series that’s been called ‘the next logical step after Watchmen.’

Enjoy an Excerpt

Post Credits Scene:

“Bring my girlfriend back to life,” the old man says.

Since I got my powers, I get all kinds of strange requests. A fair number of them are curiously sexual, but mostly people ask me to do some good in the world. Catch asteroids. Cure cancer, end hunger, please and thank you. You know.

Little things.

This one might go up on the fridge. Bring his girlfriend back to life? He could do with some help himself. Seventy, maybe. Liver spots. A rattle in his chest like a bad engine. Still, he got up here on the roof. He knew it was me, warming my feet with the other birds.

Sometimes, I don’t know when I’m me.

About the Author: Darby Harn studied at Trinity College, in Dublin, Ireland, as part of the Irish Writing Program. He is the author of the sci-fi superhero novel EVER THE HERO. His short fiction appears in Strange Horizons, Interzone, Shimmer, The Coffin Bell and other venues.

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Home to Clare Harbor Box Set by Jacie Middlemann – Spotlight and Giveaway

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They started out as strangers…but didn’t stay that way for long…

A devoted granddaughter willing to do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe. Strangers who meet during the worst of conditions and become friends in the midst of chaos. Unexpected romance under the most unlikely circumstances. A puzzling mystery with its roots in historical events that took place centuries ago. And a storm that hides an ominous purpose that could change all their lives forever.

Sara knows before she walks into her grandparent’s home that her grandmother’s greatest fear will never be the storm or the threat it poses but instead the unknown that lays just beyond her front door. She knows too its cause and grieves that there is nothing she can do to change it.

Throughout the years of his career John has covered numerous battlefields including those that are a result of nature’s unyielding tempest. He fears this might be the worst one yet.

Mel didn’t expect to spend more than a few days in the large house where they’d taken refuge. She figured the storm would pass by and then they’d be off to their next assignment. The last thing she expected was David Payne.

Despite the fact that Lance was the bane of her teenage years, Tish knows that without the help of her father’s assistant, that the trip to North Carolina likely would have been a lot more challenging than it was. She’d been unequivocally terrified but his presence gave her strength she didn’t realize she had. She wasn’t certain how she felt about that…or him…or that he no longer irritated her the way he used to.

When Gary arrived at his family’s home in the mountains of North Carolina, he’s relieved that Sara and her grandparents along with their elderly friends are already there. But he is unable to take an easy breath until Tish finally arrives with Lance…and is not at all surprised at what he hears from Lance about their trip and the potential dangers they’d just barely been able to avoid.

He’s determined to do everything he can to keep their location safe…and unknown. Their knowledge, skills, and ingenuity are their greatest defense. For a time they would have to depend on themselves…it hadn’t take long to discover that the storm was never their greatest threat…but what is could change all their lives for the immediate future…or longer.

If you enjoy uplifting and heartfelt women’s fiction, young and older heroes and heroines filled with courage and compassion as they share joys and triumphs, and united they face and overcome tremendous challenges and tragedy, this book is for you.

Enjoy an Excerpt

Sara looked into her grandmother’s eyes. Because she knew what to look for, she saw past the forced cheeriness to the fear. In that moment she knew that no amount of pushing was going to do anything other than make her dig in her heels.

“Actually, I think I’m going to sit down here with you and your cohorts and play some bridge,” she said as she pulled out the only empty chair around the table.

“But…” Mel began then quieted when she saw the look she was getting from John. She looked over towards the table again, saw the worry in all of the faces around the table except the woman who’d just sat down in their midst.

“I forget exactly how this one goes. Someone explain the rules to me again,” Sara said cheerfully. She hated card games and everyone around the table knew it including her grandparents.

But she also knew that the fear her grandmother felt was overwhelming and very real for the woman who’d been all things to her. There was only one possible way she knew of that could possibly push her into doing something that otherwise terrified her.

“Now, Sara, don’t you think you should be getting on,” her grandmother said softly. “You know all the mountain roads and I’m certain many of them are still open.”

“I’m sure they are but I’d much rather sit this out with all of you. I can’t remember the last time I played cards. Deal me in.”

Maisie let out a long sigh. “I just want to grab a few things before we go.”

About the Author:Jacie Middlemann lives in Texas with her husband and a couple of cats who believe they rule…and sometimes they do.

When she’s not watching classic sitcoms or working on a needlework project for one of her kids, she loves to read women’s fiction and sometimes a good mystery suspense.

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Walks by Big Alex’s Pond by Henry Van Berkel – Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway

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Ten years after Big Alex MacDonald leaves his home in Ashdale, Nova Scotia, in the 1880’s to find his fortune, he amasses fabulous wealth almost overnight in the Yukon and becomes known as “the King of the Klondike”. At his death a decade later, there is not enough money in his estate to cover expenses. What happened to his immense riches? A century after Alex’s departure from Nova Scotia, the author purchases “Big Alex’s” family land and finds his own El Dorado amongst the riches of friends, neighbours and family, and the endless fascinations of nature. On hikes along the roads of the historic property he muses about the drama of his own past, and the life journeys of his family members and those of his neighbours.

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First, I must tell you the story behind the name for the pond. Alexander “Big Alex” MacDonald was born on this property on October 15, 1854, and baptized fifteen kilometres away in St. Ninian’s Cathedral, Antigonish, a week later. Alex was the son of upright, hardy Scottish immigrants who had laboured mightily to clear the land and build a prosperous farm on top of these Ashdale highlands, located approximately two miles north of Lochaber

Lake, the very lake Joseph Howe had described in 1821 as “Sydney’s sylvan pride.” (Antigonish County was called Sydney County in his day.) Alex’s family were known locally as the “Black Bills.” I think this was because Alex’s father, William, had black hair. It was a way to distinguish this MacDonald family from numerous other members of the MacDonald clan who had settled in Antigonish County, having been forced out of the highlands of Scotland during the century following the 1746 disaster at Culloden.

William MacDonald was born in Strattglass, Scotland, in 1814, migrated to Nova Scotia with his buddy, William Chisholm in 1834, and bought the Ashdale property from Edward Hayes. To earn the money to buy the farm, he walked eight hundred kilometres to Miramichi, New Brunswick, to work in the woods. There he saved his hard-earned cash, and after accumulating sufficient funds to give him prospects, he returned to Antigonish the way he had come—by foot.

William then laboured one summer for Murdock MacRae in the neighbouring community of Beaver Meadow. His payment was a cow. With these carefully gathered assets, he entered marriage in 1844 with a Margaret Catherine Chisholm of Antigonish Harbour, and together they developed their farm and raised a family of ten children: sons William, Donald, Daniel, Alexander, John, and Colin and daughters Margaret, Ellen, Ann, and Elizabeth. Alex was their fifth child.

It is likely that Alex learned Gaelic at his mother’s knee. Whatever English he picked up during his childhood at home or at the local school did not give him ease and fluency of expression in his second language. His speech, in adulthood, was described as hesitant and awkward, so much so, that some thought he wasn’t too smart.

About the Author:Ten years after Big Alex MacDonald leaves his home in Ashdale, Nova Scotia, in the 1880’s to find his fortune, he amasses fabulous wealth almost overnight in the Yukon and becomes known as “the King of the Klondike”. At his death a decade later, there is not enough money in his estate to cover expenses. What happened to his immense riches? A century after Alex’s departure from Nova Scotia, the author purchases “Big Alex’s” family land and finds his own El Dorado amongst the riches of friends, neighbours and family, and the endless fascinations of nature. On hikes along the roads of the historic property he muses about the drama of his own past, and the life journeys of his family members and those of his neighbours.

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An Imaginary Affair by Diana Raab – Spotlight and Giveaway

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An Imaginary Affair is a collection of sensitive and sensuous poems for poets and non-poets who appreciate the challenges and intricacies of being human.

The poems touch on key human elements, such as love, desire, passion, memory, loss, and gratitude. The poet celebrates the joys, and pains inherent to a woman’s heart, while honoring the wisdoms and tones of Neruda’s poetry. Some of the epistolary poems are directed to Neruda in response to his riveting poems.

“In this intimate collection of poems, Diana Raab pays tribute to the sensual physicality of Pablo Neruda’s work and to her own real and invented lives. With unvarnished honesty, An Imaginary Affair celebrates a woman’s heart and mind through a handful of odes, epistolary poems, and the idea that memory and anticipation can sustain and nourish us; even drinking a glowing hot toddy is transformed into a meditation on how an ordinary act can awaken desire. Her unvarnished honesty gives equal attention to matters of mortality, where loss is lyrically considered (“…will you run from me / when trains sleep at their stations”), and also explored in the spirit of open curiosity (“How long does it take / for a pine casket to disintegrate / in this caving land…). These poems remind us that to be alive is to try and balance joy and lament, and how through this effort we more deeply inhabit the world and ourselves.” –Emma Trelles, author of Tropicalia and Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara

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My Heart Broke Loose with the Wind

My Heart Broke Loose With the Wind

On the pages of a Khalil Gibran journal

my voice was freed—the wind squalled

through my brain beaten

down by words, abusive.

Such liberation possessed me wholly.

His revelation bloomed,

so unlike my mother’s mutterings

as she drifted in and out of madness.

My lines, at ten, engendered

many other poems holding and healing

me—once so deeply shattered.

Those words now yearning for the divine

just like the prophet Khalil Gibran.

About the Author:

Diana Raab is an award-winning, memoirist, poet, blogger, inspirational speaker, and workshop facilitator. As the author of nine books of nonfiction and poetry, Raab teaches workshops on writing for healing and transformation, inspiring others to use creativity for healing and self-discoveries. Her 2 latest books are WRITING FOR BLISS: A SEVEN-STEP PLAN FOR TELLING YOUR STORY AND TRANSFORMING YOUR LIFE and WRITING FOR BLISS: A COMPANION JOURNAL, available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Publisher’s Weekly says this about WRITING FOR BLISS: “This thoughtful and detailed primer…targets pretty much anyone interested in writing a memoir.”

Raab has written over 1000 articles and poems including her contributions to Psychology Today, Thrive Global, Wisdom Daily and many others. She has taught at UCLA Extension, the Santa Barbara’s Writer’s Conference, 1440 Multiversity, Hugo House and others.

Her chapbook, An Imaginary Affair: Poems Whispered to Neruda is written in response to his work.

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Last Star Standing by Spaulding Taylor – Q&A and Giveaway

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What are your favorite TV shows?

Either live tennis or else MasterChef. Am addicted to tennis!!! It doesn’t have to be the French Open, with Nadal v. Djokovic… but hey, it helps!!!

What is your favorite meal?

Anything at Malika’s, my fav. taverna near our Crete house.

If you were to write a series of novels, what would it be about?

I’m already doing a series, here

Is there a writer you idolize? If so who?

There are about a zillion writers who I idolize!!! In this book’s context, those would be: Tolkien, le Guin, McCarthy, Orwell, Liu Cixin, Iain Banks… And what I think they all have in common is that their books would still be amazing even if they hadn’t world-built so resonantly. Their characters have depth to start with – their dialogue flows – to the futuristic bit deepens the plot and magnifies the characters further.

How did you come up for the title of this book?

I’m terrible at titles. This one took longer than most.

It’s a “buddy” movie, with Bully and Pavlina, but it’s also a personal journey: Aiden still has growing up to do. And, despite all the action/adventure in it, he suffers a long night of the soul. So I wanted to get a sense of all that: the rebellion, his past, his having to learn to trust others, his recklessness – into the title. I didn’t, of course! – no one could.

But I did my homework, and Last Star Standing hadn’t been used. But guess what? – about a month after Last Star Standing was published, a silly book about a singing competition entitled THE Last Star Standing appeared.

Titles are just sooooooooo annoying!

Aiden has always felt like an outsider. After the rebel assassin is captured and imprisoned by the world’s galactic overlords, he awaits execution. Then a mole working for the occupying regime alerts him to a plot that could destroy the entire resistance…

Engineering a daring escape, Aiden’s growing feud with the new rebel leader leaves him out in the cold and smouldering with resentment. Faced with deceit and betrayals on every side, he recruits a group of overlookedoutcasts and stakes everything on one last mission.

Can the restless, reckless Aiden take a stand long enough to save humanity from enslavement?

Enjoy an Excerpt

Nothing. Clean as a whistle. Until my massive hand grasped hold of something, something which must have blended into its background so perfectly that I hadn’t even spotted it. Something alive, nestling under the co-pilot’s seat. I couldn’t believe it. A live gromeline. Trembling, possibly with fury, and trying in vain to squeeze back. Grabbing my trophy – I could feel its hot little heart throbbing like an injury against my palm – I hopped out of the plane so fast that my wound protested.


Bully raised one eyebrow. Two would have been overkill.

‘Bully, you are not going to believe this. I found a gromeline!’ The gromeline – only about fifteen centimetres – bit my finger, hard, even though I could have easily crushed its entire body with my fist – and probably would have, had I been a tester, and not merely disguised as one.

Feisty little gromeline. I flicked it lightly with my sausage-sized finger. When it protested, I growled, ‘Cheese it, munchkin,’ though I could feel it struggling obstreperously against my palm.

Bully was intrigued. ‘Is it genuine?’ ‘Of course it’s genuine. It just bit me, didn’t it?’

Bully probably considered this no proof. But they’re rarer than clean air these days and his fascination was obvious. Now gromelines come from the farthest galaxy so far discovered, can speak any tongue and own enviable mental powers. They are also brave to the point of stupidity and ludicrously small. This one was mouse-coloured – they can be spectacular – with tiny red eyes. Few humans have ever seen one.

About the Author:

Alice (Spaulding Taylor) McVeigh has been published by Orion/Hachette in contemporary fiction, by Unbound Publishing in action/adventure and by Warleigh Hall Press in Austenesque fiction. Her novels have won Gold Medal/First Place is the Global, eLit and Pencraft Book Awards, been runner-up in the Independent Press Awards, finalists in the Eric Hoffer, Rone and Wishing Shelf Book Awards and selected by Shelf Unbound as one of the “top indies” of 2021. Two of her novels are currently finalists in the CIBA Book Awards (the Cygnus and Goethe Awards). Her most recent novel (Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation) was just selected as Editors’ Pick “outstanding” on Publishers Weekly.

A professional London cellist, Alice lives in London and Crete with her professor husband: their only child is completing her Masters in Chinese Literature. They also share two miniature long-haired dachshunds and an incurable addiction to tennis.

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Tarot in The Starfolk Arcana and Starfolk Falling by Martha Dunlop – Guest Blog and Giveaway

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Tarot in The Starfolk Arcana and Starfolk Falling

I have long been considering writing a book using tarot. I learned to read the cards years ago, and I’m always inspired by their rich imagery.

Although tarot is largely known as a divination tool, it is more helpful for personal development than for telling you what’s going to happen next week. It can help you get a feel for what’s coming, and which path is likely to work out best for you, but specifics tend to come from the reader rather than the actual cards.

I considered writing a book where I allowed card pulls to dictate the story, but who know where that would have ended up? I can hear my structural editor gasp as I write this, and I’m sure she’ll be grateful I haven’t followed this idea through … yet!

In the end, I decided to use the tarot archetypes different characters. This starts simply, with the main characters each personifying one card, but becomes more complicated as some of them start to switch.

Beth, my main character, is the first card in the deck, The Fool in traditional tarot, or Potential in The Starfolk Tarot, the deck in the book. Beth comes across The Starfolk Tarot in a local bookshop, and is drawn to the deck even though she doesn’t know how to read the cards. She buys it on a whim, and when she opens the box she finds that one of the cards, Intention, or The Chariot in traditional tarot, has a picture of someone she knows.

Just before she bought the deck, she was in a TV studio and was challenged by the guest on stage, Amelia, who was trying to frighten her audience with stories of paranormal attack. Beth could see through the stories. She knew they weren’t real, but the rest of the audience were pulled along by Amelia’s charisma and drawn into the trap. Amelia started off with the same Tarot card as Beth, Potential, but by the time the book begins she has already changed card. She is now represented by Fear, or The Devil, which asks us to face our own fears and learn through them. Amelia tries to build a following by inspiring fear in others, but will they learn through the experience or will they get drawn in by the hype over and over again?

Also in the TV studio is Jonan, the mysterious man with the violet eyes, the man on the Intention tarot card. Beth feels instantly drawn to him. She feels a connection she can’t explain, and although he looks completely normal, she knows he is different in ways most people can’t understand. His role is to help Beth wake up to the path she incarnated for, and to help her realise the importance of her own intention in life.

As Beth becomes more involved, and meets other members of Jonan’s family, the mystery of the tarot deck deepens. At the beginning of the book Jonan explains that he knew the deck’s illustrator and she used his family as models. But how did Beth’s own image end up in the deck as Potential? As the story progresses, more characters from the deck arrive in their lives, and even Jonan can’t explain it.

As characters change and decisions are made, some of them change their card allegiance. Amelia changes from Potential to Fear, but this has a domino effect and other characters shift then and in the future.

The deck doesn’t tell all, but it does give an insight into the energy of the character experience and a roadmap of their journey.

Do you know the tarot? Which card would represent you and your journey right now? And how do you think that knowledge might help you to make the best decisions in your life?

Destiny calls. Soulmates draw closer. One woman stands in the way.

Beth trusts her psychic senses. So when her birthday visit to a daytime TV talk show takes a weird turn, she knows something is wrong. Amelia, the celebrity on stage, is oddly fixated on Beth and the man with the microphone is hauntingly familiar. Things become even stranger when she buys a tarot deck, and they are all pictured in the cards.

Jonan has waited an eternity to be with the woman who haunts his dreams. When he finally sees her at the TV studio, he hopes life with his soulmate is within reach. But as Amelia refuses to let go of their past together, his hopes fade.

Amelia stands between Beth and Jonan. Spinning tales of supernatural threats to her adoring fan base, she builds a personality cult through fear of the paranormal. As her power grows, she does her best to scare Beth away from Jonan and plans to reclaim him for herself.

United by a destiny that spans lifetimes, Beth and Jonan are determined to stop Amelia’s fear-mongering. But Amelia has more than one card to play. Even though they are fated to be together, Amelia’s destructive nature may once again tear them apart.

Enjoy an Excerpt

Beth sighed and slouched down in her front row seat at the TV studio. If she’d known she was going to be subjected to this drivel, she wouldn’t have come. She’d been here for two hours already, and not one of the stories had been genuine. Her so-called friend and flatmate had a lot to answer for. She was pleased Laura loved her new job, and it had been obvious her friend’s enthusiasm about the chat show was overblown, but this was worse than she’d expected.

She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and turned. Laura was standing off to the side of the set, waving her clipboard at Beth. She shifted on her mile-high spikes. Her feet must have been so uncomfortable, but Laura had been determined to make an impression today. Her eyes were bright as she scanned the set, drinking in her world. This job was her triumph. Beth couldn’t fault her enthusiasm, she just wished Laura had left her out of today’s charade.

Seated on the dais, Katherine Haversham waited for a moment, eyebrows raised, bright red lips pursed.

‘Thank you for staying with us over the break. I know this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Model and It girl Amelia Faustus is here, live, on Deep and Dark to break her silence over the horrific out-of-body attack that took her from the media spotlight. After weeks of fear and soul-searching, she has decided to step back into the public eye. Amelia, welcome. Tell us what happened.’ Katherine leaned forward. ‘Start from the beginning.’

About the Author:Martha is a dreamer and lover of stories who likes nothing better than spending her days getting to know the characters in her head.
She is a tarot card reader and reiki master, and loves to chat reading, writing and all things mystical on social media, as well as posting pictures of her fellow pack-member, Bertie the Cavalier.

A fiddle player, Martha fell in love with traditional music, particularly Irish, and is also teaching herself to play the Irish Bouzouki. She played her way through her English degree at York and remembers that time as much for the music as the books.

Martha is the author of three books: The Starfolk Arcana, Starfolk Falling, and standalone Wild Shadow. She is currently working on Book 3 of The Starfolk Trilogy, Starfolk Rising.

You can keep up with Martha’s news, book releases and extra content at www.marthadunlop.com, or on her Amazon page.

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Head shot by Gene Genie Photography, www.genegenie.photography

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Whiskey Love by Joy Allyson – Spotlight and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Joy Allyson will be awarding a $30 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

She’s an uptight Bostonian
Proud and beautiful, Chloe Tanner, inherits her family’s famous distillery—a legacy she must save from certain disaster. Her troubles can be traced back to one man. The man whose very presence is more intoxicating to her than whiskey.

He’s a laid-back Tennessean
No one disputes handsome Penland Kittrell’s expertise in all things whiskey. But Pen can’t make heads or tails of his new neighbor and now business rival; an undeniable attraction tainted by her connections to the powerful group of Eastern moguls and tycoons she moves among.

It’s a Whiskey War they both want to Win!
Passions ignite between Chloe and Pen in this deadly tangle against revenuers, moonshiners, and robber barons who all try and come between them and their whiskey in this gilded age adventure where the real gold is amber nectar.

Enjoy an Excerpt

“Are you not afraid of reaching a stage of inebriation I might be tempted to take advantage of?” he asked cocking one dark brow up.

“No. As you have reminded me several times earlier tonight—there is not anything else you could do with me you have not already done.”

“What a little innocent you are, Chloe.” He circled the table and took the flask and pulled her up from the chair. “I’ve thought a lot about you these past few months. Didn’t want to. But did.” He wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled her neck.

She breathed in the butterscotch whiskey and sandalwood smell she associated with him. Wanting to see if there was truth in his eyes, she pushed against his chest locking her arms to study his face. Could she believe him?

“Tell me you want to kiss me too,” he whispered.

Inch by inch she moved in, surrendering equal distance. Finally their lips met as if no time had passed between them—a continuation of their night together a few months before. She could taste the heavy sweetness of the whiskey they had drunk, smell its heady scent, but it was his mouth, his touch that made her dizzy with desire.

About the Author:As the daughter of a United States military officer, Joy Allyson grew up with a love of travel and a deep appreciation of history. A teacher by training, she always preferred reading historical romances to pedagogy. Her favorite characters – rebel heroines and salvageable scoundrels. Joy believes the best romances are the ones you want to read over and over again.

She is a member of Romance Writers of America and Music City Writers. She resides among the beautiful hills of Tennessee with her husband and near her two daughters and six grandchildren. Whiskey Love is her debut novel.

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How I Handle Negative Criticism by C.M. Sage – Guest Blog and Giveway

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How I Handle Negative Criticism

If you ask me what scares me most about writing, it is negative criticism. Not constructive criticism which is not the same thing at all and is beneficial to a writer. Sometimes constructive criticism might sting a little, but then you suck it up and look at it as an opportunity to improve your story. You make that lemonade!

On the other hand, negative criticism is vicious and cruel, and not at all meant to help. It’s usually personal and on social media it is used to score coveted likes. It’s a contagion that by careless people who cannot even imagine the pain they cause.

I know of what I speak because I am very close to a writer who was subjected to negative criticism. I watched the person suffer as they struggled to work their way through it as best they could. Many of us tried to help the writer see that it was an aberration, and it would pass, and they’d make it to the other side. Gradually things got better, and the author started writing again, but it left a deep psychological scar. And not just on the writer.

After that I vowed that I’d stay away from places where that kind of toxic negative criticism thrives. I also have asked trusted readers to manage my accounts so that they can filter out the voices that aren’t there to make the world a better place.

I’m not the only one it seems; a professional writing group that I belong to recommended that authors never go to certain sites. It’s really hard to stay away from the fire because we’re drawn to it like moths to flames, but I think that’s the healthiest way to handle negative criticism.

Sometimes things are lost for a very long time…and then they are found.

Take Gracie for example, a woman who lost everything, her life, her family, even her name, but now she is a Cathalian warrior of Antecede blessed with powers, which aren’t yet fully realized. Her elder and nemesis, Donavan, finally granted the former professor an opportunity to train a new warrior. Her joy turns to shock when she meets her great, great, great, great grandson, Henry, accompanied by his wisecracking best friend, Milo. Henry recognizes his long dead ancestor right away, and it doesn’t take the Cathalians long to realize that this meeting was no accident.

Gracie and the warriors of Antecede soon discover that they aren’t the only ones laying a claim on their new charges. Menacing enemies from the South and their hired mercenary assassin, Revilan, the Bowman, have also taken an interest. Come along with Gracie, Donavan, and their fellow warriors on a perilous quest to protect all that is good and right from the evil that threatens it, and along the way discover what else was lost.

Enjoy an Excerpt

Gracie tapped his shoulder, “Milo, did you notice anything unusual before I arrived to meet you? Did you see anyone on the shore, even from a far distance?” Milo reached down to ruffle Rosie’s ears before he answered, which was fortunate because at that exact moment a vicious arrow barely missed grazing his ear before flying by into the tall grass.

Gracie heard a sound like a muffled curse far off in the distance. The language wasn’t one she recognized. She knocked Milo flat to the ground, so that he was no longer a target and signaled for her little ones to stay down. Several more arrows flew in quick succession from the same direction. Gracie managed to pull a long dagger from under her coat before she also went down. Blue fell onto her back next to Gracie, a knife in each hand. Gracie looked at Obi, who knew what to do. He crawled away to search for and retrieve an arrow.

In the interim Blue and Gracie rose to their knees, keeping their heads down, and signaling for Milo to stay down. He nodded, and muttered in a shaky voice, “You don’t have to tell me twice. I may never get up!”

About the Author: Lost and Found is author C.M. Sage’s first book in the Chronicles of Antecede fantasy adventure trilogy. She loves writing, reading, and traveling. Most of all she loves spending time with her beloved family and friends…and yes, that includes her furry friends. Life would have been much less sunny without them.

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How to handle negative criticism (throughout the journey of becoming an author) by Lena S. May – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Lena S. May will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

How to handle negative criticism (throughout the journey of becoming an author)
When you’re eight years old and proudly show the very first story you have ever written to your elementary school teacher and your parents, negative criticism is highly unlikely.

When you’re fourteen years old and your teachers invite you to do a project that allows you to leave class three times a week to work on your very first novel, and then have to present said novel to your entire school – including your classmates who actually had to attend Chemistry and Physics – negative criticism is pretty much guaranteed.

Note: This deal includes free bullying for at least another year.

When you’re fifteen years old and your heart is still screaming I want to be an author, and you’re also determined to prove to your peers that you can actually make it, one night you might grab your manuscript and start contacting the biggest publishing houses you can find. Their submission guidelines tell you that you have to be patient, and so you wait.

Three months, six months, a year.

The good news is, at that point receiving negative criticism is extremely unlikely again – because you’ll never hear from them.

Note: That is technically not true; one or two might eventually send a standardized rejection letter, which hurts like hell, but at least they noticed you, right?

Sixteen, and not writing is still off the table. You’ve got the stories in your head and the characters in your heart, and somehow you’re still convinced it’s all going to work out. For now, the people who read your stories are your little sister and your best friend, and negative criticism comes in the form of He’d look better with bright blue eyes and I’d rather you write another story about that boy with the eating disorder.

Note: This stage is invaluable and you’ll be eternally grateful for it, but they’ll refuse to take the credit, so years later, you’ll put their names in the acknowledgments of your debut and there’s nothing they can do about it. Ha.

Eighteen, and somehow life has gotten in the way. You haven’t written anything decent in a while, and you probably won’t for another year, two, maybe even three. You’re now supposed to pick a university, or a career, start to figure things out, but you can’t – all you want to be is an author, after all. Negative criticism has turned into Being an author can’t be your Plan A and You’ll never make money writing and At least get a decent degree first.

Twenty-three. You still haven’t managed to get that “decent degree” – all you want to do is write, like it always was. By now, you have studied four different subjects and quit two of them; you have tried to learn Spanish, Italian and Ancient Greek so now you can order a beer in four languages and forget how to even read another one; you have worked in daycare, in a bakery, at a language school – but you’re still not an author.

Enter: A pandemic.

Note: If you’re lucky and there’s no pandemic, just pretend.

You stay at home. You gather all the bits and pieces you have written about those characters having lived rent-free in your heart since you were sixteen. You sit your ass down and write that manuscript, and you just know this is the one. This is the novel that you want people to read, this is what you will find a publisher for. Unfortunately, no publisher has kicked in your door yet. So you do the research.

You contact the agents and publishing houses, five or six at the time, for months. You have an excel sheet to keep track of the rejections. You know there will be a lot of those. You don’t know if you’re ready for that, but you have to try.

One, two, twenty-five, then a small publisher shows seemingly serious interest, then ghosts you.

Negative criticism, if any is included in the rejections, looks like I just couldn’t connect to the characters like I had hoped.

In my experience, this is the exact moment that decides whether you will succeed or not, and I don’t think this is limited to becoming an author. From what I’ve heard and read, it’s similar for all kinds of visions, dreams, goals.

You know exactly what you want. The world has repeatedly told you that you can’t have it. A little voice in your head starts telling you to quit.

Do you?

Don’t. The moment you feel your biggest failure might just be the moment right before your biggest success.

I’m twenty-five years old now. My debut novel is on the verge of being released, my publisher’s criticism sounded like Let’s work on this together and I think we have done a pretty good job.

If you’re going to take any piece of advice from me, let it be this:

Listen when your heart tells you where it wants to go. And refuse to quit until you get there.

Thrown out by his mother, 17-year-old Luke hopes to overcome his narcotic addiction and depression by changing his surroundings. At his new school, he quickly becomes friends with Sean, but finding that his developing feelings aren’t returned, Luke retreats into old habits. Determined to hide his self-injurious behavior and an advancing eating disorder, he soon risks much more than a broken heart.

When Sean meets Luke, the last thing on his mind is falling in love with a boy. Grappling with his own conflicting emotions and trying to keep them from his suspicious girlfriend, he brushes off Luke’s strange behavior. But when Luke suddenly cuts him off, Sean is forced to confront the truth and take action to save his best friend.

Enjoy an Excerpt

It’s my fault.

I’m not sure how yet, but it’s what the white blank hospital room walls keep hammering into my head as the pungent, antiseptic smell makes my eyes water when all I’m trying to do is keep my composure.

My fault.

It’s what they’re all trying to say – the half-dead, bled-out body of the boy lying in the bed beside me, his fingers slowly losing their grip on mine, the over-worked and under-paid nurse already rushing down the corridor, the non-specialist assistant doctor, paying half his attention to the arrhythmically beeping monitor, the other half to fumbling his phone to mute.

And then there’s my brother, leaning against the wall in the corner, his crystal blue eyes asking not what I’ve done but when I’d planned on telling him that I was gay – which I’m really not. When I don’t react, he looks down to the face resting on the pillow next to my elbow, and I do, too: empty whiteness staring back. I’m beginning to think it’s burning into my retina, sucking every last speck of color out of the sky as I finally raise my glance to the window. I can’t let myself get lost in the void that is now his face if I want to clear my head, but there isn’t a single cloud drifting by to take hold of my attention, not a single leaf left in the trees, no bird, not even a gust of wind. It’s just me and my trembling heart and my racing thoughts, and yet, my loneliness is nothing in the face of what I now know he has been going through.

About the Author:Lena S. May is a Germany-based author and student. Living with her dog, she enjoys long walks, ideally followed by a cup of tea and an equally long reading session. After graduating university with a degree in English and American and German Studies, she is working towards her Master of Education to become a secondary school teacher. With her writing, Lena hopes to raise more awareness for mental health and the importance of looking out for one another and oneself. Her debut novel will be published in August 2022.

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My Do-It-Yourself Writer’s Retreat by Kerry Crisley – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Kerry Crisley will be awarding a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

My Do-It-Yourself Writer’s Retreat

Here’s how – and why – I planned it
Last Christmas, my husband’s gift to me was a weekend away to write. I’m planning on taking it this fall, and it will be my second writer’s retreat. I use the singular form of writer’s as I was the only at the first one in 2021.

I planned it for two reasons. First, I was stuck with my second book. I had a general idea, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. Why? That brings me to my second reason.

At the time, I hadn’t been alone in my house for more than a year. My husband and I had been – and still are – working from home during Covid, and our kids were learning remotely. The writing nook that I had carved out for myself when writing my first novel was now where I did my day job. My home wasn’t the same, and it was not an environment conducive to kick-starting my creativity.

I fantasized about a writing retreat, one that was free of distractions and offered guidance to get me past my writer’s block. But the cost – upwards of $1,000 or more for travel, hotel, meals, and conference fees – was simply out of my reach. At least, until I can get this book written and sold (optimism!).

One Saturday afternoon, as I sat at my writing-desk-turned-work-desk struggling with Untitled Book Two, an image of myself clacking away on my laptop with the ocean outside my window came to mind. It occurred to me that a change of scenery might be the solution. If I couldn’t attend an official writers’ retreat, I’d create a budget version of one for myself. As I started planning, I thought about what I wanted and needed in order to call it a success. Keep in mind that these are the things I wanted and needed. Your wants and needs will be different for your own retreat, but the process I followed in planning mine may be helpful.

What I wanted

● A room with a view not too far from home. I didn’t want to purchase a plane ticket or spend hours in a car, nor did I want to be so close that it would be tempting to pop home and check in on everyone. And the view? Well, it is a wish list after all.

● Comfortable – and separate – spaces to sleep and write. For me, this meant a room with desk or table for my laptop and notebooks.

● Access to nature. If I was going to write successfully, I’d need a rejuvenating break in between sessions. For me, that meant time outdoors in the woods or near the ocean, preferably close enough to walk.

● Minimal distractions in the form of chores. A hotel stay appealed to me over renting a cottage or condo. For the cost savings, yes, but also for one embarrassingly trivial reason. I just didn’t want to spend my retreat doing dishes. The idea of two days free of standing over a kitchen sink scrubbing mugs and silverware felt like a vacation in itself.

What I needed

● Goals. In order to justify bidding my family farewell for two days and spending my limited rainy day fund on this retreat, I needed something to show for it. What would satisfy me was 4,000-6,000 words of solid writing that moved my story forward.

● Structure and a schedule that worked for me. There’s so much good TV out there, isn’t there? And being alone with no one to swipe the remote was going to lead to temptation. If I stuck to a schedule and met my daily writing goals, a movie or a few episodes of whatever show I was currently into would be an evening reward.

● A coach. Part of the draw of a writers’ retreat was the access to experts and keynote speakers. Since there wouldn’t have a live expert in my hotel with me, I brought a paperback one: Story Genius by Lisa Cron. It turned out to be an excellent choice for me.

I ended up at the Hampton Inn in Bourne, Massachusetts, an hour’s drive from my house and just steps from the Cape Cod Canal, which is lined on both sides by a seven-mile walking and biking path. The rate was within my budget, the stay included breakfast, and the room came with a coffee maker, a microwave, and a refrigerator, which allowed me to bring my own supplies for lunch and dinner.

In a perfect world, I’d have two full days on retreat. But since the world isn’t perfect, I had to get creative. I arrived at 3pm on the dot for check-in, and arranged for a late check out of 1pm two nights later. Over the next 46 hours, my retreat unfolded as follows:

Day 1:
● 3:00-4:00pm: Check in, unpack, settle in.
● 4:00-6:00pm: Write
● 6:00-7:00: Walk on the canal path
● 7:00-bed: Dinner, movie (The Next Three Days – not bad!), journaling, reading

Day 2:
● 8:00-10:00am: Breakfast, coffee, an episode or two of Arrested Development
● 10:00am-1:00pm: Read Story Genius/Write
● 1:00-2:00pm: Canal path run. Lunch.
● 2:00-5:00pm: Write
● 5:00-bed: Dinner, movie (The Car – hilariously campy 1977 horror film with James Brolin and Ronny Cox), journaling, reading

Day 3:
● 7:00-8:00: Breakfast, coffee, another episode or two of Arrested Development
● 8:00-10:30: Read Story Genius/Write
● 10:30-11:30: Canal path run.
● 11:30-12:30: Write
● 12:30-1:00: Pack up and check out

● Two-night hotel stay: $313
● Groceries: $20
● Gas (four gallons): $12
● Housekeeping tip: $10
● Total: $355

On a scale of 1-10, my retreat was an 11. My room was sunny and comfortable, the canal path was a welcome mental and physical break, my schedule afforded me the right blend of writing and relaxation, and the coaching and guidance within Story Genius gave my novel the jump start it needed. I drove home excited and empowered, which was precisely how I wanted to feel.

Deep into her 40s with a lackluster career, Georgie wonders how she became so…underwhelming. If she’s not battling her micromanaging boss and egotistical CEO, she’s trying to quiet her inner voice, the one whispering that she hasn’t lived up to the cool, funny and creative person she used to be.
When she’s fired for finally pushing back on her CEO’s questionable business practices, Georgie – with the support of her husband and book club friends– uses her free summer to rekindle latent talents and redefine success. But just as she figures out what’s next, an unexpected hurdle threatens to turn her summer of opportunity into a zero-sum disaster.

Summer of Georgie is a fresh and likably snarky take on the “middle age do-over,” with an authentic portrayal of friendship, marriage, motherhood, and that inner critic inside us all.

Enjoy an Excerpt</b.

“Hey mom, if we won the lottery, could we go to Godzilla Fest?” Max asks, starting one of our favorite mealtime conversations.

“Yes,” I say definitively. “We’d fly first class, and stay in the largest, nicest room in the whole hotel, and you would get any figure you wanted, no matter how much it cost.”

“And then,” Shannon picks up the thread. “We’d go to Paris and ride to the top of the–“ she pauses to consult my phone. “Eiffel Tower!”

I turn back to the stove as Dan joins the kids at the breakfast bar to make plans for our imaginary future. Right, I think. Chicago and Paris. With my 22 hours of vacation.
At the thought of work, a small knot forms in my gut. My sizable gut, the criticism comes before I can stop it. It’d been coming a lot since discovering early on that my job move was a profoundly bad one. How much have you gained this year, Georgie? Ten pounds? Twelve? Is it worth it? The weight? The pay cut? Lena? The complete and utter misery?

“Oh, shut up,” I mutter quietly to my inner commentator, shifting the pan on the stovetop so Dan can’t hear me. At least it’s Friday. And yes. As a matter of fact, it is worth it.

I give my head a small shake and turn around, smiling. “And then, we would find a beautiful house on a lake and spend the rest of the summer in it. Nothing but swimming, kayaking, and paddle boarding all day.” I pause. “Except if it rains. Then we’d have movie marathons or read on the porch. Because there would definitely be a screened porch.”

Shannon gets up from her stool and puts her empty bowl in the sink. “Would we invite Nana and Bop Bop?”

I place my hands on her small shoulders and plant a kiss on the top of her head. “Well, duh,” I say. “Of course we invite Nana and Bop Bop!”

“Better stock up on gin,” Dan offers, goading me.

“Helpful,” I say, swatting him on the shoulder.

About the Author:Kerry Crisley is a communications professional, with a focus on the nonprofit sector. Fiction, however, is her first love; she wrote and directed an original play performed by her second grade classmates and has been writing ever since. She lives in Wakefield, Massachusetts with her husband, their children, and their (very spoiled) rescue dog. When not at work, Kerry can usually be found reading, hiking, or getting into a wide variety of shenanigans with her book club. Anything to avoid housework.

Kerry is a current member of the Women’s Fiction Writing Association, and also muses about life as a writer, autism mom, dance mom, and rescue dog mom on Lazy Sunday Days. Summer of Georgie is her first novel.

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