Cowgirl Up! A Colorful Legend

Cowgirl Up .5x1

Reviewed by Ray Simmons for Readers’ Favorite

Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women by Heidi M. Thomas captures a small piece of American history that might otherwise be forgotten. I’m talking about the contribution of women to the world of rodeo. Cowgirl Up! specifically concentrates on the contribution of women from Montana during the golden age of rodeo in America. Montana became one of the states holding commercial rodeos in 1896, but rodeo derived from the working world of ranching. Long before the commercial rodeos sprang into being, there were informal local contests to see who was best at roping, riding, and bronco busting. Conditions were terrible sometimes and the pay was not good by today’s standards, but that didn’t stop women from wanting to compete.
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Cowgirl Up! takes this early history and weaves it into colorful legend. There are many famous names from American history here. Theodore Roosevelt, Will Rogers, Dale Evans, and Annie Oakley are the ones I knew. If you are a real rodeo fan, you will probably recognize names like Lucille Mulhall, Prairie Rose Henderson, and Fanny Sperry. The characters, both men and women, are colorful. The history is rich, and the anecdotes, facts, and biography are very well written. It is obvious that Heidi M. Thomas loves her subject and, if you are a fan of the American West and American history, you do not want to miss Cowgirl Up! It should be on the bookshelf in every school library across America, but especially in states where rodeo played an important part in their history. These women and this sport should not be forgotten.


Published in: on May 19, 2016 at 11:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Magic of Creating

?????????????????“Why do you write?” Most authors hear that question or its near relatives—“With the market so impossible, why on earth do you keep at it?”—over and over and probably ask ourselves that every time we spend a day marketing. I’ve heard a dozen answers, none much more satisfactory than “Just because,” and I don’t suppose my answer is much better, but I can’t resist trying. So here goes.

I see a woman in the distance, her hair flowing in the breeze, standing where I am, in the meadow above the sea. Dreamy, floating on air. When I get home and take pen in hand (not really, but computers sound so mechanical), I enter into her sense of unreality, which I share, and discover she’s from Minnesota. At this point, she emerges from me, Chicago born, with an enduring sense of incredulity at having landed on the Santa Barbara coast.

But once I name her, she acquires her own destiny and I drop away. I don’t know how this happens. I recognize some elements of her story as transformations of my own experience much as we recognize dreams as arising from our hopes and fears. Such transformations are the magic of the unconscious, not to be interfered with. She is Myra and her world is about to collapse. This became HOME FIRES, the novel that was released in December, 2013.

Let her go, and she will take me places my conscious mind never dreamed of or even wanted to go. I saw one heroine heading for adultery, and my conscious mind rebelled. I stopped writing until I gave in and gave her her head. In HOME FIRES, the surprise was of a different, and more amazing, sort. Myra, torn apart by her husband’s infidelity, mortified at her own willful blindness to it, retreats to her art studio. Here she is.


 Myra turned on the light, finally, and stared at the print run, which was, in fact, complete, and she was in no mood to mat either prints or watercolors of sea lions playing in the surf, tide pool creatures, clouds of silver-winged plover—scenes from a life that had vanished. Instead, she taped fresh paper to her drawing board, and soon an oversized hen with disheveled feathers and long scrawny neck appeared from the point of her pen.

“Matilda. That’s surely your name.” She smiled, as she cast the day’s shame and humiliation onto the paper. If Matilda wasn’t art, so what? She brought laugher. “You need company.” She laid the chicken aside and took a fresh sheet. A porcupine. Eyes narrowed, he was calculating the distance to a heron who stood nearby, his long beak in the air. Alphonse. That was the heron. And the porcupine? Rufus. That would do nicely.

Feeling blood flow through vessels that had been numb since morning, Myra drew out still another sheet. Quills flew, striking not only Alphonse but a gull who had the misfortune to fly by. The gull tilted and crashed, giving out a long drawn-out screech. Eustasia, Myra named her, as the gull’s squawking brought Matilda’s head, at the end of her long neck, into the picture, and Alphonse flapped his wings, knocking Rufus over as he took off.

“You’re the clumsiest heron I’ve ever seen,” Matilda remarked.

“Bad knees,” Alphonse answered.

So there they were. An overgrown chicken with too much neck, a porcupine with lousy aim, a gull bristling with quills, and a heron with bad knees. “I think you’re going to be great company,” she told them, taping them in a row above her desk. She sat back and looked at them, her body released from the day.


The adventures of The Rabbleville Varmints, as they come to be called, become an on-going strip throughout the novel. Here is my artist-friend Helen Gregory Nopson’s depiction of them.HomeFires critters

No reader will be more surprised than I was at the sudden emergence of much needed humor in this story. I assure you Myra is the cartoonist, not me. It was as though beneath the level of creativity that created Myra, another emerged.

Why write, you ask? Because it’s magic.

Judy was born, raised, educated and married in Chicago, and raised her family in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She went back ????????????????to school as an adult and began to write, winning two writing awards from the university—one for a novel and another for an essay.
Following a divorce, she began teaching academic writing at the University of Michigan and continued at the University of California, Santa Barbara where she was active in developing career paths for non-tenured faculty. Though she continued to write fiction during those years, she published largely professional articles and, finally, a textbook (Engaging Inquiry: Research and Writing in the Disciplines) with colleague, Mark Schlenz.
Judy has now moved to Washington State to write fiction full time and has two other novels published: Nowhere Else to Go and The Inheritors.

Researching Boxes for Beds

by Maryann Miller

Boxes_Kindle_final_smallerFirst I want to thank Heidi for inviting me to be her guest today. I am so pleased that we have become cyber-friends, and I was honored when she asked me to share something on her blog about my book, Boxes For Beds.

The story idea came to me when I read a small newspaper item a number of years ago about a mystery in Arkansas. It seems that when a woman died and authorities went into her home, they found skeletons of babies in boxes in her attic. Apparently the woman had never married and lived alone in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of a small town. The people who knew her thought she was a sweet old lady, and all were shocked when the grisly discovery was made. Nobody knew where the babies had come from, or how the skeletons ended up in the attic.

Wow, what fertile ground for a writer’s imagination.

I immediately started filling in some of the blanks and characters began to take shape, as well as motivations. There had to be a plausible reason for someone to have dead babies in their attic.

I don’t want to say much more about that, as I don’t want to give away the important elements of the story and spoil it for potential readers, but nothing is spoiled if I explain why the story is set in 1961. I wanted to have the county sheriff be corrupt, and while it is not unheard of to have a corrupt sheriff in 2013, I thought it would be interesting to tie into the fact that the mob out of Chicago controlled much of Hot Springs up until roughly 1965, especially at Oak Lawn Racetrack.

If the sheriff was controlled by the mob, it would make sense that he closes kidnapping cases as quickly as possible before any Federal authorities go involved. Of course, that meant I had to learn all I could about Hot Springs and neighboring towns from that historical perspective.

One of the first places I went to was the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, and they sent me several brochures about the bathhouses and other places of interest. One of those places was the Gangster Museum, which turned out to be a treasure-trove of information. One of the things I found out was that the mob leaders would often come to Hot Springs for meetings, staying in the hotels, visiting the bathhouses, and taking care of business while they were there. Working that into the story added a lot in terms of motivating the sheriff while adding some historical interest.

My initial research was done via the Internet and through the material sent by the Chamber, but I did take a trip to Hot Springs just as I was finishing the book. I thought it was important to see some of the places I was writing about, as I have a hard time describing something I have not seen. That is why I don’t write fantasy or science fiction. I would be hopeless trying to create whole new worlds and societies, and I admire those who can do that and make it seem to seamless.

But I digress.

For accuracy in reporting, I also though I should probably visit one of the bathhouses while I was in Hot Springs. Not just interview people like I have done with research in the past, but actually have the whole spa experience. After all, I was going to have my central character, Leslie, visit one of the houses, so I needed to know what it was like. Right?

Leslie and I both enjoyed the wonderful hot springs in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

 Buy Link for paper book on Amazon

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Maryann MillerMaryann Miller is a best-selling author of books, screenplays and stage plays. She started writing as a child and dreamed of fame and fortune. She’s still dreaming. However, she is thrilled at the attention that some of her books have received, including Boxes For Beds.  It is her first indie release and has already received some good reviews on Amazon.

 Miller has won numerous awards for her screenplays and short fiction, including the Page Edwards Short Fiction Award, the New York Library Best Books for Teens Award, and first place in the screenwriting competition at the Houston Writer’s Conference. She has been writing all her life and plans to die at her computer or out in her garden in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas where she lives with her husband, one horse, one goat, one sheep, one dog and four cats. The cats rule.

  You can find out more about Maryann Miller’s  books at her Website   and Blog    and connect with her on Facebook   and Twitter        

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 6:35 am  Comments (10)  
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Women Who Defy the Forbidden Boundaries of Gender Roles

I am featuring an essay today by my writing friend and colleague in the Skagit Valley Writers League, Judy Kirscht, who has had her second novel published, The Inheritors, a book that I couldn’t put down.

Synopsis: Raised in Chicago’s Latino working class community during the Sixties, Alicia Barron uncovers her mother’s Caucasian roots when she inherits a time-worn mansion, the remnant of the estate of a Chicago industrialist who, she discovers, is her grandfather. Her search of the house takes her into the lives of past generations of women whose love carried them across forbidden boundaries, and into the conflict of class, nationality, and race that is the history of the city itself. The identity she finds there, however, leads to increasing conflict with her first great love, Ricardo Moreno, who wants Alicia to reject her gringo roots.

The InheritorsLand of our Mothers

by Judith Kirscht

When Heidi Thomas explores the life of her rodeo-rider grandmother in Cowgirl Dreams, she draws us into the life of one of those women who defy the forbidden boundaries of gender roles. We share a fascination for such women, and I think that, slowly over the years, they have created, for us, the same sort of freedom-seeking legends of the frontier for the men.

It is a little less obvious that the immigrant women of the cities contributed to the same identify-forming activity, but in marrying across class, nationality, and culture lines, I believe they did, and my novel, The Inheritors, explores the pain and anguish as well as the determination of such lives.

“Stick with your own,” Thelma O’Malley, advises in The Inheritors, and the large majority of both genders do just that. They hold tight to the security of the familiar town, religion, nationality or social class of their birth. For they know well, as Thelma says, that going beyond those boundaries spells trouble.

And trouble, of course, is what novels are about. In Cowgirl Dreams, it is written into Nettie’s DNA that she will be forever torn between the rodeo ring and her family and forever battle the opinion that she doesn’t belong in the ring. As Hispanic/Caucasian Alicia Barron searches through her mother’s family, she finds a long trail of women who, like her mother married beyond those boundaries. Those stories, like that of her grandmother, Lucetta, are potent mixes of great love and tragedy, but through all of the stories, there is an energy and determination that over the generations has shaped Alicia.

To be so drawn to the horizon beyond is to be American, but in the traditional male legend, the cowboy rides off into the horizon unencumbered by wife, children or any responsibilities beyond his own needs. This is not a woman’s tale. The women in The Inheritors bear the responsibility of shaping new roles for their children, and indeed, this is the conflict faced by women today.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Eighteenth Century French critic/ admirer of American democracy, decided the American experiment, though misguided, would succeed because of its women. It was the American women, he found, who carried and passed on the moral code of interdependence and community obligation and would, in the end, provide a counterbalance to individualism—a brand new concept he was sure would degenerate into selfishness. Food for thought. Indeed, I think deToqueville’s Democracy in America should be required reading in our high schools and colleges.

For now, the women in these novels reshape our idea of ourselves and the role we’ve played in the creation of America. Cowgirl Dreams focuses on the individualism half. In The Inheritors, I’ve focused on the ways these women shape the attitudes and identities of their children because I think this role is vital in the ever-transforming American culture, and because I think women will rediscover its importance very soon.


 Judy was born, raised, educated and married in Chicago, and raised her family in Ann Arbor, Michigan. SheJudy photo went back to school as an adult and began to write, winning two writing awards from the university—one for a novel and another for an essay. She taught academic writing at the University of Michigan and continued at the University of California, Santa Barbara where she was active in developing career paths for non-tenured faculty. Though she continued to write fiction during those years, she published largely professional articles and, finally, a textbook (Engaging Inquiry: Research and Writing in the Disciplines) with colleague, Mark Schlenz.

Judy lives in Washington State to write fiction full time and has two novels published: Nowhere Else to Go and The Inheritors.

Her books are available on her website, from her publisher New Libri and from

When Pigs Fly: Meet Author Bob Sanchez

I got acquainted with Bob Sanchez through an on-line Blog Book Tour group and I’ve watched and listened as he went through the process of publishing his books through Amazon’s CreateSpace program. I just finished reading When Pigs Fly, a zany, “Three Stooges” or “Keystone Kops” type of adventure that takes you on a cross country chase from Massachusetts to Arizona.

His second book is Getting Lucky, a missing persons case, in which Pigs’ retired cop Mack Durgin is resurrected in the character of Clay Webster, Private Investigator. In Little Mountain, Sambath Long,  a Cambodian refugee, is now an American homicide cop. Sam’s investigation of a brutal murder unearths painful memories that threaten to tear his own life apart.

Welcome, Bob, and congratulations on your three books. What made you decide to become your own publisher with CreateSpace?

Thanks for honoring me with an interview, Heidi. I’d started writing novels around 1990 and found three agents over the years. None sold any of my books, though, so I eventually decided to get my books published and let readers decide if they were good enough.

Can you share briefly your publishing experience with CreateSpace?

Initially I published with iUniverse, which turned out to be a mixed bag. They charged too much for publication and controlled pricing. They put out a good product, though.

CreateSpace doesn’t charge for publication, and they let the author set the price.

What advice would you give anyone who wants to try this route?

Don’t cut corners. Be sure your novel is the absolute best you can make it. Get several competent critiques, and hire an editor. You’ll also need a professional-looking cover. Don’t settle for someone’s template.

Do you have a background in writing or is this something you’ve undertaken as a second career? Have you been published elsewhere?

Yes and yes. Technical writing was my second career, and novel-writing was a hobby that allowed me to express myself creatively. A few of my short stories have been published over the years, I’ve sold non-fiction to several magazines, and I write book reviews as well.

Why do you write, what is it that makes you do it?

It’s what I’m best at. Lord knows I can’t play a piano, fly a plane, or write a computer program. And although I make a few dollars writing, the ego boost from readers’ comments keeps me going even more. Once a woman wrote me saying her mom had recently died, and she consoled her father by reading When Pigs Fly to him. That email was worth—oh, about a million dollars to me.

I’ll bet that was!

Your three books seem to have a common thread in that they’re all about solving crimes. How do they differ?

Another common thread is that they all have a tie-in to Lowell, Massachusetts, a city near where I used to live. They differ in their level of seriousness as well as in their genre. When Pigs Fly is a comic road trip, Getting Lucky is a noir P.I. novel, and Little Mountain is a police procedural with a strong ethnic angle.

Where did the idea for When Pigs Fly come from? (You do caution that this is not a children’s book)

It began with the serious premise of FedEx showing up at a man’s door and delivering an urn with his brother’s ashes. That didn’t get far, and I set it aside. A couple of years later, I remembered it when I wanted to write a comic novel. The story’s javelina didn’t even appear until the second draft, though. But then what to call it? When Pigs Fly fit best, but it sounded like a children’s book. Referring to a scene in the book, a friend suggested the title Asses to Ashes. I will be forever grateful to iUniverse for saying they hated that.

What do you do to market your books and what has worked the best?

I used to do book signings, but never sold many copies. So I reissued all of my titles as ebooks and promote them on Twitter. In general that works well, though there seems to be a July-August slump. I tell people my novels are good summer reads, but maybe no one wants to bring a Kindle to the beach.

Do you have a life’s philosophy and does it translate to your writing?

The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. I try to make my main characters follow that principle.

If you could have dinner with six people, alive or dead, who would they be?

My goodness, why would I want to have dinner with a dead person? Oh, I get what you mean. Let’s set aside family, who would be my first choice. I would like to break bread with Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jesus Christ, Marie Curie, Groucho Marx, and Mika Brzezinski, all at once. Can you imagine the stimulating conversation? Groucho would of course be there to deflate egos and lighten things up now and then, while Mika would be asking lots of good questions.

Now THAT would be a fun and interesting dinner party! Thank you for joining me today, Bob.

Bob Sanchez’s books are all available on his Amazon author page and his free short story collection is available on Smashwords. You can read his Blog, The Funny News Leader, and follow Bob on Twitter: @desertwriter and Facebook .

Bob Sanchez was born in New Orleans, grew up and worked in Massachusetts, and lives with his wife and two cats in New Mexico. Bob has published three novels: When Pigs Fly, Getting Lucky, and Little Mountain. He actively participates in several writers’ groups, edits nonfiction reviews for The Internet Review of Books, and maintains or contributes to several blogs.

Meet the Author: C.K. Crigger

My guest this week is C.K. Crigger, author of Three Seconds to Thunder,  the third book in her western mystery series featuring 1890s sleuth, China Bohannon. C.K. writes of free-spirited people who break from their standard roles. All of her books, whether westerns, mysteries, or fantasy, are set the Inland Northwest, with a historical background.

Synopsis:China Bohannon is a modern 1890’s career woman, but the Doyle & Howe Detective Agency hasn’t turned her loose on a case of her own just yet. When a call for help comes in, a trip into the mountains above the St. Joe country sounds just the thing to prove her worth and assist a friend at the same time. Porter Anderson’s uncle has disappeared and a Johnny-come-lately timber baron has claimed the family homestead. Porter doesn’t believe his uncle sold out and left the country without telling anybody. He’s afraid old Lionel Hooker might be dead—murdered.

Declaring the case unsuitable for a lady like China, Monk Howe takes it on, but now no one has heard from him in days. China sets out to discover his whereabouts as the dry lightning of summer sets the woods ablaze.

What she finds is a trail of lies, theft, and murder. Then, just when the problem appears solved, trouble breaks out again. This time, Gratton Doyle is the one in danger and China who must bail him out.

When did you first consider yourself a writer and what inspired you to write your first book? 

I think I considered myself a writer—not an author—when I had a couple complete short stories under my belt, written to conform to publisher guidelines. I actually did it. But I’m basically a novelist. Strangely enough, my first published novel began life as a short story. In the first Gunsmith book, In the Service of the Queen, my character’s first time-travel adventure was the short story and it kept expanding. Somehow, the character grew from there into the heroine of five books.

Who/what motivates you to write?

This is easy. An inner compulsion gets after me every single day and says, “Write!” So I do.

What do you find particularly challenging about writing?

Putting the right words down on paper, and avoiding mid-book sag.

What books or authors have most influenced your life most?

I don’t know that there is any particular book or author. Certain stories nag at me in different ways. Some because I know I can do it better, and that inspire me and make me wish I’d written whatever it is. Either way, they get me revved up.

How many books have you written?

So far, I’ve completed sixteen novels, twelve are published, three are looking for homes right now, and one I’ve given up on.

You’ve written in several genres. Which do you like the best?

I like whatever I’m working on at the moment. By the time I get done with a western, I’m ready for a fantasy or a mystery, and so on. Certainly keeps my mind busy and I think it helps prevent becoming stale.

Is there a message in your novels you want readers to grasp?

I have no particular message, unless it would be a sense of responsibility. I’d say I write purely to entertain.

Who is your favorite character, and why?

Hmm. I guess it’s a toss-up between Boothenay Irons and China Bohannon. There are similarities between them, separated by a hundred years span of the expansion of women’s rights. Both are strong women, adventurers, and mavericks.

What are you working on next?

I haven’t made up my mind for the next book. It may depend on what transpires with a couple books doing the rounds now, but it may be another China Bohannon, something about bootlegging days, or I have an Iraq vet who has captured my imagination. I’m never at a loss for subject material!

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write, write, and rewrite—and follow your dream.

Thanks, Heidi,for hosting me today on your blog.

C.K. Crigger lives with her husband and three feisty dogs in Spokane Valley, WA, where she crafts stories set in the Inland Northwest. She is a 2008 Eppie Award winner for Black Crossing, a western, and a two-time Spur Award finalist in short story and audio. She reviews books and writes occasional articles for Roundup Magazine. Recently, she’s begun reviewing for CnC Bookstore in the mystery and science fiction categories.

C.K.’s books are available on Amazon, at Oak Tree Books, Amber Quill Press, and Treble Heart Books

Check out her website and her blogs: and

Published in: on July 23, 2012 at 1:50 am  Comments (6)  
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Free e-book from Craig Lancaster

Craig Lancaster, whose novels 600 Hours of Edward and The Summer Son have been featured here, has a new book coming out in December: Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, a collection of ten short stories.

Before the book’s release, Craig is making available FREE copies of the e-book version. To get your own copy, simply follow these steps:

  • Go to this link at Smashwords.  (Note: If you don’t have a Smashwords membership, you’ll have to sign up for one. Don’t worry: It’s totally free, and there are a lot of other e-book bargains there, too.)
  • Select the format you want and enter this coupon code at checkout: EY63S.

The offer is good Sept. 15 through Sept. 30. Feel free to pass this information along to your friends.

Here’s Craig with some more information about the new book:

Q: First of all, why are you offering free copies of the e-book?

After two novels, my experience is that word of mouth is the best advertisement for a book, so I’m hoping that folks who read Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure before its release will be kind enough to give me an honest review wherever they spend time, be it with friends, at,, Goodreads, LibraryThing (or all of those places!). I can’t emphasize the bit about honesty enough: I’m not trying to engineer good reviews, although I certainly won’t turn them down. The important thing is to get responses, good or bad, from people who are passionate about books, so other people who share that passion might be inclined to take a look.

Q: Why did you shift from novels to short stories?

It wasn’t a conscious choice. I write nearly every day, and last fall, after I turned over my second novel to my publisher, I hit a particularly rich vein of short fiction. I also managed to retrofit a couple of failed novel projects into successful short stories.

Fortunately, I’m not writing to fulfill a contract, so I have the freedom to follow where inspiration takes me. For nearly a year, I ended up with short stories. So … here they are. And now that this book is done, I am back to work on a couple of novel ideas. So there’s really been no shift – just a slight deviation.

Q: What’s the deal with the title?

It’s a little inscrutable, but I like the lilt of it, and I promise, there’s title justification within the body of the book. One of the ten short stories shares the title.

Q: Is there an overriding theme to the stories?

A few of them are connected, and all of them take place in Montana, where I live. If I had to identify a unifying theme, it would be this: separation. Not just in the marital sense – although that’s certainly in the book – but also in the emotional and physical senses. The stories vary in style and subject matter. I think it’s an intriguing collection.

Here’s the back-cover copy of the book:

A championship basketball coach caught between his team, his family and the rabid partisans in his town. A traveling salesman consigned to a late-night bus ride. A prison inmate stripped of everything but his pride. A teenage runaway. Mismatched lovers. In his debut collection of short fiction, award-winning novelist Craig Lancaster (600 Hours of Edward, The Summer Son) returns to the terrain of his Montana home and takes on the notion of separation in its many forms – from comfort zones, from ideas, from people, from security, from fears. These ten stories delve into small towns and big cities, into love and despair,into what drives us and what scares us, peeling back the layers of our humanity with every page.

For more information about Craig Lancaster and his work, please visit his website.

Why Write Westerns?

I didn’t set out to write westerns. I just wanted to tell my grandmother’s story,. Since she was a bonafide rodeo cowgirl, my books are classified as “western,” although not in the traditional 1800s “old west” sense. I like to say they are “stories of the west,” stories of the heart, of courage and strength.

I love this reason quoted by John Locke in an interview with Jean Henry Meade on her blog, Writers of the West:

“Why westerns? Let me tell you something. Westerns are magic. When you read a western, you’re viewing the world in microcosm, because there’s a fixed time and setting, generally, with endless possibilities. The whole dynamic of a man and woman optimistically venturing into an untamed land with little more than a horse, gun, wagon, meager supplies…and a whole lot of courage—is the very definition of heroism. Courage is at the core of every western. And every good western offers adventure, heart, and a classic confrontation between good and evil.”

I agree wholeheartedly. Courage is the definition of “Cowgirl Up!” something my ancestors and my characters do.

Published in: on July 11, 2011 at 9:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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The First Line Hook

I love to pick up a book and read the first line. Sometimes they really are a “hook,” set to reel me into the story. Writing gurus tell us we need to do that, especially when submitting to agents and publishers, because if they’re not compelled to read beyond the first line, your manuscript will find its way into the rejection file rather quickly.

Sometimes they stay with me…for weeks, months, even years. My all-time favorite is “The last camel collapsed at noon” from Ken Follett’s Key to Rebecca. Our writing group once did an exercise using that sentence as their opening line. The results were fascinating. Every story was different.

Another one I especially like is “The man with ten minutes to live was laughing.” (Frederick Forsyth) That’s a line that makes you wonder, why is he laughing when he’s about to die? I want to know!

And then there is “I stopped shooting people two weeks after I won the Pulitzer Prize” from Dead Sleep, by Greg Iles. Again, makes you think.

The writing gurus also tell us we need to introduce our character, set up our story problem, give the reader an idea where the story is taking place and include conflict. (So, how many words are we allowed in one sentence?)

We get the impression that the bigger hook, the more extreme, the better. But if you have a dynamite first line and the rest of the page doesn’t live up to it, you’ve defeated your purpose. It could be misleading. I loved the opening line I came up with for my first novel: “Nettie Brady should’ve been born a boy.” But I received several critiques wondering if my character had gender-identity issues. I knew Nettie was a girl who loved riding her horse more than anything in the world, but that first sentence didn’t get the idea across as well as I’d hoped. So I scrapped it.

The February 2011 issue of Writers Digest Magazine has an excellent article by Jacob M. Appelt, “Better Starts for Better Stories.” Appelt outlines several ways to begin, including start late (don’t set up the scene, begin with the action), use minimal dialogue, try several different options, and revisit the beginning when you reach the end. Sometimes the story has changed so much that you’ll want an entirely different opening line.

Appelt lists his favorite opening as “My mother had me sort the eyes” from Elizabeth Graver’s short story “The Body Shop.” Now that’s a grabber!

What is your favorite first line “hook?”

Published in: on May 5, 2011 at 9:17 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Soggy Town of Hilltop

Today we welcome Kevin McNamee, who will be talking about his children’s picture book, The Soggy Town of Hilltop.

Kevin McNamee is a writer and poet living in Yonkers, NY.   He primarily writes for the children’s market.  Kevin’s published work includes the picture books, If I Could Be Anything, The Sister Exchange, Lightning Strikes, The Soggy Town of Hilltop and What Is That Thing?

Kevin’s poetry has been published in the collection, An Eyeball in My Garden: And Other Spine-Tingling Poems.  Other titles coming soon by Kevin include My Brother, the Frog, Papa’s Suns, Just for Today, and more.

Kevin, what is this book about?

The High Council of Hilltop gets bored, so they decide to start making up rules for their own amusement.  The latest rule demands that people drink water by pouring it on top of their heads.  The townspeople try to drink water this way, but are not very successful at it.  It takes a child to inform the townsfolk exactly how silly this new rule is.

What message are you trying to convey in this book?

Sometimes, following the crowd isn’t the best thing to do.  People need to think for themselves.  Being that this book contains advanced concepts; the age range is listed as 4 through 10.  As children attend school and participate in other activities outside the home, they are bound to be exposed to peer pressure and other outside influences.  This is an excellent time to educate children about these pressures and to give them the tools and guidance so they can make good choices.

Do you think this book can help children with that?

I believe it does.  I tried to use an extreme and funny example to illustrate a problem that could easily solved by independent thinking.  During book readings and school visits, children have always able to recognize what the problem is in the story.  Like the main character in my story, children come to the conclusion that this situation isn’t right.  With this realization, children express why it isn’t right, and draw parallels to situations in their own lives.

Is it hard to write a picture book?

A picture book may be short, but it is by no means easy.  It still has to have all of the elements of a longer story.  I need to pay attention to plot, dialogue, pacing, character development, etc, all while using the least amount of words possible.  When I’m writing a rhyming picture book, it adds another level of difficulty to the process.  I have to consider rhyme and meter as well as all the other elements of a story.  It’s quite a juggling act, but when it all comes together, the extra effort is worth it.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I think that when children learn to think for themselves, they are more likely to make good choices.  I may use humor to talk about this issue, but I think it is a very serious concept for both children and adults.

I had a lot of fun writing this book, so I hope you have just as much fun reading it.

The Soggy Town of Hilltop by Kevin McNamee, Illustrations by Eugene Ruble

Print ISBN 13: 978-1-61633-041-5

eBook ISBN 13: 978-1-61633-042-2

“You want us to do what?!!!”

This fun, rhyming picture book teaches more than just a new way to drink water.

The High Council of Hilltop wants the people to learn a new way to drink.  But when the people find out why, everyone has something new to learn.

This book is available as a print book, a downloadable e-book, and a book on CD from at

Books are also available at

You can also find this book and others by Kevin at, or ask your local bookstore.

What Others Are Saying

The Soggy Town of Hilltop is a funny, rhyming story by Kevin McNamee…What I really like about The Soggy Town of Hilltop is that McNamee spells out the lesson in the end for readers. There isn’t any second guessing as to what the point is. Like one of Aesop’s fables, the moral of the story is in plain sight. The illustrations in this one are equally funny and beautiful. Eugene Ruble does such an excellent job of bringing a story to life with his artwork. – The Children’s and Teens’ Book Connection


Told in amusing rhyme, children’s author Kevin McNamee will have the reader laughing out loud and wondering how people would follow ridiculous rules so blindly. Coupled with the unique illustrations by Eugene Ruble, The Soggy Town of Hilltop will soon be a must have for our young muses. – Reviewed by Donna M. McDine for The National Writing for Children Center.


Rather than teaching us a new way to drink, The Soggy Town of Hilltop illustrates the danger, and sometimes even the stupidity, of bowing to peer pressure, something that both youngsters and adults should remember. – Home School Book Review


This is a fun, rhyming story that teaches young readers just because somebody tells you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, it doesn’t mean you have to and Eugene Ruble’s illustrations give the story a classic fairy tale feel, sure to become a bedtime favorite. –

To find out more about Kevin, please visit his website at or visit his blog at

You can also find Kevin on Facebook at

Kevin is also on Linked-In and Twitter, but he admits that he doesn’t tweet much.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (13)  
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