Sun Spots and Sunsets by Jeanie Croope

I’ve had a heck of a time figuring out what I wanted to write for this issue’s Light and Shadow theme. It should be so easy. If nothing else I could come up with some art-related post looking at the brilliant chiaroscuro techniques developed by the old masters, like Caravaggio and implemented in so many ways in art since then. The brilliant light of the Impressionists. The gray-and-black shadows of Picasso’s Guernica.

There’s something there, don’t you think?

But I couldn’t make it work.

How about writing on how the light changes as we move into autumn? We see long shadows, earlier twilights. Deeper sunsets find brilliant oranges, purples and pinks contrasted with the shadows of the dark clouds and disappearing light, coming in to rest for the evening. Heaven knows I have enough sunset photos in my bank to illustrate an entire photo essay on the subject.

But the words wouldn’t come.

I think part of the problem in nailing this is that I am a “light” person. I prefer to see the light in a situation instead of the dark, even when the dark is pretty murky. it’s not that I avoid reality, I see it for what it is. But I’ve been around enough to know that in all tragedy or dark times, there is the light that comes from goodness, caring, rebirth.

You can call it Pollyanna. (I sometimes do.) There is little good in hurricanes or earthquakes that decimate entire communities. Yet I also see the helpers who fight so valiantly to rescue the trapped, who leave their comfortable homes to go to another place and work hard to help rebuild.

I think you can see that it is very difficult for me to go into the “shadow” mode. I don’t need to add that to bring me down when something is already swinging on the downside.

But recently, after many months of self-diagnosing (don’t do that), doc visits that offered remedies that worked for a few weeks and then didn’t, I finally went to the dermatologist for a very pesky lip problem. When the biopsy came back it was cancerous.

They told me it was no doubt from too many hours in the sun back in the days of long ago. Before sunscreen became an essential piece of summer outdoor wear. (And do you put sunscreen on your lips? You should.)

I know many readers may have dealt with squamous cell carcinoma. Basically, a skin cancer. It’s about as common as a Hershey bar at a grocery store check-out stand. Rarely are these life threatening unless left too long and metastasized. This is not your deeply concerning liver or stomach, ovarian or breast cancer.

Rick calls cancers like these “candy cancers.” You do the treatment, it works, and off you go to enjoy life. It’s a bit cavalier but in a way it’s spot on. No fun, but you probably won’t die.

But when you hear the C-word, one can’t help but feel a bit of a shadow come over things, even when the doctor has assured me that it was on the surface, hadn’t spread and that the radiation would do the trick. There’s a lot of light there.

And I see that and am immensely grateful. I keep reminding myself of that. See the Light.

But has I’ve tried to wrap my head around the fact that now I, too, am part of a club to which I never wanted to belong, there is a bit of shadow. I remember the mother who died before I was a fully-formed person, the friend who battled her cancer for years and died too young, and so many others who fought valiantly and others who do to this day.

Their cancers, I remind myself, were far more complicated than a little curable candy cancer on the lip. There simply is no comparison.

But as I watch the heron on my lake come to visit during the day and again at twilight, and then fly off into the sunset to rest, I am reminded once again to grab every bit of beauty and joy from life and celebrate it, cherish it. Next time one may not be so lucky.

There is beauty in the light of the sun. Blinding, sometimes searing, sometimes dangerous, but great beauty. And there is also beauty in the sunset, the shadows of evening, the silhouette of a blue heron, winging his way through the sky to meet the light again in the morning.

And I hope to meet that light in the morning for many sunrises to come.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Bringing to Light the Issue of Darkness by Keva Bartnick

We all have a dark side. The spaces that we keep hidden from the light of day. The nooks and crannies of our soul that would appall the stranger that sits beside us on the bus seat. Or our own family.  What can be worse, though, is that we decide what that darkness tells us about ourselves…to be truth.  We try everything in our power to ignore it or push it down.

We try to cover up our inner darkness, that truth, and pretend it’s not there.

Somewhere along the way of our life, we decided the only way to fix it was to hide it. We believe that this truth defines us, compels us, to put on every costume and mask out of our proverbial closet from a space of fear.  Let’s never speak of it, and it will stay hidden…if only that were true.  You see, the more this thought is past down from generation to generation the darker the closet gets. How terrifying this all sounds.

The darkest parts of me had to come to the surface in 2015. It began when I realized that in order to save my marriage, it was a necessity that the darkest and scariest parts of my being must be released from within. I had to display the years of masks and what was underneath under the display of the sharpest of lights.

In the desire to save my marriage, the person I was really saving is the person I was to become.

I’ve always been different, a square peg in a round hole. As Marisa McKaye says in her song, “I am colorful girl in a black and white world,” painted the correct picture of me. My darkness had been with me from the beginning.

The cards were against me from birth being a product of first cousins, and of course, everyone had their ideas about how screwed up my parents would make me. Closeness in our genes can cause defects, so how damaged might I be from too much togetherness? A heavy burden for a child to be born with, the gossip and speculation.

Childhood wasn’t fun for me. On the surface it looked normal, or as normal as normal can be in a small Midwest town. There are rules to be followed, of course, and many of those rules didn’t make sense to me. The less questions you had to answer the better. You learn coping mechanisms, and you keep your head down as much as a bright orange duck can in a sea full of hunters.

When you don’t fit, you become the target for bullies. I was too colorful in a world that liked things neat and tidy. And secrets to keep. If you didn’t rock the boat, you were golden (so above all else, don’t rock the boat). And, of course, keep the secrets.

I kept many secrets and that ensured I spent most of my young life wearing a mask and making secret friends with the shadows. I was a victim more than once during my childhood.

Though nothing felt right for a long time and at the core, I hated my life, I learned to hide the pain by building up my armor day after day. A woman loving her intelligence is a saving grace, yet understanding society is more accepting of your beauty than intelligence makes it harder.

Though I hid behind the armor of beauty over intelligence, college opened to the doors to learning about freedom from the shadows and my demons. There were less rules and, as long as you show up for class and I discovered that I could choose to turn being a victim by learning to be a survivor.

My becoming had to start with a full expulsion of said demons from my mind, from my heart, and from body. I had to lay bare the worst parts of myself. Not only did I do it, but I nuked the bridge that was connecting me to that previous life. The field laid bare, not one saved from the pain.

Sometimes you have to unbecome to move forward.

In Glennon Doyle Melton’s memoir, ‘Love Warrior’, she writes about sifting the sand, and getting to the point of realness. Where do you start feeling real? That’s where I had to go. That’s what I had to find.

I can say with exacting certainty that the battles I fought were hard won. I am still a work in progress, but I have found what my soul wants. I now listen to that small voice in my head that guides me forward into the future one moment at a time.

Our demons make us who we are, our challenges are uniquely our own. Bringing these to the light takes courage that only we are capable of performing. Is the road hard? ABSOLUTELY!

Does the battle we fight within ourselves take prisoners? No. Casualties come with the territory unfortunately, it becomes a test of sheer will. Finding out who you are at a soul level takes courage.

I know that I am loved, but learning to love yourself first in sometimes our hardest battle. Knowing that everyone struggles, that we are in good company, and we are not alone. To me there is comfort in that; that I am never alone.

I’ve also loved the saying, “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about so be kinder than you feel.” It teaches me that I should never assume. That I should take things at face value, trust that little voice in my head when it speaks. To be kinder, softer, and more gentle with everyone that comes into my sphere of being.

Sometimes when you hit the bottom the choice becomes clear. It comes down to one simple question, you or them? It isn’t pretty, it isn’t glamorous, it hurts like hell, and it takes its toll.

Once you find yourself in the rubble you will never want to go back to the way things were before. You are the diamond in the rough! Built to shine under the most enormous pressure of circumstances. You are important and you matter. Your becoming becomes a birthright, a stage to stand on to shine.

It takes fortitude, it takes courage, but I already know that you have that, you have it in spades. My soul sees your soul, and I see you in all your glory.

About the Author: Keva Bartnick

Keva Bartnick is an artist, writer, and lightworker. Happily married mother of three; she’s been inspiring people to be their most courageous selves since 2015.

She can be found at

Typical Tuesday with K.C. Tansley

Thank you for inviting me to share my “typical Tuesday” with the readers of Modern Creative Life. Being a writer, promoter, and teacher means that I am switching off between each role during the day. I must confess I was an auditor and management consultant in my previous careers, so I’m all about creating and adhering to a schedule in my daily life.

KC's DeskMy alarm goes off at 10 a.m. It’s on the other side of the room to make sure that I actually get up. After I’ve used the bathroom, my first stop is my secretary desk and computer. I’m a grumpy pants during the first hour of every day, which makes me unfit for in-person interaction. Instead, I check email. I flag anything that needs detailed follow-up and delete anything that’s not important. As I go through it, I reply to the easy stuff. I have 9 email accounts so it’s usually 15-30 minutes to check them all.

Then I pop over to Facebook and Twitter and my blog and respond to any mentions or replies or comments. I update Goodreads with my prior night’s reading—I love tracking my progress through a book. This usually takes up another half hour of the morning.

Around 11, my stomach grumbles and I make breakfast and watch some Netflix. Lately it’s been The Originals and Riverdale. Once I get my coffee, scrambled eggs with tomatoes, and toast in me, I feel more human and ready to dive into the harder brain work.

This summer has been all about revisions, so I spend 45 minutes editing. With developmental edits, I’ve got overarching things to fix as well as chapter by chapter notes. So I usually reread the notes my editor provided on big picture edits and then the chapter’s notes to make sure I fix everything I need to in those pages. Sometimes I’m going back to fix something 3 chapters earlier because this change ripples backward in the book. The Girl Who Saved Ghosts

I like to work in chronological order, so I aim to edit 10-30 pages a day. I have 60 days to get my edits finished and polished and back to the publisher, so I try to make the initial pass the slower, more intense pass. Sometimes I need to mull something over and building in extra time in the first pass helps me figure out a solution before I’ve finished the initial pass. I still need to leave enough time for 1-2 more read-throughs to smooth the story out. Anytime you tinker with something, you create a ripple effect, even if you don’t notice it. Trust me it’s there. A change on page 150 can ripple to page 270 and back to page 15, so I need those extra read-throughs to make sure everything still works, and it is a smooth read without an unexpected plot hole popping up.

Mind you, a lot of changes are being worked out in the back of my mind as I do other things like cooking, laundry, and cleaning. I can usually do up to an hour straight of work before I need a break because I start to lose mental focus or physical balance due to vertigo issues. Luckily, it’s the perfect time to take my dogs out and give them a nice bit of exercise for 20 minutes.

Then I’m back to editing. I usually get in another hour or two. When I can’t come up with a fix, I make a note using track changes to either come back and fix the problem later or follow up with my editor for advice.

When 2 p.m. arrives, I do some balance exercises for an hour. The dogs get fed and go out again at 3 p.m. Then I need to prep for my night job. I usually teach two classes two to three nights a week to adults. This summer, Tuesday nights were psychology and office administration classes.  Prepping for class involves creating tests, reviewing lecture materials, creating in-class projects, and mapping out the two hours of class time and homework assignments. KC's Dog

Next, I hop in the shower and get dressed because when I work at home I’m in pajamas all day. Now, it’s time for a late lunch and a cup of matcha milk tea.

Walking... Then I’m off to teach for four hours. It’s about a twenty-minute commute each way. Teach from 5:45-9:35 p.m. makes it hard to eat at a regular dinner time. I get 4 ten-minute breaks, but I’m usually doing attendance or something class related or, you know, using the bathroom. So there’s no time to eat and digest properly.

I get home around 10, have dinner, and unwind. And by dinner, I mean a few scoops of yogurt or cottage cheese in a bowl and a piece of fruit and some popcorn.

Around 11:15 p.m., I usually check email again and my social media. Sometimes there’s another half hour of work to do. Then I head to bed at 12ish and sneak in half an hour to an hour of reading before I go to sleep.

About the Author: K.C. Tansley

K.C. TansleyK.C. Tansley lives with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, and two quirky golden retrievers on a hill somewhere in Connecticut. She tends to believe in the unbelievables—spells, ghosts, time travel—and writes about them. Never one to say no to a road trip, she’s climbed the Great Wall twice, hopped on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, and danced the night away in the dunes of Cape Hatteras. She loves the ocean and hates the sun, which makes for interesting beach days.

The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts is her award-winning and bestselling first novel in The Unbelievables series. As Kourtney Heintz, she also writes award winning cross-genre fiction for adults. Find out more about her at her website, or check out her books on Amazon and iBooks.

Pinkness of Rain by Richard King Perkins II

Photo by Jake weirick on Unsplash

Photo by Jake weirick on Unsplash

Despite the pinkness of rain
there’s no floating pathway


for the lover you drag behind you
like waterlogged cherry twist.

Your friends drink fancy wine
and quibble with the moon

while you sing a nimbus of trees
that silently comes to rise around me.

Show me your hideousness
my love, and I will make it lovely

so you’ll release the battlements
of rust

into an uncertain metamorphosis.

About the Author: Richard King Perkins II

Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best of the Web nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.

Sunday Salon: The Shadow Side

My cousin called me the other day, checking in as she is often so thoughtful to do. “How are you doing?” she asked. Normally I answer those kinds of inquiries with a “fine,” or “good,” no matter what the real truth of the matter might be.

But that day, I decided to tell the truth.

“I’m just sitting here having a little cry about my dog,” I said. (Our beloved Shih Tzu, Magic, died in July.)

My cousin has a multitude of struggles in her life right now, struggles which were increased by the loss of one of her pair of sheepdogs a couple of months ago. “Aw, I know,” she said. “I still cry about my dog.”

We discussed the trauma associated with that loss, how horrible it seemed in so many ways. “And if one more person says something to me about that stupid Rainbow Bridge I’m gonna slap their face!” she said laughing.

“I agree,” I said, chuckling in spite of myself. “Sometimes I just don’t want to hear those happy little stories.”

A few minutes later we ended our conversation feeling immensely better for having admitted that sometimes we’re not filled with sunshine and light, even though we might pretend to be. We’ve become conditioned to hide our darker emotions – grief, fear, loneliness, anger – because society seems to frown upon them. We’re encouraged to “look on the bright side,” or “find the silver lining.” Our spiritual friends will advise us to “give it all to a higher power” because “it’s in their control.”

And what if we can’t? What if we live in the shadow of our grief, our loneliness, our fear for longer than society deems acceptable? The task of trying to “get over” those feelings becomes overwhelming of itself as we begin to feel inadequate in our life and perhaps our faith.

Later in the day I had lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. “Are you okay?” she asked at one point in the conversation. “Sometimes when I read things you write, it seems as if you’re sad.”

My first impulse was to deny it, to reply quickly, “Sad? No, I’m not sad.” Instead, I answered her truthfully like I had answered my cousin earlier in the day.

“Sometimes I AM sad,” I told her. “I think there is always an undercurrent of sadness within me. It’s been deeper lately because I’ve had some pretty significant losses, but there is always a shadow side to me, one that’s extremely sensitive to pain and injustice and loss and loneliness and fear. Maybe we all have that and some people are more in touch with it than others.”

In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “When I stopped trying to block my sadness and let it move me instead, it led me to a bridge with people on the other side. Every one of them knew sorrow. Some of them even knew how to bear it as an ordinary feature of being human instead of some avoidable curse.”

As artists perhaps we are more often aware of this ambiguity, this tendency to live in more than one emotion, to feel joy and sorrow, irritation and satisfaction, hope and despair, all at the same time. A character in Grace Paley’s short story “A Woman Young and Old,” says: “I’m artistic, and sometimes I hold two views at once.”

There is no profit to denying the shadow side – it exists in our spirit just as it does in the celestial sphere. Sadness and joy dwell simultaneously in us at all times, just as the moon remains in the sky during the 24-hour cycle even as the sun shines brilliantly above it. Honesty about my feelings of sadness yesterday provided a bridge between myself and my cousin – it gave us both an opportunity share feelings with someone else whose own shadow side was predominant, and freed us to move forward into the day feeling connected with another human being who understood. “Sadness does not sink a person,” Brown continues. “It is the energy a person spends trying to avoid sadness that does that.”

Last month the moon totally eclipsed the sun, in one of those rare celestial events that draws a great deal of scientific and popular attention. Nature has much to teach us about the inner workings of our emotional life. There are forces of darkness at work within each of us. We’d likely all be better served if we took time to become aware of them, and learn to live comfortably with them.

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their dog, Molly. Her new book, Life Goes On, a book of personal and inspirational essays about women’s experiences with family life, aging, and loss, is available at Amazon in print and on Kindle, as well as on her website. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Instrumental: You Are Here by Melissa Cynova

I got a call from a friend who’d had a truly unbearable year. There appeared to be no end in sight, and instead of calling for a tarot reading for her future, she just wanted to know where she was – right now.

Tarot readings don’t always go the way we expect. You can do a reading to see if you should get a divorce, and find that your partner isn’t the only person who created space between the two of you. That allowing the only sex that enters the relationship to happen when you flip each other off while passing in the hall. You could go to the cards asking why you can’t move up in your company, and the cards will tell you that you are in the wrong career.

The question you ask doesn’t always point to the answer, and the answer is often found in fear. Fear of that hard conversation that might put your relationship back on track. Fear that you’ve invested time, money and training in a career that doesn’t work for you.

Instead of looking into the future, it can be more helpful to find out what tools you have in hand, which things are holding you down, and which can lift you up. What is here, right now, to help you deal with getting through the day. Sometimes, you can’t believe the Instagram shininess that encourages you that everything will be ok in the end – but the end isn’t here yet.

Sometimes you just need to know that right now, here and now, you are ok.

You Are Here Spread:

(Cards in a cross – one on top, one left, one right, and one at the bottom)

Card 1 – What can you reach for – right now – that will help lift you up?

Card 2 – What can you release that is making your day more difficult?

Card 3 – What tool is within reach that will help you have a position of strength?

Card 4 – What will hold you up until the light at the end of the tunnel gets closer? What if your main support?

This reading can be repeated as often as you need it. When you want to move forward, you can tuck it in your back pocket for the next time. Remember that often, when you don’t know where to go, the best thing to do is sit down. Gain your strength, and breathe.

About the Author: Melissa Cynova

Melissa Cynova is owner of Little Fox Tarot, and has been reading tarot cards and teaching classes since 1989. She can be found in the St. Louis area, and is available for personal readings, parties and beginner and advanced tarot classes. Her first book, Kitchen Table Tarot, was recently published by Llewellyn Publishing. Melissa lives in St. Louis with her kiddos, her husband, Joe, two cats, two dogs and her tortoise, Phil.

You can reach Melissa at She is on Twitter and Instagram under Little Fox Tarot. Go ahead and schedule a reading – she already knows you want one.

Editor’s Note:  Tarot Cards are from the “Pagan Otherworlds Tarot” Deck.

The Final Test of Canonisation by Robert Beveridge

“When did I become such an undesirable blanket?” –Mary Biddinger, “Beatitudes”

Warnings, even the outdated ones,
are forever spoken in hushed tones.
You walk up the ramp and the man
with the sparse combover and the appropriate
relaxed-bowel sportcoat: “to the right,
please,” he murmurs, just above silent.
“The casket shall remain closed for the duration
of the viewing.” I bite back the obvious.

The room is full, and yet I can see nothing
(what flowers for saints and stuff?) but that
closed box, a refrigerator door meant to preserve—
what?—the nutrients that should return
to the soil, allow us to give back something
so small for all we have taken?

The viewing is what it is, what they all are. Family
members catch up on gossip from pruned branches.
Dinner plans are made, forgotten in trips
to the restroom. The children, unaware
of the purpose of this family reunion, play
in the basement until mischievous, touched
Uncle Michael takes them on a tour
of the morgue. The sandwiches in the back
room have less appeal now then the Hanobska
Chateau Marionette ’95 in the coffee dispenser.

One to four, then six to nine, and the two-
hour interim in which the family flee,
some to a light dinner, some to the local
paid-by-the-hour motel, most to the Linen Lounge,
where the lingerie dancers dress in funeral weeds
and the most popular drink is the zombie.
The director, sportcoat over his shoulder,
steps out for a two-hour chainsmoke and finally,
finally our time is here. We slip the catches
on the drawers, roll ourselves out. This is
our viewing, our private time, and we approach

the casket with reverence, trepidation.
Lift the lid on three, and what we could
not bear to believe lies before us—your body
pristine, untouched by disease, by accident,
by trochar. We slipped our arms beneath you,
where blood would pool, decay begin, and found
what we expected, yet not dared to hope—
the only mark an outrageous hickey, just above
(what is that called?), I put there three
days ago, when you were still alive,
still capable of touching pen to paper.
We had heard Mother Church requires
first photographic evidence, then physical

We did the only thing we could,
the one most right thing: six pallbearers
lined up, lifted the casket from among
its forest, marched in languorous step
toward the open door of the crematorium.
The fire rumbled, a gut promised
a singular, delectable meal.

About the Author: Robert Beveridge

Robert Beveridge makes noise ( and writes poetry just outside Cleveland, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in Borrowed Solace, Dodging the Rain, and Twyckenham Notes, among others.

Delilah by Molly Totoro

I am a good girl. I always try to do the right thing. I like to follow the rules rather than treat them as guidelines.

I suppose this legalistic view stems from my elementary parochial school years. Earning gold stars was the primary source of motivation. In kindergarten, we would earn gold stars for counting to 100 or reciting the ABCs. In first grade, we earned them for recognizing sight words and reading a book-a-month.

Second grade was a bit more challenging. We started memorizing scripture verses and liturgical creeds. At this young age, I discovered the mandate to Fear the Lord.

I found this confusing. The Bible urges us to “Fear Not” (365 times in fact… one for each day of the year)… and yet we must Fear the Lord. I am a rule follower and I am literal. So I feared.

This philosophy worked well for me when I was younger. It began to unravel when I entered high school.

Adolescence was a difficult time for all. Hormones wreaked havoc with our emotions and complexion. Cliques determined our social fate, and our ranking changed on a daily basis.

I lost two sets of friends in high school. In tenth grade, I was no longer cool enough to hang out with the popular crowd. In twelfth grade, I refused to drink even though I was of legal age. I was lonely and hurt most of the time.

This marks the time I first took notice of Delilah, and she has become my constant companion ever since. Delilah is the name I gave to my inner critic.

Delilah was born out of necessity. I needed an understanding soul. I needed someone to watch out for me and help me avoid rejection. And Delilah willingly accepted that role.

In the beginning, Delilah’s voice was calm and caring. When I met a new friend, her soothing tone would remind me of past broken relationships. “Now WHY do you think they want to be friends with you?” Delilah wanted me to be aware of any hidden motives. She wanted to protect me from getting hurt.

Over the years her voice became more critical: “Now why do you think they want to be friends with YOU?” And eventually, her question became a declaration: “They don’t want to be friends with you. Run away so you don’t get hurt.”

Even at that time, I accepted Delilah as the voice of truth. She was my true friend. She cared about me. So I followed her advice and retreated into a shell to avoid rejection.

But Delilah now had too much power in my life. Since she no longer needed to protect me from friendships, she decided to protect from the world.

Humility is a character trait I strive to achieve. After all, I learned in elementary school that Pride Goeth before the Fall and Blessed are the Humble. Humility is the ability to accept who we are without boasting or arrogance.

But Delilah took that one step further. To prevent me from becoming prideful or arrogant, she would let me know how I needed to improve.

At first, her guidance was kind and encouraging. She used self-help books to point out my weaknesses. You are too shy – you need to learn to speak in public. You are too rigid, you need to learn to let go. You are too insulated, you need to get out of your comfort zone.

But over time, her voice grew louder and more frequent. I was never good enough. Qualified enough. Friendly enough.

If school administration would compliment one of my lessons, I would respond with, “It wasn’t my idea. I copied from someone else.”

Or if someone would encourage me to write I would wrinkle my nose and say, “I’m not a real writer.”

One evening someone tried to pay me a compliment and I, of course, dismissed it. At which point my daughter said, “Mom, no one likes a self-deprecating character.”

I froze. Self-deprecating? Me? I thought I was being humble.

Turns out there is a fine line between the two, and I had crossed that line.

I set out to prove my daughter wrong by returning to familiar scripture verses. Instead, I realized I had twisted the words.

Instead of reading Love your neighbor as yourself – I read it as Love your neighbor instead of yourself.

When I read Judge not lest ye be judged – I internalized Don’t judge others, but you are fair game.

This realization helped me become more aware of Delilah’s voice, and I couldn’t believe my ears.

The words she said. The tone in which she said them. The venom she spat in my head all day long overpowered me. I would never dream of speaking to any other human being that way.

And yet, I accepted it from her.

She belittled me so much, beating me to such a pulp that I lost my own voice. Almost.

Then I discovered journaling.

While I did not have the confidence to verbally confront her, I could write. And I did. Journals upon journals.

I also began a new method of Bible study: one that focuses on the LOVE of God. I’m learning about God’s love for me, God’s love for others, and God’s desire that we also love ourselves.

I am still on this journey with Delilah. She will be my constant life companion. But I am learning to discern when to listen to her guidance, and when to tell her to take a hike.

About the Author: Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.

Connect with Molly at her blog, My Cozy Book Nook and on social media: FaceBookTwitterInstagramPinterest

Conversations Over Coffee: Pre-Orders, Reviews, & More by Daryl Wood Gerber

I asked a few of my author friends to answer a couple of questions about publishing. Hopefully their answers will enlighten those of you who are, or aspire to be, authors. I think you’ll see a trend.

The authors who participated include (Editor’s Note: Links go to each author’s website) :

Why are pre-orders important? 

Jenn: Probably, there is a very specific answer that I’m unaware of, but I think they’re important because publishers track your sales and all pre-orders get counted up the week that the book goes on sale. Big numbers mean your publisher will pay attention and your books will get better placement, bigger print runs, more publicity – basically you’ll stay employed!

Kaye: Because they are sales, and sales mean income. If you’re with a large publisher, they can help to push your visibility for them.

Lucy aka Roberta: Pre-orders demonstrate to the publisher that the book will have an audience, and that is a good thing, as they are more likely to get behind it with their own publicity.

Hannah: I like to say that pre-ordering your book is akin to the importance of sales taken at the box office for the opening weekend of a Hollywood movie. Pre-ordering a book creates buzz and hopefully shows the publisher that readers are eager to buy your book i.e. is the print run big enough for the demand? The other thing, too, is that if the publisher believes your new book is going to be popular, they will want more in the series.

Krista: Most authors dream of making bestseller lists, and pre-orders can give you the boost you need. Pre-orders count as sales during the release week when a book usually has the most sales. Add pre-sales and first week sales together, and that week is your best chance of selling enough books to make a bestseller list. In addition, pre-orders tell bookstores how a book might sell. If there are a lot of pre-orders, it signals an interest in the book to bookstores and book chains. They may even increase the number of books they order to accommodate the interest in the book. And when bookstores increase their orders, it can even kick your book into a second printing, which will make the author and the publisher very happy. It doesn’t stop there. If you have a lot of pre-orders and a second printing is necessary, your publisher will take note and it can have an impact on how your publisher treats your next book.

Some retailers will use a book to draw customers by lowering the price. I see this a lot with Walmart. Retailers have bots that search online prices so they can match or beat them. I’m only guessing, but if your book is getting a lot of pre-orders, it will be a more attractive book to discount, which means more sales.

Daryl: I can’t state it better than what my pals have stated. I believe pre-orders help bookstores know what is hot and what is not. They are all “sales” in the long-run, so they help those first week’s numbers, but the buzz in the industry comes from pre-sales.

Why are reviews important? 

Kaye: Because many readers rely on reviews. This is more important if your books are not in bookstores since browsers can’t pick up the novel and leaf through it.

Lucy aka Roberta: Reviews help potential readers and librarians and bookstores decide to give the book a try!

Hannah: To be honest, I have mixed feelings about reviews.  Five star reviews (especially on Amazon) do something exciting with the algorithms meaning that your book pops up as a must-read. Starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal are highly coveted. But others … well … so much depends on the source.

Jenn: This I have to answer as a librarian. Bottom line: reviews tell readers whether they’ll like the book or not. Even a bad review will get me to buy. For example, if the reviewer hates something – quirky characters or a small town setting – that I love, their review will likely make me buy the book. Also, the more reviews a book gets, the more attention people will pay to it. Win-win.

Krista: I do a lot of shopping online (don’t we all?). And I put a lot of weight on reviews. This isn’t rocket science. If I’m interested in a dress and everyone has given it one star, I’m going to think there’s something wrong with the fit or the fabric. When I order cat food, I look for five-star reviews. Everyone knows how finicky cats are. If everyone’s cats like it, maybe my picky puss will, too. Of course, everything is subjective. I may love a book that someone else dislikes. I think it’s trickier to rely on reviews of books because tastes in books vary widely. Having said the obvious, I’ll now go into the rocket science part of the importance of reviews. Amazon sells more books than anyone. Their algorithms are not a mystery. There are plenty of articles about them and most mention that the number of reviews impact ranking. I’m told (and my experience seems to be consistent with this), that the more reviews a book has, the more advertising the book gets from Amazon. I assume the number of stars plays a role here.

Daryl: I think reviews help readers know what is good and what isn’t. I think some reviewers can be petty, but savvy readers can discern that. My big belief regarding reviews is that the publisher is excited to see what readers are saying about a book – it helps them get excited about a book, especially a new series. In addition, I agree with Krista, that the algorithm that works on many of the online sites, due to reviews, really drives up how that site will promote the book. You know those little suggestions that, for example, Amazon comes up with when you buy a book and you see “people who ordered this book might like this book”  (and then you see a string of mini book covers)? I believe reviews drive those types of marketing tools.

What’s your next project?

Kaye: The Vintage Sweets cozy series set in Fredericksburg TX, from Lyrical Press, 2018

Jenn:  Currently, I’m working on the 9th Library Lover’s Mystery, A FINE DAY FOR MURDER, coming Nov 2018!  DEATH IN THE STACKS comes out this November. And my romance, BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE, is just out.

Krista: I have three projects in progress. For dog and cat lovers, NOT A CREATURE WAS PURRING will be released in November. COLOR ME MURDER, the first book in my new Pen & Ink Mystery series comes out in February. And you can color the cover! Finally, the Domestic Divas will be back in June with THE DIVA COOKS UP A STORM.

Lucy aka Roberta: Next project is the eighth book in the Key West Food Critic mystery series featuring Hayley Snow, 2018.

Hannah: I’m excited about a new series that is set in the Isles of Scilly off the Cornish mainland (Poldark fans will know where this is). I’m also thrilled that the Vicky Hill Mysteries (four books) will be re-released in the USA  by Hatchette in 2018.

Daryl: Next up for me is the first in the French Bistro Mysteries, A Deadly Éclair, which debuts November 7.  In 2018, I will have two new books coming out. The second in the French Bistro Mysteries, Soufflé of Suspicion (July) and the sixth in the Cookbook Nook Mysteries, Pressing the Issue (May).

Wishing you all good writing and great reviews!

About the Author: Daryl Wood Gerber

Agatha Award-winning Daryl Wood Gerber writes the brand new French Bistro Mysteries as well as the nationally bestselling Cookbook Nook Mysteries. As Avery Aames, she pens the popular Cheese Shop Mysteries.

A Deadly Êclair, the first French Bistro Mystery, comes out November 2017.

Daryl also writes stand-alone suspense: Day of Secrets and Girl on the Run. Fun tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She loves to cook, and she has a frisky Goldendoodle named Sparky who keeps her in line!

Connect with Daryl (and her alter ego Avery): Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Daryl on Twitter | Avery on Twitter

Sunday Sensations: An Ode to Fall

I adore the fall season.

I’m not the biggest fan of summer – other than the ability to wear flip flops every day and swim in a pool outside. Winters fill me with intense dread and spring I can take or leave, but fall absolutely excites me. Fall is when the world comes alive with sensations. Enjoyable sensations. Crisper weather, crunching leaves, and caramel flavors.

There’s just the right amount of cold. It’s not enough to seep into your bones until you feel as all the color has drained from your world. It’s not warm enough to make you wish your home has central AC. Jack Frost barely lifts a finger, but your cheeks can feel his kiss.

In fall, you can snuggle into a soft sweater. You’re hugged by your clothing instead of restrained by it. No longer are you longing to join a nudist colony. Summer is so hot that even your thin strapped tank top is sticking to your skin. No more. Now you can layer with abandon and for fashion. Hats that aren’t ball caps are once again welcomed. Boots are worn for the sheer pleasure rather than necessity. All of your closet is now optional. T-shirt and leggings? Yes. Sweater and jeans? Also, yes. It’s truly a magical time of year for your wardrobe.

Never a huge fan of nature myself, I love the fall colors outside. The world outside may be settling in for a long winter’s nap, but it’s going out with a bang! It throws a final hurrah of colors, sights and smells. Red, a personal favorite, appears as Cinderella at the ball. She dips herself into leaves and wild grasses. Wrapping herself up in smoke and frost, she is the brash opening to a symphony that will echo until the first snow. Orange runs and laughs from treetop to treetop. Snaking his way through the landscape and bursting out in giant plumbs in every pumpkin patch. Yellow, who has been around all summer, throws one final party as it bends through every corn and wheat field.

And the food.

America’s food landscape alters dramatically in fall. Pumpkins, apples, caramel, and cinnamon dominate the landscape. Suddenly, it’s a time for warm pies, hot soups, and spiced drinks. The #PSL coffee craze aside, pumpkins come into their own in the fall. Soups, cakes, cookies, pies, pasta and so much more can all be made with this impressive gourd. Apples are being picked so fresh you can still taste a bit of the summer sun that nurtured them in every bite.

Food is the reason for the season. Factories work around the calendar year just to feed our need for candy and sugar when Halloween hits. This holiday may have begun with some pagan roots, but in reality we all know it’s the candy that’s won out in the end. The haul of tipped over buckets and bags is carefully picked through by the time the clock strikes midnight on October 31.

Food warms and comforts you in the fall. So much so, we have entire holiday centered around it. Thanksgiving is about warmth. Warm food, warm hugs and time with family and friends, and the warm glow of thankfulness.

Really what isn’t there to love about fall?

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find some hot apple cider.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.