Conversations Over Coffee with Andi Cumbo-Floyd


One of the biggest blessings of managing Modern Creative Life is the opportunity to connect with fellow writers and creative souls. And, if you’re lucky, those connections grown and develop into friendships that feel loving and nourishing. I met Andi Cumbo-Floyd through her online writing community where she serves as a beacon of light for those of us playing with words (and wanting to publish them in some form) and am grateful to call her a friend, colleague, mentor (and sometimes editor).

That’s why I’m thrilled to be “talking” with Andi Cumbo-Floyd about life, writing, and her latest book (with a pictorial peek into farm life!)

We call this series Conversations Over Coffee because it’s the things I’d ask you if we were sitting across the table from each other over a casual cup of coffee….. so, let’s set the stage: where would you suggest we meet near your current home….and what is your go-to beverage and/or snack were we to meet?

Well, since we live about 45 minutes from the nearest coffee shop, why don’t we meet at my dining room table in the farmhouse?  I’ll have a cup of chamomile tea and some shortbread, and of course, I’ll have enough to share.

For those readers not familiar with your work, can you give us a quick synopsis and background on your new book Love Letters to Writers: Encouragement, Accountability, and Truth-Telling.

Love Letters to Writers is a collection of 52 letters that I’ve written over the past two years to members of the Writing Community I coordinate.  Each week, I write them a letter that is drawn from my own experience, from a question they ask, from something I’ve read, or from a random member – like the time I stuck my finger up a horse’s nose.  Each letter is about the writing life and is written with the hopes that it will give these writers support and the feeling of camaraderie on this writing journey.

I decided to select some of these letters because one of the Community members, Amanda Eastep, suggested that they should be read by more writers, and so, here we are.

Why IS it important to write if you feel the call?

Here’s the truth as I see it – in an ideal world that was free of oppression and injustice, we would all get to do what we loved all the time, and so for those of us who are called to write, I think the world needs our words – and we need them, too.

Each person’s stories – be they fiction, nonfiction, poetry, blogs, news articles, etc – speak of a truth that is unique to that person, and so the world is made richer and brighter when those of us with this particular vocation step into it as fully and completely as we can.

You write several genres: books for writing, fiction, non-fiction. How do you maintain your writing voice across the genres or does the genre influence your writing voice?

Sometimes I wish I could vary my voice more in the different genres I write, but by grace, I discovered the voice of my heart some years ago and now write – as best I can – only from there, even when I’m writing in the voice of a character or exploring history instead of writing.  To be consistent in that voice, I need to stay in touch with my heart because that’s where the truest aspect of my voice lives.

Reaching my heart on busy, hard days is a challenge, but through a ritual of writing that gets me to the page most days, I find that I know how to slide into that space fairly easily. For me, it’s more a matter of listening than producing, listening to what my heart has to say and just following those words.

Are there any threads that consistently run through your work no matter what genre you’re writing?

I’m constantly drawn to the idea of bringing light to injustice. Whether I’m writing about slavery or about the way women are underrepresented by publishers and publications or about the way racism lives in the city I know best, Charlottesville, Virginia, I want to always be trying to show people truth in a way that they can see it.

In what ways does real life inform your writing (and vice versa)?

Well, since I write mostly about the two things that most imbue my days – writing and history – it informs everything I write.  In practical ways, the places I spend time – places where people were enslaved – inform the topics of my writing. And because I make my living as an editor, I spend most of my waking hours considering what makes stories or poems or articles work well and what doesn’t.

In terms of how my writing informs my life, I think the biggest thing there is that writing is how I come to understand my truth about things. It teaches me to see more deeply, to stretch for understanding, and that work makes me, I pray, a more compassionate, loving person.

Most creative folks I know are full of ideas. How do you decide “what’s next” and which idea deserves your attention?

I’d like to say I have some high-minded ideal or publishing plan that determines these things, but honestly, it’s often about energy – what project do I have the energy to complete well in the midst of all the other things I’m working on?  I’m not one of those rare authors who makes their living through book sales, so I always have to think about client projects as well as the work of literary citizenship I do to say connected to and support other writers.

In addition to writing, you also work as an editor. As an editor, what would you like writers to know before sending you their book?

I could fill pages with my answer to this question, but here’s are the two biggest pieces of advice I can give to anyone hiring an editor:

  • Be sure you’ve done everything you can to make your book as strong as possible before you bring someone in to edit. If you already know what to do, it’s a waste of your money and my time. But when you’ve exhausted your know-how, then hire someone to help.
  • Don’t even think about sending your book to an editor if you haven’t read it through, cover to cover. I get so many books that have clearly been piece-mealed together, and a simple read-through would show the writer some of the big weaknesses in their books.

While attending a writer Q&A at my library recently, the writer was asked for some writing advice in a nutshell. She shared this snippet: “Finishing and publishing a book is 20% talent and 80% discipline”. Do you agree? What is it that we all need to know about that double-edged sword called “discipline”?

Oh, I think that writer is totally right there.  The most talented writers I know got to that place by writing regularly and as often as possible. Writing – like most things – is something that requires practice, and so the more we have the discipline to sit down and practice – even without a product in mind – the better our work will be.  So I’m with her there.

But I would also say that burn-out is a real thing for writers, too, especially in our “write more faster” culture, so we have to be wise to build a practice of writing that is life-giving, not draining. And that practice differs from person to person and moment to moment.

What’s your best three pieces of advice for folks that write?

  1. Guard your writing time and space. Treat it as sacred. Don’t give it away unless absolutely necessary.
  2. Finish things. Finish book drafts and blog posts. Finish articles. Finish the books you read. The process of finishing creates a sense of accomplishment and teaches you discipline.
  3. Love on other writers. Share their work. Review their books. Like their posts. It doesn’t take much to help another writer get some traction in the public eye.

And your best two pieces of advice for writers that want to finish and publish?

  1. Set a date by which you will publish and then work back from there to figure out what you need to write when.
  2. Don’t let marketing scare you.  You can try to do everything and get overwhelmed, or you can do what you feel good doing and trust that they people who need your book will find it.

What myths about being a writer (and the writing life) would you like to bust?

Oh, so many.  Fundamentally, though, I’d just like to destroy any of the legends that say every writer has to do any one thing. Not all of us can write at 5am. Not all of us can write with a fountain pen on unlined paper. Not all of us can write well in a coffee shop or in utter silence or at the end of an airport runway.

Every writer is different, and we need to own and love what works for us and do our work there.

Your book is a series of Love Letters, so to speak. What’s you most compassionate advice for when times get discouraging? (Our friends are getting book deals, folks are publishing left and write and we’re struggling, etc.) 

Oh, this is so hard, and I’ve struggled with jealousy and discouragement in some big ways this year.  Here’s what I do: I let myself feel those feelings. I don’t berate myself for being petty or ungrateful. I just feel it.

Then, I celebrate with my friends, even if some of that celebration is an act of hope rather than genuine joy.

Finally, I get back to my work, the words only I can write, the stories only I can tell.  Usually, by the time I reach this point, I remember that it’s the writing that I love, not the accolades.

As we’ve recently discussed and I shared recently here at MCL, though I was “finished” with my next book, I decided it wasn’t ready to publish. How do you make the determination that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to abandon a project – or put it in cold storage.

For me, that decision is usually based on energy. I don’t abandon many things completely, but I do put them aside for the time being. If it feels like I simply cannot get this right with the time and energy I have, I put it away because laboring over something when I’m not able to give my best to it is frustrating and can make me hate the work.

What do you know now that you wish you knew at 32?

Oh, that’s a beautiful question. At 32, I was at the end of a sad but silent divorce after a sad and largely silent marriage. I had just gotten my first full-time job as an English professor, and I was already finding myself overwhelmed by the work that job entailed.  I was pretty sad and lonely, and I was trying to do all the things that I thought I should do – speak at conferences, write academic papers, serve on all the committees.

So I wish I could tell myself of a decade ago, “Lean into your love, Andi. Trust it.  It’ll lead you well. Don’t try to hard. Just be you, and it’ll come together. It really will.”

About the Author: Andi Cumbo-Floyd

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives on 15 blissful acres at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 6 goats, 4 dogs, 4 cats, and 22 chickens. Her books include Steele Secrets, Charlotte and the Twelve, The Slaves Have Names, and Writing Day In and Day Out. Her new book, Love Letters to Writers: Encouragement, Accountability, and Truth-Telling is now available.

You can connect with Andi at her website,, or via Facebook and Twitter.

Life in Light and Shadow by Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

I begin with a reading—what I know to be true—what is light—illuminated: the Empress. My strength. My connection to the Earth. My self-empowerment and strength. What I need to see—what is shadow—darkness: the Knight of Pentacles. My blind spot is my lack of routine. My inability to finish what I start. My work. My commitments. The light is that I am resilient right now, but the shadow is how changeable every moment currently is. I don’t have the Knight’s consistency. Day by day, the rules change. Day by day, my body changes. Day by day, my heart is in revolt. I throw cards and light candles. I look for beauty in this ruthlessly bittersweet in-between.

I know I am not alone in this. The whole world feels like it is mutable. Inconsistent. Unsettled. We all tumble through the latest headlines and heartbreaks and blessings and brokenness. Finding ourselves, if we are lucky, tangled in a large swath of light. Finding ourselves tangled in a lover’s arms. A kiss as remedy. A conversation as medicine. A flare in the darkness. A touch and we remember what hope feels like. Or we are our own disciple. Telling ourselves stories and whispering prayers to the shadows until the sun comes back. Mapping our narrative until we see the path through all of this. Promising we will go home again. We are already home. Here. In our bones, we are home. Light breaks across them and we know.

And when we just don’t know—when we are lost, when it is all incomprehensible and even words and touch and cards fail us, all we have to do is go outside again and look up. By sunlight or by starlight, we can navigate our way.

I end with a blessing for the in between—I will seek light wherever I can find it—in every being I meet, in myself, even when all I can see are my own shadows. I promise myself love, creativity, and kindness. I commit to tolerance, solitude, introspection, time outside in the trees, watching the leaves fall and the flight patterns of birds overhead. Life will always offer darkness. It is up to me to keep the repository of light replenished. I swear to always burn candles and throw cards—to savor the story and the kiss—to look to the bones and the branches. I vow set my roots into the depths of this mercurial world. At home in the shadow and the light.

Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

cathleendeliamulrooney_bioRestless. Sleepless. Book-lover. Wordsmith. Deep roots. Prodigal heart. Teacher. Guide. Wanderer. Witch. Tea, tarot, hot baths, stitchcraft. Curator of narrative relics, remnants, & curiosities.

Cat is also a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. Her poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared in a variety of online and print publications. She has been teaching writing at the college level since 2000, and has facilitated creative writing workshops in elementary schools, high schools, prisons, and private organizations, as well as workshops exclusively for women to write their body and tarot-based narratives.

Through her Queen of Cups Tarot community, she offers private, group, and online tarot readings. Find her online at and Facebook:

Land for Sale by Pat West

Time and time again,
in the darkest hours of the night,
I have gone down
on my hands and knees
and painstakingly measured
the empty space you left
when you died, so vast
and deep: I’m tired of living with it,
so I’ve decided to put it on the market.

Property values are soaring,
there are even bidding wars.
Oh, I won’t sell to just anyone,
wouldn’t want to wake up one morning
and find a strip mall in my heart.
But I could live with an art museum
or maybe . . . yes,

a library with vaulted ceilings,
sprawling wings, quiet reading alcoves
off the main lobby, tables, lamps
with puddles of amber light
dotting the landscape.

About the Author: Pat West

Pat Phillips West lives in Olympia, WA. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in Haunted Waters Press, Persimmon Tree, VoiceCatcher, San Pedro River Review, Slipstream, Gold Man Review and elsewhere.

Instrumental: Managing Anxiety by Bella Cirovic

I struggle with anxiety.

When it first began, it was a blessing to learn that the symptoms I had been experiencing were not my physical health going bad or me going nuts: it was anxiety. There are a couple of things about anxiety I didn’t know: it’s the body’s natural response to fear. Yes, fear! A deep rooted, rational or irrational, tucked away in the depths of your brain, fear. The mind / body connection is so tightly intertwined that one teensy little trigger… a word, a photo, a place… can set the anxiety into motion and the body like magic, responds.

How am I working through it? Well, it takes a village to keep me in check. My anxiety tends to be heightened during the dark and colder months, a season we are just entering now.  I have gathered my top three go to moves to help me through it. Maybe they might be of help to you.

I have a tight circle of close friends who I can call and spill my guts to. The spilling part is the most important. Keeping things bottled up and withholding leads to isolation. The absolute worst feeling in the world is when you feel like you’re all alone. I have to make that call, open up, let it out, and trust that my friends will listen and hold onto whatever I have to share. Difficult? Yes. Necessary? Oh, yes. It’s been a tremendous help.

Because anxiety is a physical response my body often feels sore, like when you haven’t worked out in months and then you do and your muscles get sore and tender. I’ve created a special blend of oils that I pour into a roller ball bottle to massage on my pulse points and right into the muscles. I then massage and love on the tender parts. My favorite oils to use for this purpose is a combination of lavender, peppermint, and chamomile. Add a few drops of each to a carrier base like almond oil and use when necessary.

Meditation has helped tremendously! My favorite way to do that is to cd on or download an meditation app on my phone. I’ve found a couple of meditation guides that focus on anxiety and fears that I like and every morning before I shower, I plug in my headphones, and relax to the calming music. It’s refreshing. I try to keep my mind and heart open to receiving what the music has to offer, and I find that it relaxes me and releases me into the day very gently.

On a particularly rough day, I might plug into the meditation before I go to bed. However you meditate – whatever that practice may look like for you – it can’t hurt, it can only help. My favorite app for meditation is: Relax from Andrew Johnson.

I’ve only touched on three of my go-to practices here and what they all hold in common is that I have to show up. I have to conjure up the courage to reach out, to make that time, to fill the bottle with oils, to let go of what I should be doing to make time for my meditation. I have to let go and give in – and I believe that is what self care and self kindness means. It’s allowing yourself the TIME to focus on yourself and your healing. This is so vital to us so that we can show up in the other areas of our lives as a better version of ourselves, a more relaxed and rejuvenated version.

What are your go to moves for dealing with anxiety through the darker months?

About the Author: Bella Cirovic

Bella Cirovic BioBella Cirovic is a photographer and writer who lives with her husband and daughter in the suburbs outside of NYC. She writes on the subjects of self care, body love and nourishment, crystals, essential oils, and family life. Catch up with Bella at her blog: She Told Stories

Sunday Sanctuary: on Finishing and Not

If my creative life had gone as planned, dear one, I would be sharing with you the pinnacle point of my year: the publication of my new book. I’ve been working on this book since the spring of 2016, leaning into a new way of writing for me waxing upon the ways to tend the soul and nourish a creative spirit.

I began working on the book through an Instagram project, sharing 100 days of creative living. The challenge to see – and marvel – over the details in my life that added to the richness. Remembering to be grateful for those seemingly ordinary seconds that on a whole bring me to my knees of how grace is always within my reach. Honoring the holy in the simple moments.

Forcing myself to be a seeker – an explorer – an experimenter – rather than always being The Person with The Answers.

Most of my professional and creative life hinges on that, by the way: knowing the answers. As a life coach, I share what I’ve learned once I’m on the other side of it. As the Editor in Chief here, I am the guide and mentor. Stepping into the role of being the student, the novice, the one taking a risk instead of bearing witness to those taking risks is an uncomfortable position for me.

Yet, it’s also the position I must be brave enough to explore. If I’m going to be true to my creative self, I have to stand here before you and confess: despite all my experience, I don’t have it all figured out.

I believe that finishing things, completing tasks, and reaching goals are all part of our spiritual journey.

I’m all about exploring the depths of our creativity in ways that feel fun and nourishing. I know that we should play with our craft in different ways, because without play and experimentation our creative life becomes stale or feels rote. To the depths of my soul, though, I also know that we must make part of that journey into creation with the intent to reach a finish line. Yes, the journey informs us, but we each need to regularly complete a project and share it with the world in some way.

And my dear friend, I have failed in this quest.

Sometimes, the mantra we must take up in order to allow ourselves to complete a project is “finished is better than perfect.” The coach and editor in me knows that there is no such thing as perfection and that need to make things perfect before putting them out in the world is a way in which our inner critic keeps us small and fearful. Perfection and the pursuit of it is how we self-sabotage.

There must also be discernment, though – the ability to set aside our ego and evaluate our own work from a place of love, yes, but one of truth as well.

The book I should be telling you about was a week away from departing my hands to arriving in the hands of my editor. I dutifully exported my file from Scrivener into Word so that I could give one more pass at the work before sending it along. I had it printed (Fed Ex Office is worth the wear and tear on my little ink jet printer).

94,560 words. 414 pages. Almost twice the length of a NaNoWriMo novel.

But before I completed hand-editing the first 100 pages, I began to get a sinking, sick feeling. What I held in my hand was crap.

Now, I am not the kind of person that whines about how ugly/fat/horrible I am so that others will soothe me by slathering compliments upon me. Sure, I need my ego stroked a little now and then, but I don’t belittle myself or my work to get compliments.

While I understand that there are times we writers and artists say our work is crap because we don’t feel confidence in what we’ve produced, there are other times when that description is more than apt.

My friend, I know myself and my capabilities well enough to discern when what I have written just isn’t my best. This? This book I had been working on for almost two years?

It was not my best. It was not my best at all.

And so, I wavered.

To say that this has been a challenging year for me is an understatement. I have done this grief dance before, and thought I was just wired to manage grief differently. But the loss of my daddy? It sent me to the valley of grief in ways I hadn’t imagined, finding myself unable regularly feed myself, let alone write anything of substance.

I needed the ego stroke of publishing a book this year.

It seems that everywhere I looked around me, my friends were finishing books, getting the interest of agents and publishers, and putting their work into the hands of others. I needed – am in need of – a big win. A reminder that loss doesn’t define who I am. That I still have it within me to create and nourish myself and others with words.

I want the check in the box. To finish another book. To open up my creative life for a new project that isn’t tainted with fresh loss.

I left a very rambling ten-minute message to Melissa on Voxer. Telling her that this book was crap. While Melissa wasn’t going to be editing this book (like she does the majority of my blog posts), she’s been reading my work for more than a decade.

She reminded me what I knew at heart: I am a good judge of when something of mine just isn’t great.

I spoke with John at length. We were heading to DC for the week and I decided to sleep on my final decision a couple of days. I had a week before the manuscript was due to Andi for her expertise of editing.

After settling into our hotel, we headed into the city to my beloved Penn Quarter, the neighborhood that has served me and held me for many years. Over tacos, guacamole, and margaritas consumed at a sidewalk table at my favorite restaurant in DC, I told John I’d made my decision, a hard pill to swallow: I wasn’t going to be publishing a new book this year.

I felt both relief and a deep ache in my soul about this. To be this deep into something and still not see it to the end was a failure, wasn’t it?

So, I did what we all need to do when we make a hard decision: I said it out loud. I told John and Melissa. I wrote a letter to Becca. I asked for thoughts from my friend Jenn McRobbie over lunch. She’s an author and had worked for a coach-focused publishing house and told me “this is why I love you.” I told my friend Jen Lee over Voxer. I had a conversation with Andi.

At every turn, I discovered that while finishing is a spiritual act, choosing to walk away from a project is also an act of nourishing ourselves. Sometimes, done is better than perfect. And sometimes, my dear, choosing to halt – or at least put a project in cold storage – is the best way of finishing something for a while.

It is possible that will pull this book out of cold storage after the year turns in a few weeks. It is equally possible that I will not, but either way, the words I wrote will not be wasted. Just as fallen autumn leaves eventually become nourishment for the earth, the work I did on the book I’m not publishing this year will feed a new project, a better finished product, and help me clear a different finish line.

As well, the experience has reminded me that perfection isn’t real, and that sometimes we gain as much from our successes as we do from our failures.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The Blackout by John Grey

By day, Ted has much to say on any subject,
especially what’s in the newspapers.
Damn unions, he snarls. Damn government.
At night, his tongue retreats,
his head diverts the total darkness
by remembering this and that.
Gloria’s sunbathing. Ray’s in swimming.
Dave’s out fishing.
Gloria’s as thin as she’d like to be.
Ray can dive to the bottom, then float to the top,
breaking the surface with a gulp that snares half the air.
Dave claims to have reeled in a whale.
He just hopes that the sun doesn’t burn,
that the water is warm,
that the real fish do bite eventually.
But come the morning, it’s right back into politics.
The mailman gets an earful.
His neighbor knows everyone he hates
but no one he loves.
But then another night
and Ray’s swimming towards a lighthouse
and doesn’t that lighthouse look like Gloria
and what’s Dave going to do
but avoid the rocks thanks to Gloria’s light
and maybe even go after the schools of fish
that Ray is splashing in his direction.
Another day, this time the man
from the gas company cops the earful.
And then night and Gloria’s skinny and brown.
She’s lying on the shore of a lake.
Ray’s in swimming of course.
And Dave is salivating over the fish that leap out of the water,
so close he could reach out and grab them.
“Look, “says Gloria. “Here comes Ted”
Ray dog-paddles, looks in the direction she’s pointing.
Dave turns his head away from the dancing trout.
Ted crashes through the peacefulness
cussing out Democrats and Republicans equally.
Thank God they’ve finally fixed the power, he says.
First to them. Then finally just to himself.
He argues with the television until he falls asleep in front of it.
And then he dreams.
He dreams they never do restore the power.

About the Author: John Grey

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and Big Muddy Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Cape Rock and Spoon River Poetry Review.

When Reality & Fiction Collide (as told to Krista Davis)

by Little Miss Sunshine (aka Twinkletoes)

My mom, Krista Davis, thinks she created me. Can you imagine anything more preposterous than imagining that she put the idea of me out into the universe and then I showed up?

I was born in a house where animals were hoarded. Our people left and when the contractors arrived to fix up the house, they were shocked to find us. Being really terrific people, they divided us up, and each one took three of us to find us homes. In my case, a super guy dropped me (and two little brown Chihuahuas) off at his favorite animal hospital. I was there when he said, “Clean ‘em up and find them homes. I’ll pick up the bill.”  Is that a great guy or what?

I was just a baby and covered in fleas. Yuck! It was on the day of my second bath that Mom came along. I was in a cage, sopping wet, and trying desperately to dry my fur. She had a huge dog with her. For the most part I ignored her. I was wet! That was my priority. But I heard the vet say, “It’s a long weekend. Why don’t you take her home for a test drive?”

There was a lot of giggling after that. They knew they’d found a sucker! And just like that, she took me home.

The first night I was there, Mom went outside on an upstairs balcony. She thought she had shut the door behind her, but I snuck through when she wasn’t looking. When she went inside, I jumped and jumped, and went higher and higher until I had the most fabulous view of a world I had never seen before.

An hour later, I heard her calling me. I thought she’d never find my clever spot! But when she went outside in the dark and called me, I mewed to her. The truth was that I wanted to go back inside where it was warm, and I was getting hungry, too.

Have you figured out where I was? On the roof! On top of the world.

She fetched a ladder and climbed up (in the dark!). She reached up to me, and I very slowly and carefully walked down the steep pitch of the roof until she could scoop me up. And then I purred. I figured she’d be a pretty good mom, so I never did that again.

So why does she think she created me? Well, look carefully at the cover of THE DIVA DIGS UP THE DIRT. There I am. It looks just like me! The thing is that she wrote that book before I was born. And then I showed up at her vet’s office. Spooky, huh?

It was meant to be.

Now I have my own series under the pseudonym, Twinkletoes.

My latest escapade is in NOT A CREATURE WAS PURRING. That’s me on the cover with Trixie, the Jack Russell Terrier, who likes to think she’s the star of the series.

But I know the truth. Cats never make a fuss about things like that. We know we’re in charge.

Now Mom has written about a dog named Duchess. We expect to see her come trotting down the road any day.

About the Author: Krista Davis

New York Times Bestselling author Krista Davis writes the Paws and Claws Mysteries set on fictional Wagtail Mountain, a resort where people vacation with their pets. Her 5th Paws and Claws Mystery is NOT A CREATURE WAS PURRING, which releases on February 7th. Krista also writes the Domestic Diva Mysteries. Her newest series debuts in February with COLOR ME MURDER. Like her characters, Krista has a soft spot for cats, dogs, and sweets. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with two dogs and two cats.

Connect with her on Goodreads  |  Twitter  | Facebook

The New Normal by Christine Mason Miller

It’s now official. I am a resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Driver’s license? Check.

Brand new long puffy parka jacket hanging in my closet? Check.

First snow flurries? Happened yesterday.

After months of talking about it, then planning for it, then diving in and heading east, I have arrived.

My husband is originally from here , which is the main reason we decided to relocate. The thing he says to everyone who wants to know just a wee bit more about his longing to return home is that being here feels normal. There are no palm trees. It rains. A lot. When shopping for a Christmas tree, it will be cold. Guaranteed. Our motivation for packing up everything we own and moving to the Midwest was not so much about reasons that, while understandable, are also vague – “It was time to return to my roots!” – this adventure is more about countless smaller details that we’re now moving through everyday.

I’ve moved here after spending twenty-two years in California; I moved to California after spending the first twenty-seven years of my life on the east coast, mainly in Alexandria, Virginia. I’ve experienced winter and its requisite accessories – snow boots, ice scrapers, electric blankets – so the thought of Wisconsin’s colder climates never daunted me. I’m indulging my own particular longings in this move, in fact, mainly having to do with growing weary of southern California’s nearly year-round sunny-and-72 climate. Because it isn’t sunny-and-72 anymore, but blazing, dry, and extreme. Just last week it was 102 degrees in Santa Barbara, an occurrence that is fast become de riguer rather than exceptional.

During this time of getting settled into our home, learning my way around, and figuring out new routines related to cold-weather preparedness (when in doubt, bring the hat), I’ve been surprised to see and experience how so many everyday details of this place feel normal to me, too. A deep normal, a cellular normal.

I’m not from Milwaukee, but Milwaukee is a much closer kindred to Alexandria than Santa Barbara. When I take a deep inhale in our backyard, hear the rain pelting our windows, and watch gold leaves twirl down to the earth like weightless ballerina fairies, everything within me says, “Yes – this makes sense.”

I hadn’t expected to feel this way when we got here. I was looking forward to the seasons, to not having to worry about fires and earthquakes, to something different. What I didn’t know was that my very cells have long been harboring desires for the kind of seasonal rhythms and routines that were never possible on the west coast. Right here, right now – looking out my window at a soft gray sky and nary a shadow in sight – I feel normal.

When I set these new views alongside the ones we had in Santa Barbara, it is the quality of the light that sets them apart the most. Just over four months ago, everything around me was bright and glittery and intense. On the hotter days, after months without rain, it seemed like I was literally watching the sun scorch the earth. The scenes outside rarely gave any insight as to the season or time of year. For some, this sounds heavenly. For me, over time, it became oppressive.

When I try to explain this, most everyone responds with, “Talk to me in February.” Fair enough. Maybe by then I’ll be totally over it by then – the cold, the gray skies, the muted light. It is entirely possible. But for now, I’m savoring every bit of it, feeling grateful for the gentle blanket of gray that seems to be snuggling us down for the interim. I don’t miss the glaring light or the sharp outlines of palm trees at dusk, and I am ready to hunker down and let nature do its work where I can’t see it – beneath the ground, in the dark, while I sleep.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Follow her adventures at


Conversations Over Coffee: Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe

Everyone has a story an that’s one of the reasons I love reading memoirs: to get to know the events that lead to creating a life. Especially when recovering from difficult life experiences: coming out as gay, the death of a first love, the loss of a beloved family member. After reading her memoir First Signs of April, I couldn’t wait to know more about the author who shared such challenging experiences with a sense of love, grace, and hope.

Here’s a “sit down” with Editor in Chief Debra Smouse and author Mary-Elilzabeth Briscoe

We call this series Conversations Over Coffee because it’s the things I’d ask you if we were sitting across the table from each other over a casual cup of coffee….. so, let’s set the stage: where would you suggest we meet near your current home….and what is your go-to beverage and/or snack were we to meet?

At the moment I am in Vermont, so we would meet at Café Gatto Nero and I would enjoy a Mocha, perhaps iced.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I first realized I loved writing stories when I was around twelve years old. I also began journaling at that time and have never stopped.

For those not familiar with your work, tell us about your memoir First Signs of April.

The First Signs of April is my story of healing. The narrative weaves back and forth in time telling the story of my own coming out, losing my girlfriend to suicide at eighteen and then caring for a dying aunt as an adult while preparing for my career as a psychotherapist.

Its about healing, and finding your voice and living an authentic life without shame.

When you wrote First Signs of April, you “ran away from home” and spent a year in Ireland. What led to that decision?

I wouldn’t say I “ran away from” home, rather I ran toward home. I have visited the Dingle peninsula for twenty years and have always felt like I was home while there. My spirit aches for the place and its people when I am gone for long and on a recent holiday with my sister we decided that we’d like to try and live there for a year, and then see what happens. So, we did. Why wait and think about doing it in retirement or some other time? It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

The First Signs of April was nearing completion when I left and I spent my first few months finishing, editing, and querying.

What did you learn about yourself during your time in Ireland? As a human and as a writer.

I rediscovered my authentic self. I learned that being an empathic, sensitive, medium was a gift not a curse nor something to be ashamed of.  I learned that I am a writer and am willing to honor that by actually writing.  I learned that I am blessed with an amazing sister and friend.

The rest of what I learned and how is actually my next book so I’ll let you wait for that one for more.

How do you manage the balance of real life and creative work?

That’s something I’m working on. One way is that I try to honor my writing as sacred time. I am no longer working as a psychotherapist, rather I offer intuitive healing to include Reiki, guidance or medium readings, which allows for writing to be my primary focus.

I am not willing to do anything that doesn’t feed my soul and I think when you make decisions like this the universe opens doors that allow you to continue on your path.

First Signs of April dealt with some heavy topics: coming out, death, grief…how do you keep yourself centered when diving into darker days of your life?

Good question. You do relive all the moments you are writing about and it can be very painful-and its cathartic, healing in itself. Writing is very therapeutic after all. It also helped to have good self -care treats if you will following a day of writing for example. Anything from dinner out-or more likely take out, a silly movie perhaps a long walk with the dog or a motorcycle ride to clear all the days work from my thoughts and feelings.

This is our Light & Shadow issue of Modern Creative Life. How do you find ways to seek to and look to the light and joy?

First I have to always find the light in myself, which I do through meditation, Reiki, writing. I’m not always the best at that and at fall into the darkness a bit. I seek time in nature to remind me of the joy and light in the world and I spend time with people who feed me rather than starve me. I look for their light and joy.

What’s typical day like in your household?

The typical day in my house changes daily-depending on whether I’m at home in Vermont, Cape Cod or Dingle. One consistent is coffee-that’s first no matter where I am.

Then it’s a walk with my dog, feeding him, and then it could be any number of things that follow. I might write for a few hours, meet with the post graduate students that I provide clinical supervision to, have an intuitive healing session, go grocery shopping for my elderly parents, walk on the beach or sit at the lighthouse. It really does depend on where I am.

I am not someone who can tolerate traditional brick and mortar types of jobs, or anything so structured. I have to have space and time and freedom to breathe and create and be my best self so my days aren’t all that structured.

What do you wish you knew at 25 that you know now?

I wish I knew that I didn’t have to feel shame around being my authentic self.

What’s your advice to other writers and creative souls?

This is the then you are waiting for. Don’t wait for someday when everything lines up perfectly to follow your path. Make the path and everything will unfold as it should. Have faith and take the leap and never lose sight of your own light and all that you have to offer the world.

About the Author: Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe

MaryElizabeth Briscoe is a licensed mental health counselor currently on sabbatical from her private psychotherapy practice in northeastern Vermont. She currently spends her time between Cape Cod, Vermont, and Ireland. She has a masters degree in clinical mental health counseling from Lesley University and is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and a Certified Trauma Professional. She has been a lecturer for Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies St. Johnsbury, Vermont campus. She has contributed to Cape Woman Online and Sweatpants and Coffee magazine. This is her first book.  Visit her website, her Facebook, and on Twitter.

Her memoir – First Signs of April –  is now available.

Sunday Brunch: The Coming of the Cardinals

Like the swallows that return to Capistrano every year, the heart of fall brings the cardinals back to my yard, and I return to my morning routine of coffee and writing at the kitchen table so I can watch as they flit from tree to tree, sometimes visiting the bird feeder outside my window, and sometimes avoiding it (likely because the smell of squirrel is too strong).

I’ve always loved watching birds. I don’t mean that I sling a pair of binoculars around my neck and go tromping through fields and forests on a avian hunt, though I understand the appeal of capturing a rare moment on film.

Copyright: <a href=''>steve_byland / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Rather, I’m a backyard bird-watcher. I enjoy following the antics of the bully Blue Jay who drives the starlings and finches out of the trees, only for them to settle right back in. Winter comes with doves, one of whom insists that the birdfeeder is really her nest. She never stays in it for long, though. In spring and summer, we have robins and hummingbirds who buzz our windows and skim low over the puppy pool, stealing sips of water, or using it as a bath. (We don’t chlorinate the puppy pool.)

But November, always a dark for me because it’s the anniversary month of so many family deaths, is brightened by the arrival of the cardinals.

We have a whole family of those bright red birds, and they return every year. The females are feathered grey and rust and red, and arrive with the first signs of being egg-heavy. The males are brilliant crimson and scarlet, and when they cock their heads and stare at me from their bright eyes, I’m convinced they’re appraising me in the same way I’m assessing them.

At the beginning of the season, I watch them building nests, but as the fall deepens into what passes for winter in this part of Texas, they aren’t quite so visible. Instead of witnessing constant activity, a morning visit feels like a kind of gift from Mother Nature herself.

It’s not only live cardinals that come into my life each year, however. As I slowly turn the decorations in my house from fall and harvest, Halloween and Thanksgiving, to winter, Christmas, and even Valentine’s Day, these ruby-plumed birds have a presence inside my house.

First, there is the candle wreath. It’s not an Advent wreath, since it only has holders for four candles (though I sometimes place a pillar candle in the center and use it as such) but its theme is very much winter and not a specific holiday, with tiny pine trees and even tinier cardinals tucked in a wreath of greens. Since it isn’t specifically Christmas, it comes out in late November and stays until mid-February.

Then the napkin rings and guest towels come out. My grandmother taught her daughters and granddaughters to decorate all through the house for holidays, so I have cardinal-themed towels in the guest bath, and I try to find cardinal-themed paper napkins for parties and casual use, as well as a couple of candles – the kind that you never actually burn – to add punches of color to the guest room, the dining room, and even my office.

The last cardinals come at Christmas, in the form of stuffed birds that have wire clips so they can perch on the branches of our (plastic, pre-lit) tree. A couple of them are recent additions, but two of them are quite old, and much bedraggled. One of them bears tooth-marks – the scars from a barely-won battle against the curiosity of a puppy. Even though they’re faded and worn, however, I keep putting them on my tree, half-convinced that, in the words of the skin horse, they will Become Real.

My grandmother, I am told, loved cardinals. I never knew this until I found the napkin rings I mentioned earlier. It was on a trip to Tuesday Morning with my mother, and something about them spoke to me. We don’t actually use napkin rings (or cloth napkins, though we should) with any real frequency, but I had to buy them, even if it was just to have them.

More recently, I learned that my mother-in-law also loved the bright red birds. I imagine her looking out of the farmhouse window as a young bride, and seeing a streak of scarlet adding colorful cheer to a snow-blanketed prairie, and this image, whether it’s erroneous or not, makes me smile to myself.

They say that when you’re visited by cardinals you’re really being touched by the spirit of a loved one who has died. My grandmother died over a decade ago, but since there are times I swear I can smell her bath powder, or feel her cool hand soothing my brow in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t be surprised if she sent a bird or two to check up on me. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, died on the last day of August, just a couple of months ago, so maybe she’s the reason the avian family in my yard seems to have more members this year.

Of course, I’m a bit premature with some of this. Thanksgiving is weeks away, and Christmas doesn’t come until fall is truly over and winter has arrived. My wreath will remain in storage for a while longer, wrapped in a festive tablecloth, nestled in a box with dessert plates shaped like leaves and a ceramic turkey gravy boat.

In the meantime, I’m pouring another cup of coffee and returning to the library desk that serves as our kitchen table to write stories and watch the birds.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.