Westbury Falls: Episode #10

Good morning friends. In today’s final ‘blog’ installment of my upcoming Vella series, a whirlwind of emotional tea spilling and the true nature of characters revealed.

Side note: If you happen to be in Denver this weekend, the Fan Expo is happening and I will be there, signing books, and participating in panels about writing, character development, series tips, and how sex changes and filters through time and genre. There will also be a lot of great speakers, some famous actors, tons of cosplay and nerding out all over the place. I hope I can see you there!

Here’s the link to that: Fan Expo Denver

And now, this:

Lillian knew what her proper place was supposed to be, knew the reaction she should give, when a man, the man who was promised to be her husband, the man she was to obey and cherish spoke to her in such a commanding tone. She knew the decent and right thing to do if she were to keep up the façade long enough to escape.

She knew all of these things and chose to open her mouth anyway.

“I will walk,” she began quietly without looking up at him. “When and where I please, in any and all manner of weather.”

Mr. Sutton’s shoulders tensed to his ears as if he’d been struck in the back. He turned on his heel, spun to confront her, his face red with anger. He breathed heavily out of his flared nostrils and his voice boomed so suddenly that it shocked Miriam into dropping the sugar dish on the carpet, spilling out the perfect brown cubes and they clattered like dice at Lillian’s feet.

“I will not tolerate a wife who dares speak back to me or deliberately acts against my wishes!”

Lillian stood, “How dare you speak to me in such a manner—” she grabbed a spoon from the tray and pointed it at him. “You, who had not one thread of common decency to visit me in my time of need! Now standing there issuing commands at me like a common dock worker? I will not be treated with such disrespect!”

Mr. Sutton leaned back in shock.

“I had business to attend to, more important than your bumbling down a few stairs. Proof in point that you should not be trusted to walk alone, lest you further mar that beautiful face. Though perhaps a good belting would help you remember just who is in command.”

Lillian let out a growl, held the spoon aloft dramatically and threw it to the floor. He watched with an astonished scowl and she refused to take her eyes from his. Miriam righted the sugar dish, grabbed the dropped spoon, and left the room quickly. Lillian watched her scurry out and felt the fear of being alone with Mr. Sutton. She didn’t know if the faithful maid would indeed go for help or if she had lost her nerve in the face of his anger.

“I will not tolerate such childish behavior from a woman who, by all accounts, should be lavish in her gratitude towards me at her great fortune in our soon to be union!”

Lillian tried to calm her breathing and looked squarely into the brown eyes that seemed to swallow her hole into their cold darkness.

“You will lower your voice, sir,” she said, both commanding and calm. Mr. Sutton took an angry breath and glared at her. Not in the way Dr. Blackwell would, as if he were trying to decide if her obstinance was charming or simply maddening. He looked at her coldly, as if he had no qualms about harming her, and in fact, might feel it was his duty.


It was then that the thought occurred to Lillian, that perhaps her great aunt’s death was no accident at all. That perhaps…a man of such a temper, and a woman of her own mind would not be able to occupy the same household for long without something disastrous happening. Mr. Sutton took a deep breath, tucked his anger inside like a pressure that would blow at any given moment and offered her a cruel, sharp toothed smile. She saw through its feigned sincerity immediately as it did not reach his eyes.

“I beg your pardon, Miss Byrne. I have had a long journey and I—forget that you have indeed sustained a serious contusion. Perhaps it is causing you to forget your—previous conversations and affection towards me. While I should permit you more patience as you heal, I think it is only fair for you to be aware that I enjoy the challenge of a strong spirit. In my horses, in my workers… in anything that I own.”

Lillian’s nostrils flared in anger and her cheeks grew hot. She opened her mouth to speak but he came at her, with brazen and overwhelming speed, threw his arms around her and locked her arms down by her sides. His breath was hot and smelled of onions as it blew across her neck and décolletage. He pressed his flaccid lips against her and forced his tongue into her mouth. Lillian yelled in outrage and struggled, biting her teeth down just as he pulled back, triumphant.

“I’m not above breaking such a spirit by any means necessary, whether it be by starvation, a strong hand, or a riding crop,” he whispered, into her ear, and pulled away to smile. The sharpness of his teeth seemed made for tearing, and his gaze fell to her neck hungrily, as though her throat could be torn out with nary a problem.


“Mr. Sutton, it would not do you well to threaten me thusly,” she said though her voice shook and she felt the cold sweat start to seep into her clothing. She wondered if she could push him away, if she stood any chance in a physical altercation with a man his size, and wearing the layers she did. Before she could chance the idea, Fitzwilliam burst through the doorway of the parlor; her calvary delivered by Miriam exactly at the right moment. Mr. Sutton let go of her quickly and backed away to a much more respectable distance.


“Mr. Sutton! Such a wonderful surprise to see you again! I hope I’m not late for tea, I do love tea.” Fitzwilliam said charmingly, flashed his dimple and shook Mr. Sutton’s hand in a firm grip. “Hello darling, feeling better?” he asked and looked at Lillian before planting a kiss on her scar gently. “Well, you look absolutely pale! Don’t you think she looks pale, Mr. Sutton? As though she’s been through too much in her delicate state?”


“She is quite unharmed I assure you,” Mr. Sutton blustered still red faced and seemingly befuddled by the sudden appearance of her brother into their intimate meeting.


“Oh! I’m sure she is quite safe, but in her delicate condition—” he sighed and looked at Lillian with a sly wink, “perhaps it best if she retires to her quarters. I’m sure seeing you has given her more excitement than she’s quite used to. And after a good rest this evening, I’m sure you’ll be much improved, won’t you my darling?”


Never before had Lillian felt sibling affection. It was more often the case that Will, her brother back home, had done very little to help her in any way. In point of fact, he had always made it quite obvious that his sole purpose in life was to make hers more difficult. But she felt such a warmth spread in her heart at Fitzwilliam’s appearance and apt reading of her distress. The sudden relief shown on her face and she felt as though she might leap into his arms and kiss him. She promised herself that she would him to help him win Kitty’s affection right there on the spot.


“I think it best I take your very good advice, sweet brother. I will repay the kindness for your concern over my health.” She bowed slowly and both men snapped upright to bow. She bowed first to her brother, who placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. Mr. Sutton stepped forward and offered to take her hand. She could tell he was much put out by the interruption and their argument. Perhaps it was enough to make him reconsider their arrangement. But then again, he said he loved a challenge. Perhaps she should have tried to be more boring. She reluctantly slipped her hand into his and he bent to kiss her it as he squeezed her bones hard enough to crack one of her knuckles. She bit back the small cry that formed in her throat.

Photo by Kseniya Kopna on Pexels.com


“Miss Byrne, it is always a pleasure to be in your company. I look forward to the day when we shall share all of our moments.” He kissed her hand again, this time with his teeth out and she pulled away quickly. Remembering a small curtsey before staggering out of the room, she made her way up the stairs two at a time. She wished she had someone she could talk to. Someone who would be on her side, to really listen to her fears and misgivings.


But she was alone. Her parents were dead, her guardians seemed distant, and probably were in strong favor of such an advantageous union if it meant taking her and her financial needs off of their hands. Her brother could be swayed to be certain, but he had little power to change the outcome. He was, after all, an orphan too.


She remembered Matthew’s words on that rainy hill. He had seen what poverty would do to young women. He begged her not to choose that course. But what could be worse than marrying such an abrasive and horrible man, whose only intent was to parade her as some child-bearing trophy and beat her if she did not comply?


She wished she could talk to Matthew right then, to tell him while it was fresh in her mind, but it wasn’t as though they had instant messaging or texts. She closed the door to her room and stared at the small writing desk beneath the window, it’s ink well, quill, and paper at the ready.


“I wish I would have taken greater care in Miss Denning’s cursive classes,” she whispered. She hadn’t written a letter in over three years, not since her grandmother had passed away. And certainly nothing so formal as he would expect. But then again, he knew her to be strange and not entirely proper, so perhaps he wouldn’t expect her language to be as poetic and perfectly formed as ladies of the era. He would, hopefully, remember their vow of honesty and respond with some other solution to the horrible matter at hand. Despite his affirmation that she was the bane of his existence, at the very least, as his patient, and a lady, her well-being must mean something to him.

Dr. Blackwell,


I hope that you will pardon my horrid scribbling. It is rather dark and my eyes have not yet grown accustomed to the strain since the fall. Please know that I would not dare to write but it is with great fear and concern that I take pen and ink to you now. I have just had a meeting with Mr. Sutton. His temper is quite pronounced and he demanded that I obey him, but not in the lovely caring way you teased in the rain. In a frightening, horrible way that makes me think he means to do me great harm should I not do exactly as I am told. He says I can no longer walk as I am accustomed to, by myself in the fields and narrows of this blessed land, though it brings my heart such joy and calm. He says I have forgotten myself and am a threat to his reputation. He threatened to beat me with his hands if not a riding crop should I not comply. I fear that I cannot marry him.


My dearest friend. You once swore a pact to me and I to you, that we would in all things be honest. I know that I’ve upset you the day of the picnic and it was my own fumbling mouth that over spoke and caused your good and noble heart to flee. I cannot apologize enough (I am presently running low on ink and candle light), but I would spend every day doing so if you could help me devise a solution to this situation.


I have put so great a pressure on you in asking, and only ask that you know, I do not do so lightly. It is just that you’ve become the one confidant I’ve met, with whom I feel my heart can express itself most fully. Please, Matthew. Understand, that I cannot marry your cousin, or I shall surely live a life of regret, pain, and solitude.


Your Lily

Lillian sealed the letter carefully with the wax and metal stamp on her desk and pulled the bell chord next to her bed. She never used it, always finding the maids more attentive than she cared for, but tonight, she needed an ally and Miriam had proved her worth as a true and faithful friend. When she arrived, red cheeks and asking if the missus was alright, Lillian handed her the letter.

“First, I must thank you for sending Mr. Byrne to interject, you are a one and true friend and I owe you a large debt,” Lillian paused and took Miriam’s hand in hers and pressed a kiss to her cheek. The older woman blushed but looked pleased, as if she’d never received such affection from her charge nor children. Lillian pressed the letter into her palm.

“But, for now, I must ask of you one more favor. Please see that Dr. Blackwell, the young Dr. Blackwell I mean, gets this as soon as humanly possible, Miriam. I will owe you a great debt for your help in keeping it secret and safe. I assure you it is not improper, it is…something I can only speak to with my physician,” she lied. Miriam looked as if she really didn’t need so much explanation to deliver a note to the handsome doctor.

“Aye, Miss Lillian, I will see to it that the young doctor gets your love note.” She winked and giggled. Lillian tried to argue but ended up just sighing.

“It is not a—”

“Sure’n it’s not,” Miriam nodded. “An no woman would blame you even if it was.” She turned then on her heel and left the room. Lillian sighed and paced in the room, watching from her window as, minutes later, Robby, the stable boy took one of the fastest stallions down the road, lamp in hand at the encroaching dark. She watched the small yellow light disappear over the hillside and wondered if all her hope of survival was going to disappear with it.

Leaps of Faith, and Other Stupid Ideas

Friends, I’m taking off tomorrow morning at 3 a.m. That’s three in the goddamn morning. All because, on a whim built by the impending doom of middle age, bouts of deep depression, and a general lack of self-preservation, I decided it would be a “fun” idea to sign up to fill a vacant spot on a random Ragnar Trail Relay team one short month ago.

I’m not sure if I was thinking it would count towards training inspiration, an escape from my day to day, or if it stemmed from some kind of deep-seated desire to find an adventurous death, but whatever the case—I’m soon to be on my way up the mountain, for a trying 30 hours and 15+ miles of no sleep, altitude climbs, rough single track, and hanging out in a sweaty tent with 7 other people I don’t really know. (They’re mostly comprised of lovely nurses and good-hearted runners, so I will be in capable hands, even if I try to die by wild animal attack.)

While I’m in some ways dreading the experience, there is a part of me that understands that this challenge, while unnecessary and possibly adding to my overall stress, is something of value.

My life of late has been…tumultuous. It’s been a rough day… since about 2020… and personal conflicts and their responding growth have come at a cost to the security I once felt with my place in the world. I’m in a state of upheaval and I honestly don’t know what next year, next month, or even next week will look like.

Sometimes, when we undergo these painful growth spurts it can feel that we’re a little lost in the world. As Paul Simon once sang. Nothing is different but everything has changed. Oceans and Mountains

Part of us is still lagging behind in our old ‘knowns’, part of us has been thrown into a blender of new and frightening possibilities. We are, as a species, not designed to stay stagnant. Challenges, hardships, changes, and losses are elements of the journey that test our ability to adapt and grow. If we don’t…we’re doomed to stay immobile an maybe what’s worse, risk living half a life. You should really watch this movie…

When you only get 76 years, 42 starts feeling like a decline to the end. A sharply steep trail, in the dead of night that only seems to drop faster, the farther we go down. Rocks slipping under our feet, scrub tearing at our ankles, and the out of control realization that nothing we do, really matters. We’re all headed to the bottom.

So the question then becomes, do we stay stagnant and let the gravity of life take us down the hill, a complacent body rolling over cactus and sharp stone? Or do we try to stand in the midst of the pull. Control the hill so the hill doesn’t control you?

Now, I’m a bit free-wheeling, and I’ll never tell you to try to control things in life outside of your power. The hill is there, you’re going down it. The path has rocks you can’t see until they’re tripping your toes, and falls that will scar and scare you. But you can control your legs, how you view those rocks, and perhaps most importantly, how you rise after you fall. (I prefer cursing, gritting my teeth, a bit of healthy anger, a good laugh at myself, and continuing on)

The thought occurs to me that one of the reasons I signed up for this crazy race…might have been to remind myself of how strong I am. Of how many mountains I have climbed, and how many falls I’ve survived. A good dose of suffering can sometimes bring out the heart that has been shuttered for too long. Maybe in every aching footstep, is a starlit night. Maybe in every scraped knee and bruised elbow, is a view you’d never have seen if you didn’t choose to fight your way up that hill. Maybe it’s not a good death I’m looking for, but a better life.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find it, on a dark starlit night, beneath a blazing sun, alone but still supported, on the long and distant trail. Find Your Heart

Move, Pitch, Get Out the Way

Yeah, I did just title this blog that…No, I’m not sorry. Yes, I hope that song plays in your head all day. Yes, it may seem “Ludacris”. Yes, I did just make a dad joke out of it. No, you can’t get a refund, this shit is free.

Now, on to the blog

This week, tomorrow actually, I’ll be pitching a novel to a publishing company at the Wyoming Writers Conference in Sheridan Wyoming. I know that this should be something I do at least every year but with the past couple of years spent in lockdown and my creativity taking a giant dump of late, I haven’t had the drive, material, or need to throw myself into the ring.

But, by strange happenstance, the novel that I had intended to independently publish started getting noticed by some publishers that I had sent it to months ago. Three days before its release date nonetheless, so I slammed the breaks down and took a breath. A pause. A consideration. That if the story was “Well written, with a voice we really like” that maybe I should give it another tour around the pasture before settling it on my own.

So here I am again, years later, still sweaty palmed, reading and re-reading, and choking on my elevator pitch and changing it a dozen times to get the most depth of the story in the fewest words. And it’s exhausting. The sudden surge of trepidation inspired me go through some of my notes from previous classes and books on pitching. And here’s what I have to offer:

  1. Agents and publishers are human beings. They’ve probably slept horribly, are sore and uncomfortable from sitting, have heard a lot of story ideas, and are probably thinking about the cash bar. Just like you. So don’t treat them like a god up on Olympus, cowering or waving tribute in their faces. Be kind, be polite, and use some of your allotted time to treat them with dignity and respect. They’re there because they love reading and want to find a good story.
  2. Tell them why you love your story. Yes, yes, the general plot, genre, main character and conflict…but what is it about your book that fills your heart. Why do you find a reason to read and re-read it? What were some of the best compliments you receive from your beta readers. Human beings respond to enthusiasm and genuine admiration. Otherwise, we’d never watch baseball. Moving on.
  3. Be organized. Have a synopsis ready, bring a query letter and your business card. It’s been a long day for them and you; stories might start running together and they may need a gentle reminder what the 1:20 pitch was.
  4. Be open to suggestions and critique. Whoof, this one is hard, right? After all, we just gushed about what we love in our book. While you love it (or hate it depending on how many goddamn times you’ve had to read it and rewrite it) it is also a good time, before you sit down at that table, to think of your fledgling story like a kid going off to college. Its stepping out into the world to be made better, smarter, stronger. It has a lot to learn, so let it be open to becoming something more and living up to its potential. It isn’t a reflection on you as a parent, it’s a starting point for even more amazing results to come.
  5. Follow up. I’ve sat in the pitch sessions where every agent gave me their card and asked for ten pages. I thought I was a goddamn genius and that they’d be engaged in a bidding war over my book within weeks. Um…hate to ruin the ending there but THAT didn’t happen. Sometimes agents are required by the conferences they attend to receive a certain number of pitches. Sometimes an agent is mildly interested and looking for something to pad up their own resume. Sometimes they’re just bust-ass tired and like a parent giving in and handing their kid a remote cause they just can’t listen anymore, they pass along their card with a defeated…”stay in touch”. That being said, if it happens, act as though it’s the bidding war situation, not the tired parent. Send them what they asked for, in the format they asked for it in, and be respectful with your letter. ALWAYS INCLUDING: your name, that you met at ‘such and such conference’ and that they requested your pages. If you can, PLEASE include some other more personal detail. “It was fun talking to you about your dog, Jasper” (write that kind of thing down on their business card) but don’t make it too personal “I hope his rash has cleared up.” (that’s getting creepy)

After it’s all said and done a pitch session is like any other interaction introverts dread. You have to talk, somewhat excitedly, about something you love and worked hard on, and thereby risk rejection and public shaming. But please remember that the person sitting across from you is also probably an introvert (or works with a lot of them) and just wants you to tell them a good story.

Good luck out there, and if you’ll be in Sheridan this weekend for the conference I’d love to sit down and chat about pitches, your book, all the wonderful things we’re working on. Happy writing.

My Random Summer Reading List

I know it’s been said that a writer must read a lot in order to write well.

This was probably said by someone whose only job was to write. It was definitely not written by a mom who works two extra jobs in addition to writing and parenting. I know that time is limited. And although I LOVE to read, I also know that it sometimes takes a back seat to the ‘have-to’ list that is my life. So I would amend that you should read as often as you can. And it doesn’t have to be grand, sweeping novels of classical literature. Reading articles (well written and somewhat brain stimulating), short stories, poetry, or flash fiction all count.

Being what it is, when I get to sit down and read a book, I will often fall into lighter genres of fiction, usually, with a preference for romance, suspense, psychological thrillers, fantasy and urban fantasy, speculative, some sci fi, and a dash of historical fiction. That’s not to say I don’t read non-fiction. But I tend to reserve those books for book club invites and I’m not too proud to say there are some of those I never finished.

So, in thinking about reading, I’d like to offer you some good rules for every writer to follow when it comes to the limited time you have.

  • You should always have three different books on your nightstand at all times.
    • Something you love (by genre or author)
    • Something that challenges you (out of your genre, or tougher content)
    • Something that broadens your knowledge base or improves your craft.
  • Take a book along whenever you
    • have more than five minutes to wait
    • are traveling, anywhere
    • want to feign being ‘busy’ in the company of people you’d rather not talk to.
  • When you find yourself dreading a book, not because it’s challenging to your beliefs or makes you similarly uncomfortable, but because it’s nauseatingly boring or poorly written…stop reading it and move on. Life is too short to waste reading time on something that doesn’t bring you joy or positive change

So, now that you have a good reference for how to choose a book and how to get it written, here’s a list of books I’ve recently finished reading or are on my nightstand. I encourage you to be eclectic and curious when you chose your books, but always have something familiar for the nights when you need the comfort of an author or genre you’re familiar with.

Check these out:

In the category of craft/professional development:

  1. Bursts of Brilliance for a Creative Life by Teresa R. Funke
  2. Breakthrough: How to Overcome Doubt, Fear, and Resistance to Become Your Ultimate Creative Self by Todd Mitchell
  3. Write Naked by Jennifer Probst
  4. Ed Parker’s Encyclopedia of Kenpo by Ed Parker
  5. Seishin Shuyo: Mental Training in Traditional Martial Arts by Jimmy Lockett
  6. The Trail Runner’s Companion by Sarah Lavender Smith

For something that challenges/stretches my worldview and brains:

  1. Killers of The Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
  2. Rising Strong by Brené Brown
  3. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  4. How to See Yourself as You Really Are by the Dalai Lama
  5. TransQuality by Bethany Beeler
  6. Ornkey: A Historical Guide by Caroline Wickham Jones

In the category of somethings I love:

  1. Mr. Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson (all of his books thus far have been phenomenal)
  2. The Miriam Black series by Chuck Wendig (again, a smart, beautiful writer, with a heavy dose of IDGAF bravado)
  3. Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater (haven’t read yet, but looking forward to it)
  4. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (I couldn’t put this one down)
  5. The Gallaghers of Ardmore Trilogy by Nora Roberts (both of these series are ones I could reread every year)
  6. The Three Sisters Island Trilogy by Nora Roberts

Well, there you have it. Go forth and spend some of these beautiful days, beneath the shade of a tree, losing yourself in the written word. Voracious readers (in the time they have to give) make better writers.

Spring Cleaning and The Writer’s Mind

Sometimes, at the beginning of the year when I’m trying to plan out my blog posts, I will randomly insert a brainstormed title with no idea where it will lead. The above is a case in point. I love the concept of brainstorming but it often makes me look back at past Sarah with a scowl (‘whatdafuq does spring cleaning have to do with the writer’s mind, Sarah? Whatwereyouthinking?)

So now, I’m going to attempt to free-style on the topic of “Spring Cleaning”.

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

To be fair to past Sarah, she knew this blog would come around the time of the spring equinox which is a brilliant time to clean out homes, old clothes, ancient ideas…anything that’s not serving you, from your too-tight college jeans to the ideal that says you still should fit into those. Throw that baggage out.

At first I considered telling you to do the very practical, literal cleaning out of your laptop, files, and paperwork. Grouping together like-minded topics, removing old or already published notes that are no longer needed, and generally getting yourself a clean slate for the year ahead. But as I started to look through my own little chaos, the temper of the idea changed.

No one’s desk is probably more a mess than mine. It looks fairly ordered but the truth is, it’s a jumble of post-its, three-word ‘grand ideas’ scribbled in crayon on lunch napkins or old receipts, and seven different rewrites of the same novel that I have absolutely no reason to still hang on to. I have letters from old high school friends, squirmy notes about boys we liked and the bittersweet ones after our subsequent heartbreaks. I’ve got writing notes from conferences, random journals of poetry, thank you cards with mismatched envelopes, and the last letter my grandmother Emma sent me before she passed away. I’ve got pictures of the two friends I lost after high school and the tiny pamphlets from their funeral services. I have the fuel receipt from my first solo flight. And a certificate from my training as an early childhood educator.

I have my winning poetry from 8th grade Young Writers competitions, and the short story that lost magnificently about star crossed lovers on either side of the Berlin Wall (fuck yeah, I’m that old). And its jumbled and slung into folders like a field of wildflowers, contained in manila.

Nothing is in order, but everything has its place.

Perhaps I should go through. Let go of some of this history. Let go of the girl I used to be and the dreams she used to dream. I should stop looking to the past and wondering what I could have done, or been. How brightly I used to burn, when I was young and half-wild. Maybe we should all, let go. Clean out the things in our life that no longer look like our current state.

And in some ways, I suppose it is good. Sometimes we use these things to look back, to regret or be stuck in a cycle of ‘what if’…in some ways that can hold us back. But somethings also remind us of who we are. Sounds silly but–if you’re anything like me, and you’ve spent most of your life, trying to fit into boxes, shrink down, be smaller, be ‘easier’ to love, or be what you think people want…it can get so easy to become lost.

So maybe you read your grandma’s last letter. And your best friend’s note about her no good boyfriend, or that first draft you kept for no reason, and you let them all take you back for a moment. To the person you were, the person who was just a bit more trusting. A bit more bright. Before the world sanded down your edges and made you behave. Maybe you remember that these are pieces of you that are still in there. That cannot be fully swept away.

That you are still, even in small ways, young and half-wild.

Maybe I’ll toss the other six drafts. Maybe I’ll get rid of any napkins and three-word ideas that I can’t connect to. Maybe I’ll donate the books I know I won’t read, and let go of the thank you notes with no matching envelopes.

Photo by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya on Pexels.com

But I’ll keep everything else that makes up the story of me. So on days when I feel like I belong too much to the world and the other people around me, I can return to that girl, that wildling burning bright, and remember who I am. The girl who’s been a poet since she was 12. The girl who believed love could tear down walls on a grand, societal level. The girl who misses her friends, who promised to fill her days with the life they never got to finish. The girl who refused to shrink.

Clean up your space, but leave the layers of your soul intact. They are the story of you, and no one else can tell that story.

Projects In The Works

Morning, readers. I didn’t get a chance to write a blog last week, but some things are coming up you might want to know about.

First–Saturn Rising: Episode #2 should be running Monday the 28th, and you can find the link to the first episode here:

https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/ff4ba549-f715-4fa8-b6f0-a6bc3b9727af/saturn-rising

Second– The Beautiful Stuff 2022 Anthology “A Beautiful Twist” is still open for submissions. I have a long submission period and you can find the details about the submission here:

So far I’ve gotten some amazing poetry, a few great flash fic pieces, and one short story. There will be plenty of room so if you’re hesitating, don’t.

FInally–I am writing my little heart out on a new project with co-author Kerrie Flanagan, that will be due out this summer and will include (hopefully) some book signings at some totally awesome 80’s venues. The romantic comedy is due out in June but I will keep you updated!

Photo by Kevin Bidwell on Pexels.com

Well, there’s a catch up. I hope you’re able to enjoy the podcast and are looking forward to the new novel as much as I am looking forward to getting it out into the world. Take care and don’t forget to send me your submissions for this year’s anthology!

Westbury Falls: Episode #8

Well, here we are, Episode #8 and if you recall, our dear Ms. Byrne has just been…byrned? (Hooooly shit, sorry I’ve been writing and working like a maniac this week and the brain cells are a little punchy. Ahem… moving on). In the last chapter, Dr. Blackwell and Miss Bryne had a rather scandalous-for-the-time convo on the grass and he instantly felt guilty and took his leave. Such was the age of prudery. Is prudery a word? Spell-check says yes.

Now we get to see what Miss Byrne does with this slighting and gain a bit more insight (I shy from using ‘foreboding’) about our dear Colonel Mayfield. Keep your hands and legs inside the cart at all times, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

“Home!” Kitty shouted in despair. “But my darling Lillian! First you have not partaken of the cooling waters and second we’ve only just begun the afternoon of merriment. Surely a little sustenance would improve your countenance! Thirdly, and most obviously, a young lady cannot simply walk back all the way to Westbury Manor! That is at least half a day’s journey! You will surely expire before you reach the gates!”


“Please calm your worry, Miss Katherine, I shall talk with her in private.” The Colonel said and eased Kitty’s frantic tone.


The Colonel studied Lil’s pallid face and shook his head. It felt familiar to her and she attributed the motion with that typical of a father figure. She hadn’t had one of those for a long time. The Colonel leaned over, saddened, and extending his hand. Lillian took it and allowed him to help her up. His warm hand in hers made her memory jog loose and the fatherly premonition hit her solidly she staggered a bit and thought that the constant dance of want and denial that Dr. Blackwell had put her through, combined with the trauma of traveling through time, and a significant head wound were conspiring against her to make her quite crazy. The Colonel was not her father.


Maybe her heart and her soul just wanted a father figure, now more than ever. Someone to be solid and strong, and there for her. Not like her own father who’d disappeared from the face of the Earth when she was eight. She followed the Colonel docile as a lamb and they took a short stroll to the water’s edge where Lillian’s tears began anew.


“My dearest, what has vexed you so, please. Allow me the honor of helping you to sort out any muddled feelings. Is it Kitty?” He said quietly and looked back to the blanket now being spread with delicious luncheon things. Lillian stared past her to the blank hillside where Matthew had climbed and disappeared beyond.


“No, dear Colonel, I’m afraid our Miss Darlingwood is not so insensitive as to cause such a bereavement.” She sniffled and tried to control the tears that sprung up as her mind relived the cause of her bereavement. Ever coming to her aid was the paramount regret of his life. Her dearest friend in a strange and unfriendly world wished he’d never met her.


“Then it is to be the young Dr. Blackwell that we accredit such distress.” The Colonel said it so matter of fact that she wondered if a judge and jury might spring up from below the water of the lake and apprehend the criminal at once.

“It is of no fault, of his own, my dear Colonel.”


“Not his fault? Please explain. No gentleman would dare leave a lady in such a state. How could a man of honor cause a woman to cry such bitter tears in the middle of such a fine day?” Lillian shook her head, not knowing how to respond when Matthew’s leaving had everything to do with a man of utmost character.


“It is all my fault, I’m afraid. I’ve behaved very poorly and put the noble Doctor in too great of a quandary to find a righteous path. I’m just so—unaccustomed.”

“Whatever to you mean child?” The colonel responded with a hand on her shoulder briefly.

“I am not used, to…to feeling this way about a—a man. To feel so–lost and affectionate and–He—” she gasped for breath and felt the tightness of her corsets constricting even further as she tried to breathe. No wonder women in this era fainted so easily, the wires and metal served to keep them from barely breathing at all, let alone in any kind of crisis.

“What is it dear, Lily?”

“He upends me, sir. He makes my head and my heart spin until I have no rational thought at all and I am torn between what I know I must do and should do and what I want to do. What I ache to do.” She burst out suddenly. Lillian quickly covered her mouth. “You must think I am of a horrible moral character, to have—these thoughts about a good and honorable man.”


The Colonel smiled softly and lowered his head. He checked the unaware guests still engaged in other conversatiopns.

“My dear girl, one could be of the utmost character, the model of propriety, a human shining in the eyes of God and still the heart is a wild and beautiful beast. It wants as it does, and it rarely asks us for our opinion in the matter.” He smiled as if he’d been waiting a long time to give fatherly advice. “Sometimes, the question our heart poses to us, is exactly the one that holds the right answer for us.”


The question her heart was posing, the sheer ridiculous idea that she wanted him, to be with him to stay with him, though she knew him not, though she did not belong here, though she should be expending her energy on the plan to get herself back home to her own timeline…was that maybe all she really wanted was to be with Dr. Matthew Blackwell in any time, in any space.


“It’s merely stupid, irrational, female frailty,” she burst out, reprimanding herself and her wild beast of a heart. Lillian turned away from him, headed straight for the road and the way back to Westbury Manor.


“But my dear! You cannot make the trip on foot! You simply cannot! Please take my carriage!”


“Thank you, good sir, but I assure you that the exercise will quite calm my nerves,” she managed to croak before cresting the hill. Once free of the view of the lake side picnic, she broke into a run back down the shoddy dirt road. She lifted her skirts in the heat and the dust and let her poorly slippered feet run as though the mere thought of such an activity was inconceivable and would turn her rightly into some sort of mythical creature. Maybe she could just fly away from it all if she went fast enough.


In her own time, Lillian had been varsity on her cross country team and had accomplished a sub 1:30 half marathon not two weeks before. With skirts lifted she paced over the dirt and rock, the uneven ground and hot sun drenched fields for the next seven miles, sweating profusely in the heavy cotton gown and undergarments, her slippers torn to shreds before she finally made her way back to the gates of Westbury Manor.


“My mistress!” The gateman called, shocked at the sight of her, dirty and sweating, pink in the face and her bonnet trailing from her hand as she had torn it from her neck around mile two. “Are you quite alright, what has happened?” The old man stepped up to help her.

“Are you with fever? Are you in need of a doctor?”

Lillian shook her head, too exhausted and dehydrated to cry at the thought of the Doctor who would no longer be coming to her aid. She sighed, put her hands to her knees and gulped breaths of air through her tight corset.

“I assure you, good sir, I am quite fine. I will be set right in a few moments when I have caught my breath.” she said, lying as much to herself as to him. She was not sure she would ever be set right. The gateman stared at her as if she’d gone quite mad. She stumbled inside, shedding her ruined shoes at the door and continuing up the stairs on shaking legs and bare feet, until she collapsed into her bed.

Heat Index: What Spicy Pepper is Your Novel?

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Hands down, one of the dumbest blog titles I’ve ever come up with. But what are you going to do? We all have seasons of creativity in our lives, and sometimes I’m in the winter of title production. Today is that sometime. On to the point. What is a Heat Index?

Great question! Well, if you don’t write/sell/promote romance, you probably don’t need to worry about it, but as it’s the month of ‘love’ or whatever made-up hallmark holiday craze February represents to you, I thought I at least owed ONE blog about passion, romance, and how to make sure the right readers for your work find you.

Heat Index is, as in spicy peppers, a way to grade the level of sexual interaction (description of and frequency) in your books. Now, romance has a wide and varying range of heat levels. This blog will help you understand where yours falls, where you might need to edit to keep it in a certain level, and how and who to market it to based on it’s score.

Below is the breakdown of Heat Index. Keep in mind, this may vary from publisher to publisher, but in general the levels correspond pretty closely.

  1. “Wholesome”, Sweet” or “Clean” (I’m not a fan of either of these terms as it denotes that anything outside of this classification suggests that sex is dirty or nasty–and those are ‘bad’?) These are sometimes called ‘inspirational’ romances, and often fall into Christian Romance sub genres. They might have kissing, holding, etc, but rarely is a bodily fluid exchanged and the romance is built heavier in the emotional/ spiritual attachment.
  2. “Sweet”, “Closed Door”, “Off The Page”, “Gentle”, or “Quiet”— This level of heat says that there is sex in your novel, but it happens without the reader being included. The characters may kiss, fondle, make out, and get excited physically but they will shut you (the reader) out in the hall while they get down to business. More mainstream women’s fic will employ this index more often, and there’s something to be said for leaving a few things to the imagination of the reader. I’m not sure about the terms “gentle” or “quiet”–as we don’t know what’s going on behind that door. Ha. Sorry.
  3. “Sensual”, “Sex on Page” and “Minimal Description”–This level the readers definitely know that sex happened, as it’s written down, but not poured over. Minimal description can mean an author uses euphemistic language, very basic terms and ideas, or even is more mechanical in description. They sort of beat about the bush, without getting into it. Ugh, sorry, I had to. Nobody else laughing their ass off, just me? Ok.
  4. “Sexy”, “Sex on Page” and “Explicit” also “Erotica”–In other words, if you’re at your kids karate/dance/hockey/ soccer practice, it would be wise to not let anyone read over your shoulder. These scenes get as close as any good OB/GYN or proctologist might (but in a less clinical way). Sometimes the lines between 3 and 4 are more blurred. My rule of thumb, is that if it makes me blush, feel warm all over, and a bit flustered after reading it (or writing it), it’s probably a level 4. What constitutes “Sexy” might be more based on the female main character’s exploration of fantasy. “Erotica”, has much more to do with the physical aspects of romance and can be broken down by ‘special interest’ (ie bondage, monogamous menage, reverse harem etc.). In both cases, these are not “letters to playboy” books, even with more descriptive love scenes, they still have emotional attachment and a satisfying (nearly said ‘happy’) ending.

Well, there you have it. If you write romance, and especially if you’re looking to query your manuscript, it helps to know what you’re selling and if the publisher is a good match. If you just like reading romance, look for these keywords (often in online descriptions and sometimes on jacket covers) to make sure you’re getting the romantic endorphin hit you crave most.

Happy Reading!

“Saturn Rising” Coming to Audiocast

Hello readers. Today is a special blog!!

In an unexpected turn of events, my audiocast “Saturn Rising” from the amazingly talented Ngano Press Studios Ngano Press Studios will be released sooner than announced. The series will air the third Friday of every month (starting February 18th) for the next 5 months. M

y five-part series follows the adventures (and misadventures) of the brave but cranky Captain Eularia Longfellow and her mangy crew of misfits as they try to outrun both Saturn’s bloodthirsty Royal family, and the fate of their own humanity.

You can download the podcast from Ngano Press Studio’s website and its compatible with most apps for your phone, tablet, and other devices. Remember, it not only will be entertaining and an escape from your daily drudgery, but you’ll be supporting a local business that is doing amazing work and a local artist, who has two kids soon to be in college. The episodes will run about 30 minutes, and I’d love to host a Q & A session if anyone is interested. Maybe we could even do it at a pub. More details on that to come. Hit me up with any questions about it or how to get your ears on it.

Thanks! And spread the word!

Westbury Falls: Episode #7

Good morning! If you’ve been following our little romantic, time-traveling tryst, here is the next installment. Our star-crossed couple find themselves under the strain of propriety. If you need to catch up, please check out the previous episodes here on The Beautiful Stuff. Enjoy!

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The summer began its lazy progression into the tepid heat and humidity that made the house restless and the confining clothes, suffocating. Lillian had taken to wearing as few layers as was allowed and working out in the cool dirt of the garden whenever was possible, much to the dismay of the proprieties of the household. But it was Kitty’s suggestion that they have a lakeside picnic at the end of the week, as a way to socialize with the other prominent families in the province, that seemed to lighten her mood. Lillian suspected it was merely an excuse to socialize with Fitzwilliam, which she had no qualms with. They were a cute couple and it was obvious that her this-world brother was quite taken with the bubbly blond debutant. It also meant she might have another chance to see Matthew.

When the day of the picnic arrived, and Kitty was trying to convince Lillian that wearing a bathing suit without her fiancé in attendance may be deemed inappropriate, Lillian nearly didn’t go. Not only was she not interested in wearing seventy pounds of scratchy, wet, woolen material, but she ached to be inappropriate. Was it only days or years ago that she visited the water park in a two piece? Kitty’s insistence and droning lecture nearly made her reconsider, until she looked down through her chambers’ window, and saw Matthew Blackwood arrive with his father via carriage.

“Perhaps you are right, dear Miss Darlingwood, the best option I have is to remain in the shade, enjoying the activities from afar.” Her eyes never left the view of Matthew who had shed his proper coat on the hot day, and talked with the Colonel in jovial tones. Would he be swimming? Did men swim without shirts? Would he, being the rebel he was, do it?

“Right you are! You could use the ample time to work on your embroidery.”

A shudder of loathing went through Lillian and she frowned her pretty mouth into a pout. “Suppose you are right.”

Now, after helping Miriam with the food baskets and reluctantly packing up her hated project, she was settled on a blanket, listening to the other water revelers enjoy the cool water, even as her skin flushed in the heat. To make matters worse, the senior Dr. Blackwell insisted on setting his blanket next to theirs to talk with the Colonel. Matthew bowed demurely and acknowledged her.

“Miss Byrne, a pleasure as always. I hope the day finds you in good health.”

“Dr. Blackwell, the pleasure is all mine. My health seems to be returning even as we speak,” she said coyly as the ribbons from her bonnet blew gently across her neck. Matthew smiled at her, beneath the brim of his hat as he settled on the grass near, but not near enough to her.

“I hope you do not find it disagreeable to share a blanket in the grass?” he whispered and smiled.

“No, good sir. I only find it highly disagreeable that there are so many eagle-eyed chaperones,” she retorted with a quirked eyebrow before turning her wayward attention back to the knots. He smirked and settled in, listening to his father’s conversations intently while still keeping one eye and ear on Lillian’s frustrated curses beneath her breath and the pink heat of her cheeks. When the Colonel and doctor had left to find relief in the water, Matthew settled back on the blanket, hat over his eyes and nimble hands crossed over his trim middle. She wondered why he hadn’t gone in the water with the others. Perhaps he was stealing a moment. She wasn’t mad about it. She suddenly felt nervous, and the silence between them felt pensive. She spoke without really thinking, except to add to the bank of knowledge she was building in order to find a solution home.

“Can you tell me something?” She said, her fingers fiddling with the embroidery and the knots that were impossibly small to work with. She found, even in her nimbleness of finger and hand, it the most frustrating of challenges.

“Hm?” he said, beneath his hat, lying prone on the blanket, shielded eyes from the sun and breath deep and measured in his broad chest. She could stare at him all day and used the excuse of moving the umbrella to protect her skin to shield the others from noticing her study of him.

“About when we met…that is, when you first saw me.”

He grunted below the hat and she saw his mouth turn downward. “Why would you care to know such detail?” She couldn’t very well tell him she was trying to figure out how to get back to her own time.

“I just—I don’t remember except waking in the room with you there and even that is still a bit fuzzy.”

“Fuzzy?” he said and peaked one eye beneath the brim of his hat to look at her.

“Unclear…con—confusing,” she stuttered as he caught her staring at him. Matthew removed his hat and sat up. He studied the children and families playing in the water, squealing in delight and merriment. The gentle warmth of the sun and grass, the way the sunlight lit Lillian’s dark hair, now escaping into shiny wisps around her face. She’d removed the bonnet, and the curls remained in soft circles piled high on her head. Long neck exposed. The gentle bite of her lip between teeth in anticipation. Her long legs folded beneath her and the terrible excuse for embroidery knotted on her lap as though the art was frustrated with her and not the other way around.

“I was passing by, on my way to my father’s estate when I was called into the house by Mr. Fitzwilliam Byrne and hurried at his edict as quickly as possible. I must have smelled quite horrible as I’d been on the road for most of the day, a compellingly rank mixture of horse and sweat.” He shook his head and smiled.

“Well, now I think I’d remember such a detail as that,” she smiled and quirked an eyebrow at him. He smirked back at her. “Yet, I think I only remember—lavender, lavender and dust. And the sound of your voice as if coming to me in a long hallway. You called me angel.” He stared over at her, studying her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable and strange. Lillian cleared her throat delicately. “Go on, please.”

“You were at the base of the stairs, mumbling for your mother, lying face down. I was afraid to move you, for fear the injury had been to your neck. You pushed yourself up and stumbled to your knees, like a newborn foal. Determined and wobbly.” He smiled and shook his head, then his brow turned down and his lips frowned. “The blood was so heavy and had soaked through your dress, down your neck, in little horrible waves that made my body chill to see. You looked at me and staggered into my arms, a most trusting soul. The weight of you felt—warm and—” Matthew now cleared his throat and his eyes fell. “Forgive me—” he paused and continued “I carried you up the stairs to the first bedroom available. The maids helped me to wash your hair and—” he inhaled “neck. After I tended to your wounds.”

“Did you—were you—” she flushed and bit her lip harder. Suddenly all thoughts of trying to find out more about the moment she time traveled seemed trivial to her first encounter with Dr. Blackwell.

“Yes? What is it that you wish to know, Miss Byrne? Did we not agree to never lie or show restraint at the cost of honesty to one another? No matter how startling it may seem?”

Lillian glanced over to where the other people were otherwise occupied. “Did you undress me?” Matthew sat up straighter and looped his strong arms around his bent knees, he studied his thick thumbs and pursed his lips.

“Only one delicious limb at a time, much to the chagrin of the maids in attendance. I had to—” he paused to sigh, “inspect every part you see, to check for abrasions, breaks—” he swallowed. “Right down to your perfectly beautiful toes. I’ve never—” he swallowed and shifted on the blanket and Lillian wondered if he was fighting the urge to not allow his excitement to show. “known a woman to have so little hair on her body,” he said and he smiled with a confused light in his eyes. Lillian blushed.

“Well, I have hair in some places—”she said inadvertently, forgetting herself and quickly covered her mouth. Matthew’s eyes shot to hers, the blush of her cheeks, the way she looked like she might burst out with laughter or die of embarrassment at any moment was charming and melted him into a confused puddle of want and giddiness.

“I imagine it is as soft and raven dark as that which resides in those maddening curls on your crown,” he whispered. Lillian gasped and her hands fell to her lap. Her breath quickened. “Have I shocked you?” he said with a voice gravely and needful.

“No. You have not. You have, however, bewitched me. My thoughts are—” she swallowed and her hand trailed up her thigh, shaking. “Complicated and exciting,” her hand clenched in her lap.

“Where does the angel’s hand seek to rest,” he whispered wantonly. “Surely it is in the heaven of where my centermost thoughts lie.” He watched as her long fingers unclenched and squeezed the gentle flesh of her thigh. He growled low in his throat, and brought his hand to his mouth.

What was it about this woman? He had certainly had no shortage of beautiful young women showing interest, and those that were more accommodating, refined and available. But she seemed to turn him into a torrent of need and anger, coupled with the desire to keep her safe, to heal her, to listen to her strange accent and her new and interesting ideas. To lose himself in her eyes. To bury his face in her breasts. To steal her away from a highly respected member of the Provence like nothing more than a soulless cad.

He closed his eyes and he seethed beneath his breath. Perhaps it was she who had bewitched him, and was either imprudent for not understanding her own power, which he knew she was not, or she was purposefully trying to drive him insane and do them both a great disservice that would end in not just social suicide but quite possibly the damage of his career. He needed to rectify the situation.

“I am—a horrible—a terrible excuse for a gentleman,” he said softly. “My apologies. The things that I have said, to you, on this day and every day, since we were misfortuned to meet, were not respectable, nor were they acceptable. Please excuse me.” He rose to leave.

“You have lied!” she yelled suddenly after him.

“I beg your pardon?” He turned back to her.

“You have lied to me, Dr. Blackwell. When Miss Darlingwood asked about my engagement you lied and said men didn’t remember details of moments as women do, but you—you remembered every detail from the moment we met.”

“Miss Byrne,” he said, wishing he could protest, but she was, as usual, keenly right.

“You remembered my fall, my waking… you remember—”

“If you please, Miss Byrne!” Matthew interrupted harshly, as the moments played over and over in his mind. He wanted to remember her forever; he knew he should forget her immediately. Matthew sighed and looked to the heavens for the strength he felt he lacked so terribly.

“If I recall such details so clearly it is only because you are quite unforgettable. It seems my heart stands little chance of disregarding you even when my head and all demands of social constraint tell me to do so.” His voice was strained.

“Matthew—” she began and he looked down at her at the sound of his name. He took in a deep breath, sighed it out, looked to the crowd of friends and family now coming up from the water in laughing and jovial waves.

“Miss Byrne, ever coming to your aid is the paramount regret of my life.”

He pulled his hat on, tipped it out of habit, and left in a hurried walk towards his carriage. Lillian watched him go, her heart seeming to beat out of her chest with every one of his steps, aching to follow after him. Never in her life had a man said something so cutting and so understandably true. She wanted to collapse into a fit of sobs.

“Where on earth is Dr. Blackwell gone in such a hurry? Is there a medical emergency?” Kitty said exhilarated with the cold water and wrapping a blanket demurely over her woolen suit. Lillian didn’t know why she felt like crying or why the tears had already formed. She was surprised when a tear fell to her thumb and rolled onto her mottled cloth. Her chest felt heavy and thick and she tried to breathe but air only came in quick gasps and she felt as though she might faint.

“My dear! You are quite vexed! What ever could it be? Has something happened? Is it something concerning Dr. Blackwell? Has he offended you? What has he said? Tell me I must know, so that I may give him adequate reprimand!”

“Kitty, please—I—” she whispered and shook her head, trying desperately to wipe her eyes before the others could see. Colonel Maynard shuffled up from the shore, water dripping from his walrus mustache and joy in his red cheeks.

“I dare say, that may have made me both simultaneously older and young as a colt!” his smile fell as Lillian caught his gaze. He looked around at the milling groups now drying off to begin tea. Kitty handed her a damp kerchief but she politely shook her head.

“Miss Lillian, what on Earth is wrong. Has something happened, even on a day as fine as this?” he asked with utmost care, keeping his voice low so as to not alert the other party guests of her distress.

“I’m afraid I’m not feeling well, is there some—” she paused to sniffle and wondered how she could extract herself from people without seeming rude or arousing suspicion that Dr. Blackwell had anything at all to do with it. She quickly folded her work and stowed it away in the basket. “I beg upon your good mercy, Sir, could you please excuse me. I think I shall walk back home.”

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