It’s exciting to have so many new releases coming out among friends! Thanks for joining me for the third guest author visit of this week. Today, I’m happy to welcome Sandra Cox with her latest release, Geller’s Find. Look for my review at the end of this post, but in the interim, sit back and enjoy as Sandra share’s an excerpt and tells us a little about this fabulous time-travel western!
The hair on the back of his neck rose and his nerves twitched. He’d never seen anything like that rock before. He nudged it with his foot. When it didn’t budge, he bent to pick it up.
The ground under his feet trembled.
The chiastolite glowed. The markings shimmered.
What the hell?
He flapped his arms, trying to balance himself as the ground dropped an inch. A perfect circle below his feet gave way. The stone stayed in place.
He fell into a cylinder of rock and stone.
The bottom dropped.
His stomach flopped and he swirled down.
The wind whistled in his ears as he tumbled into a deep black hole that went on forever. The chill in the air fell away. The further down he went, the hotter the air. The rocks around him began to glow. Good God. Either he was heading for hell or the earth’s core, and neither was where he wanted to be. His grip on the rifle tightened as he bounced off the hot stones that closed around him as he whirled in a tube of rock.
Time had no meaning. Seconds, minutes, maybe more passed as the cyclone of air spun him around. His stomach pushed up to his throat and he fought off nausea.
With a scraping sound, the spinning lurched to a stop.
Then as if an elevator button was punched, he started upward. Only unlike an elevator there was no floor, just rough rock gravity glued him against.
Up. Up. Up. Faster and faster. Then momentum stopped. His body quivered. A force thrust upward and opened.
Hard earth rose to meet him.
With a thud, he landed.
Doctor Luke Geller is a full-time history professor and part-time archeologist. His specialty is Native American artifacts. Instead of a gun, he carries a Hopi throwing stick. He likes cats, horses with a sense of humor, and women who aren’t looking for a commitment.
Bio: Sandra, who also writes as S. Cox, is a vegetarian, animal lover and avid gardener. She liveswith her husband, their dog and cats in sunny North Carolina.
An award-winning author, her stories consist of all things Western and more.
Foodie Facts: She spent a number of years in the Midwest chasing down good Southern BBQ. By the time she moved to North Carolina where Southern BBQ is practically a staple, she’d become a vegetarian.
Pineapple is a must-have on pizza, along with black olives and onions.
She loves pumpkin waffles. Pumpkin cream cheese, not so much.
Geller’s Find is pure, delightful escapist reading.
Dr. Luke Geller is a history professor with an interest in archeology. While digging for potsherds, he stumbles across an old Winchester rifle that inadvertently tosses him back in time to the No Gold Ranch, owned by Lily Winter Tremaine. The ranch is run by Lily and her two closest friends. Luke soon finds himself hired on as a ranch hand, helping the three women defend the property against possible takeover. If that sounds like the set up for an old fashioned western mixed with time travel–yes and no.
Some things play out as expected but there are several surprises along the way. The strength of the book lies in its characters, its feel good vibe, and a huge heartwarming HEA ending. There’s even a cat who factors into the action! You can’t go wrong with this one. It’s guaranteed to leave you with a contented and sloppy grin at the end. A winner!
Happy Thursday! I’m excited to introduce new friend and first time guest to my blog, Marie Sinadjan. If you haven’t already connected with this talented lady, I suggest rectifying that pronto! Not only is Marie a sweetheart, she brings a unique perspective to the world of authors. Her debut release, Hotel Fen, (co-authored with Meri Benson) is a mesmerizing blend of Norse mythology and modern day. I devoured the book in two days, and was especially taken with the vintage hotel and snowy Norwegian setting.
So what’s up with the unique perspective I mentioned? Marie is not only a writer, but a musician/singer/performer with an ethereal voice and a passion for musical theater. I’ll let her tell you more. Take it away, Marie!
Hi, Mae! Thank you so much for having me today and allowing me to share with your readers my debut novel, Hotel Fen, which I wrote with my friend Meri Benson. It’s an urban fantasy, Norse mythology-based story about two unsuspecting strangers who find themselves trapped in a dreamy, vintage hotel.
We know how those kinds of stories go, right? 🤭
In lieu of a written excerpt, however, let me offer you one… in song form. Here is Elevator, an original song I collaborated with some friends to celebrate the book’s release, and in true musical fashion (I’m a musical theatre fan), it tells of a pivotal scene in the beginning of the novel — the meet-cute the blurb talks about!
I don’t entirely remember how we ended up choosing Norse mythology, only that it’s something I’ve long been interested in (the Norse pantheon is ridiculous and insane and I love it) and that Meri has Swedish and German roots. As for me, I’m from the Philippines, and we already have plans to showcase my side of the world’s myths and folklore in future stories, with the dream of someday creating an interconnected mythological universe.
Anyway, here is Hotel Fen. We also have a Spotify playlist for the universe’s all-original soundtrack, with new releases coming soon. And if you ever want to collaborate on a song for your books, just let me know and we can work something out! I love collaborations, as this project has been so far.
Are you ready for the vacation of a lifetime?
Victor has always had a passion for Norse history and mythology, but after hitting a dead end with his book on valkyries, not even that passion is enough to move him forward. Just when he’s ready to abandon the project, he receives an email: he’s won a free trip to Hotel Fen, a remote vintage resort in the Scandinavian Mountains.
Silje has always felt that her life was fairly unremarkable. She cares deeply about people and that has led her to find her purpose at a nursing home in Oslo. When a resident dies and leaves her an all-expense paid vacation package to Hotel Fen, however, she takes the opportunity to experience something different.
It all starts innocently enough, with a little meet-cute in the hotel elevator that takes forever to arrive on their floor. But the longer Victor and Silje remain together, the more dangerous the hotel becomes, and the more they question where reality ends and the impossible begins.
Marie Sinadjan is an indie author and singer-songwriter from Cebu, Philippines. She’s always loved theatre and music, as well as trading stories, worldbuilding, and collaborative writing. Hotel Fen is her debut novel, written with her US-based friend Meri Benson, and aside from the sequel, she’s also working on the series’ soundtrack and the accompanying short stories. When not crunching numbers for her full-time job, spending time with her family, or dreaming up more worlds, she’s recording songs in her bedroom or dressing up as Disney princesses for kids and special events.
Thanks for visiting today. I hope you’ll make Marie feel welcome in the comments below. As a new author, she’s working on building her blog following and has been making regular rounds in the blogosphere. There’s plenty of connect buttons and sharing buttons above. I hope you’ll use both, then hop over to Amazon and ONE-CLICKHotel Fen. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series. If you love Norse myth, you don’t want to miss this one!
I’m delighted to welcome Brenda Marie Smith back to my blog with another riveting post about her years of living off the grid in a commune. She has the perfect background to write post-apocalyptic fiction. I positively loved her novel, If Darkness Takes Us, so when she offered me an ARC of the follow-up, If the Light Escapes, I jumped at the chance.
I was honored when she asked me to write a cover blurb for the book. And wow–what a stellar cover! Look for my review on this fantastic novel next week. In the meantime, check out Brenda’s amazing post below!
Living Communally By Brenda Marie Smith
While living off the grid in the Ozark Mountains in the 1970s, my ex-husband and I read the book Hey Beatnik! about a hippie community in Tennessee called The Farm. They were vegans before there was a term for it, they offered free midwifery services, and they even pledged to raise your child if you didn’t want it. The group followed a spiritual creed—a fusion of the common threads that run through most religions—love, compassion, and keeping a clean mind. We needed to see it; we took off for southern middle Tennessee.
Farm folks were amazingly friendly, which was scary for me as a shy twenty-one-year-old who’d been living in the woods for years. But they were genuinely kind. Full beards, long hair, bright clothing—much of it held together with multi-colored patchwork. They had 1,700 acres of woods and farmland, with creeks and springs and wells, horses and tractors, a free store, a soy dairy, a canning kitchen, and scads of housing made from old school buses and army field tents stretched across wooden frames.
There were pink-cheeked kids and babies and pregnant women everywhere, a greenhouse under construction, a coin-free laundromat, a mill with workers covered in flour, and acres upon acres of soybeans, sorghum, tomatoes, and more. The smell of woodsmoke permeated the air, and when you walked the dirt roads, everyone greeted you.
People mediated in the meadow on Sunday mornings, finishing it off with a harmonious OM. Couples were often married afterwards. They had a spiritual leader, Stephen Gaskin, who pulled the group together with his charisma, but who outlived that role over time.
We wanted to join up, but we had to go back to Arkansas first. I got pregnant that winter, as though all the pregnancies we’d witnessed had rubbed off on me.
We moved to The Farm in March 1975 and “soaked” for weeks—a kind of probationary membership before making a final commitment. At the end of that period, we gathered at the gatehouse with other soakers, signed a “Vow of Poverty,” and turned over our meager cash plus the keys to our truck, which went to the motor pool to be shared.
We moved into a tent house on Hickory Hill. Our bedroom had East Indian print curtains for interior walls and a platform bed with foam on top. We lived with two other couples, fairly far from where most of the community resided. We wanted it that way. We were too shy to live close to so many people. We carried our water from a creek down the hill—probably not the cleanest, but we didn’t know.
For a few months, it was sheer, heady adventure—working in the hot beds growing sweet potato slips, starting tomato and pepper plants, building compost and working it into the soil, hiking up Hickory Hill to make dinner by kerosene light, maybe play music with neighbors.
But The Farm was short on money and food. Sometimes we ran out of flour, other times salt. We seldom had cooking oil, but more often had margarine and sugar, home-canned tomatoes and pickled eggplant. The only foods we could count on having were soybeans and soy flour, which we made into not-so-tasty soy souffle. We baked small sweet potatoes to carry around to eat for energy. But I was pregnant, and I couldn’t eat a bite of soybeans without instant nausea. Years later I learned that I’m allergic to soybeans.
I was given peanuts to shell, roast, and take to the mill to become peanut butter. People who went to town sneaked me candy bars with nuts and boxes of crackers to get me through. The midwives checked me regularly, and the local doctor pronounced me in good health, just a little too thin.
All this may sound crazy, but we were intense idealists, trying to create a more sustainable lifestyle, believing that our voluntary peasantry would help the world’s poor. But the Farm was located in a disadvantaged part of Tennessee, which lacked in ways to earn sufficient money to support twelve hundred hippies.
A construction crew, tree-planting crew, and farmhands worked outside The Farm for money. Our farming crew sold produce and farmed nearby land as well as ours, but they had to run up debt to do it, and the depleted soil wouldn’t yield enough to feed us all. We had to buy bulk food, plus cloth diapers for the dozen or so babies being born each month.
The food situation improved when we started a satellite Farm in Florida and shipped home mass quantities of fruits and veggies. My first son was delivered by midwives in October 1975, my second son fifteen months later. I had difficulties with the second birth but was well cared for at a nearby hospital.
Eventually, we got water delivered to barrels outside our houses with gravity-fed plumbing to our kitchen sinks. A few doctors joined our ranks and trained a crew of EMTs. A system of governance was established, and tent houses gradually became regular homes.
A typical day as a new mother on The Farm: Wake up twice per night to nurse the baby and feed the wood heater. Rise at dawn for breakfast. Pack up and head to work, one baby strapped to my front, the other on my back, diaper bag and lunch in tow. If a car passed, hitch a ride. If not, walk a mile to the farming crew office in the tractor barn to do bookkeeping while tending babies. Head home in late afternoon to pick up food from the store and make dinner. Once a week, haul enormous bags of laundry a mile to the laundromat, where it could take all night to get your clothes clean. Lug them home wet and hang them to dry.
Other typical days: take turns babysitting, where two moms would tend eight or ten babies, lining them up in highchairs to eat, lining them up to change diapers, chasing toddlers all day. Other days, cook for the masses, making bread, tortillas, and tofu from scratch. Or be a farmer or bookkeeper or caregiver. Learn midwifery; work in the solar electronics lab, or for Plenty, our charity.
Each of the few thousand people who cycled through the Farm over the years has a separate story to tell. I think of it fondly. I made dozens of lifelong friends. My kids, now in their forties, have friends they’ve known since birth. I overcame my shyness and learned to cooperate in households as large as forty people with dozens of kids underfoot, sharing all we had. I never mastered tie-dye, but I can braid hair like a boss.
My allergies in the Tennessee woods gave me recurring bronchitis. We tried several satellite Farms, ending up manufacturing tofu salad in Austin, Texas, where we had indoor plumbing and no dusty roads.
In the mid-1980s, the Farm underwent a “change-over” and switched from being a collective—where all money was thrown into the pot—to a cooperative—where each family pays its share. Hundreds of people couldn’t do that in rural Tennessee and moved away. The population decreased from near-2,000 at its peak to a few hundred, and the satellites shut down. But the Farm is now celebrating its 50th anniversary, its debts are paid, the roads are paved, and second and third generation families have made it their home. Co-ops actually work; collectives not so much.
And I have a rich vein of experience to draw from in my writing. I often think I should write about the Farm, but others have written fine nonfiction accounts, and the place and its human relationships were so complex that there’s no earthly way to do it justice.
I think I’ll write a fictional story based on limited aspects of communal living. Guru of the Ozarks has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
(Me on far right with braids, holding my baby, who’s cut off, my other son in front of me)
In 2018 when they were in their early forties, my sons Aaron and Jared (J.D.)—lifelong vegetarians—took a trip back to their roots to visit the Farm. They sent me almost 200 photos while there and called me while visiting old friends. Everyone was so happy to see what fine young men they had become. And I couldn’t help but cry.
Thank you, Mae Clair, for your monumental kindnesses and for hosting me on your blog.
Did that post leave as astounded as I am? Brenda has led quite the colorful and intriguing life. Her background is just perfect for her dystopian series. Today, I am happy to share book two, If the Light Escapes.
“Gritty and powerful… takes the reader on an emotionally charged and adrenaline-fueled journey that lingers long after the last page is read.” —Mae Clair, author of the Point Pleasant series and the Hode’s Hill series
The standalone sequel to IF DARKNESS TAKES US
A solar electromagnetic pulse has fried the US grid. Now, northern lights are in Texas—three thousand miles farther south than where they belong. The universe won’t stop screwing with eighteen-year-old Keno Simms. All that’s left for him and his broken family is farming their Austin subdivision, trying to eke out a living on poor soil in the scorching heat. Keno’s one solace is his love for Alma, who has her own secret sorrows. When he gets her pregnant, he vows to keep her alive no matter what. Yet armed marauders and nature itself collude against him, forcing him to make choices that rip at his conscience. If the Light Escapes is post-apocalyptic science fiction set in a near-future reality, a coming-of-age story told in the voice of a heroic teen who’s forced into manhood too soon.
“Brenda Marie Smith stuns a gain with the breathtaking sequel to her debut. With her skill for detail and character, Smith captivates us with Keno’s kindness and humanity while also exploring the capacity for violence that lurks within all of us.” —Aden Polydoros, author of THE CITY BEAUTIFUL
“IF THE LIGHT ESCAPES is a rich coming-of-age story about the legacy of family, infused with hopefulness and humanity.” —Laura Creedle, author of THE LOVE LETTERS OF ABELARD AND LILY
BRENDA MARIE SMITH lived off the grid for many years in a farming collective where her sons were delivered by midwives. She’s done community activism, managed student housing co-ops, produced concerts to raise money for causes, done massive quantities of bookkeeping, and raised a small herd of teenage boys. Brenda is attracted to stories where everyday characters transcend their limitations to find their inner heroism. She and her husband reside in a grid-connected, solar-powered home in South Austin, Texas. They have more grown kids and grandkids than they can count.
Thanks for visiting with me and Brenda today. I hope you enjoyed her post as much as I did, and will drop her some thoughts in the comments below. Remember to check back next week for my review of If the Light Escapes (hint: it involves lots of stars)!
Today, I’m excited to have my good friend and Story Empire colleague, Joan Hall, as my guest. She’s here to celebrate the release of Cold Dark Night, the first in a series I’ve been eagerly looking forward to. I’m delighted she chose to send me an excerpt with a character I fell in love with in an earlier novel. This time, Jason Montgomery gets a starring role and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s Joan to tell you more.
Thank you for hosting me today, Mae. I’m excited to be here to tell your readers about my newest release, Cold Dark Night. It’s the first novel in the Legends of Madeira series. Each book begins with a historical event that ties to the present.
Those who have read my Driscoll Lake series, will recognize a couple of familiar names. Jason Montgomery is one of those characters who took me in a different direction than I originally planned. I’m glad I listened.
When we first met Jason in Unclear Purposes, he was arrogant, self-serving, and caused more than one headache for his boss, Matt Bradford. Now he’s police chief in the small town of Madeira. Will his past ways come back to haunt him?
Manuel’s attention turned toward the front. “Uh, oh. You wanted to meet Bridges. Here’s your chance.”
Two uniformed officers approached their table. Jason recognized Officer Daniels. The other was a young man, mid-twenties, with sandy hair and piercing blue eyes.
“Well, well, well,” the officer said, “Guess you’re our new chief. Hope that’s not a beer you’re having. Wouldn’t look good for you to be drinking on the job.”
Jason’s fork made a clamoring sound as he dropped it on his place. “I gather you’re Bridges.”
The young cop pointed to his name tag. “That’s me. Figured the old man here would try to get on your good side.”
Officer Daniels seemed embarrassed. Manuel ignored the comment.
“You certainly aren’t doing anything to merit favor,” Jason said. “But we’ll discuss it later. Right now, you’re interrupting our lunch.”
“Guess it would be in our best interest to find a table.” Bridges grinned at Daniels. “We don’t have the luxury of taking long lunch breaks.” With that, he strode away.
Daniels followed with an embarrassed backward glance.
“So that’s Zach Bridges,” Jason said.
“The one and only. More than once, I’ve wanted to can him, but he does his job. He’s a damn good officer when he’s not acting like a jerk. A little attitude adjustment would serve him well. The man doesn’t show respect to those in authority.”
“Insubordination is reason enough to fire him whether he does the job well or not. Why didn’t you let him go?”
“Politics. His aunt is the mayor’s wife. He’s always quick to remind others of that.”
Jason inwardly winced, remembering times when he’d thrown it in Matt’s face about the Driscoll Lake City Council being responsible for his hiring.
“Another reason I didn’t want your position. I’m getting too old to deal with stuff like that. Comes with the territory, I’m afraid.”
“I knew that would be the case. I can handle Zach Bridges. I’ve seen his kind before. I used to be a lot like him.”
Cold Dark Night is available on Amazon for the introductory price of .99 through June 15. The price increases to $3.99 afterward, so now is a good time to grab a copy.
New husband, new house, new town… and a new mystery to solve.
Tami Montgomery thought her police chief husband was going to be the only investigator in the family when she gave up her journalism career and moved with him to Madeira, New Mexico.
But after the historical society asks her to write stories for a book celebrating the town’s history, she becomes embroiled in a new mystery. If she can’t solve this one, she could lose everything. Her research uncovers a spate of untimely deaths of local law enforcement officials. Further digging reveals a common link—they all lived in the house she and Jason now share.
Tami isn’t a superstitious person, but the circumstances are too similar for coincidence. Then she unearths an even more disturbing pattern. And if history repeats itself, her husband will be the next to die.
I can’t tell you how excited I am for Joan and the release of this novel. It combines elements I love—mystery, great characters, historic elements, and folklore. It was a no-brainer to snatch it up the moment it became available, especially at that great introductory price. Help Joan celebrate her book launch by dropping her a comment, then using the sharing buttons to spread the word about Cold Dark Night. Of course, you’ll want to hop over to Amazon and ONE-CLICK your copy, too! 🙂
Hello, everyone. Welcome to a special Guest Author Thursday. My friend and Story Empire colleague, C. S. Boyack has released a new Lizzie and the Hat novella, Lunar Boogie. I’ll be sharing my 5-star review next week on my blog. In the meantime, suffice to say I loved this story—it’s my favorite Hat novella to date. To tell us all about it, Craig has sent his spokes model and personal assistant, robot girl extraordinaire, Lisa, to share the details. Take it away, Lisa!
So excited to be here today, Mae. I’m excited to be anywhere after 2020, if you know what I mean. I’m on the road because Craig published a new book. This is book number four in the hat series, and it’s titled “Lunar Boogie.”
This one has Lizzie, our budding monster hunter on the trail of a werewolf. She’s really no more special than anyone else, but her partner is a creature from another dimension. He’s trapped forever in the form of a hat. When she wears him, they form a symbiotic bond that allows both of them to accomplish things they couldn’t do alone.
Today’s topic involves that bond, but falls on the side of earning a living. Chasing monsters isn’t the most profitable thing to do, but Lizzie still has rent and utilities to pay. It turns out that many years before he met Lizzie, the hat learned to play the upright bass. He needs that symbiosis, because he doesn’t have hands, but he’s pretty good.
They formed a small cover band, and spend their weekends playing around the country. He uses her fingers to play the bass, while Lizzie sings. This brings some added fun to the stories, because when the bars let out, it’s a pretty good time to chase monsters. It also lets them travel around so all their adventures don’t have to take place in Lizzie’s back yard.
Lizzie is a pretty creative girl, and tries to spend her money at thrift stores and pawn shops. This time she scored a cool jacket and bedazzled it up herself. I get to wear that outfit in my promotional poster. Tell your friends to download the image and feel free to use it as a phone background or add it to Pinterest.
Honestly, I visit with artist Sean Harrington when we make these. I was worried about this poster, because robot girls are a little heavier than the standard issue bass player. It all worked out in the end, and we came up with some fun artwork. This is a scene from a college dance the band played.
The book is way fun. Plenty of banter between Lizzie and the hat like fans have come to expect, and a different kind of adventure. I hope your readers will give it a chance.
BOOK BLURB: Lizzie and the hat are back in action, only this time they’re up against the most tragic monster of all, a werewolf.
This adventure is more like hunting an animal, and the werewolf is unlikely to come to any of their musical performances. This puts Lizzie out in the dark corners and wooded areas of the city. It may be more beneficial to get the monster to hunt Lizzie than to stalk him on his own turf. All she has to do is be quicker on the trigger than the wolf is on his feet.
At the same time, the police think they’re after a serial killer. Lizzie tries to keep them alive while also keeping them out of her way. As the body count rises, so do the pressures. It doesn’t help that people are blaming Lizzie and the hat for the killings. This involves an urban myth about them that the locals call Hellpox.
Pull on your boogie shoes and join the hunt. Designed as an afternoon read, this one is tons of supernatural fun.
I’ve enjoyed each of the Lizzie and the Hat novellas, and have already picked up my copy of Lunar Boogie. It sounds like Lizzie and the (snarky) hat really have their hands full this time! If you’d like to help Craig with his book launch, be sure to use the sharing buttons below, then hop over to ONE-CLICK your copy at Amazon!
Hello! Today I’m excited to welcome Brenda Marie Smith to my blog. It’s her first time visiting, and boy does she have a story to share. I “met” Brenda last year when I read her highly-unique post-apocalyptic novelIf Darkness Takes Us. To see what makes this book so different from most stories of this type, see my 5 Star Amazon Review. And then check out where some of the inspiration behind the book came from by reading Brenda’s amazing personal experiences below!
In my novel, If Darkness Takes Us, a solar pulse destroys the U.S. grid and also takes down the cars, phones, and running water. The characters must survive without modern conveniences and learn to farm their urban subdivision.
Readers regularly comment on how much research I must have done to make the details of a powerless world authentic. But the fact is that my life was my research.
In the 1970s when I lived off the grid for several years, I didn’t realize I was also building a treasure trove of experiences that would later fuel my fiction. I was an idealist, part of the Back to the Land movement. We were “getting in touch with Nature” and “finding ourselves,” which often involved living in the backwoods, ingesting psychedelics, growing veggies, and the actual hugging of trees.
The Arkansas Ozark Mountains The first time I got married I was eighteen. Back then you could survive on odd jobs and cheap rent, but after hitchhiking across the country twice, we weren’t satisfied. When we saw the movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” about St. Francis of Assisi shunning worldly goods, we packed up our 1953 Chevy panel truck and headed out to live in the Ozark Mountains of Western Arkansas.
Oh my gosh, it was beautiful there—low mountains that seemed spectacular to us after being flatlanders all our lives—crisp air, uncut National Forests of oak and gum and pine. We drove around several counties where we’d heard that hippies lived, and finally found them in Newton County—one of the poorest counties in the nation.
An old man named Beecher Kilgore had moved to town due to poor health—he lived in a trailer that he called a “Prince Albert can.” He let us live in his mountain cabin for free, as long as we brought him huckleberries from the woods and potatoes from his garden.
Beecher’s place was a tiny tar-paper shack with a tin roof, but he’d built it himself from hand-hewn oak planks. He and his wife raised their kids there—one bedroom, one living area with a woodstove for heat. The biggest room was the kitchen—it had a kerosene refrigerator that we never used and a kerosene cookstove that we fired up when we got tired of cooking atop the wood heater or the hibachi grill. Everything we did, we had to learn from scratch.
There was an outhouse up the hill in the back—scared me to death to go there at night as there were panthers, but I got used to it. Out the kitchen door, a rock path led to a PVC pipe, where fresh spring water ran continuously to form a small pool and a smaller stream. We stored perishable food like milk and cheese in the pool, though not for more than a day at a time.
The spring water was so clean and clear that we drank it by the gallons—always cool even in hot weather. The spring was up a hill on the side of a house. Chipmunks and other small critters hung out around the spring, and I read Carlos Castaneda up there, trying to commune with the animals.
At the time we thought we didn’t have neighbors for two miles around us, but I now suspect that some people were closer if we’d known how to get to them through the woods and hollers.
We had a few acres of cleared land with two garden spaces that had once been pig pens. Otherwise, we were surrounded by miles of healthy forest. Across the chert road, we could hike a short way to a magnificent creek bed—a deep cut into the mountainside that had a lovely waterfall at the top end and a beaver dam at the bottom.
Our firewood came from fallen tree limbs that we dragged home to chop by hand. Never once did we cut down a living tree. I planted a veggie garden to mixed success, and studied local herbs and plants. I learned to make tea from wild mint or sumac, which was abundant and tasted like hibiscus. Huckleberries were everywhere the first year, but nowhere to be found the second and third. Persimmons grew wild, but we ate them too soon and never ate more.
Because we had no electricity, we used kerosene lamps and lanterns, learning to trim the wicks so they didn’t turn the lamp chimneys black. For bathing, we had a big tin washtub, and we heated water on the woodstove. It took a cooperative effort to keep the bathwater warm and to rinse one another’s hair.
Scary things happened: I rounded the corner of the house one day to find a bobcat staring at me; the brakes went out on our truck as we came down the mountain highway, taking a tight curve in the wrong lane; my visiting brother got lost in the woods for hours in the dark; the truck’s engine block froze and cracked, stranding us at home with almost no food. We had to hike four miles up the mountain in the snow, not knowing if the store would even be open. Luckily it was, and people fed us a meal and hot tea to boot.
Wondrous and beautiful things: The quiet, which unnerved me at first until the peacefulness settled in; dogwood flowers in spring that looked like white butterflies on the bare trees; hiking to the mountaintop to get above the clouds; the spectacular fall foliage; caves with sparkling white stalactites and stalagmites; witchers who found water with a willow stick; old men who played banjo and guitar and invited the hippies to sing along; huckleberry pie at the café where everyone knew us and the waitresses called us “honey.”
And on summer nights, tree frogs would serenade us from a pond in the woods under the magical moonlight.
The people of Newton County had been dirt-poor for generations. They hunted and fished for part of their food (which we never did—we were learning to be vegetarian). They survived by helping each other, and they helped us so much it was humbling. Beecher Kilgore loaned us his house; a mechanic named Smitty gave us a running car and wouldn’t let us pay him; folks gave us fresh honey and garden vegetables galore. I learned to make quilts that I pieced together by hand and gave them as gifts in return.
Putting Life into Fiction Beecher’s cabin and the mountain creek show up in my first novel, Something Radiates. So does the time I spent in Louisiana and a mountain cave I hitchhiked to near Boulder. For the evil antagonist, I merged the worst aspects of my two exes and ramped them into overdrive.
For If Darkness Takes Us and its sequel, If the Light Escapes (coming out August 2021), I drew on my experience as mother and grandmother in a big step-family, plus my skills from life off-grid in the Ozarks. I also used what I learned in off-grid communal living, which I will tell you more about in a future blog post this coming summer.
The lesson to go with the standard advice to “write what you know” is that you can mix pieces of your life with your imagination to create something completely new. All my thanks to Mae Clair for her kindness and encouragement, and for hosting this story on her blog. ____________________________________________________________________________
BIO: Winner of the Southern Fried Karma 2018 Novel Contest for IF DARKNESS TAKES US, Brenda Marie Smith studied fiction in the UCLA Writers Program. Born and raised in Oklahoma City, she was part of the back-to-the-land movement, living off the grid in the Ozark Mountains, and then joining The Farm—an off-grid, vegan hippie community in Tennessee where her sons were delivered by midwives.
Brenda has lived in Austin, Texas since 1980, where she managed nonprofits for thirty years. She and her husband own and reside in a grid-connected, solar-powered home. They have five grown sons, two grandkids with a third on the way, and a self-assured kitty cat. Her first novel Something Radiates is a paranormal romantic thriller; If Darkness Takes Us and its sequel, If the Light Escapes, are post-apocalyptic science fiction.
Winner of the 2018 Southern Fried Karma Novel Contest
In suburban Austin, Texas, Bea Crenshaw secretly prepares for apocalypse, but when a solar pulse destroys modern life, she’s left alone with four grandkids whose parents don’t return home. She must teach these kids to survive without power, cars, phones, running water, or doctors in a world fraught with increasing danger.
If Darkness Takes Us is realistic post-apocalyptic fiction with a focus on a family in peril, led by a no-nonsense grandmother who is at once funny, controlling, and heroic in her struggle to hold her family together with civility and heart.
So are you as blown away as I am? What an incredible life Brenda has led! Now I understand how she was able to make the scenarios in If Darkness Takes Us so realistic.
Brenda will be back again with another amazing post when If the Light Escapes releases in August. In the meantime, this (moi) pampered, where’s-the-pool-bar-and-hotel-lounge girl is in awe. My husband frequently tells me I would have never made it as a settler or living in the Old West. Apparently, I wouldn’t make it in Brenda’s world either, LOL!
Drop her a few thoughts below. And, if you haven’t read If Darkness Takes Us, I highly recommend a quick jaunt to Amazon to one-click!
Hello, and please welcome Emily Fortney back to my blog. Emily and I originally met in a local writing group, and I’m delighted to help her with the launch of her newest release The Dark Ruler. Isn’t the cover gorgeous? She also has a special offer for you at the end of the post.
Here’s Emily to give you some background on The Dark Ruler and her Camilla Crim series!
It is great to be back on Mae’s blog and talking to all of you! When I was here last summer, I was sharing about my young adult fantasy book, The Sacrifice of One. I was re-launching that book at that time. Yes, you read that right, it was a RE-launch. After years of sitting on this book and just focusing on my writing, I decided to rebrand it and widen the distribution. All during the re-launch, I was also working on a brand new book in that series called The Dark Ruler. Well, I’m back again to announce that The Dark Ruler officially released this week!
This is book #3 in my Camilla Crim series. It’s actually been almost three years since I released a new book, so this is a big deal for me and I’m really excited to tell you about it.
Let me introduce you to my leading lady, Camilla. How shall I describe Camilla? She’s stubborn and talks without thinking, but she’s also fiery and passionate. In The Dark Ruler she’s on a mission to kill the Supreme Ruler, Quinten Warwick, and free the people of Elmyra from slavery. Unsurprisingly, a slew of mysteries lie between the walls of the capital city where the Supreme Ruler resides.
Things are little more complicated than that straight forward goal. Because Camilla has a mother with suspect intentions. After abandoning Camilla when she was just a toddler, Portia weasels her way back into Camilla’s world and has taken to meddling with her life. Although a very powerful witch, Portia is intent on drawing little ol’ Camilla to her side. The problem is, Camilla doesn’t know why her mother is suddenly interested in her, and frankly, she doesn’t care. She wants nothing to do with her mother.
For those of you who’ve never read any of the books in this series, let’s back up. Before Camilla had problems with her mom and found herself taking on the role of a Supreme Ruler assassin, she worked at the national farm, being treated as little more than a slave. Camilla even bears the brand of Quinten Warwick on her arm. She’s a peasant, a nothing.
Everything changes when she finds out that her brother is being hunted down for a murder she knows he didn’t commit, or at least she’s pretty sure… All of that plays out in The Sacrifice of One. (Stick around until the end of this post for a special offer on this book!)
First, I’d like to draw the veil and take you behind the scenes of The Dark Ruler and the process I took to write this book. Like all of you, last year was different for me. Here in America, COVID struck in early March. Literally the week that everything shut down was the same week that I left my 9-5 job of nearly 10 years to write part time. Leaving my job was pre-planned and had nothing to do with COVID. It was a weird time of transition for me.
The point is, I wrote The Dark Ruler during the pandemic. The lack of social gatherings really cut down on my commitments and I was able to spend a lot of time at my laptop clacking away. For me, this book is a positive part of 2020. It helped me survive it in a way and I’m not sure I could have written it as quickly as I did without quarantine.
As an author I often get asked what inspired me to write my books. That question is hard to answer. A million things have inspired me. In the case of The Dark Ruler, I had been thinking over this plot for years. The skeleton of this installment was in my head even while I was writing the earlier Camilla books. But I will let you in on one major inspiration. It’s a little bit of a spoiler, so let’s keep it hush hush.
In 2019 I married my best friend. The development of our relationship and our actual wedding event inspired certain parts of The Dark Ruler. There is of course a romance element to the Camilla books and much of that storyline in this book, is inspired by my own experiences of falling in love. I’ll stop before I get too gushy on you!
The Dark Ruler is available NOW! Make sure you go grab your copy. New to the series? You can read book #1, The Sacrifice of One, for FREE by CLICKING HERE and signing up on my email newsletter. If you love The Sacrifice of One, there are 3 more books in the series you can binge on!
One more thing. As a special gift to Mae’s readers, if you sign up for my email newsletter, not only will you get a FREE eBook copy of The Sacrifice of One, but I will send a bookish sticker pack to the first 50 people that sign up. 😊 Just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know that you signed up and came from Mae’s blog. Put your address in the email, and I’ll mail you a sticker pack! Sign up HERE.
It’s been a blast to chat with you all today. Thanks again to Mae for letting me post and tell you about my new release. You can read the full blurb of The Dark Ruler below and connect with me on all the social medias.
BLURB: A wicked man sits on the throne in Elmyra’s capital city, and Camilla is determined to end his reign by any means necessary. Blinded by her determination, Camilla will abandon her life in Bear Gap and join forces with Reed, a man she doesn’t know as well as she thought. Their plan? To kill The Supreme Ruler of Elmyra.
The plot to assassinate Quinten Warwick will lead them through treacherous terrain and down the infamous Thief Road to the capital city of LilyAye. Once there, they must join with the LilyAye rebels and find a way to put an end to the country’s dark ruler.
Author Bio: Emily has come a long way from building forts in the woods behind her childhood home. She’s the author of the The Sacrifice of One, the first book in a thrilling, young adult fantasy series. Born and raised in central Pennsylvania, Emily currently resides with her husband and shelter cat, and is vigilant about keeping her house well stocked with dark chocolate.
Thanks for joining Emily and me today for the launch of her book. I hope you enjoyed her post as much as I did. Camilla certainly sounds like an interesting heroine. Don’t forget to take Emily up on her offer for The Sacrifice of One, then hop over to Amazon grab the latest in this series. Please help Emily spread the word by using the sharing buttons below. Drop her a line and say hello! 🙂