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Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Westward Adventure

By Kristy McCaffrey

I'm pleased to share that I've got another short story available as a single sell for 99 cents. It's currently on pre-order with a release date of August 28. Why should you pre-order? The story will automatically load when available so you don't have to worry about remembering and it also helps an author with total sales on release day. This can sometimes push a work onto top 100 charts, and while it's certainly a boon to a writer's ego, the real benefit is that the title is exposed more at each site. So, if you haven't read it (it was previously published in the anthology Cowboy Kisses) and you think you might want to, then I'd sure appreciate a pre-order purchase.

Aspiring novelist Amelia Mercer travels from New York City to Colorado to aid an injured aunt. When the stage is robbed and her luggage stolen, bounty hunter Ned Waymire comes to her aid, acquainted with the harmless culprit and wanting to spare the boy. But Ned also seeks to impress the independent young woman. Amelia's wish to never marry, however, clashes with Ned's desire to keep her reputation intact. When a final bounty from Ned's past threatens their future, she knows that A Westward Adventure isn’t just the title of her novel but the new course of her life.

Excerpt from A Westward Adventure

The front door opened and shut, and in the next instant Ned Waymire filled the parlor entryway. As soon as Amelia locked eyes with him, he froze.

“Ned, I’d like you to meet my niece, Amelia Mercer.” Teddy waved him into the room. “Amelia, this is Ned Waymire. He boards here. There’s also another gentleman, but he’s been away recently.”

Mister Waymire removed his hat, revealing dark hair, and cleared his throat. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, miss.” He stepped forward to take her hand.

The touch was warm and his sun-darkened fingers overwhelmed her pale ones. As she smiled and nodded, she tried to ignore the tingling sensation that crept up her arm. Up close, he exuded even more strength than was apparent in the marshal’s office.

A man who spent his days outdoors.

A man who called the earth his home.

Vivid blue eyes stood out on a sun- and whisker-darkened face.

He was the perfect western hero.

“I just saw you,” she said, glad her voice sounded calm considering how her insides quivered.

“That’s right.”

He stepped back from her.

“You’re not married, are you, Amelia?” Teddy asked.

“No, ma’am.”

“Why, neither is Ned.”

Heat suffused Amelia’s cheeks. “I don’t believe in marriage, much like you Aunt Teddy.” The words rushed out of Amelia. “Women don’t need men to make their way in the world. Why, look at you? You’ve done quite well on your own.”

“I’ve never been placed on a pillar,” Teddy said. “What do you think of that, Ned? I’m a woman of example.”

“I won’t argue with that,” Ned replied.

“Did you get Billings?” Teddy asked.

“Yep. You were right. He was in Old Man Hill’s abandoned mine.”

“I knew it.” Teddy chuckled under her breath.

“Are you a bounty hunter, too?” Amelia asked.

Teddy cackled. “No, but I could be. Don’t you think, Ned?”

“You’d outgun us all, Teddy.”

Amelia sensed an affection between the two, and it warmed her heart, although this entire reunion with her aunt was far different than anything she imagined. She knew she had the first chapter of her new novel.

“I’ll just be turning in now, ladies,” Ned said.

Amelia, her cheeks still warm from being in the same room with him, met his eyes briefly then looked away in embarrassment.

What if he thinks I like him?

She imagined the type of woman he fancied was far from the likes of her. Why, he probably thought her a silly city girl. And he’d be right. But her mama had long taught her to be an independent thinker, to believe that a woman’s mind was equal to a man’s. Most of Amelia’s writings had been social commentaries, addressing important issues such as the educational welfare of children, the plight of the homeless and less fortunate, and the lack of voice the average woman had within marriage. But in her heart, she longed to pen an adventurous tale of a woman who not only sees the world, but tames a man in the process, who finds love with an equal, inciting passion in her partner.

She hadn’t told her mother she planned to write such a novel—she’d likely think it beneath Amelia—but her heart burned with the desire to share the story singing in her heart. Coming to visit Aunt Theodora had offered the perfect blend of adventure and inspiration.

Ned Waymire departed the room and his footsteps could be heard climbing the staircase.

That man was the epitome of adventure and inspiration.

Copyright © 2015 K. McCaffrey LLC

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Smashwords Seminar

 By Kristy McCaffrey

I recently attended a seminar by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, a self-serve digital platform for authors to publish electronic books. Smashwords distributes to retailers such as Apple, Kobo and Barnes & Noble, hosting over 350,000 books and 100,000 authors. What follows is information that he shared.

In 2008, about 1/2% of sales were ebooks. In 2015, that has risen to 26%. We are currently in a slow-growth market for ebooks, with the explosion of the ebook market finally reaching an equilibrium. However, ebook reading is on the rise. The Indie author movement is greatly affecting this market, with romance authors leading the charge. Being an Indie author is no longer a stigmaoffering books that never go out of print, the ability to publish a book immediately, lower expenses, lower prices to consumers, and total creative control.

A career writer must have a long-term focus. The reality is that it’s difficult to make money as a self-published author, just as it is for many traditionally published writers. However, there’s never been a better time to self-publish a romance ebook. Of the top sellers at Smashwords, 87% are romance. This is an increase of 70% from 2014.

Marketing suggestions—focus on activities that lead to permanent discoverability and platform building. Coker also touched on the aspect of luck. At some point, every author will receive a lucky break, perhaps through a blogger loving their book or a random promotional opportunity that could expand their reach. But in order for that lucky break to pay off, an author must have already laid the groundwork by doing the following (otherwise known as the secrets to ebook publishing success). Without it, the lucky break will fall flat.

Write an awesome book.
*Good isn’t good enough.
*Be fanatical about quality.

Great cover.
*Our brains process images faster than words. It takes 13 milliseconds to process the meaning of an image, but 200 milliseconds to recognize a word.
*Must look good as a thumbnail image.
*The great thing about e-publishing is that bookcovers can be changed if not working.

Publish another great book.
*Best-selling authors offer deep backlists.
*Build your brand.

Give books away for free.
*Highest grossing authors at Smashwords give away at least one free book.
*It can turbocharge a series.
*Free series starters lead to a 66% boost in series sales.

Patience is a virtue.
*Ebooks can start slow and build gradually.
*Ebooks never go out of print.
*Never unpublish your book.
*Nourish it. Give it time.
*The biggest mistake Coker sees is authors who give up after a few months, or even a few weeks. Building a writing career can take years.

Maximize availability, avoid exclusivity.
*Limits readership and global audience.
*While Amazon holds the largest market share, they only sell in 13 countries. iBooks is present in 51 countries, Kobo in 160 and Smashwords in approximately 200.

Best practices drive book sales, and include the following:
*An awesome book.
*Behave like a publisher with professional covers and editing.
*A great book blurb.
*Utilizing metadata well (pricing, title, categorization, author name, ISBN, publication dates).
*Good back matter (author bio, a listing of additional books and author social media contacts).

Pricing strategy.
*Pricing impacts sales and earnings.

*Common price points in 2015, beginning with most popular.

*Most downloaded price point, beginning with highest (includes fiction and non-fiction).
$1.99 (this is a black hole, authors should push this price to $2.99)

*Best price point for author earnings (includes fiction and non-fiction, but overall dominated by romance fiction).
$3.99 (at this price, an author can sell more books and build a larger readership)

Don’t let piracy scare you away from self-publishing.
*An author’s bigger risk is obscurity.
*Most piracy is accidental. (Friends sharing with friends.)
*Pirates who steal your work weren’t going to buy it anyway.
*Many pirate sites don't actually have your book. They're trying to steal credit card info.
*The bigger you are, the more likely you’ll be pirated.
*Combat it by making your books easy to buy at a low, fair price.

Build a platform you control.
*Blog, newsletter, website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Don’t forget backmatter in your books.
*Author bio.
*A listing of additional books.
*How to connect with the author.

Be a nice person.
*Develop relationships.
*Share secrets.
*Avoid negativity on the internet.

Collaborate with authors on boxed sets.
*Share fan bases.
*Everyone wins.

Think globally.
*In 2014, 45% of ebooks sold from iBooks via Smashwords were outside the U.S.
*The market for English-language books globally will eventually surpass the U.S. market.

Pinch pennies.
*The reality is that most books don’t sell well.
*To stay in business, be frugal.

*This is the single most powerful tool for Indie authors.
*Right now, it’s better than pricing a book free.
*Benefits are: more buzz-building (captures the sale the moment you have reader’s attention), signals a commitment from the author to the reader, is a fast-track to bestseller lists (especially at Apple and Koboit won't help at Amazon but Coker still believes you should set up pre-orders there), same-day availability on launch day, and increased promo opportunities (sites such as iBooks feature pre-orders).
*Books born as pre-orders sell better.
*Currently, only ~10% of authors are doing pre-orders.
*A longer runway is recommended (12 months) but at least 4-12 weeks is best. Still, if you can only do a few days, it’s better than nothing.

Timing—when should you release a book?
*Since traditional publishers generally release on Tuesdays, try to avoid that day.
*The biggest ebook buying days are Saturday and Sunday, so an author is more likely to chart on these days (hit a Top 100 list at retailers).
*If the goal is to hit the New York Times or USA Today Bestseller lists, publish on Monday or Tuesday.
*Holidays can be strong days EXCEPT for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
*To hit Smashwords reporting list, release early in the month. (This list is shared with retailers such as iBooks.)
*The biggest ebook selling period is Dec. 26 – Jan. 7.

If you’re an author who splits books between Amazon KDP Select (which requires exclusivity at Amazon) and other retailers, Coker advises against this. As an example, he shared that if you manage to break out at iBooks and they choose to feature you on the front page, this opportunity could be lost if your books aren’t all available at the Apple store. Currently, iBooks is the #2 global seller of ebooks.

What can an author do to increase his/her chances of breaking out at iBooks? Make sure all books are available at the iBooks store, run a free promo or make a book permanently free, release all books as a pre-order (on release day iBooks counts all pre-order sales in book ranking, which can help with hitting a chart) and if you have a series then make the first book free. One thing to consider: iBooks doesn’t like covers with a lot of skin. If you write erotica, the content of the book is not of issue to them but they won’t feature it if the cover is too racy. Also, keep the blurb and front matter clean, even if the story is not.

And finally, a rather surprising statistic—longer books sell better than shorter by a large margin. During the last 3-4 years, the top 50 bestsellers were 100,000 to 200,000 words. Indie publishing exposed this trend, since many traditional publisher routinely rejected long novels, never allowing them to come to market. Clearly, consumers enjoy immersing themselves in longer works.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Silverton And The Alpine Loop

By Kristy McCaffrey

Established in 1874, the town of Silverton is located in the San Juan mountains of southwestern Colorado. It's a beautiful location to visit in the summertime, and one of the main starting points of the Alpine Loop, a 65-mile rugged road that passes by many mining ghost towns. In July, my husband and I, along with our two teenaged daughters, joined my parents and sister for a vacation.

The Silver Summit RV park.

My husband and I in the Rocky Mountains.

Box Canyon in Ouray, Colorado.

An amazing beaver dam.

The beginning of the Alpine Loop.

The San Juan Mountains.

Four-wheel drive vehicles are required to drive the Alpine
Loop in its entirety.

The ghost town of Animas Forks, which sits on the three forks
of the Animas River. This is one of the most visited old
mining towns in Colorado.

Animas Forks.

Me at Engineer Pass (12,800 feet) on the Alpine Loop.

We came across a moose mother and her baby (not
pictured) eating by the side of the road along the
Alpine Loop.

Cinnamon Pass (12,640 feet) on the Alpine Loop.

My husband and parents at Cinnamon Pass. We were
caught in a mini-snowstorm.

Silverton has a ski area and it's not
for beginners.

Silverton Mountain Ski Area.
Our last night in Silverton.

To soothe the soul, come to the mountains.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Christmas In July From Prairie Rose Publications

My publisher is celebrating the dog days of summer with a slew of fun releases.

Since summertime is for vacations and frolicking outside (unless you live in Phoenix as I do--most of our frolicking is done indoors under cover of air-conditioning), these short stories make the perfect quick reads. Grab them for only $.99 - $1.99.

Included in this collection is my historical western romance short Canyon Crossing.
(This was previously published in the anthology Lassoing A Groom.)

Now available in digital for 99 cents

In search of her brother, Annabel Cross enters Grand Canyon with a guide and a mule. When circumstances have her hanging from a cliff side, her rescue at the hands of U.S. Deputy Marshal Angus Docherty is fortuitous in more ways than one. He’s chasing the notorious Red Bandit, and it soon becomes clear that Annabel’s brother is mixed up with the criminal as well. While the marshal believes she may be in on a double-cross, she has a more pressing secret to hide. She can talk to deceased spirits, and she wonders whether to tell Angus about the old Apache ever near to him.

To celebrate, we're having a Facebook party!!
Date: July 27-28, 2015 (Mon-Tues)
Time: 5-10pm EST

A new author every 30 minutes ~ lots of prizes ~ winners chosen from among commenters ~ please join us, we'd love to see you!!

I'll be chatting on Monday, July 27 at 8:30pm EST.

My giveaways: $25 Amazon gift card and 2 digital copies of my western historical novel, INTO THE LAND OF SHADOWS (total of 3 winners). To be eligible, stop by and leave
a comment during my chat.

More Info About Each Story

Kirsten Lynn: Race to Marry
Desperate to save her family ranch, Josie Allison signs up for a bride race then begs a cowboy to put his John Hancock down to catch her. Marrying a man you don’t know is crazy, but there’s something about this cowboy that makes Josie want to trust him with her land and maybe even her heart. And Josie knows marrying a man you do know can be twice as loco.

Cal Renner came to Sheridan, Wyoming, for one thing: ride the horse known as a man-killer and use the purse money to buy his own ranch. When a woman proposes to him five minutes after his feet touch Sheridan dirt, he’s sure a Wyoming asylum is missing a patient. But when she turns those summer green eyes his way, the promise of a family to go with that ranch is too hard to resist.

When secrets are revealed and enemies join the race, Cal and Josie will have to learn to trust each other, because the race to the altar has turned into the race for their hearts.

* * * *

Celia Yeary: Starr Bright
Conrad Taylor has mixed emotions about his ranching neighbor Starr Hidalgo. He can't stop caring about her, even though he is suspicious about her morals.

Starr Hidalgo depends on Conrad as good ranchers do, but she can't keep from admiring his good looks and strong personality. If only he would relax around her so they could become acquainted on a personal level.

As the tension between Starr and Conrad heats up, they learn more about each other, which can bring them together...or tear them apart permanently.

* * * *

Kathleen Rice Adams: The Last Three Miles
When an accident leaves Hamilton Hollister convinced he’ll never be more than half a man, he abandons construction of a railway spur his lumber mill needs to survive.

Believing no woman shackled by social convention can be complete, railroad heiress Katherine Brashear refuses to let the nearly-finished track die. The magic of Christmas in a small Texas town may help them bridge the distance…if they follow their hearts down The Last Three Miles.

* * * *

Kaye Spencer: A Gift of Christmas Hope
A shooting over a poker game, a family seeking revenge, a blizzard sweeping across the Texas Panhandle—it’s more than the world-weary gambler known as Lady Sapphire can handle without help. Determined to make it to her childhood home by Christmas Eve with her stagecoach full of treasure, she needs an escort, and there’s no time to be choosy.

Neal Behlen, a drifting gambler and occasional lady’s man—depending upon the size of the lady’s bank account—has his eye on the contents of Lady Sapphire’s mysterious steamer trunks. Taking on the job as her temporary bodyguard seems a lucrative venture and a pleasant diversion, since he plans to work in bedroom benefits along the way.

The price of their business arrangement is steep—their hearts—and both are reluctant to pay. What they need is a gift of Christmas hope, but will it arrive before it’s too late for love?

* * * *

Gail L. Jenner: Just in Time for Christmas
Della Wagner doesn’t need a husband. Widowed, she is committed to running her boarding house and helping out with some of the town’s students. But when one—eight-year-old Carson Baines—stumbles into her life, she finds herself facing trouble and danger, in the form of Carson’s drunken, abusive grandfather. And when James McMurray comes to her rescue, it isn’t long before she realizes that he is more than the blacksmith he portrays himself to be.

James McMurray didn’t come to Miner’s Creek looking for love. But after taking up residence at Della’s boarding house, he finds himself caught up with the widow’s campaign to rescue young Carson Baines, and in the process, discovers that the gift of love can transform a hard heart, as well.

* * * *

Lorrie Farrelly: Christmas Treasure
Ex-Union officer Will Blackburn has tried to put the loss of his Georgia home and the fierce alienation of his family behind him. His fresh start on a Nevada cattle ranch has given him renewed purpose, but making peace with the trauma of war is not so easily done.

When Will receives word that his beloved younger sister, Mattie, has died, he must deal not only with his past, but also with a starchy, stubborn young woman who has traveled more than two thousand miles to fulfill Mattie’s last wish: that her cherished CHRISTMAS TREASURE be hand-delivered to her brother.  But will that unexpected gift bring Will peace, or even greater pain?

* * * *

Sarah J. McNeal: Unexpected Blessings
When Juliet Wilding’s dreams are crushed, she cancels her wedding plans to Harry O’Connor. But Harry is not about to give up on the only woman he has ever loved. What neither of them expects is the event that will forever change both their lives.

* * * *

Sarah J. McNeal: When Love Comes Knocking
Penelope Witherspoon was charmed into marriage by Evan Thoroughgood only to learn she loved a philanderer, who gambled away his inheritance and drank too heavily. It came as no surprise that four months after their marriage, Evan was shot dead for cheating at cards. Since his death, Penelope has come to depend on his older brother, Gil. In fact, she has come to love and respect him. No two men could be further apart in character. But, if Gil learns of her secret indiscretion, he will want nothing further to do with her. What is Penelope to do?

* * * *

Tracy Garrett: A RIVER’S BEND DUO
Wanted: The Sheriff
Martha Bittner may be considered a spinster at twenty-seven, but she’s not planning to stay that way. For four years, she’s wanted the sheriff of River’s Bend, Missouri, to notice her as more than a friend and a really good cook. With the first annual spring dance only weeks away, Martha decides to announce her intentions—and declares the sheriff a wanted man.

Sheriff Matthew Tate always thought he was better off a bachelor. Growing up in Boston society, where marriage is a business transaction and wealth his greatest asset, he’s learned to distrust all women’s intentions. None of them even catch his eye anymore—until pretty Martha Bittner tells him exactly what she wants…and he wonders why he ever resisted capture.

No Less Than Forever
Doctor Franz Bittner is satisfied with his life as it is. He has a good practice in a place where he is respected, in spite of his German birth. He has good friends and enough income to provide him with a few comforts. A wife would only complicate things. Then a tiny blond stranger is pulled from the river and everything changes. With one smile she captures his attention—and steals his heart.

Rebekah Snow Redmann barely survived her abusive husband’s attack. Though she was given to him to pay her father’s debts, she’d rather die than go back. Then she ends up in the care of the handsome local doctor and he stitches up more than her wounds—he mends her soul. With him, she discovers everything that she believes she can never have...a love that will last forever.

* * * *

C. Marie Bowen: The Kid in Black
Disguised as The Kid in Black, Nell Grant tracks down the outlaw who killed her sweetheart and destroyed her future.  At night, her dreams remind her she's a still a woman. When she discovers the man who haunts her dreams is a marshal who could thwart her plans, she knows she must choose between vengeance and love.

U.S. Marshal Sam Kline is sent to apprehend an outlaw. Instead, he uncovers a passionate woman hidden beneath gunfighter's clothing. How can he protect her when her hunger for revenge threatens to destroy her?

* * * *

Tanya Hanson: SISTERS 
Her Hurry-Up Husband
Prim and proper socialite Elspeth Maroney flees from an indiscretion to the Wild West of Colorado as a mail order bride. She doesn’t plan to stay long, only a month. Rancher Hezekiah Steller needs a wife quick to get himself an heir, but what will the stagecoach deliver to his doorstep?

Their worlds collide deliciously until Ellie must confess her mistakes. Will Hez still want her tomorrow?

Her Thief of Hearts
To escape her domineering mother, Omaha socialite Judith Maroney heads to her sister's Colorado ranch on the morning train...a train that’s ambushed by the very cowboy who stole her heart on her last visit!

Taking on the disguise of his outlaw twin brother, Tremaine Heisler holds up a train to retrieve a family treasure—and finds his gun pointed at the woman he loves. Is there any way out for either of them?

* * * *

Jill McDonald:  Hearts and Red Ribbons
When a beautiful horse charges into their yard one spring evening, Mrs. Jones and her tomboy daughter, Marlee, can’t know how much their lives will change. Marlee goes in search of the owner of the big horse, only to be jumped by an injured man. He’s hurt badly, and Marlee must get him home to safety.

Ben Chambers is searching for something, but until he meets Marlee Jones, he doesn’t know what. Settling down is the last thing Ben wants, but he can’t seem to convince himself of that around Marlee. Valentine’s Day is upon them and there’s only one thing to do—tie Marlee’s heart to his own with a special red ribbon, and let the courtship begin!

* * * *

Sara Barnard:  The Bank Robber’s Lament
With his troubled past never far from his mind, the once-handsome Smith heads out to lose himself in the anonymity offered by the American West. When he arrives in Gabriel's Settlement, Texas he succumbs to the lifestyle of quick money and adventuresome living offered by a gang of wily bank robbers. It isn't until he crosses paths with Johanna Johannsen and her daughter Sadie that Smith discovers he isn't the only person in Texas with a looming past, and some people's devils are much closer to home than his own. When he learns of the Dalton Gang's plans to stick up the bank in Gabriel's Settlement, Smith must make a choice. But is he strong enough to face his past and be the man his own father couldn't be?

* * * *

Beverly Wells:  Hopes and Dreams
When Claire O’Gill agreed to be legal guardian for her niece should disaster strike, she never expected to fill that title. But now, she not only is she guardian, she must flee the clutches of the wealthy, cold-hearted grandparents who intend to snatch her niece away. Her determination to protect little Tori has them zigzagging and backtracking from Philadelphia to Wyoming to hide. 
Sheriff Zach Ballard isn’t in the market for a wife. Once burned by a money-hungry woman was more than enough. But he becomes enchanted by the adorable Tori, and her mama seems to want to avoid him. His suspicions as to why grow stronger, heightening his intrigue—and his heart yearns to trust again. 

All the while, Tori is busy talking to Mr. Cupid. She wants a daddy, and she knows exactly who can fill that spot for her new mama. Can two adults fight a little girl’s wish and the forces of Cupid?

* * * *

JACQUIE ROGERS: A Gift for Rhoda
A mail-order bride disaster!

Rhoda Johnson is stranded in a lonely cabin without a groom. The townsfolk say she’s better off without him, but her drunken groom sends a message that he’ll claim her as his Christmas bride. Gunman and ex-Confederate soldier Nate Harmon comes to Idaho to make peace with his abolitionist preacher father. When half-frozen Nate reaches the cabin on a snowy Christmas Eve, instead of his parents, he’s greeted by a pretty blonde with a shotgun who keeps calling him Mr. Snyder. Will she shoot him, or melt his heart?

* * * *

Cheryl Pierson:  These Rough Dreams
When Southern socialite Gabrielle Mason discovers she’s pregnant, she takes her future into her own hands. She has her family name to consider, and a husband is what she needs. She answers an ad for a mail-order bride in Indian Territory. But the man who proposes isn’t the man she ends up marrying.

Johnny Rainbolt is not a family man by any stretch of the imagination…but Fate is about to give him no choice. His late sister’s three children will be arriving on the next stage, and he has no idea what to do with them. When cultured Gabby Mason is left waiting for her prospective groom at the stage station, Johnny sees a way to solve everyone’s problems.

Some dreams get off to a rough start. A mail-order marriage is only the beginning. When one of the children is stolen, Johnny and Gabby are forced to depend on one another in an unimaginable circumstance that could turn tragic… or show them what might become of THESE ROUGH DREAMS.

* * * *

Livia J. Washburn:  Tinseltown
Carrie Fleming was on the run from a mysterious stalker. The young cowboy known only as Pecos found the last vestiges of the Old West in 1920s Hollywood. Fate brought them together at Christmas, when the only gifts that mattered to Pecos were winning Carrie's heart—and saving her life!

* * * *

Two wild and woolly Christmas stories by legendary Western author James Reasoner.

’Tis The Season For Justice
It's a life or death Christmas Eve for the man accused of murdering the son of the richest man in the territory. Former shotgun guard Judge Earl Stark knows how to stomp his own snakes, and he makes sure 'TIS THE SEASON FOR JUSTICE.

Presents for One and All
Texas Ranger Cobb is supposed to pick up a prisoner wanted in Parker County and take him back down to Weatherford.  Instead he finds himself battling a gang of outlaws and tangling with an old coot driving a wagon full of Christmas gifts, and it's up to him to make sure there are PRESENTS FOR ONE AND ALL.

* * * *

Two action packed holiday Western stories by award winning author Livia J. Washburn.

Blue Norther
Hired gun Lucas Hallam has been outnumbered plenty of times, but when he comes upon a necktie party for a young boy accused of cattle rustling, he has to step into danger once more—even with the odds stacked against him. No one should hang on Christmas Eve.

When the nearby cattle stampede, it looks like things can’t get any worse. But the weather is turning deadly, and if they don’t get the cattle to shelter—as well as themselves—everything will be lost. Can Hallam protect them from the coming BLUE NORTHER? 

A Creature Was Stirring
Mistaken for a “skookum”, Buffalo Newcomb is shot by a young boy, Tom Villard, as he stops by a creek to fish. When he comes to in a small cabin, Buffalo is grateful to realize that the boy’s mother, Ella, has removed the bullet and he has a safe place to recover.

It’s Christmas Eve, and A CREATURE WAS STIRRING—Buffalo can only hope he’s strong enough to keep it from destroying the woman who has shown him only kindness.

* * * *

Kathleen Rice Adams: THE DUMONT BRAND 
On the eve of the Civil War, family secrets threaten everything a ranching dynasty has built…until Amon Collier finds salvation in the wrong woman’s love. In the aftermath of battle, a woman destroyed by betrayal brings peace to his brother Ben's wounded soul.

The Big Uneasy 
To escape the unthinkable with a man about whom she knows too much, New Orleans belle Josephine LaPierre agrees to marry a Texan about whom she knows nothing. Falling in love with his brother was not part of her plan.

Making Peace 
After four long years in hell, Confederate cavalry officer Bennett Collier just wants to go home—assuming home still exists. Widowed Jayhawker Maggie Fannin will hold onto her home at any cost…even if she must face down the imposing Rebel soldier who accuses her of squatting.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Trail Of Bread Crumbs: Bicycling Through Western France

 By Kristy McCaffrey

On the second day of a bike tour through the French countryside of Brittany and Normandy, the differences in navigating style between my husband and I come to light. Our tour company—Backroads—has provided us with excellent equipment and enthusiastic guides. Each morning, we’re given a detailed itinerary of the ride for that day. It includes odometer readings and very specific instructions for EVERY turn we must take. Over a 20-mile ride, the list is well over a hundred directions.

I almost laughed out loud the first day we received these. This is far too complicated, I thought. I’ll just follow the person in front of me. Well, turns out I was the slowest of the group. My husband very graciously rode with me, but that meant we had to find our path ourselves. My odometer never worked, so I relied on visual cues. He was devoted to technology. Naturally there came a time when we got lost, and our differing approaches required negotiating. I’m happy to report, however, that our marriage was strong enough to handle this, and we only took a wrong turn five times.

In an effort not to slow my husband and I down further, I
attempted to photograph while riding. This was
the result. Luckily, I crashed into a soft wheat field.

We were invited on this grueling (I mean fun) vacation by my husband’s brother and his wife, Pat and Anne. Whenever an opportunity enters my experience that I’d never before considered, I know that I must pay attention. If not, I’ll miss those bread crumbs along the way. You know, those unexpected moments that occur—those connections, those insights, those meaningful encounters.

My husband, myself, Anne and Pat in
St. Suliac, France.
“Serendipity is the faculty of finding things we did not know we were looking for.”
                        ~ Glauco Ortolano

Shamans say that everything in the world has a voice. A bike tour, as opposed to a bus or car tour, places you front and center with the earth beneath you, the wild wind around you, and the sunshine warming you. The intensive exercise breaks you down, both physically and mentally, and within these cracks will enter the lush, green, fully-alive French countryside, vibrating in your bones and beckoning you to connect.

Each day, we rode approximately 20 miles, either in the morning or the afternoon, depending on what sites there were to see. There was always a longer option, usually an additional 20 miles, for those desiring more. We did occasionally ride on busy roads—and I won’t lie, these were nerve-wracking—but we were, for the most part, on backroads winding through picturesque farmland. The tour company’s name is appropriate.

My early bread crumbs consisted mainly of horses and cows. Roaming in pastureland, they live an idyllic life and I stopped more than once to take a photograph and perhaps become acquainted. I had no idea I’d make so many animal friends on this trip. On the second day, I coasted down a long hill and met this lovely guy at the bottom.

Here are a few more of my French amis.

The milk from these cows will be used
to make the famous Camembert cheese.

We began our trip in St. Malo, a walled port city on the English Channel and apparently the jogging mecca of Europe, if all the runners passing us on the beach—and some were quite old—was any indication. St. Malo was known in the past as the home of French privateers, or pirates. I did keep my eye out for Captain Jack Sparrow.

St. Malo, France.

View from our hotel window our first morning
in St. Malo.

He joined us for breakfast.

We explored quaint towns such as Dinan (dating back to the 13th century), entering on a bike path that paralleled the River Rance, a salt water estuary. It was here that we enjoyed a Breton mainstay, a crepe known as a gallete. Delicious and very filling. We also experienced the sometimes spotty service of French waiters. I can honestly say that I’ve met some of the nicest people in all of my travels while in France, but alongside that has been some of the worst restaurant service. Be prepared to switch eating establishments occasionally so you don’t go hungry.

Dinan, France.

In Normandy, we spent two nights in the town of Bayeux, founded as a Gallo-Roman settlement in the 1st century B.C. and bisected by the River Aure. A magnificent gothic cathedral, consecrated in 1077, anchors the town but even more famous is the Bayeux tapestry, an embroidered cloth nearly 70 meters long. It commemorates the Norman conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror, constituting storytelling for the masses who couldn’t read. (I wish I had a picture but no photography was allowed.)

The River Aure.

All we had to do was walk out of our hotel to our waiting bikes. Bliss.

Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux.

My husband and his brother.

Two significant bread crumbs on this journey were the opportunity to visit Mont St. Michel and the famed Normandy beaches of D-Day.

Mont St. Michel is a monastery dating back to the 8th century. Before that, it was an island known as Mont Tombe. According to legend, in 708 A.D. the Archangel Michael appeared to the Bishop of Avranches and instructed him to build a church. Today, it is one of the most visited landmarks in France. Our tour revealed that an entire village is situated within the lower levels of Mont St. Michel, complete with hotels, restaurants and gift shops. If you ever drop in, I suggest making a weekend of it.

The magnificent Mont St. Michel.

The cloister in Mont St. Michel.

The view from Mont St. Michel.

I was quite unprepared for the emotional impact of visiting the Normandy beaches that witnessed the invasion by Allied forces on June 6, 1944. I knew it would be humbling, sobering, and sad. A great wound continues to pulsate, and each visitor is called upon to add a prayer, a loving embrace, to the restless and dedicated spirits that are still present. If you listen closely, you can hear the whispers of pain, but also the resolve of courage, and there is a blessed abundance of peace to be found. The monuments, the cemeteries, and the museums all honor and pay respect to one of the darkest periods of humanity. But despite the deep thread of grief, you leave feeling uplifted. Alongside great evil is always great goodness, and it shines brightly here.

View of Utah Beach from Pointe du Hoc. This was a German fortified
area that was taken on D-Day by a U.S. Army Ranger Assault Unit.

A section of Mulberry Harbor, a portable, temporary harbor built by
the British in World War II to aid the Allied invasion of Normandy
on June 6, 1944.

Our guide, Sophia, and my husband riding along Omaha Beach.
The wind blew stinging sand into every crevice not protected and
we rode nearly standing still.

Me at Omaha Beach. Blustery hardly
describes the windy conditions.

The American Cemetery at Omaha Beach.
This is considered U.S. soil. Only about 1/3 of
those killed before, during, and after D-Day
are buried here. Many families chose to bring
their loved ones home.
The Caen Memorial War Museum.

On the final day, our group shared a picnic lunch at the Caen Memorial War Museum. It was simple, colorful, and prepared with consideration by our guides. Good food, good friends, and gratitude. All vacations should be filled with such. Always be on the lookout for those bread crumbs.

Our lovely group of guests and guides.

“Instructions for living a life.
  Pay attention.
  Be astonished.
  Tell about it.”

            ~ Poet Mary Oliver

Smile. You're in France.