River Witch: a review

River Witch by Cheryl Burman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Where to begin? I loved this story so much.

Hester lives a bland, dreary life as the daughter of a poor farmer. Her days consist of endless chores overseen by a particular mother and overbearing brothers. Despite the hopelessness of her future, she finds joy in the relationship she shares with Sabrina, the goddess of the river. Then she meets Aaron, the first person who seems to understand the pull Hester feels.

Aaron opens news doors for Hester, and she dives into his teaching with enthusiasm. Anything to take her mind off the lumpen fisherman her mother wants to marry her off to.

But Hester lives in a superstitious time ruled by men. And these men don’t take kindly to her independent ways.

You will cheer for Hester as she steps out in a bid for independence and the chance to plot the path of her life. Once you start reading, Burman’s detailed descriptions will pull you in. You’ll surface hours later wondering where your garden path and your river nymphs have disappeared to.

Get this book! But only if you have several hours to set aside. Enjoy!



View all my reviews

2022 Christmas In July – Reader Blog Tour and Giveaway

July in Texas. Christmas sounds mighty pleasant right about now. It’s HOT here, and anything that takes my mind off 100˚ weather is welcome. I’m always up for disappearing into a good book. If you’re the same way, you’re gonna love this!

Happy Christmas in July! Welcome to my blog in the 2022 Christmas-in-July Reader Blog Tour & Giveaway, which runs July 15-22, 2022 (contest closes at 8 p.m. Eastern on 7/22). At the bottom of each author’s blog post, you will find the name of a Christmas song. Write them all down and provide all song titles (26 in total) on this Google formSee below for a list with links of all participating authors!

Note: You must grab all the song titles from every author in the 2022 Christmas in July Reader Blog Tour & Giveaway to be eligible to win the grand prize of a $520 Amazon gift card, plus a copy of each participating author’s book OR first place prize of a copy of each participating author’s book. At the end of this blog post is a link to the next blog, and so on, to the final blog post (26 authors in all). 

I’m pleased and honored to play a part in the Christmas-in-July blog tour. I am giving away a copy of Texas Heirloom Ornament. This three-novella collection traces a family of Texas women from 1920 to present-day. In my story, In All Things Charity, Alexis invites Matthew, the handsome basketball coach, to join her family for Christmas. Joyful bells turn to warning sirens when his biggest regret walks into the party, casting a dark cloud over their budding romance. Is their love strong enough to withstand the truth? And can love truly cover a multitude of sins?

Here is a sneak peek into the story of Alexis and Matthew.

As he approached the library, tapping footsteps emanated from the math wing. He slowed, peering down the dim hallway. It had to be Alexis. He’d seen her head this way after the games. No one else was in the building, not even the janitors. The school had emptied faster than the donut boxes Admin brought to early morning faculty meetings. Sure enough, she appeared, back-lit by an emergency exit sign over her head as she passed through the double doors leading from her darkened hall. She studied some papers she held in her hand as she walked.

“Hey—”

A shriek loud enough to scare the pigeons off the roof pierced his eardrums. He recoiled, heart in his throat. Something thumped against his chest.

“Holy Moses, Alexis! Calm down. What did you throw at me?” His pulse stuttered, but quick on its heels was an unbearable desire to laugh. He clamped his mouth shut.

“Sweet chips and salsa! Matthew, is that you? What the—” Her hand went to her throat, and papers littered the floor where she’d dropped them. She glared at him with a slit-eyed gaze, a soft light from an overhead skylight glowing on her cheekbones.

“What kind of cuss word is that?” He gasped the words without giving away his amusement, but it was a losing battle. Laughter shook his shoulders. He snorted, and that was all it took.

Alexis hid a smile. “Are you laughing at me?” She straightened in mock-offended silence.

He gave up. He laughed so hard he staggered against a brick column in the foyer in front of the library, tears streaming from his eyes.

Now, it’s time to for my Christmas song title: Home for the Holidays

Save the holiday song titles from each of the 26 blog stops, and when you reach the final blog, enter all the song titles on this form for a chance to win the grand prize of a $520 Amazon gift card and a copy of each author’s featured book OR first prize of a copy of each book.

Sign up for my blog here: https://paulapeckham.com/category/stories/

Thank you so much for visiting! The next author on the tour is Tina Radcliffe and her Christmas book, His Holiday Prayer. You can find it at this link:  https://www.tinaradcliffe.com/2022christmasinjulyreaderblogtour

Remember, the 2022 Christmas-in-July Reader Blog Tour & Giveaway ends July 22 at 8 p.m. EST. Have fun discovering some fantastic new authors.

Use Me For Good

Surprises await everywhere, every day. We simply have to watch. Not sure you agree? Read on.

My brother invited me to attend Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic music festival in Austin. Despite my extreme misgivings about spending an entire day in 100˚ heat, I accepted. Seeing Willie was a bucket list item, and time was running out on that one.

Q2 Stadium – 2022 Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic

We arrived around 3:30 pm, armed with water bottles, sunblock, and my Mexican wide-brimmed straw hat, but were delighted to discover our seats were already in the shade at the Q2 Stadium. One major blessing!

I’ve never been a huge country music fan, so I knew none of the acts for the day except Willie. Nevertheless, I settled in to enjoy the day. I’m a people watcher, and believe me, there was plenty to watch. Took about five minutes for me to decide a local drill team must’ve gone out of business and held a fire sale on their knee-high white cowboy boots. ’Cause, friend, approximately one in ten of the young women in attendance wore a pair. The only thing missing was the fringe down the sides.

Don’t get me wrong—they were cute, paired with airy short dresses that I’d have been happy to wear if I didn’t want to subject the surrounding people to the sight of my crepey, post-50-something skin all afternoon. There were just a lot of them. The overabundance detracted from the cute impact after a while.

I went to the concourse to get some food. While walking around, I came upon a distressing scene. A man, probably in his 60s, lay on the ground. A younger man stood near his feet, weight shifting from side to side, his hands clasped on top of his head as he watched, concern flooding his face.

The stadium medical team tended to the older man, quickly pulling open his shirt, running for an AED machine, inserting an IV to administer fluids. The man’s skin was gray, and after three convulsive paroxysms of his chest and stomach, he stilled. One medic began CPR.

A man behind me prayed softly. I backed up to stand next to him and gripped his hand. The fact there were now two of us seemed to imbue him with the confidence to speak loudly, strongly, claiming the promise that where two or more are gathered, God is there with them. Our fingers clung tightly, and I fought the tears pooling in my eyes.

I never heard the medics yell “Clear!” nor did the man’s body jerk as if they shocked his heart. They loaded him onto an ambulance stretcher and wheeled him away. As far as I could tell, he never moved again. All I could think was how excited he must’ve been to see Willie Nelson later that night. Dying on the concrete floor of a stadium most likely hadn’t been on his bingo card for the day.

People passed by with hardly a glance at the frenzied activity taking place at their feet. Were they more considerate than I to not stand and watch? Or did they not care? Daniel, the 6’ 4” Hispanic man who prayed so ferociously, gave me a tearful hug and left.

Music from Tyler Childers pounded on the other side of the bleachers. Life continued. Within moments, the medical team had all the plastic wrappings from the AED machine cleared and thrown away. It was as if nothing happened. Stunned, I returned to my seat.

Moments later, cameras projecting on large video screens on either side of the stage showed a young man kneeling in front of his girl, holding a small box up to her. She clapped her hands across her mouth, then nodded. He stood and embraced her, and the entire stadium cheered. The seesaw of emotions left me a bit whiplashed.

Later, a young woman moved to the back of the floor area where there were no chairs and danced to the music, alone. A young man in cowboy boots and a straw hat apparently took it upon himself to rescue her from her solitary celebration and raced across the open zone, skidding to a halt in front of her, boots sliding on the protective flooring laid on the soccer field. He placed the two beers he carried on the ground, then leaped to take her in his arms. She happily complied with his twirls and spins, following his lead as they danced together to the sounds of guitars and a harmonica. When the song ended, he gave her a short bow, collected his beers, and returned to his seat. Duty done, problem solved. Made me smile.

Jason Isbell took the stage. I knew none of his songs, and the overly loud, distorted projection from the enormous speakers made it difficult to understand all the lyrics. However, I could clearly hear the chorus in one song.

“Cover me up and know you’re enough to use me for good.”

Unable to discern what the song was truly about, I felt like those words were a prayer. Use me for good. Daniel prayed for the unknown man on the floor. The young man pledged his love to his girlfriend. The rescuing cowboy wanted to create a sweet moment for the solitary dancer. And all those white boots made girls across the stadium feel pretty.

Willie came on at 9:00 and sang for an hour. He was winded and stayed seated in a chair. But he is an 89-year-old country music icon. I’m glad I got to hear him perform.

photo by Scott Moore

Before the night was over, I’d held the hand of a stranger, laughed and sang with others. Never seen any of them before. Will undoubtedly not see them again. But I always want to be used for good. Took my lessons from a stadium full of cowboys, cowgirls, and country music singers. There is always an opportunity if we just look for it.

And, if you’re not a Willie Nelson fan, listen to this song, performed with his son, Lukas. And, sir, who may have died on the floor at a concert on Independence Day, let these words sing you to heaven.

“Just Breathe,” written by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam in 2009

Darlin’, stand by me

I’ve read several tweets this past week about Amazon’s policy allowing readers to return eBooks after they’ve read them. When that happens, Amazon charges the FULL PRICE of the book to the author. Problem with that is authors don’t receive the full price when the book sells. We get 60%. When people take advantage of this policy, authors lose money.

This practice has the same unethical vibe as returning an expensive dress to Nieman’s AFTER you’ve worn it to your high school reunion.

Unless you’re Stephen King or Janet Evanovich, you’re not making enough money to pay your bills. I wonder if people realize the effect of their choice to return books.

As long as Amazon’s policy remains in place, authors have no say in the situation. However, there is something our devoted fans can do to help us out.

Leave reviews!

It’s easy to do. Click on the link next to the stars at the top of the page. It takes you to the screen which houses all posted reviews for the book. Simply click the button that says, “Write a customer review.”

Not sure what to say?

Start with a hook, a sentence that grabs the potential reader’s attention. Something like, “OMG, if you want to stay up all hours of the night reading until you turn the last page, this is the book for you!”

List your praise and your critiques. No book is perfect. It’s probably a more realistic review if you share things you didn’t love. But be as lavish as you want with what you really liked.

You can talk about the characters. When I decide about a new book to buy, I want to know if the people in the story are authentic and real-life, not too perfect to be true. Discuss whether the dialogue sounded real to you or gave the story a good regional flavor. Maybe you liked the descriptions of the setting, little details that made the time period pop to life.

Give your recommendation. Who do you think would enjoy reading the book?

Your review doesn’t have to be long. A few sentences will suffice. And it may be just the thing to swing a reader into the decision to buy.

Here is an easy fill-in-the blank sample you can copy.

_______ (hook).
I really liked this book because ______. I got a little sidetracked when_______ happened, but not enough to take away from the story. My favorite character was ______. I loved how she always _____. And the dialogue between _____ and _____ made me laugh out loud in places. The author must have done her research because I felt like I was right there in _____ with all the details about the setting she included. If you like books in the _______ genre, you’re going to love this one. And it’s safe for teen readers as well. Buy this book. You won’t be disappointed.

Of course, you could make your review say whatever you want, but I’ve had so many readers tell me they just don’t have the time to write their own. They’ve even told me if I’ll write it for them, they’ll post it! I’ve resisted the urge so far.

Personally, I’d rather hear what you have to say. Just know, you taking the time and effort to add a review (to Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble – wherever you like to check out books) will mean the world to the authors you enjoy. We can’t do this alone and we appreciate every single one of you.

Do you love talking about books? Have I got a deal for you!

The Faith and Fellowship Book Festival is coming up November 2-4. This online event will be hosted on Zoom. I will participate on one of the author panels, representing my new book, Protected.

available on Amazon

So, what is the Faith and Fellowship Book Festival? First, it is not a writer’s conference. And, a book festival differs from a book fair. Book fairs are typically massive bookshops, a place to purchase books. You may purchase books at the festival (and we hope you do!) but a festival goes farther. A festival is interactive. You can ask questions of the authors and learn more about the books from those who created them. This allows readers to make informed choices about the books they’ll buy.

The FFBF is a place to meet new authors and hear about the inspiration behind their books. A place to hear the most-well read Christian authors in the market today talk about their writing journey and what inspires them. A place where you can ask questions and meet new book lovers. A place where you can purchase books for yourself and for gifts in a manner that supports the authors.

And, author friends, there are still slots available on the platform if you want to join.

This Month’s News

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Patricia Raybon is an award-winning Colorado author, essayist, and novelist who writes top-rated books at the daring intersection of faith and race. Her series’ first book, All That Is Secret, is set to release from Tyndale House. Patricia is a regular contributor to Our Daily Bread and (In)courage for DaySpring. Patricia will speak on Nov. 2 at our Faith and Fellowship Book Festival.

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Tim Bowers is an American illustrator of children’s books, known for his humorous and whimsical characters. Three of his children’s book titles have appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list. Bowers has created hundreds of greeting card illustrations, including many top-selling cards. Tim is also an award-winning Fine Artist, creating finely detailed Miniature Paintings. Tim will speak on November 3 at the festival.

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Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with over three-quarters of a million books in print in eighteen languages. She is an author, speaker, and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Susan will speak on November 4 at the Festival. Find out more about Susan and her many amazing books at https://susanmeissnerauthor.com.

FFBF has many other authors who are coming and presenting at the conference. They can’t wait to connect with you.

Upcoming Dates

June 15 Angel Award Deadline 
https://ytsanders.wixsite.com/faithfellowshipbooks/angel-book-awards 

June 30 Deadline for award fees & books to arrive in PO Box

Sept. 1 Early bird fee for author applications ends

Oct. 1 Author applications close 

Nov. 2-4 6-8:30 p.m. ET, 2022 Faith & Fellowship Book Festival

FFBF Committee Spotlight

Everyone in Richmond has secrets. Especially the spies.

Sandra Merville Hart hasn’t been idle—she announces her third book release in 2022! Byway to Danger, Book 3 in Sandra’s “Spies of the Civil War” series, published by Wild Heart Books, releases on July 19th. Its main settings are two Virginia locations in 1862, Richmond and Fort Monroe. 

Meg Brooks, widow, didn’t stop spying for the Union when her job at the Pinkerton National Detective Agency ended, especially now that she lives in the Confederate capital. Her job at the Yancey bakery provides many opportunities to discover vital information about the Confederacy to pass on to her Union contact. She prefers to work alone, yet the strong, silent baker earns her respect and tugs at her heart.

Cade Yancey knows the beautiful widow is a spy when he hires her only because his fellow Unionist spies know of her activities. Meg sure didn’t tell him. He’s glad she knows how to keep her mouth shut, for he has hidden his dangerous activities from even his closest friends. The more his feelings for the courageous woman grow, the greater his determination to protect her by guarding his secrets. Her own investigations place her in enough peril.

As danger escalates, Meg realizes her choice to work alone isn’t a wise one. Can she trust Cade with details from her past not even her family knows?

Byway to Danger sounds intriguing. And how about that cover? Go to https://www.amazon.com/Sandra-Merville-Hart to learn more about Sandra and her many books. She is an authority on the Civil War and history. 

If you plan to excel in big things, you have to develop the habit in the small ones. ~Lecrae

Have you ever felt like a message was trying to break through the noise and clutter? Something you saw, heard about, read? And it appears, over and over?

Maybe the first two times, I can dismiss the signal as a coincidence. But when it keeps pinging, just keeps showing up, or, as Jim Rubart says, makes it past the Broca filter in my brain, I pay attention.

As writers, we know how hard it can be some days to sit down, get focused, and churn out words. Distractions pull us away far too easily. The latest-and-greatest shiny thing grabs all our attention. Meanwhile, our work in progress languishes.

So, how do we ignore the interruptions? Resist the diversions? Stay focused?

Two things (and yes, I get the irony) have recently popped onto my radar for the fourth and fifth times, respectively. When I get the same message, over and over, I pay attention. Both are books, and both deal with retraining our habits into productive lifestyles.

So, what are the two things, you ask? One is the book Atomic Habits, by James Clear. And one is Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, by T. Harv Eker. I’m not so concerned about becoming a millionaire. But to become one, I assume, a person has to do some things right. I am interested in learning how a successful person thinks.

Both of these books have shown up on my radar repeatedly, so I plan to listen to the message.

I’m starting with Atomic Habits. The idea of creating good habits appeals to me. I want to learn how to control my mind and focus. The book is on its way to my home. However, I know myself, and I’m easily distracted, so I need accountability to keep me on track. Is anyone interested in joining me, like a book club, to read through each chapter and then meet (virtually) to discuss? I’m envisioning reading three chapters a week. The book has twenty chapters, so that would be almost two months.

Want to join me? You don’t have to be an author to benefit from this. Envision having a daily routine that works smoothly and productively. See yourself setting goals and then meeting them. Luxuriate in the idea of completing a project. And then another.

Subscribe to my blog, and you’ll receive the updates when we get ready to start. Just let me know in the comment field that you’re interested in the book club. Let’s do this!

Hamilton (the musical) taught all of us about history. It also teaches English grammar.

Anyone else out there a Hamilton fan? I’m obsessed. Not only is the music appealing, emotional, and interesting, but it’s also so incredibly smart.

For example, the rhyming shows up in odd places. Patterns are unusual and unexpected.

Watch this one—

“She courted me
Escorted me to bed and when she had me in a corner
That’s when Reynolds extorted me
For a sordid fee
I paid him quarterly
I may have mortally wounded my prospects
But my papers are orderly.

And Lin-Manuel doesn’t give a pfft about echoes—

“I never spent a cent that wasn’t mine
You sent the dogs after my scent, that’s fine.”

Brilliant. Simply genius. I could listen to this musical every day for the rest of my life and not grow tired of it.

But when I first listened to the music, one part confused me.

I received a Hamilton CD for Christmas in 2019, just as I started my writing journey. I hadn’t joined a critique group yet, hadn’t started relearning all my grammar rules, so I didn’t get what Lin-Manuel Miranda was saying. Read this verse Angelica writes to Alexander:

“In a letter I received from you two weeks ago,
I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase.
It changed the meaning. Did you intend this?
One stroke and you’ve consumed my waking days.
It says, ‘My dearest, Angelica.’
With a comma after dearest.
You’ve written,
‘My dearest, Angelica.’”

This puzzled me. What’s the big deal with a comma? I’m so glad you asked.

To explain this, we must use fancy English-class words we learned 40 years ago. (Okay, maybe that’s just me. You may actually remember this word.) We have to talk about appositives.

I heard you sigh from here. Keep reading. I’ll show you how I simplified this rule so I can remember it, thus saving myself from looking it up each and every time I come across it in my writing.

First, the definition. An appositive is a noun that describes another noun.

My friend Lin-Manuel Miranda dropped by.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, a famous writer, created Hamilton.

When an appositive is essential to the meaning of the noun it belongs to (restrictive), don’t use commas. When the noun preceding the appositive provides sufficient identification on its own, use commas around the appositive.

Let’s look at my first example again.

My friend Lin-Manuel Miranda dropped by.

I have more than one friend. If I leave out the appositive, my sentence says, “My friend dropped by.” Saying “my friend” is not enough information for you to know who dropped by. I don’t put commas around the appositive because we need that information.

However, in our second example, it’s different. Read it again.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, a famous writer, created Hamilton.

Lin-Manuel Miranda IS a famous writer—we all know that—so we don’t need that information. We use the commas to set aside the extraneous information (non-restrictive).

Let’s do another one.

Our vice president, Kamala Harris, is the first woman elected to the position.

Our vice president is a relatively precise identifier, so Kamala Harris is not considered essential.

We can live without the information supplied by the appositive. Use commas.

Famous composer Lin-Manuel Miranda won a Grammy Award for the Best Musical Theater Album in 2016 for Hamilton.

The way I constructed this sentence, I must include Lin-Manuel’s name in order to know which famous composer we’re talking about. Since we need his name, no commas are necessary.

Clear as mud?

Now, back to Angelica. What got her so hot and bothered?

“My dearest, Angelica …”

Alexander added the comma, showing he didn’t think it necessary to explain who his dearest was. He could live without that information. In other words, no other person in the world could be his dearest, so including her name was unnecessary. She was his dearest.

Scandalous! My mnemonic to remember?

Need it? No commas. (Both words start with N.)

Can live without it? Commas.

My mother, Sandy, just traveled to Alaska.

I know who my mother is. I can live without the extra information. Use commas.

My friend Tammy Spradley is an even bigger fan of Hamilton than I am.

I have lots of friends. We need the information. No commas.

I’m bookmarking this page because I know I’m going to have to check myself again at some point. Feel free to do the same.

“When you love what you do, it’s not work anymore.” Horse hockey.

American filmmaker Lawrence Kasden, screenwriter for several Star Wars movies, made the following statement, and it’s 100% true.

If you think you’d like to write, the first thing you must do is abolish your ego. That’s hard, but you’ve got to try. Because from day one, someone somewhere will gleefully tell you what is wrong with what you just wrote. And most of the time, they’ll be right. If you allow it, on the first day of your new career, you’ll learn something.

Those criticisms are hard words to hear because you’ve just poured your soul into what is on that paper. You’ve opened yourself up, allowed people to see inside your psyche. You make yourself vulnerable. So when someone starts methodically ripping your work to shreds, it hurts. But the pain is necessary.

I had to go through a very detailed psychological evaluation once for a company who planned to hire me. When I read his report, one line jumped out at me. He said, “Bristles at criticism.”

My response? “I do not!”

Oh. Wait. Point taken.

My default reaction to any criticism is to defend. I have learned to shut that down as quickly as I can and force myself to LISTEN. I don’t have to agree with the criticism I receive from critique partners, and I may decide to ignore their suggestions. But I have to listen. Because the plain truth is, I don’t know everything. Probably, they don’t either, but they might know THIS, so I need to hear their words.

Deb Haggerty, the editor-in-chief at Elk Lake Publishing, Inc., posts helpful articles for her authors on our private Facebook page. I always read them. If the boss thinks something is worth sharing, then I pay attention. She recently posted a link to this article, along with the pithy caption, “Please, please, please read the following article!” (And, yes, she spent a valuable exclamation point, giving the impression she felt passionate about it.)

So I read the article and added it to my growing list of things an author must know.

https://us5.campaign-archive.com/?e=8b905fac2e&u=7b5222d5ce3ad8e5630c9f2d4&id=b17505630b&fbclid=IwAR16a2_ltLLcuIW0vx_H37RM2F2JIbMo8mV5J2Vv0QXvR_vCUx7h8zDiJGE

So, swallow your pride. Admit you just learned something. Now, go forth and start hunting. And may the force be with you.

Oh, won’t you stay with me?

Social Media is a “build it, nurture it, engage them, and they may come and stay.”

I stole that quote from Seth Godin (and that lyric in the title from Sam Smith). Seth Godin is an American entrepreneur, best-selling author, and speaker. He should know what he is talking about, as he essentially invented commercial email. As authors, we know we need to build some sort of social media platform because that is how we will gather our ever-essential followers. Whether you’re an author looking for readers, or a baker looking for cake customers, you need a method of reaching people and snagging their interest. The challenge is then keeping them hanging around for more.

According to marketing experts, if you want to gain name recognition, you need to post something on Facebook or Instagram at least two times each and every day (five times if you live on Twitter.) Ahem… please do NOT go back and notice the date of my last post on any of the above-mentioned platforms.

Enter the major problem most of us have.

Thanks to Terri Main, owner of the WordMaster Academy, I have a list to help you crank out content to fill those thirty posts per month.

Step one: Break your topic/genre into subtopics. Let’s say you write romances that take place in Victorian England. Your list might include:

  • Fashion
  • Economy
  • Architecture
  • Class Struggles (a biggie in Victorian England. Just read Dickens)
  • The Workplace
  • Marriage rituals
  • Politics
  • The legal system
Sign me up! (Not)

Those are a few ideas to get you started. Someone interested in Victorian England might be interested in any one of them.

Step Two: Choose one of those subtopics. (Or use the main topic if you like)

Step Three: Fill in the blanks below.

  • A Joke about _______
  • An Image about _____
  • A video about ______
  • A link to an article about _____
  • A review of a book/movie/TV show about ______
  • A blog post about ____ (Remember when writing blog posts, copy and paste them into the status box on Facebook and attach a photo. Links get fewer views than original posts with images)
  • A cartoon about_____
  • A picture quote about_____
  • A discussion question about ______
  • A survey about ______
  • A poem about ________
  • A piece of flash fiction about _______
  • A background piece about a problem you faced writing about _____
  • Something you learned researching _______
  • A tip for people writing about ______
  • A pet peeve about how ______ is portrayed in movies/TV/Books.
  • A Facebook Slideshow or Picture Gallery about _____
  • A post you made six weeks or more ago about _______
  • A post you made on another social media platform about ______
  • A guest post from someone else interested in the subject.

There are twenty blanks to fill in that list. If you create a post for each one, that gives you 10 days worth of content. Repeat that for two more subtopics, and you have a month of posts.

So how long will that take? I’ll do a run-through right now and time it. Since I set my book in the 1860s, in Texas, my characters either are or interact with cowboys. I’ll answer the first five prompts and see how long it takes to do. Ready, set, start the timer!

Post 1, Day 1: Cowboy cartoon.

Now I’ll think up some copy that ties this to my story. “Manny probably wished for something this easy to catch during his cattle-driving days.”

Day 1, Post 2: An image about cowboys.

Texas sunset

My copy with this photo might go something like this: Texas is known for its gorgeous sunsets (although someone told me it’s due to the completely unromantic reason of dust in our atmosphere). I like to think of what Manny or Abby might have seen each night as they made their way home from roaming on their property. Back then, a family could claim 120 acres just by filing with the General Land office.

Day 2, Post 1: A video of a cattle drive. My copy would go something like this: “In the beginning chapters of Protected, Manny and his best friend, Jonathan, are heading home from driving a herd of cattle to Kansas. They spent two to three weeks on horseback, eating from a chuck wagon, on their way to the meat market. It would’ve looked something like this.”

Day 2, Post 2: A link to an article about the life of a cowboy in 1866. I would write something like this to go along with the article. “The cowboy of Hollywood was far more glamorous than the real-life cowboys of the 1800s. Read on to discover facts it might surprise you to know.” https://www.frontierlife.net/blog/2020/10/26/cowboy-life-in-the-1800s-primary-sources

Day 3, Post 1: A review of a book/movie/TV show about cowboys. I would write: “Ask anyone on a book recommendation website or Facebook page for a book about cowboys, and you’re going to hear about Lonesome Dove. It is the quintessential story about cowboys, particularly for dialogue. If you want to write a story with a cowboy in it, read this book first. Maybe read it twice so you marinate your brain in cowboy-speak. You’ll love it.”

https://www.amazon.com/Lonesome-Dove-Larry-McMurtry-audiobook/dp/B07BGQGG7R/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=lonesome+dove+book&qid=1640747337&sprefix=lonesome+dove%2Caps%2C571&sr=8-1

Stop. My timer was at 18 minutes, 2 seconds. I’m one-sixth of the way through. So, I’d need between 1 hour, 45 minutes to 2 hours to complete a full month’s worth of content for my Facebook and/or Instagram feeds. That’s doable. Set a reminder on your phone for the first day of every month and crank it out. Then it’s simply a matter of copy and paste to your social media of choice, and you’re done!

Let’s do a pinky-swear challenge. I’ll try it if you will.

It’s a long way to Dallas.

I served on a federal jury several years ago. I didn’t even mind because it got me out of my classroom for three weeks, and it was a particularly tough year. I wrote some musings about my experience once the trial was over. A friend reminded me of that collection of thoughts the other day. So, here is a resurrection of my memories of that good ol’ time. Enjoy.

Things I learned while on jury duty:

  1. It is a long way to Dallas.
  2. It pays to be nice and make friends. I left my purse at home one morning, and Pedro, the attendant of the lot I used each day, let me park my truck there for free until I could find someone to borrow the money from.
  3. Women in Dallas have only one toe, and it is right in the middle of their feet. I know this to be true because of the pointy-toed, spike-heeled shoes they wear. There is not room in those shoes for more than one toe.
  4. Reading glasses make a very effective crowd-control tool when used correctly. I learned from observing Judge Lynn if you perch them right on the end of your nose and glare menacingly over them, you don’t have to actually say anything. This maneuver is particularly effective on jurors who return late from lunch (not me!).
  5. It is a very long way to Dallas.
  6. You can ride the train to Dallas, but you must be at the Vickery Street station at 6:15 am to get to the courtroom on time.
  7. If you walk around the Vickery Street train station at 3:30 pm to familiarize yourself with everything so you won’t miss the train the first time you ride it the next day, you’ll feel like you’ve just stumbled into the Stephen King book The Stand, because there will be no one around but you.
  8. Walking around in a marble-floored, high-ceilinged, empty train station building in broad daylight is creepy.
  9. If you pee against the protective shelter while waiting for the train (not me!), the train conductor, who spies you doing this while he waits for the scheduled time to head to DFW airport, will not be happy and he will call the Transit Police. The Transit Police will come and take you off the train while everyone else looks on, handcuff you, and take you away.
  10. Riding the train was not as much fun as it was cracked up to be, despite it being a very, very long way to Dallas.
  11. The Spanish word for before is antes (pronounced “awn-tez”).
  12. The Spanish word for after is despues (pronounced “dez-pwez).
  13. The Spanish word for tools is heramienta (pronounced “air-raw-may-en-ta”).
  14. The Spanish word for cocaine is cocaine (pronounced “co-cah-een-ah”).
  15. The Spanish word for heroin is chivas (pronounced “shee-vas”).
  16. The Spanish word for well, as in, “Well, when you spoke to the FBI, you lied to them, didn’t you?” is bueno (pronounced “bway-no”).
  17. The Spanish word for o.k., as in, “O.K., let’s look at your testimony again,” is bueno (pronounced “bway-no”).
  18. The Spanish word for good, as in “Good, we’ve established that you lied to Mr. Delapaz,” is bueno (pronounced “bway-no”).
  19. The Spanish word for no (duly reported and translated each and every time) is no, (pronounced “no”).
  20. You can get a crick in your neck driving for 30 minutes along I-30, trying the whole while to position your head in just the right spot behind your rear-view mirror so you don’t have the sun glaring straight into your eyes. This, however, is an advantage when you walk around at lunch as it forces you to hold your head at a snooty, self-important angle, which lets you fit right in.  It also helps if you’re wearing pointy-toed, spike-heeled shoes.
  21. The Seinfeld “Soup Nazi” now lives in Dallas and owns a Greek restaurant two blocks from the courthouse. Be ready with your order when it is your turn and, whatever you do, do not ask a question about the menu.
  22. Courtrooms are very cold.
  23. Blankets, coats, and mittens are allowed in courtrooms.
  24. Cell phones are not allowed in courtrooms.
  25. You can sneak your cell phone past the security guard on the fifteenth floor if you keep it in your coat pocket (accidentally, of course) if you wait until there are several important attorneys all trying to get through at the same time you are.
  26. It is a very, very, very long way to Dallas.
  27. It is extremely hard to not watch the news, read the paper, or listen to NPR (even if you don’t normally do so) when someone tells you not to.
  28. It is extremely hard not to talk about something that totally consumes your every waking moment for three weeks.
  29. It is imperative to not wear pants that have become ever-so-slightly too small for you when you are forced to sit still for eight hours.
  30. A certain lethargy steals over your body around 1:30 – 2:00, forcing your eyes to flutter as you valiantly fight to stay awake. This will happen every day, like clockwork, and will last approximately 20 minutes. It will also earn you a glare from over the reading glasses.
  31. Vitamins, a Gingseng-Gotu Kola capsule, and an Arizona Energy tea at lunch will help combat the early afternoon nap syndrome but will not completely alleviate it.
  32. Wiggling around a lot will help you stay awake.
  33. Tapping your knuckles repeatedly—and hard—with your pen will help you stay awake, although it tends to annoy jurors sitting next to you.
  34. Chewing the inside of your cheek will help you stay awake.
  35. Taking a water bottle in with you and drinking from it will help you stay awake.  Unfortunately, you only get one bathroom break after lunch, so this maneuver has its pitfalls.
  36. Frowning with intense concentration and looking back and forth between witnesses, interpreters, and attorneys will help hide the fact that your eyes are fluttering.
  37. Listening to a trial where you learn the names of a lot of Hispanic people—many of whom have the same first name; many of whom also have a nickname; many of whom have two last names, either of which might be used by any given witness at any given time—is sort of like reading a Tom Clancy novel.
  38. Making a flow chart helps keep everyone straight. It can also be recopied each day from 1:30 – 2:00 to keep you awake.
  39. Being a teacher gives one excellent practice at picking out when someone starts to lie.
  40. Swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth (we don’t say, “so help you God” anymore) doesn’t have the effect one would expect on the veracity of testimony given.
  41. Lawyers aren’t necessarily good at math. We waited a moment or two for our prosecuting attorney to do mental math and figure out what 30 kilos times $20,000/kilo is.
  42. Jurors are not permitted to call out answers.
  43. It’s an extremely long way to Dallas.
  44. Restating a question five times by changing the first few words will not magically make a different answer come from the witness’s mouth. For example,
    1. “Mr. S, you were afraid of R. A., weren’t you?”
    2. “But isn’t it true, Mr. S, that when you found out E. A. and J. R. were going to set up R. A., you got scared?
    3. “But in your grand jury testimony, Mr. S, when you said, ‘Are you crazy?’, it was because you were afraid of setting up R. A., a known drug dealer, wasn’t it?”
    4. “But Mr. S, didn’t you walk out of J. R.’s apartment that night because you were afraid of R. A.?”
    5. “You were frightened of setting up a known drug dealer, weren’t you, Mr. S.?”
  45. Witnesses, even when they are self-confessed drug dealing, conspiring, scam artists, can be funny and smart-alec when they answer, “For the fifth time, dude, the answer is no.”
  46. Jurors who snort with laughter at funny, smart-alec answers made by self-confessed drug dealing, conspiring, scam artist witnesses will earn themselves a glare over the reading glasses.
  47. Jurors are not allowed to make objections, even when a question has been re-asked five times and answered the same way each and every time.
  48. Jurors from Mississippi use the phrase, “He musta been fed with a sling-shot when he was a baby,” to describe very focused, intense, no-nonsense attorneys who repeat questions five different times in an effort to wring out a “yes” from the witness.
  49. Never, ever, ever take your car to an auto repair shop that has any of the following characteristics:
    1. It is made of corrugated tin.
    2. It consists mostly of a field, a fence, and a shed.
    3. It looks like it has been repainted several times with very brightly colored paint.
    4. There aren’t many cars sitting around waiting to be fixed or cleaned, and the people running it don’t look very busy.
    5. There is a pick-up truck parked anywhere across the street with a person using binoculars sitting in it, watching.
  50. In fact, never, ever, ever take your car to be fixed anywhere besides Christian Brothers Automotive or Pep Boys, just to be on the safe side.
  51. When people get busted in a drug raid, everyone there gets busted, so don’t ever, ever, ever take your car anywhere to be fixed other than Christian Brothers Automotive or Pep Boys.
  52. It’s okay to use the f- word in a courtroom, and it won’t even earn a glare over the reading glasses.
  53. It’s sort of creepy to sit five feet away from a drug dealer and watch him get mad and start using the f-word when the defense attorney hammers away at his testimony.
  54. It’s a long way to Dallas.