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Cindy L. Freeman – Cooperative Mentoring

I stopped blogging for a year or so to work on a new novel. The working title is I Want to Go Home. My goal is to finish it in time for publication this year.

Now, my publisher, Jeanne Johansen of High Tide Publications, is encouraging (translation: compelling) her authors to write a weekly blog. Why? She says it connects us with our readers, allowing them to get to know us. Well, that’s what I’m afraid of. Like many authors, I’m an introvert. We introverts prefer to “keep ourselves to ourselves” as the British say. The fear is that if you get to know me, you won’t like what you see, or you’ll use my transparency against me. It’s called vulnerability and it’s scary. But, I have been given an assignment and I must be an obedient student.

So, here goes. Last year, I joined a critique group. Talk about scary! Talk about vulnerability! Imagine taking your precious baby, the fruit of your womb, into a room of eight-or-so other parents who have also brought their babies . . . to discern every flaw and point it out to each other.

Already you’re feeling insecure because you don’t trust your inexperienced parenting. You’ve only been parenting for a short time and you feel ill-prepared. If truth be told, you feel like an imposter. You’re sure someone will notice (and point out) your baby’s big ears or crooked smile. Someone else will draw attention to how your baby has gas because of the way you’re holding her. Another might suggest you should be breastfeeding instead of bottle-feeding and if you’re bottle-feeding, you’re using the wrong formula. Someone will try to change your style of parenting because you’re telling, not showing your love or because your baby will surely not become a successful adult unless you develop her character.

Yes, we criticize each other’s “babies,” but it’s not personal and it’s not vicious—okay, sometimes it’s a little vicious. Each of us brings to the group a unique perspective, arising from varying life experiences. We try to shed light on each other’s writing, whether it be simple aspects like grammar, punctuation, or spelling, or more in-depth issues of character profile, plot development, or point of view.

Why are we willing to submit ourselves and our literary “babies” to this criticism? The purpose of our comments is to help each other improve our writing skills and succeed as authors. That’s what Jeanne refers to as cross collateralization. See, Jeanne? I was listening. It’s what I call cooperative mentoring. It means that when one of us succeeds, we all succeed. I like that.

Cindy Freeman

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of Diary in the AtticUnrevealed (recently re-written; second edition to be released soon) and The Dark Room (Don’t let the title scare you; it has a happy ending).

Tune in next week for a sneak preview of I Want to Go Home. Website:


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 Judy Zummo –  Be Careful What You Complain About

  Be Careful What You Complain About

Judy Zummo

A Rhode Island Red hen has chosen our home for her new residence.    As with all chickens, she arrived not housebroken and stinky but nonetheless made it quite clear that we  were her chosen family.     She found the flexible flyer sled to be a comfortable roost and refused to go anywhere else.    What did we do, we built her a roost close to the house but off the porch hoping to get rid of her mess and smell.    We moved the sled into the garage and out of her sight but to no avail, she simply moved her roost to the cooler which is stored on the corner of the front porch.

On a bright side though she presented us with an egg every day.   There was no doubt about their freshness and they were delicious .    She also made friends with, Daxx,  our ninety pound mutt who in turn became her protector.   Quite an odd couple!

She ate with the horses sharing their feed and avoiding their hooves.    During the day she moved from the paddock with the horses the shelter of the horse trailer where she pecked for bugs.    Then made her way to the barn in search of more bugs.    As night would begin to fall she made it back to the house and her chosen perch where she spent the night.   Bright and early she would rise and start her new day following her routine.

Sadly though, last night some critter came onto the front porch under the cover of darkness and killed her.    Daxx asked to go out and took off after something we did not see which must have prevented whatever it was from dragging her off.  She must have put up quite a fight as we found feathers everywhere not too far from the house.

Our hearts are heavy today.   Although she was not something we would have chosen as a pet, we have grown somewhat attached to her and will miss her.   She was rather entertaining.

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Jeanne Johansen – Fear!

My story is a freedom song of struggle. It is about finding one’s purpose, how to overcome fear and to stand up for causes bigger than one’s self. Coretta Scott King

Every mistake I ever made was based on fear. There was the fear of being too young; then the fear of being too old. There was the fear I would never find the right person to share life’s journey.

There was the fear of not knowing the answer. The fear of knowing the answer and the repercussions

of speaking it aloud. The fear of failure. The fear of success. There was the fear of not having a steady paycheck. The fear of having to change course. Fear, fear, fear

If that resonates with you, then perhaps what I am about to say will be your watershed moment.

I believe we are all on a path. It gets us to the same place; it’s just a different route. Sometimes we veer off the path (chosen by us, our parents, our spouse, etc.), but we get back on our path and head for the mountaintop.

That journey contains many stories of how we got where we are today. Some of them are funny; some aren’t. What matters are they are stories that have meaning to our lives. They are the stones we stepped on, skipped over, or clung to that got us to this point.

What would we have done differently? Why did we make the decisions we did? How did the pain or joy help us make better decisions, changes in direction, or push us on to a completely new route? To paraphrase Dr. Phil, “…and how did that work out for you?”

Over the last eight years, I have had the honor and privilege to work on memoirs with some of our authors. They are amazing stories that forced me to take a hard look at my life’s journey. There are more coming out this year – stories of enlightenment, bravery, suffering, redemption. Each one of them unique and breathless and brave journeys into the unknown.

I will blog a lot about this “memoir” thing this year. I want to encourage you to write your own stories. Write them for yourself, for others, for future generations.

Peace, Jeanne

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Steve Crabill: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year… Or Not.

That wonderful time long ago and far away. Thanksgiving to Christmas was, during my childhood, a mix of magic and weirdness.

My dad finally allowed my three year old brother to sit, minus the high chair, on three phone books at our Thanksgiving feast. Little Eric was so proud, and dad was most gracious, filling his plate with all the goodies, including giblets in gravy over his dressing. When he put a piece of dark meat into the kid’s mouth, Dad asked, “What do you think?”

“It’s a little tough, but I like it, Dad. What is it?”

Always the jokester, dad whispered that it was the turkey’s private-part. Yeah, old pop really caught hell for that one! My other brother and I thought it was totally funny, but refrained from laughing in front of Mom. She was pissed.

I’ll never forget my ninth Christmas. Santa brought me a Red Ryder BB gun! I was the only kid on the block that got one that year. Dad insisted on hand holding a balloon in the backyard for my first target practice. He tried to calm my hesitancy by simply telling me, “Aim at the far end of the balloon, Steve, and hurry. It’s cold out here.” The balloon rotated wildly in the wind, the sight on the gun wavered, and I put a BB in dad’s thumb. Mom removed it in the kitchen, and it didn’t even leave a scar! Other than that, we had a beautiful white Christmas that year.

Truly a most wonderful time of the year. The “or not”? It’s your call.


To read the details about these and other Steve Crabill adventures, check out, Wipe That Smile Off Your Face.


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H. Scott B butler – This Time of Year

This time of year, the turn from fall to winter, is one I wasn’t much aware of growing up in Louisiana.  Tree leaves went directly from green to brown and dropped off, and the weather got a little cooler, and that was it.  Once—once—it snowed, a half inch, and when I tried to roll a snowball over a driveway to add more snow to it from the next yard, the whole thing melted away.

As an adult I lived for many years in coastal Virginia, where there was a greater sense of a seasonal change, though not much greater. But I did experience the kaleidoscopic loveliness of autumn and the full stark beauty of winter in Thanksgiving and Christmas visits to my wife’s parents, who lived in the western, mountainous part of the state.

And some of this experience made it into my first mystery, “Night Journey,” set in Northern Virginia: “Pale orange stalks waved above the green grass of the rolling meadow, and in the distance several horses were grazing near a line of yellow and red trees. Beyond the trees, the autumnal mountains carried lightly on their backs the moving mountains of white cloud.”

In 2015, following the death of my wife’s mother, we decided to move into her house, and so now we get the full effect of the great natural transition. Because the world is warming, autumn was subdued this year, but then in early November it suddenly blazed into full glory—a heart-stopping reminder of the preciousness of life.

(Picture:  Douthat Lake, about 30 miles west of Lexington, VA)