The Thing that Makes Me Laugh Out Loud–My Family #MFRWauthor



This week’s blog topic for the MFRW blog challenge really made me think. What does make me laugh out loud?

There are several things that do, but the three stories that immediately came to mind are centered around family.

First, would come from my dad. I actually come from a line of storytellers, though I’m the only one who’s put anything to paper. My grandmother fanned the flame of my love for history with her wonderful stories of growing up in the twenties on a small farm in the mountains of West Central Pennsylvania. My dad, her son, also inherited this story-telling gene, but his is more toward comedy. I love visiting him and he telling stories of some of the antics he pulled as a kid. I’ve laughed more times than I can count as he tells one of his stories, even if I’ve heard the same tale many times. One of my favorite stories happened when he was a teenager and had come home late from his job. His mom had been watching two of her sister’s boys who were pre-teen age. When he got home that night, she asked him walk his younger cousins home–to one of the neighboring farms. Dad and his older cousin, who he worked with and had planned to help Dad work on his car because it stopped running, started walking the boys home. When they got about half way there, the other cousin ran back to the house and stole a sheet off the wash-line. He dressed as a ghost and jumped out at the lane leading to the boys’ home. But their trick backfired because the two boys ran the whole way back to my grandparents’ home instead past the “ghost” to their own home. The boys were so afraid of the the “spook” that they crawled in bed with my grandma and granddad and refused to leave the house. Apparently, my granddad  was so mad at my dad and his friend that he made them both do the worse jobs on, not only his farm, but the boys’ parents’ farm, and the farm of the cousin who’d played the part of the “ghost.” I think what makes this story so funny is just in the way Dad tells it. But whatever the reason, it makes me laugh every time I hear it.

The second thing that makes me laugh out loud is my kids. Thinking of this topic has brought to mind many funny episodes with them. If you’d read the other week’s post, you know I have a son, who has just finished up his second year of college on Wednesday, and a daughter, who is going to her Junior Prom tonight. They still say funny things, but two of the funniest happened when they were little. When my son was about nine, we were all sitting at the table eating dinner and were talking about the day’s events. My son was telling us about his day at school when he reached for the salt to sprinkle some on his mashed potatoes. I’d usually only let my kids use a tiny bit, but for some reason none of us were paying attention to what he was doing, including my son. As he spoke, he sprinkled salt, and kept on sprinkling salt until all of us at the same time realized several minutes had pasted and Marc was salting away. When he finally stopped, his potatoes had little piles of white crystals on top like fresh snow on a frozen mountain. We all laughed so hard, I thought we’d break something.

The story involving my daughter happened in the car while driving home from church. She was between the age of three or four and had just discovered the virtue of counting. She loved to count her fingers while someone said the numbers with her. So from the front seat, I counted as she held up a finger and said the number with me. When I got to eleven, she stopped me and held up all ten outstretched fingers and said, “Wait, Mommy, I don’t have anymore fingers!” It was such a distraught statement that my husband and I just looked at each other and cracked up laughing. I looked back at her looking at her fingers while my son rolled his eyes at her as he tells her not to be such a dumb blonde and just start over with her first finger as number eleven. At this my husband and I laughed even harder, because Laura is blonde and her response was a such a classic blond joke punch line it still makes me chuckle even to today. And of course her older brother, has never let her live it down.

So, those are three stories that has made me bust a gut. What about you, what makes you laugh out loud?

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My Top Five Dream Vacations — In photos with funny captions #MFRWauthor


This week’s topic is a fun one–The top five places I’d like to visit.

I’ve decided to do this pictorially in countdown fashion, just like the Travel Channel, but with some humor thrown in.  So grab your suitcase and come along with me as I fly away (at least virtually) to my dream vacation spots.

Coming in at #5—

Rome and Vatican City!

As a Catholic, I’d like to someday make a pilgrimage to Vatican… As a history buff, I’d love to see the place so much history is packed.

Vatican City–Looks empty. The Pope must be away…

Old Rome–FEEL the history!

Colosseum–Hear the cheering….Oh, wait that must be the crowd, not the gladiators.

Coming in at #4—


There is just something about seeing one of the last true frontiers that makes Alaska not only romantic, but dangerous too.

The Alaska Wilderness… Nothing around for miles and miles and MILES…

More Alaska Wilderness…Okay, I’m starting to feel a little lonely out here…. Is anyone out here!?!

Hey, there’s someone to talk to! “Hi, guys, can you tell me how to get back to civilization?”

Coming in at #3—

The Bahamas!

What can be more fun or relaxing than the white sand beaches of a tropical paradise?

Oh, the Bahamas! I want a chair under that palm tree…Maybe with an adult beverage in my hand…

When I get tired of sitting under the palm tree, I’ll go to the pool….And sit under a different palm tree.

Or maybe I’ll just go back to the resort and see what trouble I can get into…I love resort hotels!

Coming in at #2—


I know, I KNOW… I really need to take the time to go already. After all, I do write about this great state, you’d think I’d soon visit!

Dallas! I’d mostly want to see this city because I loved the TV show with the same name.

Ah…the beautiful Rio Grande…. Before the Wall… Okay, bad joke, I know. Please no political comments.

A real Texas ranch! Saddle up and let’s ride! What? A storm’s brewing? Gad-dang it!!


Coming in at #1—

The British Isles:  Wales, England, Ireland, and Scotland. (I know, this is cheating, but it’s my dream vakay!) Even though I have more Welsh, Irish, and English blood in me, those few Scottish genes are calling me home…. Oh, wait, it’s just my fascination with everything Outlander.

First stop on our tour of the British Isles—A Welsh town. Don’t ask me which one… because I can’t pronounce anything around here. I think the Welsh think they have to use the whole alphabet in each place name. In fact the longest town name is a Welsh town: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch.

Second stop– An Irish house by a lake. Not sure I’d want to stay there. Looks like it’s about ready to fall down…

Third stop– England and of course, while there I’d have to go to London, and while there, I’d have to see Buckingham Palace. Wonder if the Queen takes visitors for tea?

Forth stop– Scotland! Finally! Is that the Loch Ness Monster I see out here? Oh, wait those are just mountains… Bummer.

The Standing Stones on Lewis Island–I wonder if I touch that middle stone would I get thrown back in time to 1743 and meet my very own Jamie Fraser? No, you say! Darn it!

I hope you enjoyed my wishful vacations stops!

Where is your dream vacation?

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My Biggest Dream….. #MFRWauthor



As an author who hasn’t made it “big” yet, this topic for the blog challenge is a bit of a no-brainer. I think if you ask any writer, published or not, and they’d tell you they want to their names at the top of the best-seller lists and make money at writing–a lot of money.

I would say this is my biggest dream, but it’s not the only one I have.

I hope for a better future and I pray for peace.

One of my other hopes, since it’s spring and I’ve been planting, is that my garden (both vegetable and flower) do well.

Now, that my children are young adults, I hold their dreams for the future in my heart.

My son is finishing up his second year at Penn State as an engineering student. I hope he is able to, not only finish school doing as well as he is now (he’s an Dean’s List student), but also is able to find a good job, doing something he enjoys.

My daughter, who will be a high school senior in the fall, wants to become an environmental scientist with an emphasis on ecology and wild-life conservation. We’ll be looking at colleges this summer. My hope for her is that she continues to excel at everything she sets out to do and achieves her dream of travailing the world. Of course, she better take me along on some of her adventures…. <grin>

What are your dreams?
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There Are Story Ideas Everywhere…When I’m Paying Attention #MFRWauthor

Have you ever wondered where authors get some of their plot ideas? It isn’t as mysterious as you might think.

Inspiration can come from just about everything. Some of the most common are from events that happen in real life, dreams, songs, phrases from other books, and a thousand other places or things can spark a story idea. For example, it’s no secret Stephenie Meyer got the idea for The Twilight Saga from a dream. Then a single line in Eclipse (book 3 of the saga) inspired me to write A Hunter’s Angel, a paranormal romance about a small town police chief and vampire who is an FBI agent so that he can hunt vampires.

My first contemporary western romance Gambling On A Series was sparked when I watched a butterfly hatch from a cocoon. But my hero is an accumulation of things I’ve learned from the soldiers I’ve worked with over the years. While the idea for the rags-to-riches, ex-prostitute heroine, at least partly, came from a Rachel Gibson novel I’d read a few years ago.

I’ll also tweak things that actually happen to create subplots in my books. On such inspiration from real life (as real as reality TV can get anyway) shows up in Heartstrings, but the main idea came from a song. At least somewhat from a song. Let me explain. About six years ago I wrote a Star Wars fan fiction novel using the country song “God Blessed the Broke Road” by Rascal Flatts as my inspiration. The story was about a female who had been in love with two men, who were friends, at different times in her life and who ended up married to one of them, and then to the other after her first husband was killed. Her second husband then raised her daughter to her first husband as his own.

Fast forward two and a half years later. After I wrote the first book of The Hunter’s Dagger Series, A Hunter’s Angel, I got the idea to write a story about a country singer coming home for his father’s funeral to find out he had a daughter. The original story plot, then titled “The Long Road Home” (a sort of play on the song “God Blessed the Broken Road”) was a little different then the story that eventually became Heartstrings. Despite the fifteen or so revisions and rewrites I’ve done to “The Long Road Home” to create Heartstrings, the main plot is still loosely inspired by my old fan fiction and the country song “God Blessed the Broken Road.”

For Heartsong, I got the idea of a country singer married to his much older manager and the marriage failing in part from the real-life

tabloid candy story of Randy Travis and his first wife and manager. In Heartsong, the heroine’s rise to fame at a young age, and eventual fall due to drugs was inspired by several real-life young actresses and singers.

In the second Cowboy Up anthology (which is currently out of print), my story A Cowboy’s Heaven, was inspired by a news article I had read a few years ago. The story was about a man and woman who never believed they’d find love again. Both had been widowed soon after getting married to the person they’d believed to by their soul mate. But thanks to a friend, they met. A friendship grew out of their mutual loss, then after a few years of dating, they realized they had fallen in love and were married. It really was a true-life romance and I knew I had to write a book to pay homage to this beautiful story.

But really, inspiration for me can come from anywhere or anything. If you are a writer, where do you find inspiration?

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My Greatest Weakness–Procrastination @MFRWauthor

Last week the topic for the challenge as to describe my greatest strength. This week prompt is to talk about my greatest weakness, and as with naming my strength, coming up with my less desirable trait was hard. But I think figured it out as I’m typing this article late Thursday night to go live in the morning. Despite determination to succeed being my strength, I have a tendency to put things off until the last moment. I’m a procrastinator.

Believe it or not, this weakness is getting worse as I age. I never put things off when I was in college. I studied for tests days before the exams. I did my papers as soon as they were assigned. Now, I don’t even think about a project until it’s down to the wire. I’m better with my stories, but the day job or something like this blog challenge–not so much. I wait until the last possible moment. Part of the problem I know is I’m juggling so much: day job, housework, family relationships, and just time for me.

Even with writing, I’m able to concentrate better if I have a deadline. If I know I have to get something done in a limited time, I’m able to buckle down and ignore most of the distractions. But even then, I get angry with myself for putting things off; however, I still do it.

So what is your one weakness?
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My Greatest Strength–Determination to Never Give Up #MFRWauthor

Have you ever thought about your greatest strength? What makes you…well…you? This is also a very hard question to answer. After a lot of introspection, I think my greatest strength is my determination to not fail.

If any of you have followed me for any time at all, you know I’m dyslexic. My learning disability was discovered when I was in third grade after a reading teacher noticed I tried to sound out words backwards and my eyes wandered all over the page. I spent the rest of my elementary grades in special education classes to learn to read.

In junior high, I was delegated into the lower tract and spent two miserable years with bullies who called me names and picked on me. For the most part, all of my friends were in the highest tract. Now when I look back, I think this was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was my need to prove these people I was nothing like them and my new found love for history (a subject I’d never had before seventh grade) that made me determined to succeed.

During the second half of seventh grade, a new spirit awakened in me. I studied in a way I never had and my hard work–and believe me it was hard–paid off. By the end of eighth grade, I had As in every subject with several of them being 100%. I was determined to prove to, not only my classmates that I would make it, but to myself that I’d get to where I want to be. I elected the college prep curriculum for high school and by the time I graduated, I was in the top quarter of my class.

I went to college and made the Dean’s List all but two or three of the nine semesters of my years at Penn State. But then life happened and with it a major setback. I couldn’t find a full time teaching job and my dreams were crushed. Not for long though, I changed gears and went back to school where I ended up graduating at the top of my class, simply because I wouldn’t accept anything less.

This spirit of never giving up and of unadulterated determination has severed me well during my writing career. I’ve nearly given up more than once, but this need to persevere despite the odds or how difficult it is has forced me to continue. My calling on this inner strength has helped me swim out of the deepest pools of despair and disappointment. I won’t deny it gets harder and harder, but I refuse to ever say “what if I hadn’t given up” because I will give it my all. I will tackle every obstacle with the determination that helped a girl who couldn’t read in the fourth grade, a teenager who hated to read until she discovered Civil War romance in ninth grade, to become a writer of published books. And hopefully this same stubbornness will help me become a best-selling author.
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My Seven Guilty Pleasures… #MFRWauthor

We all have ’em. The things we do that make us happy. Little things that put a smile on our face as we’re doing them.
Here are the seven things that I love that always make me happy when I do them:
1. Taking long, hot, sudsy baths.
2. Sitting on the deck in the summer in the warm sun, just enjoying the outdoors–with or without a glass of wine.
3. Speaking of wine….Enjoying a glass of my favorite–Moscato.
4. Eating chocolate… Anything chocolate.
5. Shopping! I love to shop, especially with my teenage daughter, who actually likes shopping with me.
6. Spending lazy afternoons reading a book or listening to one.
7. Binge watching Netflix or On Demand.
There you have the seven things I consider my guilty pleasures.  Name one of yours.

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The Things that Make Me Crazy When I Read… #MFRWauthor

Today’s blog challenge topic is to write about the words that make you go “ick.” Since I don’t like to write about these words–most of them are vulgar or just plain awful–I’m not about to spell them out on my blog….. Yes, I’m a prude. And proud of it! Well, at least you should be able to use your imagination to figure out what those words are with that confession.

Anyway, I’m going to change the prompt a little and talk about the things that pull me out of a story I’m reading and make me go “WTF?!?” There isn’t much I won’t tolerate, story-wise. I don’t mind if people die or animals are killed–IF it’s absolutely needed to drive the plot or is essential for character growth. But these things listed below will pull me out of a story quicker than anything, and unfortunately I usually can’t get back into it.

**I hate when a historical novel is too politically correct, meaning the author colors the characters’ actions/words with today’s standards. A great series of books that has never fallen victim to this is the Outlander series. Jamie Fraser is an amazing hero, but he acts and talks like a 18th Century man. And although Claire (the time-traveling WWII nurse heroine) probably gets away with more than most women would if they were married to anyone other than Jamie, he still views a man’s role in a marriage in what we’d consider archaic by today’s standards.

**Another thing that destroys a story for me is when details get messed up. I have nearly a photogenic memory when it comes to reading. My comprehension is my strongest skill. I don’t forget much. Someone told me once it’s because I actually read every letter and word due to my dyslexia which helps my brain to form a better picture of the story. Anyway when an author screws up their details, it yanks me out. For example, one time I read a book by a best selling author published by one of the big houses when the heroine changed clothes while walking along a road… No, I don’t mean she stripped and changed. I mean she started out her walk wearing a pantsuit and when her friend picked her up a  page later, she was wearing a skirt. It was so jarring because the author seemed to make her wearing pants matter by mentioning how much she despised that the dust would ruin them. Then only to have her get in the truck and fussing with her skirt because it’s short length made her uncomfortable. I was like “uh??” and reread the passage. That scene bothered me so much, I couldn’t forget the flub. I don’t think I ever finished that book.

**Head hopping! This irritates me to no end. I don’t mean a point of view change after a section of a scene. I mean paragraph one is in the hero’s POV and the next is in the heroine’s POV, then jumps back to the hero’s. Every beginning author is clobbered about this and are taught not to do it. But some authors seem to get away with it… Well, I’m not buying their books. even though most of them some of the oldest and biggest sellers.

**Stupid, lazy, poorly written characters and/or a paper-thin plots–I actually think these two things go hand-in-hand in most cases. I will admit, I don’t read many self-published books by newbie authors. I’ve been burnt too many times with buying a book or downloading a freebie because the blurb sounded good and the reviews may even be good, but the story wasn’t up to snuff. But I’ve read a few stories by established authors published by New York houses that have this distinction as well.

**The last thing that will make me stop reading is if the heroine is weak and mousy and/or the “hero” is a jerk. If he can’t say or think anything nice about the heroine and treats her badly–he isn’t a hero in my way of thinking. Being a jerk doesn’t make him an Alpha male, it makes him an asshole not worth the time of day of any woman. But usually the heroine is too enthralled by him, because she has no backbone, to see she should run the other way, not be daydreaming about how handsome he is and if only he’d look at her. I usually just want to shake the girl and tell her to go find someone else because he sure as hell ain’t worth it.

So, you tell me, what makes you toss a book across the room or hit the delete key on your Kindle?

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Songs that Have Inspired Me #MFRWauthor

Music plays a big part in all of my contemporary westerns, particularly country music. I don’t always listen to music when I write, but I often plan or plot my stories while listening. I’ve even gotten story ideas from listening to either a certain artist or from a particular song.

Sometimes I’ll even hear a song after I’ve written a story that makes me think about a certain character.

Here’s a list of songs that have either inspired me while/before writing or make me think of a character.

  1. 11 by Cassadee Pope, Album: Frame by Frame (2013)

This song makes me think of my heroine from Heartland. The song is about a young girl whose life is turned upside down when her parents divorce. The same thing happens to Emily as a child. Because Emily is a country-turned-pop singer, I almost always picture her singing it when I hear it.

  1. Black Tears by Jason Aldean, Album: Night Train (2012)

The first time I heard this song I instantly thought about my heroine from Gambling On A Secret. The song is an emotional ballad about a stripper and how much she hates what she’s doing and often cries her mascara off; hence the black tears. Charli from Gambling On A Secret had run away from home when she was fifteen and ended up working as a stripper in Las Vegas. The song fits Charli so much it could have been written about her.

  1. Bless the Broken Road by Rascal Flatts, (the version I have comes from the Album: Greatest Hits, Vol 1, 2008)

Heartstrings was inspired by this song. The original title of this story was “The Long Road Home.” In the story my hero is trying to find his way back home—and to the daughter he never knew. The heroine also has a broken road ahead of her—she has to forgive the hero for leaving and herself for pushing him away. This song also inspired the song Seth writes with his teenage daughter in the story.

  1. Drunk On A Plane by Dirks Bentley, Album Riser (2014)

My currently out of print novella, Chasing A Cowboy (published in the anthology set Cowboy Up) was directly inspired by this song. I heard it one day not long after it was released as a radio single and instantly pictured a country singer groom jilted at the altar and going on the honeymoon alone… Only there’s a little less drinking on the plane and I send the run-away bride’s fraternal twin sister after the groom.

This last list are singers who’ve inspired the singers in some of my stories:Heartstrings, Singing to the Heart, Sara Walter Ellwood, Contemporary Western Romance, Cowboys, Texas Romance, Native American Romance, Lyrical Press, Kensington Publishing

Toby Keith—my hero Seth Kendall from Heartstrings is loosely modeled after a young Toby Keith. Crazy fact—I had never seen Toby Keith’s movie Broken Bridges (a story about a country singer who meets his daughter for the first time) until long after I wrote Heartstrings.  In fact, I didn’t even know the movie existed until a friend told me about it.  Then I had to see it to make sure my story didn’t too closely resemble the movie.  I was greatly relieved that, other than the trope, the two have nothing much in common. Well, except the heroes look like Toby Keith…

Heartstrings, Sara Walter Ellwood, contemporary western romance, cowboy romance, Texas romance, small town romance, Country Music star hero, Lyrical Press, Kensington Publishing, Heartsong, Heartland, Colton Gamblers, Singing to the HeartBilly Currington/Luke Bryan—these two singers both have inspired my hero Gabe McKenna from Heartsong… Only Gabe is dark haired, but he likes to shake his cute butt on stage like Luke Bryan does.

Taylor Swift/ LeAnn Rimes/troubled young artists like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears—A mesh-up these artistsHeartland, Heartsong, Heartstrings, Singing to the Heart, Sara Walter Ellwood, Cowboys, Texas Romance, Contemporary Western Romance gave me elements that made up my troubled young songstress Emily Kendall from Heartland. Like Taylor Swift and LeAnn Rimes, Emily has an amazing-crazy talent at a tender age. She’s only fifteen when she gets her first record deal and she blurs the genre lines—making as many country number one as she does pop. But like so many young artists, she marries far too young and begins using drugs—until she finds out she’s pregnant and realizes she has to get away from her pop star ex-husband.


Writers get their ideas from everywhere… Music is just one of the places where I find mine.
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Out in My Garden…My Favorite Hobby #MFRWauthor

Besides writing, I love to garden. I have a substantial English/Cottage garden that surrounds my house and takes up most of my yard.  I also have a sizable vegetable garden and love to can the bounty that comes from it. I’m always changing something in it. Despite having a book to write this spring, I plan to rip things apart again and redesign some of it.  Today, I’m going to take you on a tour of my favorite place to be in the spring…



Even in winter, I love my garden when it snows.  This picture was taken a couple of years ago.







spring, flowers, gardening

From February to November, something is always in bloom in my garden. These are commonly called snowdrops, the botanical name is Galanthus. Although they are not as gorgeous as tulips and daffodils, when I see them every late winter—sometimes even peeking their white flowers out of the snow—I know Spring is not far away.





These pictures show some of my favorite April to June flowers.

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spring, flowers, gardening contemporary western romantic suspesne authror Sara Walter Ellwood spring, flowers, gardening spring, flowers, gardening



I love butterflies… In fact, the premise for my story Gambling On A Secret came from watching one of these guys break out of it’s cocoon.







Here is a great shot of my vegetable garden… And what I like to do with the tomatoes–home made spaghetti sauce. Yum!

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Just a few of the many garden pictures I’ve taken over the years. These pictures were taken about 10 years apart.

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plantsI even bring the garden inside….










And finally, here are a few photos of my gardening partner….

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Hope you enjoyed the tour.


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