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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


The Mentor + Giveaway

I dedicated my newly-published novel, Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, to my grandfather, a man I met only in dreams. Below is the account of my meeting with him in a dream, an event that changed my life. I inherited my ability to see beyond this world from my mother. Both she and I have stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s new release, Messages from Heaven. To celebrate, I’m giving away a free copy of the Chicken Soup book. To win, simply leave a comment on this blog (below). On February 28, I will choose one random commenter to win a free print copy of the book. Sorry, but due to shipping costs, the contest is only open to those with U.S. addresses.

I met my grandfather in a place I wasn’t allowed to see. It was a shadowed world, and when I entered I had the impression that I was being allowed in against the rules. I saw silhouettes only: silhouettes of men moving in lines across a pier. It was calm in a way I have never experienced before. A body of water stretched below; but it, too, was shadowed. I wasn’t afraid or confused: I knew at once it was only darkened for my benefit. It was a place I wasn’t supposed to see or understand, or tell the waking world about. A single spotlight shone down upon the world, affording me a view of the only thing I was allowed to see: my grandfather. He had died twenty-five years earlier.

I was twenty-four.

All I knew of my grandfather was what I had learned from my mother. He was her paragon: a caring, dedicated teacher, a talented linguist, and a loving father. He was my mother’s guide and mentor, her inspiration as a teacher and a parent. I had seen a picture of him once, and I recognized his silhouette. He stood just far enough in the spotlight for me to recognize him.

He came at a difficult juncture in my life. I had been teaching high school for nearly two years, and I was distressed. My job didn’t make me happy. I planned lessons, I helped students, I graded papers, I sponsored extracurricular activities. Yet I was never happy. I was always tired, empty, unfulfilled. Worse, my coworkers seemed to love their jobs—or at least, they found fulfillment in teaching as a calling. My inability to share their joy left me feeling guilty on top of everything else. The stress of it all had left me sick at all hours of the night, and I wondered how long I could keep the sleep-deprived self-loathing. I had never needed help so much in my entire life.

I was thinking about this as I met my grandfather. It was the middle of the night, and I was lying on the hallway floor—close to the bathroom door—wrapped in a comforter. I had dozed into a strangely-still sleep. And then I saw him. My grandfather was in the middle of directing the darkened figures along the pier. Like me, they were in need of guidance, and my grandfather had stepped up to help them. I could tell the figures had just passed on, and they weren’t quite sure of themselves yet; but thanks to my grandfather, they were being led the right way. When my grandfather saw me, he held up his hands the way a police officer directing traffic might do. The men stopped, their figures frozen in space. My grandfather turned to me, but he still wouldn’t let me see his entire face.

“Why in the world are you so worried?” he asked me. “Why are you doing this to yourself?” His tone of voice was caring but matter-of-fact. It emanated logic and rationality. He didn’t question how I had come to him; he merely accepted the fact that if I was there, it meant that I needed help.

“I think I’ve chosen the wrong career,” I said. “I chose to be a teacher because my mother loved it so much. And she inherited that passion from you. But I don’t think I have her passion, or yours. I’m always tired after work, and I feel like something’s missing.”

He simply watched me. He knew I wasn’t finished speaking before I did.

“The problem is, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Ever since I could first hold a pencil. It’s what’s in my blood, and I feel like being a teacher, I’m betraying that dream. I feel like I’ve already given up on it.”

I could just see in the shadows that his mouth drew up in the semblance of a smile. It was the same expression a parent might have when explaining away a toddler’s irrational fear of the bogeyman. Once again, his voice was calm—and calming, matter-of-fact, and rational.

“I don’t understand what the problem is,” he said, and the way he said it immediately calmed me. “You’re teaching ability is intuitive. Lesson ideas come easily to you. The desire to help others is in your blood. You’re making such a big deal out of it, but it’s all in your mind. Go to school each day, teach your students, and then come home and write. It’s as simple as that. If you want to be a writer, then write. Spending your days at school has nothing to do with it. The only one stopping you—is you.”

It was such sound, simple advice; but I had made the problem so complicated in my mind that I hadn’t been able to see it for myself. Of course being a teacher didn’t mean giving up on writing! I just needed someone else to tell me.

I wasn’t given a chance to thank him or to say goodbye. Instead, I woke up wrapped in that comforter feeling better than I had in a long time. Serenity flowed through me as I climbed into bed and slept straight through to morning. After school the next day, I began work on the first short story I had written since college. 

All of my publication credits have come since that encounter with my grandfather. Since the dream, family members noticed how I’d “calmed down” and stopped being so stressed about everything. My mother questioned the motivation behind my renewed calm and subsequent success in writing. “What happened to you?” she asked. “What changed?”

When I described the dream to her, the tears welled in her eyes. Her loving father had spent his life mentoring her, and she took comfort in the fact that even from the great beyond, he was still working his magic.

NOTE:This blog has moved to its own website,! To enter this contest, visit the post here.


Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


Corgi Capers Contest

To celebrate the launch of Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, the corgis have decided to give away a free copy of their book. To enter, check out the contest at Contest ends February 15th!

* * *

About Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive:

Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive is now available. You can buy directly from the publisher at, or you can order it at

What happens when Adam Hollinger and his obnoxious older sister, Courtney, convince their absent-minded mother to allow them to adopt a pair of corgis — after their father explicitly said, “No!” ?

Author Val Muller answers this question as the mystery on Dorset Drive unfolds.

There’s a serial thief robbing every house in the neighborhood, including the Hollingers’. As the plot deepens and the suspense builds, Adam and the rambunctious corgi pups are determined to crack the case. Even Courtney can’t resist getting involved.

Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive (223 pp., $8.99) is the perfect book for your ‘tween detective. From the brother/sister bickering and teasing, to the elderly couple that raise corgis, to Sparkles and Owl, the parents of four wiggly little corgi pups, to the pups who talk to one another and get adopted by their new people, this book will quickly become a favorite with your children. The story line is intriguing, the pups are adorable, and there’s plenty of humor to keep your children turning the pages until they reach the suspenseful climax.

ISBN 978-0615592237

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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in contest, corgis, writing


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Snow Nightmare Part 3: Silver Lining

With this spring-like weather at the beginning of February, it seems strange to post this tale about a snow nightmare. But here it is… the third and final installment.

It was ten o’clock. My husband had found refuge in the crowded lobby of the hotel across from the Metro stop. The place overflowed with commuters stuck in the same circumstance. Every room was booked, and many commuters planned to spend the night in the lobby. My husband had been calling at regular intervals for status updates.

He always hung up frustrated, for each time he asked I had moved less than a quarter of a mile. But at least I could stop worrying about him. He had his cell phone, he had found a seat in front of a big-screen TV, where he could watch news coverage of the poor saps stuck in traffic on the way to pick up commuters. And more, he—a video game aficionado—had chosen to sit right next to a commuter who worked for a local video game company. Yes, he was all set. He was no longer on my mind.

I had called my parents and sister out of boredom, but there’s only so much that can be talked about. When all my relatives were sufficiently updated on every aspect of my life, I hung up the phone and switched to singing a ridiculous song I made up:

It’s okay
Everything will be okay
It’s alright
Everything will be alright

…repeated ad-nauseum in descending keys, with a solo singer taking the first and third line, and an imaginary set of back-up singers singing the second and forth. The song was in response to the trucker, whose warning still hung on my conscience. After a while I wasn’t even singing it anymore. I was kind of groaning aloud and singing the words in my head over the groans. I was frustrated and trapped, and at this point there was nowhere to pull off and rest. Parking lots had not been plowed, and stores were closed.

I still had over a quarter tank of gas. I was within two miles of the Metro stop. My husband and I realized ridiculously late that things would have been faster if he had trudged through the snow to find me when he first left the Metro. But it was too late for that now. The radio stations were talking about power outages, and my mind switched to finding gas. The only gas station on the main road and in proximity of all the traffic was a tiny station with very little room for maneuvering on a good day. I knew it would take the better part of an hour just to get gas, and I knew there were many more—and less-crowded—stations closer to the Metro lot. But I worried about a power outage and running out of gas on the way home.

So I went for it.

Cars were getting stuck in the freezing layer of slush. Two drivers had abandoned their cars at gas station pumps, leaving only three pumps open. The whole ordeal of getting gas—from pulling in the parking lot, pumping, and maneuvering—took upwards of thirty minutes. Most of it was people getting stuck, their car wheels spinning without purchase.

My car, heavier than average, never got stuck. Learning to drive through Connecticut winters helped, too, as I understood how momentum played a role in making it through the deepest slush. And besides, the wait for gas paled in comparison to the morale boost it provided. I still had an hour and twenty minutes ahead of me to the hotel, but I drove with confidence, knowing I had passed through the worst of it.

With a full tank of gas, I felt confident running the radio and cell phone charger and heat at full blast—however squirrely it may have been to ration those things in the first place. My thoughts turned toward dinner. I had eaten at lunchtime, and I had a half-mug of cocoa before I left. The tin of mints was nearly empty, and I’d gone through the three pieces of gum in my bag. I realized then. I was hungry. Of course I hadn’t thought of this at the gas station. There, my mind had been on getting gas and getting out so the next line of cars could do the same. But now I felt weak with it.

I called my husband.

There was a hotel restaurant, but it was on the verge of closing. Whatever he ordered for me would be cold by the time I got there.

“Just order me a really big piece of chocolate cake,” I said, and I kept an image of decadent chocolate in my head for the duration. I imagined all hotel restaurants stocked such desserts. It was my little chocolate delirium.

At 11:15, I finally pulled off of the main road toward the Metro stop. The Metro station is located on Gallows Road, and the irony of the name did not escape me. Its’ a hilly road, and it wasn’t quite plowed. I spent the next half hour navigating slushy roads and vehicles abandoned helter-skelter across numerous lanes.But at least I was moving.

At 11:48, I pulled into the hotel parking lot, which was largely unplowed. I left the car parked near the front door. I was riding adrenaline, and no one would have been able to make me move that car. I entered the lobby, and the warmth and light hit me like a tsunami. I felt like an animal, shielding my eyes from it all. And it made me restless: aside from some overcrowding, the affairs of the lobby seemed normal.

Too normal.

I saw professionally-dressed clerks typing away at computers behind the check-in desk. I saw business people retiring from the bar after a nightcap. I saw people checking their smartphones and doing work on laptops. Everyone was calm. Everyone was warm. Everyone was dry.

It wasn’t right.

“Do you know what’s out there?” I wanted to scream. “Do you have any idea what’s out there now, happening to people just like you!?” I wanted to jump up on the desk and kick over the computers. I wanted to smash the clicking keyboards. I wanted to ruffle the perfect hair of the buinesspeople. I wanted to tear the people away from the television screen showing the traffic jam and tell them, “Look at me! I’m here! A real-life survivor of that snowy nightmare!”

But that isn’t what I said when I spotted my husband. I didn’t rush over to greet him. I didn’t tell him about my journey or express how glad I was that we were both safe. Instead, I squeaked, “Where’s the bathroom?”

I hadn’t even thought about it in all the stress of the journey, but it had been about ten hours since my last bathroom trip, and my bladder was not happy. I remember hearing sympathetic laughter from among the waiting commuters, as if I had made a joke for their amusement. I knew I was misinterpreting things, and my head spun with hunger and fatigue. So I ignored them and hurried to the bathroom.

Later, washing my hands, two women were having a mundane conversation at the sink. I looked up at them, and I saw my reflection in the mirror. I had animal eyes, detesting eyes. I had been in survival mode, and I was barely human. They looked back at me and shied away. I washed my hands three times, enjoying the overbearing scent of soap and air freshener, and trying to regain my humanity. When I emerged from the bathroom, I felt a little more human.

But not completely.

I’d always heard of people who could polish off whole pints of ice cream during trying emotional times. I had never been one of them. That is, until that night.

The restaurant at the hotel had since closed, and they hadn’t had any chocolate cake. But there was a self-service shop with microwavable food and frozen and refrigerated goods for sale.

“Want me to microwave you a frozen pizza?” my husband asked. “A burrito?”

I just shook my head. Only one thing was calling to me. It was a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie. An entire pint. And while my husband drove home, I polished off that pint without a second thought.

Our trip home went much faster. Our homebound lane was largely free of traffic, though the Metro-bound lane was still backed up for miles. I watched those people stuck in their cars and knew what agonies lay ahead. I felt like jumping out of the car and warning them. But the chocolate calmed my resolve. I was melting back into being human.

The trip home culminated in our un-shoveled driveway covered in 6-8 inches of snow, with a lip of crusted snow at the edge from the snow plow. It was almost three in the morning—I had been gone twelve hours—and I didn’t want to shovel. My husband looked at me questioningly.

“Gun it,” I said.

He did.

It was an epic fail.

The car accelerated into the pile of snow, where it got stuck halfway in the street and halfway in the driveway. I had half a mind to leave the car like that until morning, but I feared another snow plow pass might damage the back end. Begrudgingly, I got out to shovel. I was eons ahead of my husband. I burned off the reserves of adrenaline and the Chocolate Fudge Brownie calories, shoveling at superhuman speeds.

“We just need to shovel enough to get the car in the garage,” my husband reminded me.

But I wouldn’t have it. That driveway was going to be cleared, and it was going to be done in ten minutes. It was.

I entered the house, noticing the familiar smell a house has—its ability to comfort you no matter what the day has brought. I thought about my husband’s car in the commuter lot, probably buried by the snow plow. I thought about the dogs, who (as young puppies) had been stuck in their crates for twelve hours and would be wound up for sure. I thought about the blinking messages on our machine—messages from HOA residents complaining to the HOA Board (i.e., my husband) about the speed with which the snow plow had arrived at the development.

But it didn’t matter. I had faced a hellish twelve hours on the road, something that would haunt me for months. But I had survived. And now I was home.

And of course, the silver lining: I’m a believer in fate. When you’re stuck in a hotel lobby for eight hours talking to someone in the same situation—who just happens to share your obsession with video games—you’ve met a fate-friend. This is someone you were meant to meet, someone who may have yet to reveal her role in your life. It’s when you miss your flight. When you get a flat tire. When you randomly decide to go to a place you’ve never been. These things are too great to be coincidences. They are part of a master plan.

My husband met a fate-friend that day. Marji Cooper not only shares his love for video games, but she’s an artist. During his ample time to talk to her, he mentioned that I am a writer and would possibly be interested in commissioning an artist to illustrate characters and scenes from my book. It was mentioned just in passing, and I hadn’t yet been offered a contract on the book. We tucked it away in the “maybe” files of our minds. In the meantime, my husband “friended” her on facebook, and we moved on with our lives.

When my book came under contract, we revisited the issue, asking Marji to illustrate key characters and scenes for Corgi Capers. And she did an excellent job. Stay tuned for a sneak peek of her work!

* * *

On January 26, 2011, I was stuck in my car for 12 hours during a terrible snow storm. Exactly one year later, January 26, 2012, my first novel was released with Dancing With Bear publishing. One of those days rates among the worst of my life; the other, among the best. It just goes to show. You never know.

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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized


The Great Snow Nightmare (Part 2)

Part 2: Belly of the Whale

The snow was coming down heavy, like rain. I watched it cling to the signs, a white mucus that finally obscured my view of any manmade landmark. I called my husband. “You’d better find somewhere warm to stay,” I said. “This could take a while.”

“How long?” he asked. “It’s really cold in here. There’s nowhere to sit down, and there’s no heat.”

“Is there a bathroom?” I asked.

“I don’t think so.”

We waited in silence.

“Where are you? Can you get off at any exits and take a back way?”

I couldn’t read any signs, but I was on a strip of road that led only to more highways. The “back roads” started right around where I’d have to get off to get to the metro. I told him so.


“My phone battery’s dying,” he said finally.

And that’s what started the panic. It wasn’t the snow or the unending line of traffic. It wasn’t watching my gas tank drop from three-quarters toward halfway. It wasn’t the DJ on the radio running call-in contests for “the poor commuters” who would be stuck for hours. No, none of that made me panic. It was knowing that my husband was stuck in a deserted Metro station with a dying cell battery that pushed me over the edge. Somehow, the image of such lonely helplessness pushed me.

“Don’t waste your battery. If you have something to say, text it. Otherwise, just assume I’m still in traffic.”

“You shouldn’t text while driving,” he said. “Especially when it’s snowing like this.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, watching the warm exhaust of idling cars rise above the road like specters. “I won’t be doing any kind of driving anytime soon.”

* * *

I crept along at an excruciating pace. Entire light cycles passed with no movement. Then, it seemed, maybe one car would make it through, and everyone else got to creep up six more feet. I watched the GPS “miles until destination” numbers as they—remained the same.

The momentary panic ceased for a moment as I calmed myself. “It’s just snow,” I reminded myself. “I grew up in Connecticut.” But seeing the lines of cars, I knew it was more than that. I was stopped near an emergency access point for about five light cycles. I had more than enough time to contemplate turning around. The road home was still relatively clear, and I knew if I hurried, I could make it back. But I couldn’t just leave my husband. Finally, at the sixth light cycle, I was the lucky car that made it through. I had crossed the Rubicon. It was Metro Station or bust.

I took solace in the fact that it was still light out—perpetual winter twilight, but light nonetheless. I estimated I’d be home within the next two hours, and I thought about decedent and calorific foods I could eat to reward myself for this nightmare. It helped for a while.

My husband sent me a text. “Phone battery down to eight percent. Going to find other place to wait.”

That was it. My overactive writer’s brain swirled with possibilities of all the sinister things that could possibly happen to him. I’d been to the Metro stop plenty of times, but I never paid much attention to what buildings were immediately nearby. It was around this time that I saw the first Pedestrian. His dress slacks looked ridiculous in the weather. The heavy snow has turned to slush that soaked into his shoes and cuffs. He held a laptop case above his head as a defense against the wet snow. I almost opened my window to ask him where he was coming from, and what was so bad that he had decided to walk, but I thought that would be ridiculous. So I turned back to my windshield.

By now I had turned down my heater and turned off the radio. Paranoia had slipped in as I watched my gas tank continue to dwindle. I have always been paranoid about running out of gas, and I had thought three quarters of a tank was more than enough to drive the twenty-two miles to the Metro stop. But now I second guessed myself. I knew there was a gas station just up the road, but at this rate it could be hours before I arrived. I took an inventory of useful items in my car: two large blankets covered in dog hair; a snow shovel; three-quarters of a bag of kitty litter; snow boots; two pairs of gloves; an extra hat; a tin of mints.

The tinges of panic were still there, and I quelled them for a bit by watching my windshield. The wiper blades pushed the slush to the sides of my window, where it compacted and hung off the side of my windshield until it fell onto my side-view mirror. I wasn’t going anywhere, and it wasn’t like I needed the side-view mirrors to see anything except an endless line of idling cars. Still, it was something I could do. Action I could take. I put on my waterproof gloves, took my ice scraper, and got out of the car to clear off the window.

A man in a big-rig to my left stepped out of the car. He was lonely and wanted to talk.

“Where you headed?” he asked.

I told him.

“The metro?” he pondered as if he were a parent deciding whether to give his child permission to do something. “You’d best just find a hotel somewhere and hunker down for the night. You shouldn’t be out driving in this alone. Other truckers have been saying there are at least twenty-five abandoned cars along the road between here and the beltway.”

“Why are there abandoned cars?”

“It’s a mess out there. People rather abandon them than drive.”

“Alright,” I said, trembling. I climbed back into my car. Already, my work on the windshield had become pointless. The heavy snow had already started clinging again. My mind went wild, imagining pictures of cars in ten-foot snowdrifts, their owners disappearing forever into the snowy wilderness. I imagined roads so bad that people would have to abandon their cars and seek shelter.

After a self-indulgent terror, I realized I hadn’t moved for a really long time. I looked ahead of me. That car from Louisiana was the first car stopped at the traffic light. But each time the light turned green, he fishtailed in place. He was going nowhere.

I gave myself a metaphorical slap in the face. There were no ten-foot snowdrifts here. There was a six-inch layer of wet slush, but that was it. I had grown up in Connecticut. I had treaded through waist-high snow before. This couldn’t scare me. I expelled my fears and stepped out of the car, armed with a shovel. I knocked on the door of the Louisiana car.

A young man with a pale look of panic rolled down his window. “I don’t know what’s wrong,” he said.

“Have you ever driven in snow?” I asked.


I explained the basics. He had been slamming on his accelerator as a way of building up momentum, but all it was doing was causing him to spin out of control. Then I shoveled out the slush around his tires.

“Slowly, now,” I reminded him.

I watched as he pulled away and made it through the next green light. I walked back to my car. The panic was gone. Things were going to be okay. As I continued on toward the Metro, I saw some of the abandoned cars the truck driver had told me about. Some of them were abandoned in the middle of the three-lane road without any effort to be pushed to the side. What had happened to the drivers? Had they run out of gas? Had they, like the Louisiana driver, been unable to move in the slush and given up?

Whatever the reason, their abandoned vehicles made navigation a challenge. But I was no longer worried. I was from Connecticut. I knew how to drive in the snow. I could help others. I would get to the Metro.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Silver Lining

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Posted by on January 19, 2012 in musings


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The Great Snow Nightmare (Part 1)

As we’re all enjoying unseasonably beautiful weather, I can’t help but think back to nearly a year ago, when the weather was just the opposite. It was January, and I was stuck for hours in a snowy traffic jam on my way to pick up my husband during an evening I thought would never end. But like most adversity, this story also has a silver lining. So here it is, in three parts, the tale of The Great Snow Nightmare…

Part I: The Nightmare Begins

It’s been almost a year since the most ridiculous traffic jam I’ve ever experienced. It was our only real snowstorm of the year, and by Connecticut standards (where I grew up) it was hardly even a storm. Still, it was predicted that the storm would come during rush hour, and my husband was at work in the city.

I don’t even remember now why I was home. We either had the day off from school, or maybe we were released early. All I remember is it was between two and three in the afternoon, and I was sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of hot chocolate that was too hot to drink. I had just cleared out our garage—a “two” car garage that fits two cars if one has a degree in physics to figure out how to park them.

I had called my husband earlier, asking him to come home early because of the impending snow, but his boss followed the federal government’s brilliance in allowing  one-hour early dismissal from work. (I will stay my fingers not to go onto a tangent-rant about putting faith in bureaucracy. Stay, fingers, stay!)

But I was sitting waiting for my hot chocolate to cool and watching the radar map on my computer when I realized that if my husband left when he was allowed to, he would be stuck on a commuter bus for hours. So I called him, told him to get to the closest metro stop (still twenty miles from our house, but at least out of the city), and I’d pick him up.

It was a moment of decisiveness, and I didn’t hesitate. I packed boots, snow shovel, winter gear, and kitty litter. I left my hot chocolate on the table. I pulled out of my beautifully-sparse garage. I was off just as the first few flakes of snow floated like dandruff onto my windshield.

Growing up in Connecticut, I knew how to drive in snow. I drove cautiously but decisively. I drove well below the speed limit, but I still passed almost every car on the road. I knew I was racing a ticking time bomb, and I knew it would be close. I watched the familiar landmarks fly by. Five, ten, fifteen miles. I watched the snow turn heavy and wet and cling to street signs and traffic lights and license plates.

My husband called. He was at the metro stop waiting and wanted to know when I’d arrive. I was five miles away. I estimated ten minutes and turned on my GPS. It was around that time that the car in front of me—an out-of-state plate from Louisiana—fishtailed widely. I eased on the brakes. That’s when I saw the muted red brake lights like bricks in a wall insisting their scarlet hue through the tenacious wet snow.

Traffic was at a standstill.

Still, it was only 3.5 miles to my turn, and the metro stop was less than a mile from that turn. It was the busy section of Tyson’s Corner, and I assumed the backup was just due to the traffic lights. I called my husband.

“When will you be here?” he asked. “Still ten minutes?”

“No,” I said. “Make it twenty.”

I didn’t realize how wrong I was.

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon….

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Posted by on January 7, 2012 in musings


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You Can’t Cancel Christmas

For the first time ever this year, I was sick for Christmas. So sick, in fact, that I had to call off the celebration. Christmas is the time for sharing, but the fever/flu I had was something I’d rather keep to myself. It was a quiet Christmas, one I spent mostly in bed or on the couch. I don’t think I’ve ever watched the film A Christmas Story so many times before!

While I was sick, however, I decided to polish off some of my “to be read” list.  As an English teacher, I’m always reading (and re-reading) the titles I teach, so I have little time during the school year to read for pleasure. Being sick was a great opportunity to tackle my short stack of Christmas reading for the year. So now, feeling much less feverish, I thought I’d share what I read with you:

Sing We Now of Christmas by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

This is a romance book rated “3” on the “heat index.” I won a copy on a blog contest and wanted to save the story to read around Christmastime. The tale follows Jessica and Johnny, a married couple perfectly in love. But Johnny leaves for an early-morning fishing trip on the Fourth of July and never makes it back. A terrible storm passed over the lake as Johnny was fishing, and everyone presumes him to be dead. Everyone, that is, except for Jessica. Sticking to her hope to the point that everyone else thinks she is insane, Jessica refuses to believe that Johnny is gone, and she holds out hope that she will return for the holidays.

The plot has suspense built right in. As soon as Johnny disappears, the reader wishes for him to return. Flashbacks of Jessica’s first meeting with him allow the reader to feel how perfect their relationship is and increases the sense of urgency to get them back together. Happy flashbacks to their past relationship sprinkled throughout the story help to break up Jessica’s despair at not knowing what happened to Johnny or why he hasn’t made any attempt to contact her. As an author, I appreciated the way Murphy used different points of view to add information, increase dramatic irony, and build suspense. As the story unfolds, we are given more and more information to piece together the mystery. And as promised, the climax of the novel happens right during the holidays, making it an enjoyable read for this time of year.

As I sat curled up in bed listening to my husband cooking in the kitchen, the book helped me to remember what’s really important in life: not having beautifully-wrapped gifts or a perfect Christmas dinner—rather, having those we love the most right by our side.

Journey to Christmas Creek by Melinda Elmore

Earlier this year, author Melinda Elmore’s husband unexpectedly passed away. “Journey to Christmas Creek” is a story her husband used to tell their children, and Melinda wrote it down. DWB, Melinda’s publisher, decided to publish the story as a benefit to the Elmore family, helping them to cover final costs for their beloved. The short story is a fast but enjoyable read—it took me maybe thirty minutes to read it. The cover is wonderful, capturing the beauty of unadulterated nature while also paying tribute to Tommy Elmore.

The story is a coming-of-age tale following Spotted Buffalo, an adolescent determined to help his tribe find a new home and prove his manhood. It is the 1800s, and Spotted Buffalo’s tribe is making the slow trek to search for a better place to live. Eager to find a new home while the rest of the tribe is resting, Spotted Buffalo trusts that the Great Spirit will help him find the legendary Christmas Creek–but his sister, Gentle Tears, tags along for the ride. On their journey, Spotted Buffalo breaks his leg, and his sister must face terrifying dangers on her way back to find help.

This would be a great story to share with family during the holidays. It is a fast, enjoyable read that could easily become a Christmas tradition of its own.

Both stories stress the importance of family, and during this last week of 2011, I hope that you get to spend lots of time with yours. It doesn’t matter how sick you may be or what circumstances you may confront: as long as you have a loving family, you just can’t cancel Christmas.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.


Posted by on December 26, 2011 in book reviews, musings


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Featured Author: Debbie Roppolo

Welcome to my interview with Debbie Roppolo, author of Amelia Frump and her Peanut Butter Loving, Overactive Imagination The book has recently been released at Dancing With Bear Publishing.

Tell us about yourself: 
Thank you for having me, Valerie. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but when I was a child, I wanted to be a vet instead of a writer. Writing meant sitting still for long periods of time, and that was not something I cared to do at then.

The desire to become a vet was fueled by my love of animals–we had horses, cows, chickens, and at one time, a raccoon. In tenth grade, my career choice changed when we were required to dissect a bird in biology. I discovered, as did my lab partner, I couldn’t stand the sight of blood and guts.

My first story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul in 2005. Since then, my stories have been in magazines, newspapers, and in a few more of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

I’m also a field editor for Taste of Home magazine, and an award-winning baker.

Tell us about your book:
Amelia is a nine year old girl, and like most children her age, she has a very active imagination that sometimes gets her into trouble. One night, as the winds howl through the treetops, she sees a spooky, bony finger tapping on the glass outside her bedroom window. She must use her imagination to save herself, and avoid becoming the final ingredient in a “Grubby Sock Casserole.

What is your favorite character or element of Amelia Frump and her Peanut Butter Loving, Overactive Imagination? Why?
I like all the characters in the story, but Amelia is my favorite. Her personality was based on my own, as a child. Like Amelia, I was a sassy, adventurous girl who enjoyed “thinking outside the box”. Instead of playing Barbie, there were tea parties with my ponies or chickens, and Bantam hens wore the latest in doll clothes fashion.

I too, was not a very neat child, and my favorite method of cleaning my room was sweeping everything under my bed. I also had a mischievous streak that would have made June Cleaver reach for a rum bottle, and it seemed (at the time) it was my goal to make my mother gray-headed before she was forty.

What book or author has been most inspirational for you, and why?
There have been so many books I’ve found to be motivational, but some of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books inspire me the most. Each collection has true stories of overcoming obstacles, joy, and dealing with grief, and the reader can gain wisdom from the contributor’s experiences.

If you were to be stranded on a desert island, what non-survival-related item would you bring along that you couldn’t live without?
I would probably go nuts if I couldn’t work on story ideas, so I’d have to bring my laptop and a battery rechargeable with solar power.

Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
I’m working on a children’s book that’s about a boy whose brother has autism.

When a child in a family is diagnosed, the parents are occupied with scheduling therapy sessions (occupational, speech, and others), and dealing with the emotional turmoil following the diagnosis. As a result, siblings may feel forgotten, and try to cope with their emotions by themselves. This book is about a boy, and his own journey through his brother’s autism.

What question do you wish I had asked?
You asked them all. Thank you so much for having me!

Finally, where can we find you?


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Posted by on December 18, 2011 in interview, writing


Finding Home Anthology Now Available

I’m pleased to announce that Finding Home: Community in Apocalyptic Worlds is now available at with Timid Pirate Publishing.

My story, “The Girl with Sunrise in Her Hair,” is about a girl’s struggle to find peace and community in a land controlled by a dictator who has declared himself emperor of the remaining world: When the apocalypse comes, a power-hungry man with knowledge of the end has saved a portion of the world from destruction–to serve his own ends. Only Sonja seems to retain her will to think on her own and stand up to the control the emperor asserts over everyone else… until she finds out that she has company.

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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Uncategorized


DWB Christmas Contest!

Wondering what this is all about? DWB Publishing is announcing its Christmas Contest. For details, listen in at–host-marsha-cook this Friday at 2 p.m. Find out how you can win!

Also, now that you’ve found this picture, you’ll need a phrase to go with it: <<<Merry Christmas to All!>>>

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Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Uncategorized