A Common Dandy

We call it a weed. And more than one lawn owner has added a few colorful adjectives before they get to the common name, dandelion.

Two features listed in the botany books explain a lot about it’s survival – perennial and tap root. The number of seeds produced and their dispersal by the wind insure a new generation to join the previous each year.

Children find several uses for them. My peers and I would pick the yellow blossom, and when mother turned it down as a gift we’d hold it under a person’s chin in good light to see if they “liked butter”. A yellow reflection confirmed their words. We also practiced braiding if the stems were long or pinched off the blossoms and formed each stem into a “link” for a chain necklace. And of course when the puff-balls became available we had all sorts of tests of our abilities.

Adults use the plant also. When young, the leaves can be used in salads or cooked for greens. They are rich in vitamins but get them young or a bitter taste will prevail. The blossom can be made into wine. The root makes a caffeine-free coffee. And bees process the pollen and nectar into honey.

A pest. A challenge. A lesson in persistence and versatility.

Behold! The Dandelion
The Dandelion

Finding a Hero

Today Writer Wednesday is privileged to welcome Barbara Bettis. Barbara’s debut novel is Silverhawk, currently an exclusive on Amazon.

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Recently, several members of one of my writing groups were talking about how we came up with ideas for our stories. Almost everyone had different methods or at least variations on different methods. Characters came first to some, plots to others. A few envisioned scenes that spun into story lines later.

When I tried to isolate how the idea for my debut novel came along, I realized Giles and Emelin’s story combined a couple of those ways. But it all began in research.

I’d been gathering information about King Richard I (the Lionheart) because my first book began with his return to England after his release from captivity in February 1194. The name of Mercadier kept popping up as a sort of right hand man to Richard in his wars. Mercadier was a mercenary.

A mercenary usually was a knight who didn’t have land and who had to find a way to, in simple terms, make a living. He usually fought in the hope of winning land and riches and even a wife. Later in the Middle Ages, some might follow the tournament circuit in hopes of accumulating enough coin to buy property. Either way, they led hard, sometimes brutal, lives.

The ones who hired themselves out as private soldiers, so to speak, were fiercesome warriors because they had to be or they’d die. Mercenaries weren’t particularly popular men, according to many sources. There are accounts of bands of these knights that were basically outlaws—thieving, raping and murdering. Not all were like that, however. Many more were simply soldiers in an army.

When I thought about what kind of lives they led, I began to wonder: What would it be like for one who wasn’t one of the renegades? It must be a lonely life at times, avoided by regular people out of fear or mistrust.

I “saw” in my mind the figure of a mercenary knight mounted on his horse, sitting in the middle of an empty circle in at the edge of a village, while on-lookers threw him suspicious, fearful, even threatening glares, but who would have nothing to do with him.

I felt so sorry for him. He wanted to be accepted, he wanted to be loved, but because of his profession, because of his past, he knew he never would.

Sir Giles evolved from there. I made him a trusted friend and captain of Mercadier’s, and as such, trusted by the king. But then, he needed a mission—a goal, a motivation. He needed a woman who would love him and that he could love. But their romance couldn’t be too easy.

I really enjoyed working out their combined paths.

How do your story ideas come to you?

(*Caveat: The discussion here is summarized and simplified and not meant to be an exhaustive, academic study of mercenaries. By the way, according to the website, our term ‘freelance’ came from Sir Walter Scott’s use of it to refer to medieval mercenaries in his book IVANHOE (1820).)

Silverhawk No. 1 100Barb-4










About Silverhawk:

He’s everything a proper lady should never want; she’s everything a bastard mercenary can never have.

Sir Giles has come to England to kill his father, who seduced and betrayed his mother. First, however, he’ll seek sweet revenge—kidnap the old lord’s new betrothed. But when Giles uncovers a plot against King Richard, he faces a dilemma: take the lady or track the traitors. What’s a good mercenary to do? Both, of course.

Lady Emelin has had enough. Abandoned in a convent by her brother, she finally has a chance for home and family. Yet now she’s been abducted. Her kidnapper may be the image of her dream knight, but she won’t allow him to spoil this betrothal. Her only solution: escape

Rescuing the intrepid lady—while hunting traitors—is a challenge Giles couldn’t anticipate.  But the greatest challenge to Giles and Emelin is the fire blazing between them. For he’s everything a proper lady should never want, and she’s everything a bastard mercenary can never have.

The buy link for Amazon:

The book will be in wide release in November.




Chew Toy Deluxe

Every puppy needs a chew toy. Or two. Or three.

It only stands to reason then that special puppies need special toys.

On previous trips to the zoo these animals were too busy sleeping in the shade to bother with toys, each other, or the humans that pass in parade. Growing bodies need sleep. Cicadaian rhythm favors night – cooler, less crowded on the hunting ground.

Imagine my delight on this recent visit when they did “come out to play”. (Modification of St. Louis Zoo’s popular – Can you come out and play? – on promotional materials.)

Hyena with Industrial Strength Chew Toy
Hyena with Industrial Strength Chew Toy

Will they devour the bones after practicing on plastic? Do they laugh at the whimpy models?


Claiming Space

Cirsium vulgare.

Even this non-student of Latin can shudder at this name. Webster defines vulgar as common, lacking in refinement or good taste.

The name fits the plant. All of my life I’ve been avoiding close contact when possible. Yes, the blossom is a pretty purple. And one plant standing alone can be majestic in an artistic sort of way.

Survival is their goal and I’ll give them high marks. You can mow or chop them down and before long they are back. As big and bold as before. They are impossible to grasp with your hand – sturdy leather gloves help – but then you have the taproot to deal with.

I’ll continue my avoidance plan. And with their common name – also one that conjures an unpleasant image.





To Conference or Not to Conference? That is the question.

Today we welcome Michelle Sharp to Writer Wednesday. Michelle is a new voice in romantic suspense. Today she presents her thoughts about writing conferences. Note: begin saving pennies now.

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Can I really afford to go to the RWA National Convention? Being relatively new on the romance writing scene, you can bet I’ve asked myself this very question.

Let’s face it, money is tight these days and how a writer chooses to invest in their journey is a very personal decision, but I can give you a few of my thoughts as to why I went to the national convention this year, and why I’m so glad that I did.

Atlanta 2013 was my second National Convention. I’ve been a member of RWA and MORWA (Missouri Romance Writers of America) for a few years. I consider my writing career as a business I’m trying to launch. I also have a son going to college in a couple years, so yes, money matters. I think any good business owner would tell you, in order to be successful, you must invest a bit on the front end. Although not cheap, I think the RWA National Convention is a good investment for anyone seriously pursuing romance publication. Here’s why:

Number 1.  Workshops . . .workshops . . . and more workshops. Okay I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to writing classes and workshops. I love learning anything and everything about writing, but even if I didn’t love it, I’d still go.

Why? Because we all have that first manuscript sitting around, don’t we? The disastrous one where you head hopped so much even you became confused. The nightmare where she said ended every line of dialogue. The sex scene so mechanical—insert body part A into slot B—you’d die if your critique partners got a hold of it. Okay, maybe those issues were mostly just mine, but the point is, my writing is a galaxy away from where it started. This is mostly due to workshops and classes I’ve taken through RWA.

I understand you may not be able to fix a manuscript in a one hour workshop, but you will be exposed to a huge variety of learning opportunities. If one of those opportunities happens to touch off an “ah-ha” moment on how to improve your book, (which did happen for me) then the price of the trip feels a little more palatable. Plus, if you love a presenter’s teaching style, take Margie Lawson or Michael Hague for example, often they will offer on-line classes or workshops where you can focus more deeply on a particular aspect of writing.

Number 2.  Editor and agent appointments. If you’ve completed a manuscript, maybe even finaled in some contests, and you’re ready to send your baby out into the real world, the RWA National convention is a good place to jump in. There are huge numbers of editors and agents looking for new talent. While RWA only allows an attendee to make an advanced appointment for one editor and one agent, you can often pick up more appointments by being diligent and patiently waiting for more appointments to become available. Or, you can give all the other vultures in the room the stink eye and make sure you pounce first on the poor volunteer unfortunate enough to be assigned to the editor/agent room. Either road you take, your chances of getting more appointments are good. My critique partners walked away with several requests for partials and fulls this year from a variety of agent and editors.

Number 3.  Support and inspiration. I’m not sure if the inspiration factor is as huge for everyone as it is for me, but I often weigh my need to write against the hardships it puts on my family. Spend your time working a real job with a steady paycheck, says the devil on my shoulder. Your minivan is approaching 100,000 miles… Your son is going to college in a couple years…

Many, many of us have families and financial obligations. I’m probably not the only one who hears the whisper of doubt. But for me, the national convention is like coming home after a long stay on a foreign planet. Nothing recharges my batteries or refocuses my writing goals like being surrounded by a couple thousand other writers. I’m blown away by the extraordinary group of people that come together to genuinely support each other.

I’ve always felt this support within my local MORWA chapter. We have a crazy talented and generous group of writers here in the Midwest—just sayin. But this year at nationals, inspiration was everywhere. And I’m not talking about a group of unpublished authors cheering each other on as we go for the brass ring. I’m talking about the rock stars of our industry who show up and keep encouraging those of us still trying to make it. In what other industry do you find that kind of support?

In Cathy Maxwell’s keynote speech she reminded us how important it is to have faith in ourselves, that we must believe we are good enough. At the Golden Heart and Rita Awards, Christie Craig joked about all the different types of rejection letters she has received over the years, but her message was clear: Even the best writers in our industry have wrestled with rejection—you must be persistent to persevere.

I laughed and then cried with 2,000 other writers as Kristan Higgins spoke about her journey as a writer. Her speech was just as dynamic and touching as her books. She drove home for me an important truth that I sometimes lose track of in the midst of all the workshops and critiques and rejections. People love romance stories. I love romance stories.

Perhaps our books have little impact in the grand scheme, but sometimes our stories hold an escape or an inspiration for someone in a bad place. I like the idea of entertaining, but I love the possibility of my stories helping someone.

Can you benefit from the convention without actually going? Sure. If you’re a member of RWA, log in and look through the selection of workshop recordings available. It doesn’t get any better than attending a workshop while lounging on your couch wearing your jammies.

So next year when I’m asking myself if I can really afford to go to nationals, the better question might be, can I really afford not to?


Michelle Sharp is a member of  RWA, MORWA (Missouri Romance Writers of America), and Kiss of Death Chapters. She writes romantic suspense, and recently received her first contract offer for the The Dreamer Series. For more information or to contact her, check out her website at


Setting the Table

A chore for a child. Or a task for the most particular of hostesses.

A person might run out of numbers if they tried to count the number of times I’ve heard or uttered the phrase “set the table”. When I was a child, it was one of my regular chores. Since I was both the youngest child and the only girl it may have fallen to me more often than others in our family.

When I became a mother I taught the task to my sons. Like many children, they needed prodding and reminding. But as they got a little older they became more interested – especially for a holiday or special dinner.

Through the years I’ve gazed at many magazine photos and visited several historical homes where a table was set for a formal meal. This summer I found something new. The table shown below is from a home in Missouri, a French village settled early. This home was built later than some, 1818.

Can you spot what makes this place setting different?

Note the spoons in this French style setting.
Note the spoons in this French style setting.

Return for Writer Wednesday tomorrow. Our guest this week will be Michelle Sharp, a new author of romantic suspense.


First Wages

Do you remember your first job? Where you got actual wages, not a “Thank you” from the neighbor.

Mine was in the summer. It was a “kids” job. But that was fine with me. At age eleven or twelve I was a kid. And I would be part of the crew.

The threshing crew, men and boys I was acquainted with worked the grain harvest. On our farms that was oats. One farmer owned the machine and moved it from farm to farm. All the farmers on the “run” supplied labor for all of the locations. And everyone prayed the harvest would be done before school started in the last days of August. Young men, high school or college did a man’s work for a man’s wage on the crew.

My job was easy. I stayed with the machine and tended the grain wagon. Let me digress for my urban friends. At one end of the threshing machine bundles of grain were forked onto a conveyer and carried inside. Much shaking and cutting and sorting went on behind the metal panels and moving belts. Then the straw was blown out a big, long chute into a large pile. The grain (seeds) came out a smaller chute on the side, released each time enough weight accumulated to trip a lever and send it down.

My job was to aim the grain chute an distribute the grain over the entire container. Our crew alternated a pick-up truck and a narrow, deep, wooden grain wagon.  I did my job adequate but not spectacular.

The next year I was given a different job – driving tractor. I got more hours that year because I worked at all the farms, not just our own. Wages remained the same. Forty cents per hour.

What about your first job? Indoors or outside? For family or others?


How Teaching is like Writing a Book

Today we welcome Chris Cannon to Writer Wednesday.  Sit down with your favorite beverage and enjoy her comparison of teaching and writing.

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For most Americans, August means back to school time.

I love the start of a new school year, because it’s a new beginning, a chance to improve on what you taught the year before. All summer long, teachers hit garage sales and craft stores picking up new treasures to share with their kids. They are sure these new or gently used toys, games, and science projects will motivate all the kids and keep them on task. And it will work, until about October when candy season kicks in which is followed by turkey coma season and culminates in Christmas cookie eating and present opening extravaganza.

Then it’s January. The no man’s land of teaching. The kids are back, but they are mourning Christmas break (and the teachers are too) and there isn’t another respite until spring. And then the gift of all gifts occurs: a snow day. Teachers and students rejoice in the day of unexpected freedom. If you are a teacher, this is a day where you stay in your pajamas, drink hot cocoa and read a good book. And you might also call your friends who chose professions that are held in higher regard and pay much more money than teaching so you can tell them how you’re spending your day.

Once winter passes, kids and teachers hold out for Spring break when they can enjoy the warm weather. Once the break is over, the marathon run until summer begins. The nicer the weather is, the harder it is for students to pay attention. Not that it’s there fault. People seem to be biologically wired to crave sunshine and fresh air.

Once May hits, the count down to freedom begins. There isn’t a teachers’ lounge across the land that doesn’t have a countdown calendar, which all the teachers stare at longingly on their lunch breaks.  When the last day hits, everyone rejoices, because it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work for both the teachers and the students.

The school year is kind of like writing a book. You start out with plans (a plot) and a grand idea of how things will turn out (the end).  Then you start working with characters and coaxing them toward a goal. Sometimes the words come easy and sometimes you have to bribe your muse with chocolate and sparkly notebooks. If you stick with it, and reach the end of the book, there is a great sense of accomplishment.

Chris Cannon’s young adult paranormal novel, Going Down In Flames comes out in January 2014. You can check out her blog at


Midwest Birthday

How do you celebrate a birthday for an entire community?

Party? Parade? Baseball?

All of the above.

My home town, the inspiration for Crystal Springs, had a grand birthday party a few years ago. They’ve done this before – for a centennial. In a series of decisions after that success event an annual summer festival with baseball, beer, and music blossomed. (This is Wisconsin – any party involves beer.) Every twenty-five years they expand the weekend to include a parade. And in honor of 150 years since the first permanent structures/founding of the village they added an All School Reunion.

The weather cooperated with sunshine. A lower concentration of dairy farmers enabled an early evening parade. (The marchers/walkers/horses thank the committee for this idea.) Spectators lined all of Main Street, cheered as the lead unit approached, and then stood to honor the flag.

American Legion Post heads small town parade.
American Legion Post heads small town parade.

A Place to Shine

I made it!  My roots spread out in the northern Midwest soil and fed me. I stretched and grew and healed from the shearing machete.  I stood tall and proud with my pine companions of several years. I was taller than the humans walking down our rows.

They tagged me. Yes, it seems a small gesture. But it marked me for the cutter. Moved me one step closer to my ultimate goal.

The saw came. I went numb. Pulled, dragged, tossed onto a truck I nestled with my field mates. We were literally carried away, forced into a different pile, and received a protective net. Then a larger truck and a longer journey.

Cool air, the almost frosty nights, gave way to milder temperatures. I sure could use a drink. Mile after mile the flat bed semi carried hundreds of us. The top layer received a little rain. I enjoyed the moister air and a few drops trickling down.

Humans unload us. Give us another sort and count. Then on a sunny November morning I get my chance. I’m set upright and cut out of my netting. I stretch my limbs. Do you see how pretty I am? Check out my fine shape.

Shoppers look, take some of my companions away. No need to worry. A few cool nights later and December begins. I refuse to shiver under the string of lights at the perimeter of our lot.

She picked me! I’m clothed in net again, perched on the roof of a sedan, and carried off to a modest house. It’s all I ever wanted. I’m going to be a real Christmas tree!

Waiting for the Final Touch
Waiting for the Final Touch

Starr Tree Farm is now available wherever fine ebooks are sold.