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Castle Gate Press

Today Writer Wednesday features tips on finding new reads from the founders of a new enterprise: Castle Gate Press.

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How do you find new books you want to read?

Somewhere out there is a new author you’ll love, you can depend on that.  But with 600,000 to one million titles published just in the U.S. every year these days, how do you find him or her?

I’ve got some ideas. There’s the obvious: we all take recommendations from people we know very seriously.

Possibly less obvious: Amazon lists books that were bought together with you are looking at. So, locate a book you like on Amazon and scroll down to “Customers who bought this item also bought…” This can be a great way to locate authors who write similar books to one you like.

You can get active on, a huge site that brings readers together and encourages us to write reviews and recommend books for each other.  Another site to check out: .

What about all those author voices on the Internet? Hundreds of thousands of authors are out to get your attention for their books. But who do you take seriously? You can locate a favorite author and follow his or her Facebook page to learn more and meet others. You may find new authors this way too.

Oftentimes, publishers will target a particular reader niche or genre. Authors who’ve been published by a third party have had their work evaluated and found good, as opposed to self-published authors who sometimes skip some editing steps. You may be able to identify a publisher who turns out the kind of books you like, and you can read a variety of authors from there with confidence. – Phyllis Wheeler


Castle Gate Press is a new independent publishing company focusing clean fiction with a touch of the fantastic. You’ll find engaging characters, twisty plots, and something odd going on: time travel, science experiments gone weird, supernatural beings, a bit of fantasy, or whatever. It’s run by a couple of homeschooling mom veterans, Suzanne Hartmann and Phyllis Wheeler, who both love reading and writing fiction with a touch of the fantastic, and who love editing too.

While Castle Gate Press’s books won’t be available until next year, you can find flash fiction, photo caption challenges, and other reader-oriented items on Fridays on its blog. Go ahead and sign up to have blog posts emailed to you, and you’ll always know the latest news!



All Tidied Up

Their ancestors worked. They started as a pair of poles with rags meant to flap in the breeze. And scare away birds from the garden or field.

You don’t see many of them at work today. Occasionally you will find a descendent in the form of light silver disks on a wire. I’m not sure how effective they are. Do they really keep the birds away from the berries long enough for the humans to harvest ripe ones?

This trio – I’m thinking papa and two kids — furnish a bright spot in the neighborhood. They signal an owner fond of Halloween. Come — ring my doorbell on October 31. Wear a costume. Tell a joke. Smile. Remember to say “Thank You” as you skip off to the next door with a porch light turned on.

No Flappy Clothes
No Flappy Clothes

Return tomorrow for Writer Wednesday — An introduction to Castle Gate Press


October Color

Colors of the harvest. The mature greens. Bright yellows. Deep reds.

Don’t forget orange!

You see them first at the supermarkets these days. Unless you planted a vine or two in your garden. (I hope it’s larger than mine. One vine of this would run over my entire plot.)

This native North American provides color and nutrition to the diet. Plus the entertainment and artistic expression for All Hallows Eve. (Pardon me — Halloween.)

I like mine as pie. I especially enjoy the story of some of the early colonists efforts. Take one pumpkin, cut it to make a deep dish out of the bottom. Remove seeds and pulp. Sprinkle with sweet – honey? maple syrup? expensive imported sugar? — bake. Ala! Pumpkin pie served in the shell. No crust mess. No pie plate.

Actually — I follow a recipe from my mother. She used a pie plate. And a single pastry crust. And she added eggs, sugar, and spices to pre-cooked pumpkin. (Usually from a can.) Mmmm.


Starr Tree Farm, a fictional Wisconsin farm, raises five acres of pumpkins as well as Christmas Trees. Read more on the Starr Tree Farm page. Order electronic book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.



Above the Fog

Writer Wednesday has returned!

Our guest today is Christian author Donna Benson.  As a critique partner, Donna has borne with me during those drafts that need to come out of the fog and receive a polish.

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In our recent travels, we’ve encountered fog in many areas around the country. It’s not pleasant to drive through this heavy mist because it obscures your vision. We can’t see the scenery or traffic ahead. Year after year, many are hurt in auto or truck accidents because they can’t see far enough ahead to see the dangers. So I slow down, turn on the fog lights, and pray.

As I thought about the fog, I realized many walk around in a spiritual fog. They run through life at full speed oblivious to anything going on around them. Their vision is not clear, they can’t see ahead. Many times they never see road blocks in time to stop, drive over or around them, or make quick changes in direction causing someone else to crash. There may be times our quick maneuvers work out, but more often than not it causes a crash in their life. I admit I’ve been in the fog many times, rushing along without a care in the world or only seeing a small distance, only to come to a screeching halt. I simply can’t see well enough to understand what’s truly happening.

I believe God puts fog, road blocks, or closed doors in our path to get our attention when we’re headed the wrong direction. When I’ve reached a closed door or road block, I’ve had two very different reactions. In my younger years, anger or frustration topped the list. My usual question being, ‘Why God?’ As I’ve grown older, (both in years and spiritual growth) I’ve come to understand God places fog, road blocks or closed doors for my good. They help me slow down, take notice, step back and look at the whole picture. This allows me to avoid pain, suffering, stupid decisions, or consequences I wouldn’t like.

God’s love is greater than we’ll ever know. He wants great things in our life. He wants joy and happiness to be the norm not the rare exception for each of us. Accepting the road blocks is part of accepting God’s love. It’s acknowledging He knows what’s best for us…better than we know ourselves. If we’ll follow His lead, guidance, and direction, we can rise above the fog and live in the sunshine.

002_Donna_B (2)


The Entertainer

Entertain = to amuse, divert attention.

No top hat or cane required for this master of the entertainment art.

As a solo act he’s amusing. Add a few of his friends and it gets hilarious.

They are at their seasonal best on a sunny day. Playing tag. Defending territory. Protecting their mate. Balance and acrobatics are a forte.

One winter a neighbor tried to be kind to the birds with a feeder of assorted seed. Not long after she filled it our little entertainer set about thievery. He stretched. He twisted and turned. He defied gravity – or it seemed that way – until both cheeks were stuffed full of birdseed. Then he gracefully dropped to the ground, glanced around for predators, and scampered away up the closest tree.

Some claim he’s a pest. And I agree that he and his friends can do damage when they attack man-made structures (ie. your attic). But as for me — I’ll continue to enjoy their vigorous activity from my side of the window. Or their clever way of crossing busy streets – think high wire act – during my neighborhood walks.

Thief? Entertainer? Acrobat?
Thief? Entertainer? Acrobat?


Writer Wednesday returns tomorrow!  Visit again for thoughts from Christian writer Donna Benson.


Harvest Tradition

Autumn is a busy time on a farm. The small dairy farm where I grew up was no exception.

The beginning of the school year (last week of August, usually) did not change the rhythm of work, but it did influence the ratio of youth and adult labor for some tasks.

The garden produced a final push of items to be dug, picked, and then stored in cool, dry places or processed in quart jars. Fields of corn were drying, the kernels drawing moisture from stalk and leaves before hardening inside the husk.

On a pleasant day during this time, my parents would discuss, plan, and take us on a trip to the orchard. In our region this meant apples. Exactly which orchard depended on which variety of apples each offered. Distance from home was also a consideration, but dad was willing to drive more than a few miles.

We didn’t “pick your own” although some of the locations may have offered the options. I remember walking into the storage shed with baskets and baskets of red and green apples lining the aisles. Their sweet and tart aromas filled the senses and begged for a sample of each.

Wealthy. McIntosh. Jonathan. Red Delicious. Northwest Greening.

Do they keep well? Do they make good pie? Are they an eating apple?

Mother asked the questions if the varieties were new to her. Selections were made. One bushel of those. Another bushel of that one. Just a peck if we were uncertain. And a gallon of cider if it was available.

Fond memories. A good family outing with delicious results sprinkled through the months in cobblers, applesauce, and pie.   Mmmmmmmm.

Fresh and Tasty
Fresh and Tasty

Autumn Buffet

Harvest time!

To this rural girl it brings images of corn fields turning yellow and dry, waiting for the picker. Squash and pumpkins lay at opposite ends of a large garden. Potatoes wait to be dug under dry and shriveled plants. Onions are pulled from the ground and their long hollow leaves braided together.

If the weather had been right, and dad talked to the owners, we gathered nuts. We’d carry, or drag, burlap sacks and collect dark butternuts from the ground. (Yes, I’m aware butternuts to not grow everywhere. Other places it would be walnuts or hickory nuts that were valued.)

We weren’t the only creatures that collected a harvest. Generations of forest creatures collect and store nuts and fruits for weeks of cold winter. They come in different shapes and sizes but one of the most prevalent (and cutest) is the squirrel. Some fall days the oak tree on my lawn is as busy as a hotel at high season.

Nature spreads this fall buffet on my walking route – where the mature trees drop their fruits to share.

Acorns for All!
Acorns for All!

Working Wheel

Our vacation went full circle.

Our first major tourist stop – along the Brandywine – found an echo in our final sightseeing venture.

While the factories in Delaware used water power to perform a variety of tasks, the place that we visited spun cotton into thread and ground saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal into black powder. Informational signs mentioned in passing other common uses.

We found an example in Ohio, Carillon Historical Park to be specific. Here waterpower is demonstrated in a centuries old task — grinding grain into flour.

On display in Dayton
On display in Dayton

Our time at this historical park was short — that’s the only negative thing to say about our visit.

Vacation ended. Is that the only negative thing to say of our twelve states in ten days? Shhh. I traveled with a sibling. We both returned in good health. What more can you expect?

Memories and photos will be tucked into storage in brain and computer. Snippets and slivers will be pulled forward and examined from time to time. Until the next vacation trip.


Waiting to Play

Toys come in all shapes, sizes, and prices.

Water toys are no exception.

On our recent vacation my brother and I waited for a shuttle bus to take us to another portion of a historic estate. He picked up two maple leaves, pointed at the millrace beside us and offered a challenge. I declined on this day but understood well his offer of a boat race.

Going up the economic scale from leaves we quickly pass scrap lumber rafts and plastic bathtub boats. Model boats on a string give way to those with radio control. Generic boat yield to yachts, sloops, accurate navy models.

Then childhood passes. Graduation ceremonies and birthdays declare us adults. Yet our love of play continues. We confine it by hours or days, pour our energy into scant time in a grown-up version of childhood pleasure.

Waiting for the Weekend. When the bankers, lawyers, and brokers come out to play.
Waiting for the Weekend.
When the bankers, lawyers, and brokers come out to play.

Historical Tale

It was a dark and stormy night.

No! Actually it was a foggy, misty morning on Lake Champlain.

The British navy sought American vessels to sink. This was during the War of 1812, long before radar. (I’m not sure how effective radar would show wooden ships. Perhaps if they had a copper sheathed hull???) The English naval officer spied it. Can you picture him, looking through his glass as the mist hangs heavy over the surface of the lake? It’s the proper size. The shape is obscured by the fog. Best to strike first.

He orders the guns to fire a salvo. The shots fly out. Smoke from the cannonade is added to the mist.

No response from the “American ship”. The officer checks his glass again. The enemy has not moved. It’s not afire. They adjust sail to come closer.

"The Enemy" We've neutralized the rock, Captain.
“The Enemy”
We’ve neutralized the rock, Captain.