Monthly Archives: February 2014

Guest Blogger – Linda S. Johnston

1121MayCottage                                   Back in Broadstairs

The train tried to rock me to sleep but I resisted.  We had started the day in Bunratty, County Clare, Ireland, and were now on our to Broadstairs, England, a place I knew of only from my mother’s stories and a faded, red, fifty-eight-year-old tour book.  Too excited to doze, I watched as the green fields of Kent came into sight.


My husband, Clay, and I had been hiking in Ireland for ten days that fall of 2010 and added this side trip in memory of my mother who had died the year before. In 1952, she had come to England, toddler son in tow, on a military transport plane full of other dependents, to join my father.  He was stationed at an air base near Broadstairs a small town that hugged the chalk cliffs of the southeast coast. I was born near there the following year. Growing up, I remember my mom talking about her experiences, the anecdotes always ending with the fact that on a clear day she could see across the English Channel to France.  That made quite an impression on her. What an adventure it must have been – this place a world away from the Mississippi farm where she grew up.


Once the train pulled into Broadstairs, Clay and I took a cab to the Royal Albion, a hotel that had been advertised on the pages of the old tour book I had looked through so many times growing up.  The quaint building had kept vigil over Viking Bay since 1776 and had housed the likes of Charles Dickens who often stayed there on extended writing trips.  Oscar Wilde checked in occasionally.  The North Foreland lighthouse, easily seen from the hotel, is thought to have been the inspiration for the title of Wilkie Collins’ famous detective novel, “The Woman in White.”


After settling in we made our way down to the beach where bright, jelly bean-colored cabanas had been buttoned up for the season.  Like the waves coming onto the sand, I felt emotion wash over me as I thought about my mom.  I could see why the place had captivated her.  I turned slowly, taking in the scene.  I wanted to absorb everything about the place at that moment—the charming old hotels that sat like sentinels at the top of the cliffs, the blue and white rowboats that rested against the boathouse, and of course, the view across the Channel.


The next morning after a full English breakfast to fuel our exploits, Clay and I headed for number three Shutler Road, my first home.  We left the Royal Albion, and headed down Promenade Street to Church Square.  In the months leading up to this trip, I had looked up the address many times on Google maps, even checking the “street view.”  I think I needed to reassure myself it was a real place.  We walked a few blocks, made a few turns, and then there it was, the street sign set into a low brick wall.  It was as if I were walking into one of the scalloped-edge black and white photos in my mom’s album.  It could not have looked much different than it had so many years earlier, when she would take us out for an afternoon walk, my brother in his little wool cap and short pants and me tucked snugly into my pram.


I walked slowly up the narrow road lined with small red and brown brick attached houses, until I came to number three.  It looked just as lovely as I hoped it would – red door, white lace curtains, red geraniums in the window boxes, and a sign that read “May Cottage.”


I whispered as if my mother were listening, “I’m here Mom, finally back in Broadstairs.”


Linda S. Johnston is the author of “Hope Amid Hardship: Pioneer Voices from Kansas Territory”

Categories: Write By the Rails 2014 Blog Tour | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Guest Blogger – Pip Ballantine


Music and words

By Philippa Ballantine


I’ve always loved music…but unfortunately I am pretty much a tone-deaf singer, so I confine myself to the old fall back of shower singing.

However when it comes to writing, I find music really soothes the savage authorial beast and helps me get my word count.

Recently I was lucky enough to attend the Smoky Writers Retreat in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, and pretty much every author there put on their headphones and listened to music as they wrote. So I know I am not the only one that this works for.

For me, the trick to it, is of course finding the right kind of music to fit with your project. The wrong one—and I have found this a few times—can actually hinder your writing. So when I am starting out on a new writing project I assemble a playlist of songs that fit the theme and the mood of what I am doing.

dawnsearlylightI have pretty eclectic musical tastes, so I have a lot of tracks to choose from—however there is one kind of music I find works best.


Sometimes I think lyrics can distract me from finding my own words. Additionally I am worried that the musician’s words will creep into my project. That would probably have all sorts of copyright implications, so I prefer to avoid it.

Soundtracks are used in movies to create a feeling, a tension, a stirring of romance, a pounding rhythm for a chase. So they are really the natural choice while writing.

For my fantasy writing, such as the Books of the Order series, I listen to music like the soundtracks to the Game of Thrones, or Pillars of the Earth series.

For any sort of action sequence, which happen pretty regularly in fantasy and steampunk, I love the Pacific Rim soundtrack, and for any moody, tension filled music I adore the soundtrack to the series Luther.

For the steampunk Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, I listen to the music from the Great Train Robbery or from a series called the Virgin Queen. My husband and I write the series together, and so far it includes, anthologies, short stories, free podcasts, a roleplaying game (launching soon) and three novels. It’s a big world, and it was the first one where we wanted to have a soundtrack of its own.

We were also lucky enough to have Alex White, a good friend and talented musician, create our very own theme music for the Ministry, which we use in our short story podcast set in the world. I have to say, as far as music goes, nothing can quite compare to writing a novel set to its own, original soundtrack.

You can see what the music inspired when book three in the series Dawn’s Early Light, comes out on March 25th.


Thanks to Jan for hosting it on her site. Don’t forget to check out Write by the Rails, which is full of a diverse range of amazing writers. You can find out more about the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences at our site, and me here.

Categories: Write By the Rails 2014 Blog Tour | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Stacia Kelly – Guest Blogger

1121                                                                    Ichi_coverart_small

Writing without Traveling

Normally, I like to visit the places I write about. One of the major reasons I set ICHI in Washington DC, it made it easier for us to investigate. We even took a quick trip to Georgetown to check out the infamous Exorcist Stairs. Let me tell you, those suckers are steep!

But then I hit a scene that I wanted to base in Tibet. Obviously, the budget isn’t there for any kind of trip to Tibet.

So what’s an author to do? Bless the power of YouTube and Google. I found a beautiful place in Bhutan, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. I spent hours researching, watching videos from traveler’s and reviewing pictures.

Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Bhutan

Taktshang, which is the most famous of the monasteries in all of Bhutan, is located on a 3,120 meter cliff and is more than 700 meters above the Paro valley. The name of this beautiful monastery was derived from the story of Padmasambhava, who was said to have flown to the monastery on the back of a tiger. There are a total of seven temples in the monastery, all of which can be visited, though visitors must either climb to the monastery by foot or ride a mule in order to get there.

Four hours later and about 4,000 words later, I had a beautifully crafted scene. I thought I’d share a bit of it here.

Shia started up at the mountains looming overhead, majestic in their grace. She inhaled, letting the scent of greenery, fresh water, clean air flow over her.

It was good to be home. Or, a home of sorts.

She settled her pack over her shoulders. Her loose linen clothes would keep her cool and warm as she hiked up the trail. She’d donned more traditional garb, with a few modifications and in all black. She bent down, checked the condition of her warm mountain boots. She’d need to replace them after this trek. They’d be worn through and through. Her swords nestled against her shoulder blades. All around her, tourists flowed, snapping pictures, talking excitedly about their expedition. She half smiled. Most would exhaust themselves a quarter of the way into the trip.

She eyed the mouth of the footpath. Barring any incidents with tourists, the hike would take her several hours at best to reach the top. She tucked her phone into a hidden pocket in her shirt, adjusted her pack one more time and set out on the trail, meaning to be well ahead of the pack of tourists milling about waiting for their guide. She wasn’t carrying the required permits and wasn’t interested in delaying herself to get them.

“Excuse me, miss?” a voice called out.

It took a moment for her to realize one of the tourists beckoned her. She glanced over her shoulder. A college student, young, blonde, female smiled over at her. She lifted an eyebrow, but a quick look around told her no one else paid her any attention, or, more importantly, they avoided her gaze so as not to see her. Wise people.

“You wouldn’t happen to be our guide, would you?” she asked.

Shia shook her head. “No, you’re on local time here. They don’t run by clocks. Your guide should arrive in about 10 minutes or so.”

“Oh.” The girl looked heart broken. “Thank you.”

Shia turned back to the trail. She would not offer to take them to the top. Another day, another time, she might have. She needed to move faster than they did. Her feet fairly flew over the rough hewn path. The monks kept the footpath clear enough for themselves to make the trek to town and back. They never made it any easier for their guests to reach them though.

She hiked in silence, letting mother nature’s sounds flow all around her. Out of respect for the monks she’d had Raisa bring her to town rather than the top of the mountain. In the distance she could hear the rush of the waterfall. Rocks and crawling vines littered the ground, making each step tricky. She thought of each step as she took it. She neared her destination as the roar of water added to the sounds of nature flowing around her and colorful flags began to decorate the trees along the path. The fencing went from long sticks thrown together to the more ornate carved designs as she drew closer to the bridge over the falls.

Most of the time I love creating fictional places, but every so often I love blending reality into the fictional realm. I’m looking forward to adding Tiger’s Nest to my bucket list of places to visit.

What places are on your bucket list?


Stacia D. Kelly, Ph.D., is the author of the fiction works, “Phyxe: Goddess of Fire”, “Ichi”, and the upcoming “Gaian.” Her non-fiction work includes “Reduce You”, “Muse”, and “Nine Months In, Nine Months Out.” Read more at

Thank you,

~Stacia ******************************************* Stacia D. Kelly, PhD, MHt 703.597.2951 phone | (866) 936-9547 fax| Skype: staciakelly | @StaciaKelly on Twitter | Amazon Author

My Realms – Writing. Training. Teaching. | NEW! 9 Months In ~ 9 Months Out – a Best Selling holistic health book for pre/post natal mom’s | Quality Nutrition Supplements – Healthy Mind & Body. You deserve to live better.

Categories: Write By the Rails 2014 Blog Tour | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Nick Kelly – Guest Blogger


The End of Days


One of the scenarios facing mankind is the end of days. It’s a very popular topic, with disaster movies like “2012”, zombie outbreak shows like “The Walking Dead”, and futuristic films like “Dredd” and “Priest.” The planet has limited natural resources, and many of us are fascinated about how mankind will change as we head down the path of sucking our planet dry.

When I look at this scenario, I see it as a macro view of an emergency drill. Take people trapped in a burning building, a damaged plane, or a sinking ship. They know the end is coming and they react in different ways. Some panic. Some try to calculate possible escapes. Some curl up into a ball and just wait. The point is everyone has a different reaction.

The end of days isn’t happening in the seconds or minutes that these types of emergencies do. So, when I look at this scenario, I like to picture those different reactions, and to imagine how they would take place over the years in which civilization declines. I write the relationships the way I do because I see these characters treating one another differently as the end approaches. When the end is coming, and it’s everyone for herself, who do you trust?

Introducing the universe of Catwalk, I explore some of these actions. Book One, “Catwalk: Messiah” introduces readers to the dystopian world. Specifically, Catwalk roams Nitro City, the nickname for what was once Los Angeles. As the world has changed, there is a significant difference in how parties have dealt with that change. The richest of the rich are gone – paying their way to off-world colonies with hopes of a long and prosperous future for their family over generations. The city power players have built their way Uptown, to ivory towers away from the commoners. Cat roams Downtown, where the have-nots are left to pick through the scraps and fight one another to survive.

He likes it there just fine.

If you’re like me, and you love sci-fi built around this type of scenario, here are a few recommendations. If you’re into movies, the Mad Max series was a great look into the post-apocalyptic landscape where gas is more valuable than almost anything. Of the three films, “The Road Warrior” is far and away the best, and it stands up still. If you’re a TV person, AMC’s show, “The Walking Dead”, has a stellar cast and the zombie (aka Walker) special effects are just stunning. If you’re a reader, you are punishing yourself by not reading Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One.” I was turned on to this book by Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams, and I felt like Cline wrote this specifically for the sci-fi geek child inside of me.

I think that the end of a days is an extension of our fascination with mortality. These wonderful stories cover the mortality of the planet, not just of the person. That, to me, is even more interesting.

All the best,


Nick Kelly is a musician, professional speaker, and an author. His works include the cyberpunk/sci-fi novel, “Catwalk: Messiah” (Book One in the Leon “Catwalk” Caliber series), and “Ichi” (Book One of the Urban Samurai series). Both are available on Amazon.

Categories: Write By the Rails 2014 Blog Tour | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Tamela Ritter – Guest Blogger


The Things You Find on the Side of the Road                                            0055_IMG_9539

Every year that I’m away from Washington state, it gets harder for me to think of it as home, and yet, it’s really the only connection I have to family and the place that I still go to when I set down to write. Now when I land in Seattle and get in my rental car for the long, beautiful drive to the other side of the state—what everyone who isn’t from Washington calls, “The Not Seattle Part,” it’s not my life that flashes in nostalgia and memory, it is the characters of my book, From These Ashes. They are the roads he traveled, the mountains he hiked through. They’ve been lost to me for a long time now.

Or they usually are.

Last time I was driving to Spokane, I took my customary stop in Ritzville, a little gas-stop town. No matter where I was going when I was young, we always had to stop there for the best milkshakes in the world. And although the shake shack is no longer there, I still have to stop every time, just in case. This time, the delicious dessert was still absent, but what I did wind up picking up was my 20 year old self.

She was hitchhiking from Oregon to Montana for that year’s Rainbow Gathering and she was accompanied by a dog and a guy she had met on the road. Sitting next to her in my rental SUV, the whole decade of my 20s flashed through my mind as wind-turbines that were not there when I lived there, peppered the landscape.

Yes, back then I was what was fondly (at least to me) called a Granola. A Gen-X hippy is another term—or a Pacific Northwester in their 20s. Anyway, I too had relied on the kindness (and sometimes, let’s be honest, the creepiness) of strangers for a ride. In fact, 20 years ago that summer, I too had made my way down to the Rainbow Gathering, that year held outside of Taos New Mexico.

I remembered how easy life had been then, mostly. How while in New Mexico, I had gotten lost hiking back out of the Gathering and had no idea where I was and no way to get the information or notify the people I had come with that I had lost my way. I tiny Mazda pickup drove by and stopped and a man called out asking if I needed a ride. He was a Hara Krishna and he was perhaps the nicest person I’d ever met. I had so many questions.

So many questions that I didn’t ask.

And as I sat next to my 20 year old self, I had so many questions for her too, so many things that I wanted to tell her. I wanted to tell her to not put things off; to take the opportunities that she was presented with, no matter how scary, no matter how much work was involved. To take risks, to stop when she see something that she wanted to record, reflect or take a picture of, because chances are, she wouldn’t be down that road again and she’d regret the stops she didn’t take.

Mostly I wanted to tell her to trust herself, to trust her dream, and for the love of all that is holy, STOP WAITING FOR THINGS TO HAPPEN! Make them happen!

Of course I didn’t say any of those things. I convinced myself that the reason was because if she really was me 20 years ago, she wouldn’t care what some 40 year old senior citizen was saying. Really though, it was because I’m horrible at taking my own advice and there will always be things I regret not doing.

But now? Now at least I stop and take the pictures.


Tamela J. Ritter was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, her debut novel From These Ashes was published in March 2013 by Battered Suitcase Press. She now lives and works in Haymarket, Va. You can find her on Twitter or on Facebook.

Categories: Travel, Write By the Rails 2014 Blog Tour | Tags: | 2 Comments

Guest Blogger – Katherine Gotthardt

1121         Covercropped    wounded-in-hospital

Jan, thank you for hosting me on your blog!  You are a true advocate for the literary arts and a wonderful asset to Write by the Rails!
Below is a poem from my collection of Civil War themed poetry, quotes and photos, Poems from the Battlefield.  I hope at least some of it resonates with your readers.
In gratitude, Katherine


The Red Flagged House

You say you are here to protect us,
the man-less, the son-less, the tepid wives
wafting through misused rooms of our
home-turned-makeshift-hospital.  But
the divan is upholstered in wounded,

dun rags stacked on our armoire,
gauze, iodine, ammonia, spirits following
the hems of our dresses.  “We cannot fit
one more!” we cry.  But you are deaf with war.
“We have nothing left to give you!” we

wail, but the moans of our warriors bury us
in bandages and heat rash and fungus.  Our dresser
lies on its back, an oaken cot for Confederates,
our maple table forced to feed soldiers to surgeons,
and everywhere, blood of our bold and our young

re-paints our wood, our walls,our memories.
We shuttle torn uniforms from what was home
to hearth, stir some in our soup cauldrons, burn others
to stay the fire, the fetid smoke of our torched ideals
and stained coverlets greeting each new casualty.

You say you are here to protect us, we your women
who don’t want war, we who try to heal hurts,
scouring basins with our old lace, sucking up sweat
with our linens, mending the last blankets we own,
and asking, “Who will protect us from you?”

copyright 2009, Katherine M. Gotthardt

Katherine Gotthardt Outreach Manager Rainbow Center 4-H Therapeutic Riding Program, Inc.
FARM (BY APPOINTMENT ONLY): 16198 Silver Lake Road Haymarket, VA 20169
MAIL: P.O. Box 479 Haymarket, VA 20168
Categories: Book Reviews, Write By the Rails 2014 Blog Tour | 1 Comment