Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A True Texas Tale Comes to Life

Sherri Knight's love of history and research has put her in the books. Her new release, Tom P's Fiddle, A True Texas Tale has already caught the attention of the North Texas Book Festival, naming her a finalist for 2008 in the nonfiction category for her account of a young fiddle player who found himself running from the law.

In this true tale Knight digs into the life of Tom P. Varnell, a skillful musician and, after a series of unfortunate events, a 19th-century fugitive. Her extensive research, which led her across several state lines, gave her an opportunity to search through old newspapers, museum archives, and University documents among other avenues.

Her extensive exploration into the life of Tom P. Varnell have led to the finely woven story of a young man helping his family struggle to survive after his father’s murder, but finding himself on the run after attending a party for the daughters of Jonah Land.

Accused of shooting Mr. Land and raping his daughter Ella, Tom flees and heads into a life of infamy, where all of the elements of a true Wild West adventure shine through in this nonfiction story. Knight takes the reader back to 1883 Texas with vivid, detailed accounts of a young man on the run to New Mexico Territory and back, where he finally stands before a jury.

In her researching process, Knight has created a blog dedicated to the story of Tom P. Varnell. The blog not only details the life and events surrounding Varnell, but a wealth of information about the time period, from Waco’s Red Light District to Civil War battles fought in Texas. Be prepared for an all day reading adventure on the blog, where one entry leads to another. Her depth of detail, pictures and variety of information about the time period is fascinating, keeping the reader locked on the site.

A pure-bred Texan, Knight still calls the Lone Star State home. She spent 31 years in the classroom putting her all-level teaching certificate to use. She has won numerous teaching awards, including Teacher of the Year – East Central High School (San Antonio), National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, and Texas Exes Award for Excellence in Education – University of Texas at Austin among many others. She is currently working on her next book on the history of the Erath County District Court.

Sherri Knight

This member of Women Writing the West
can be found at


Sunday, March 23, 2008

short story 1st rewrite

"Just a few more miles and then it will be time to have fun," Elsie laughed. "Just look at the mountains! It is so much better than Chicago"

That is Elsie, I think she would find a leaf fun if she thought it would get her anywhere. Still she is my best friend. It is because of her I am on what she calls an adventure.

"Come on smile. We’ve survived the great fire and so much more. Get rid of your somber mood and think of what is to come. We were meant to be here."

As we came into Silver Cliff I did look at those mountains. They were tall, taller than the buildings in Chicago. They looked so much more substantial than anything I had seen. They could be guideposts to the future or crush you with their majesty. As for the town it was so small. "How are we going to make living here? Just look, there is hardly anything here." I asked."We’ll find work.

"You could put your music education to work and teach."

"How do you know people would spend money on a luxury when it looks like most are just getting by. Look at those houses, where are we going to stay?"

"Listen Ruth, we made the decision to come out here and now we will just make the best of it. If worse came to worse you could sing for your supper."

I made a face at Elsie, but secretly I loved to sing, I just had never done it for money.

“What about you? What are you going to do?”

“Don’t worry about me, I always survive.”

As usual Elsie was right, but I did have my misgivings. I really did wonder how we, two single women, were going to make a go of it here. This town was so small, so new. What would people think of us. I admit I was scared.

"Well Ruth, get ready to take on a new adventure," Elsie said as she jumped from our coach.The first glimpse I had was of men starring at Elsie, she did that to them, and she just smiled and turned to get her bags. Men couldn’t help but look at her, she was of medium height a great head of auburn hair and a smile that could melt snow. I followed close behind, walking in her shadow, as we went toward what appeared to be a hotel. An oriental gentleman was walking out and nodded a greeting as we entered.

"See everyone is friendly, you have nothing to worry about."

"You know , every time you say that I have the strangest feeling that I should be worrying and plenty."

“I love that you worry, but it’s time to become someone new. Now let’s get started.”

Someone new, what an interesting concept. Who would I be? Me, the little mouse who followed wherever I was led. Perhaps I was being too hard on myself. In truth I had always wanted to be like Elsie. Maybe now was the time to try.

After checking into the hotel, Elsie and I wandered through the town. It seemed as if we saw everything in less than an hour. After a restless night on my part, we started out the next morning to find work. I was excited to find a job at the store and Elsie started working at a cafe. It was a great way to find out that this was a town of fun and determined people.

Over the next couple of days Elsie and I exchanged information about the people we had seen and what there jobs were. Soon we knew most everyone in the area. I found I liked living here and Chicago and those memories began to fade away.

Still I was concerned for I started to see less and less of Elsie over the next few weeks. She had started coming in later and later. I didn’t want to say anything but I felt I couldn’t avoid the conversation any longer. People were saying such horrible things about her when they thought I wasn’t listening. It hurt me to hear, she was my friend.

That Thursday night was one I will never forget. I had stayed up later than usual so that when Elsie came in I could talk with her.

"Elsie, people are saying some really bad things about you." I blurted.

"So, why is that a problem?" was her quick reply.

Comments: During this rewrite I am working to smooth out some transitions and give more depth to the story and characters. Instead of posting the whole story I will email the updates of this first draft to anyone who would like to read what I am doing. You can request the updates by sending and email to me at with story in the subject line.
I continue to hope this will inspire all of you to take the plunge and write a story for the www contest.

Sarah Rickman's New Website!

My NEW Web site is up!!!
Please go to: and check it out!

A couple of pages are still under construction, but the meat is up now. In a week or so I hope to add photos from Nancy Love’s induction into the Women In Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame, March 15, in San Diego.

Nancy Love and the WASP Ferry Pilots of World War II was OFFICIALLY released March 20 – however it has been available from me and on Amazon etc since March 1.

I have a new e-mail address that you can use for ordering signed copies from me:

Or to buy on the open market, click on the buttons (Amazon, Barnes & Noble or my publisher) to order. Of course bookstores can order it. Because my niche is aviation and women in aviation, my audience is mostly found at aviation venues, aviation museums and their gift shops, and airshows, consequently I don’t know how generally it will be carried in stock by chain bookstores. Do me a favor. Tell them – and your local librarian – about “Nancy Love” and ask them to order it. Send them to the Website.

You-all have been talking about the dearth of Y/A books. Several of my “fans” have told me they think this book is marketable to Y/A-age readers – even though it is an adult biography -- because it is the story of a woman who proved she was made of the “right stuff” and made her mark in a male profession in the very male-dominated world of World War II America. How she did it is worth reading about.

Would appreciate comments from any of you who read it.

Sarah Byrn Rickman

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Shifting Publishing Paradigms - On the Cusp: In Conversation with Hal Zina Bennett

Hal Zina Bennett is the author of over 31 books, both fiction and non-fiction, including Write From The Heart: Unleashing The Power of Your Creativity. He has taught and coached writers for over 30 years. Among his success stories are dozens of best-selling authors and more than 200 published authors. He presents seminars throughout the United States and coaches writers one-on-one. We are fortunate to have him as our guest today discussing the shift in the publishing paradigm in the 21st century--JGR

Janet Riehl:

Hal, as we’ve discussed what’s happening in publishing today—from traditional mainstream publishing to small presses to university presses to Print on Demand (POD) technologies that author-assisted publishing makes use of, you’ve consistently argued that what we’re seeing here is a paradigm shift in how books are made and distributed, and by extension, how each of the players—author, publisher, and so on—are now regarded. Could you say more about this?

Hal Zina Bennett:

We need to be saying, "Look, technological change has always spearheaded new paradigms in every society they've touched. Think in terms of how the world was changed by Gutenberg's printing press, by the sewing machine, the cotton gin, railroads, the internal combustion engine, the splitting of the atom, chemistry and so on.

Technological change doesn't just change how Bibles are printed, fabric is produced and stuck together, how people move around on the planet, or how we produce energy and manipulate our biology. It totally changes how we all live, how we think—it produces huge consciousness shifts.

It's no different with Print on Demand (POD) or the digital production and dissemination of the written word. In the world of writing and publishing, POD and ebooks are spearheading huge shifts in our consciousness. Defending these technologies, and independent publishing, as being better or worse than the old paradigm represented by commercial publishing, misses the point by a country mile—or more.

Janet: What’s your sense about most of the deeper, more important questions we, as authors and publishers, need to be asking at this point?

Hal: We've got to look deeper at what it means to be able to produce and distribute the written word in these new ways. We can't just take the position that people took with the advent of the internal combustion engine, who argued in favor of the horse versus the horseless carriage. That's blind and unimaginative. It prevents us from exploring the wider scope of what these new technologies mean to us all. You know, these technologies are not going to go away. In fact, they are growing at a tremendous rate.

We need to dare to be prophetic. How does the technology change society? How is it revolutionizing the way we think and act and feel? What new creative freedoms do these technologies promise? What’s the downside—and I don’t mean simply comparing what’s self-published to what’s published by corporatized publishing companies.

Janet: Where does the dialogue need to go to become effective?

Hal: My position is that you've got to shift the dialog entirely, from a defensive posture, of saying indies are "better than," or that commercial publishing has its limits, too, to a more fully proactive position of envisioning a very new paradigm.

iUniverse's Diane Gedyman and Susan Driscol, in their book “Get Published!” have articulated a path that is at least pointing in the direction of the new paradigm.

Trouble is that a lot of people who don't know the realities of commercial publishing are basing their arguments for that old paradigm on sheer fantasies about publishing that way, and most of what's said is naive, uniformed, and mostly silly. Take it from someone who has made an excellent living working in that industry for the past 40 years!

The world is already moving way beyond comparison between traditional commercial publishing ala NYC and these new delivery systems for the printed word! Anybody still caught up in the old defenses of self-publishing versus commercial publishing is living in the dark ages.

Janet: What do you see as some of the advantages of this shift in the paradigm?

Hal: At the very least, POD and ebooks democratize the dissemination of the written word, in ways that are probably at least as dramatic as the way that Gutenberg's little invention made it possible for millions of regular people to own Bibles (at the very least) for the first time in human history. That's a huge shift of consciousness! There are some who still argue whether it's a good thing for people to be reading their Bibles without the "quality control" and the "learned interpretation" of the high priests, of course. I suppose the same could be said for those who argue that putting control of the printed word into the hands of multi-national corporations is a good thing.

Janet: There’s currently a debate that we can tag “quality control.” What would you say about that?

Hal: Is it a good thing to let just anybody publish their own books? What about quality control? Do we trust just anyone—rather than Bertelsman (a multi-national corporation) and his ilk—to screen what our society makes available to readers? Is it too idealistic to think that maybe it's a good thing for readers to have more choices?

Janet: What kind of trends do you see emerging?

Hal: The road ahead still isn't very clear with these new technologies, but just as with Gutenberg's printing press, the genie is out of the proverbial bottle, swimming around in the ethers, mixing it up in the collective consciousness in ways we are only barely beginning to realize. Watch carefully! Even commercial publishers are getting into POD to try out new writers, build their backlists and hang onto books whose sales fall below 500 or so copies per year.

As recently as six months ago, Publishers Weekly was predicting that ebooks were just a fad that was withering on the vine, and soon it would go away. Meanwhile, Sony has stepped into the picture with a pretty decent ebook reader and a large program that by now lists even front list books by mainstream publishers. A few months after that Amazon announced its Kindle program.

Amazon has invested over a billion dollars on Kindle, and they've signed up 60% of the big publishers, as has Sony for their ebook reader program. And Amazon also has launched a program inviting independent publishers to join the Kindle program.

Look carefully, There are over a dozen successful ebook distributors around, some of them, like, doing very well with the rather old-fashioned (by now) Rocket ebook and Palm technologies.

And nearly every computer company is now making their aftermarket documentation available in Adobe Reader and Palm formats—with some introducing Kindle and Sony reader formats.

Janet: What does this paradigm shift mean for authors and readers?

Hal: It gives a creative boost and new freedom for authors. Readers having a greater range of choices. More widely, the world consciousness is profoundly affected by the explosion of independent publishing that these technologies produce. Take a look at the parallel changes in independent film-making, made possible by the digital revolution; independent films now dominate that industry. Similar things are happening in the music industry; the old guard has all but disappeared in the recorded music world. Will the same picture repeat itself in publishing? I think that corporate publishing will continue to dominate, and that’s okay. But I also see expanding education programs, and independent services such as editing, distribution, and PR, to help authors make the most of these technologies. Think potential parallels between publishing and the music world—with iPods, etc.—and the independent film world’s Netflix and Spiritual Cinema Circle. Independent distribution is happening for books on the Internet, and I don’t mean just with Amazon. Explore the ebook world on the Internet. There’s a whole world there that seems to be ignored by the media, even the independent media.

I think we’ll always have paper books. I love them, and most of the writers who are around today have a special love affair with printing on paper. It’s not easy to cozy up with an ebook reader, for example, but I’ve got to confess that I have a certain fondness for my “old fashioned” Rocket ebook reader. You know, there’s something rather nice about lounging in bed late at night, staring into the glow of its screen and reading a good mystery. And in that little handheld device I have, let’s see, ten other books that I can instantly switch to if my interest wanes on the one I’ve been reading. Hmm. You see, those simple pleasures are part of what’s driving the digital revolution.

Visit Janet Grace Riehl's blog "Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century" at for more thoughts and information about making connections through the arts, across cultures, generations, and within the family. You can also read sample poems and other background information from "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary" on Janet's website.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sherry Monahan Shares a Taste of the Old West

Her footsteps meeting the creaky sidewalks of Tombstone took Sherry Monahan back in time. Back to the 1880s, where the West roared through town, in a place the Apache's once roamed. A streak of silver and a man named Ed Schieffelin brought the town into existence and ultimately into western history.

With the passion of a writer and
a hunger for tastes of the Old West, Monahan dove in and published her first book, Taste of Tombstone: A Hearty Helping of History, in 1998. In 2008 the book sports a new cover and a few new updated items to sniff out. Inside the pages, she travels back in time to a place that was rough and tumble, but had a slice of refinement in it's French cuisine and fresh oysters. She shares what shaped the town, from it's wild cowboys, gunfights and taverns to it's local - more refined - inhabitants. She even adds a few recipes from the same era.

Sherry's research has taken her to new places, which includes consulting on a western movie and working on several series for The History Channel, including Wild West Tech. She writes a feature column for the Tombstone Times and is a contributing editor for True West Magazine.

Check out Sherry's freelance work along with her other books about the Old West, a bit of western history and some recipes to try at home. You can learn all about this Women Writing the West member at

Friday, March 07, 2008

Blogging Basics 101: Getting Started and Keeping Going

Four generations of Riehl-Thompson-McCarthy authors

Blogging basics on how easy it is to get started, but how it takes passion to stay going. Mission drives your blog to stay the course.

1) Blogging experience

Q: How long have you been blogging?

A: My blog "Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century" is the face page (that is the first page you see) for my website. There are static pages on the sidebar with sample poems and talks at readings based on my book "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary." Right after my book came out in 2006, I set up the website Last winter, I changed the domain over to and started my blog. Riehlife's blog birthday is January 13, 2007.

2) Starting a blog

Q. Was it difficult to get started?

A. No, it's not hard to get started. The difficult thing is to have a focus and to keep going. If you're going to have a blog, you want to maintain it. While my blog is in fact my website and took some doing to get designed and up and running, it's also possible to get blog going for free in five minutes on some of the blogging sites.

3) Amount of technical knowledge needed

Q: Do you have to be a real computer whiz to blog?

A: Absolutely not. If you can send an email, you can blog. There is a bit of a learning curve, but truly, it's not overly difficult and it's pretty intuitive. The technical side is the least challenging part of blogging in my experience.

4) Blogging frequency

Q: Do you blog every day?

A: Mostly, yes. I do my best to have something up everyday. Usually on Sunday I have a quotation. Recently I've been relaxing a bit, but I know there are regular readers who enjoy the content of my blog. I view Riehlife as a magazine I edit that includes content by others as
well as myself. I don't want to let my readers down.

Since my blog is Village Wisdom, in some sense it is a collaborative blog, though shaped and run by one person. I feature authors, published and unpublished on my blog. When Women Writing the West members have a little something they'd like to see in print, I frequently feature their words. I've published several folks like that, and it was fun. Susan Tweit and I started a blogging duet this winter and have had several exchanges that folks have really enjoyed.

5) Focus

Q: Do you have a particular subject in your blog?

A: My theme is "connection." More specifically my mission is to create connections through all the arts (writing, visual and performing) and across cultures and generations. I frequently feature the work of my 91-year-old father on my blog and both he and my readers get a kick
out of his wisdom and wit.

6) Audience

Q: Do you have a target "audience" when you blog?

A: Currently I'm getting around 500 visits per day from all over the world. I write my blog for people with similar sensibilities and yearnings. Somehow, that's created a niche for me.

7) Benefits

Q: What is your favorite thing about blogging?

A: Just as the theme of my blog is connection, that's also the part I enjoy most: using Riehlife as a tool for connecting thoughts, disciplines, and people. Since I'm in St. Louis I've been doing a
series on African-American fine artists and that's been helpful in forming friendships here and becoming part of the arts community.

Folks blog for all kinds of reasons. Some use their blogs as a marketing tool, others as an on-line diary (web-log = blog) without a lock, others for for friends and family, and so on.

The most important thing you can do before you begin you blog is to understand what your purpose and mission is.

Riehlife is a labor of love that shares experiences and encourages good writing and thoughtful response. It is possible to make money from your blog, that that's a different kettle of words simmering on a different fire.


Visit Janet Grace Riehl's blog "Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century" at for more thoughts and information about making connections through the arts, across cultures, generations, and within the family. You can also read sample poems and other background information from "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary" on Janet's website.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Runaway Friend - now available!

I'm delighted to announce the arrival of my latest children's mystery, The Runaway Friend, from American Girl.

Kirsten Larson has been living on the Minnesota frontier for only a few weeks when her neighbor and friend, Erik Sandahl, disappears. Erik had promised to help the Larsons at harvest time, and he owes Uncle Olav money. Has he run out on his promises? Everyone seems to think so--except Kirsten. Can she figure out what's happened to her friend?

Researching and writing this book brought back lots of happy memories of my years spent working as an interpreter and curator at Old World Wisconsin, a large outdoor museum that preserves and celebrates the state's immigrant history. The Runaway Friend focuses on a Swedish girl's experiences in 1854; the oldest home preserved at Old World Wisconsin is the Norwegian Fossebrekke house, restored to its 1845 appearance. (That's me in 1982, sitting in the Fossebrekke house door.)

I gleaned the mystery elements from period newspapers, and accounts written by immigrants and travelers. Something that really caught my attention were several personal ads published by husbands, labeling their wives as runaways and prohibiting anyone from providing them shelter or aid. I longed to know what happened to those women.

To learn more about this book, or any of my other work, please visit