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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

New Release — DAKOTA TRAILS by Robert D. McKee


When beautiful Katie Burke offers money to anyone who can best Neil Bancroft in a fight, he’s not sure he’s hearing right. Neil has never laid eyes on the mystery woman – so why does she want to see him beaten black and blue?

 When Katie offers him a job—help her find her husband’s cached gold—his curiosity is piqued even further, and he has no choice but to follow her into the wilds of the Dakota Territory.

 As they face murderous outlaws, Indians, and come dangerously close to trading their lives for the treasure, Neil realizes Katie has entranced him. He’s falling in love with her, and yet, he doesn’t know who she really is. Her nebulous past is not what she’s led him to believe it is…so how can he trust her? Yet, after all they’ve been through, how can he not?

 In a wonderful tale of western mystery laced with edgy suspense and human longing, Neil and Katie discover that the gold may not be as important to them as the hope of a beguiling future together—if they can only survive the deadly danger of the DAKOTA TRAILS…

"Robert D. McKee weaves a thrilling Western that keeps the reader guessing, and the pace drives readers through to the end before they know it. I’m not personally partial to the Western genre, but I could not put this book down. Neil and Katie are dynamic and fun characters, and along the way the people they encounter truly bring the Wild West alive in a historically accurate way. Dakota Trails is a wonderful blend of Western, mystery, and romance."  — Historical Novel Society

 “Gold is where you find it. With his debut Dakota Trails Robert McKee has not only spun gold into a delightful tale, but beguiles us with his talent as an author. McKee's history is immaculately researched—from the land, the people and places, McKee knows his business."  —W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear, New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors of People of the Songtrail


Neil was halfway into his first beer when the woman from the corrals stepped through the saloon's open doorway. As she crossed to the bar, Neil noticed she eyed him at the table where he sat.

"Excuse me, sir," she said to Dick, the bartender. "Could I trouble you for a glass of water?"

"Why—why, sure, ma'am." Dick's awkward behavior made it obvious that except for the local whores, he was unaccustomed to a woman coming into his saloon. He reached beneath the counter, came up with a pitcher of water, and filled a tumbler. She thanked him with a pretty smile and took a sip.

It was still early, and the place was not yet crowded. No more than a dozen men sat around the dimly lit barroom, all of them with their mouths agape watching the young woman drink her water.

She blotted her lips with an index finger when she was finished, and then she turned her back to the bar and looked out over the room. "Afternoon, gentlemen," she said. Everyone stiffened, but no one said a word. "My name is Kathleen Burke. Katie Burke." She patted a small pocketbook she carried. "In my purse, here, I have a Liberty Double Eagle that I will give to any man who is willing to knock that cowboy over there unconscious." She lifted her hand and aimed a finger at Neil Bancroft.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

New Release—A Good Day To Die by James Ciccone


You don’t want to make me mad. I’ve got a lot of hate in me, and I am not afraid of one blessed thing in this life. I’m Crawford Goldsby—better known as Cherokee Bill—and if you think you’re the one to bring me to justice you’re wrong…dead wrong.

They call me a half-breed, but I killed my first man by the time I was twelve, and I never stopped. Why? Because I like killing—and I’m damn good at it. Indian Territory wouldn’t be the same without me.

But this outlaw likes living, too, and when I rob that train carrying millions for a big payoff here in Indian Territory, I’ve got a plan to cut loose and run to South America—along with my fancy woman, Maggie.

Don’t get in my way. Indian Territory is mine. Oklahoma Territory is mine. If you cross me, your life is mine, too. I’m barely eighteen, and I can deliver a kill shot without even looking your way—yes, I’m that good.

Judge Parker can’t wait to get his hands on me over in Fort Smith. If he does, death by hanging will be end of me. Will Parker get his wish?  We’ll see…I’ve gotten confident in my own abilities to escape. If he gets his way at last, he won’t see Cherokee Bill running scared.

I’ll look the bastard in the eye and say, “It’s A GOOD DAY TO DIE…”


Our gang, the Cook gang, was a ragtag assortment of homicidal maniacs, idiots, desperados, sexual perverts, gamblers, debtors, horse thieves, and perennial losers. And we all liked killing.

By the age of twelve, I had already managed to quit school, drink liquor, hang out with outlaws, shoot and kill a man, and gain an acquittal on a murder charge in open court. Admittedly, that was quite an impressive start in life.

In 1894, stories about me started hitting newspapers from as far away as New York and as close as the Fort Smith Elevator across the border in Arkansas. Of course, the reporters didn’t get the stories straight or put my real name out there, Crawford Goldsby. Instead, they used Cherokee Bill, and got folks all riled up by putting out that I was an outlaw with no fear, a robber on a reign of terror, a desperado at the same level of notoriety as Wild Bill Hitchcock, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Johnny Ringo, the Calico Cowboy, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. However, none of that was exactly true. It was far worse. The truth was I was a kid of only eighteen, and my “reign of terror with the law,” as they put it, was just getting started.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

New Release -- RELUCTANT PARTNERS by J. L. Guin


Bounty hunter Judd Jacoby has been doing things his own way for many years—up until now. He’s got a reputation for always bringing in the outlaw he’s after—and doing it alone. But when Judd is dealt a serious head injury, he’s reluctantly forced to accept a partnership with Faye McJunkin, a young woman he rescued when pursuing criminal Lonnie Sims.

When Judd and Faye track two ruthless bank robbers to a cabin, they must confront the men after dark. Faye comes up with a plan to get them in close proximity of the cabin door, but what might happen next is anyone’s guess—and the stakes are all or nothing. 

As time goes by, Faye proves herself time and again, but can Judd accept needing an unwanted partner? If he doesn’t, will he have to give up bounty hunting entirely? There might be an unexpected, surprising solution to the unusual dilemma for both of these RELUCTANT PARTNERS…if they live long enough!


It was three days later when Sturgis paid Perkins a visit. He grinned when he came in and sat down in a ladderback chair next to the bed where Perkins lay. “You're looking better, Dan. Your coloring is starting to come back.”

Perkins blinked his eyes open. “Hurts like hell, but the doctor left a bottle of some foul-tasting stuff that I sip from time to time. It deadens the pain some but mostly puts me to sleep again. I think I'd rather drink whiskey.”

Sturgis laughed. “There will be plenty of time for that after you heal up. Did you notice my new addition?” He leaned forward and took a hand to pinch up the badge pinned to his shirtfront.

Perkins glared at the badge in astonishment. “What the hell is that?” Perkins knew that Carl Sturgis was a reckless man, reckless with his own life and reckless with the law. Together, they had been in enough tight scrapes for him to know that Sturgis, as well as himself, were anything but honest men.

“Why, it's my badge! I'm the new marshal of Stanley, appointed by Mister Avery Belk, unofficial mayor of the town. The badge and the job are legit, gives me something to do while waiting for you to heal up enough to ride. Part of the package he offered includes the care you receive, however long it takes. I get a hotel room, all my meals, and forty dollars a month. On top of that, I have free run of the town.”

This time, Perkins managed a grin. “Kinda like bringing a fox to watch the chickens.”


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

New Release — DANGEROUS TRAILS by John D. Nesbitt

Saddle up and ride along with one of the greatest western storytellers of our time, John D. Nesbitt, in this outstanding collection of short stories. If you’re looking for tales of danger, action, and adventure, these tales deliver—along with plenty of western justice.  This anthology is a collection of stories about men and women, guns and horses, wrongdoing and those who pay the price—and will keep you wondering what’s around the next bend of these DANGEROUS TRAILS…


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

New Release — Bennett’s County by Darrel Sparkman

Sheriff Billy Bennett takes his job seriously—and he’s darn good at it. No one breaks the law in his county. So when he gets a complaint of women dancing naked in the nearby forest, of course he has to investigate. Some say they’re witches, but Sheriff Bennett doesn’t hold with that—he doesn’t allow witches in his county.

But when a self-proclaimed warlock comes looking for them with plans to steal them away, Billy Bennett has him ushered out of Bennett’s County for good. There are no warlocks…only bad men. And Sheriff Billy Bennett will see the law is obeyed, no matter what—or who—tries to bend the rules.

Caught in the middle of an odd battle, the sheriff begins to wonder if he’s bitten off more than he can chew in order to keep law and order alive and well in BENNETT’S COUNTY… Is there any way this can end well?


     Samuel was about half the size of his wife, a phenomenon I’d seen before. I always looked closely for bruises, but never found any on him. I shouldn’t be suspicious. I’m sure she’s the sweetest thing on earth.
     He sure was jumpy. If you came up behind him and poked him in the ribs, he’d jump about two feet in the air. Some of the boys had taken to coming up behind him on the street and setting off firecrackers. Jumpy. I needed to catch those boys, because the noise was hard on horses. We had a couple run off. One had Arnold on it.
He took his hat off and worried the brim a little. “Well, Sheriff, Emma thinks that witch is at it again.”
     It was a morning for contemplation. The most wonderous thing is how ideas get started—good and bad. Most folks hold their opinions to themselves. Seems the ones we don’t want to hear are always proclaimed the loudest. The dangerous thing disturbing my contemplation is that these people were serious and that was disturbing. There’s no amount of trouble that can come from people who convince themselves in their own stupidity and follow their new-found belief in righteous indignation. I studied them close as I practiced my reply. My lips may have moved some.
     “Which witch?”
     Emma gasped. “There’s more than one?”
     In a practiced move, both turned to the side and spit between their fingers. Hers landed first, but she’s a lot bigger—more power.
     She turned back to me with a triumphant stare. “I knew it. We have an infestation.”

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas in a Sock by Jodi Lea Stewart

1933. December 24, 7:30 p.m. 

If I wanted Doodles to sleep warm as buttered biscuits, I’d have to do some more quilt tucking.

I pressed it in good and tight all along her side and under her chin. There. Now she wouldn’t shiver in her sleep or roll off to the floor. It wouldn’t hurt her any if she did cause our mattress was only four inches of feathers and cloth and it was laid right on the floor on top of an old blanket that had a few moth holes.

Doodles was nine years younger than me and mostly my responsibility. Truth is, I was so glad to get another girl in this family, I didn’t mind doing anything for that skinny little baby. I had two older sisters, but they were already married by the time I got any sense.

I’d been stuck with eight brothers and me the only girl for miles around for so long ... shoot, Doodles was like getting a tiny angel to take care of. Ol' heaven sure waited a long time to give her to me, though, cause I’m thirteen and almost growed up now.

I put my ear on top of the wood floor and tried like crazy to overhear the soft talking going on in the room down below me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make out the words. Something was scooted here and yonder. Something big.

Yep. That’s the right sounds for shore. Same as every year. It meant Mama and Dad were getting things ready for us kids to have Christmas in the morning. My old raccoon grin broke out so big on my face, you couldn’t erase it with a mop!

I yelled straight into my squashy pillow until my eyes watered. I did that sometimes when I was excited and didn’t know what else to do. I got that over with and flipped on my back. I cracked every one of my fingers one at time. I learned how to do that from Calvin—one of my brothers. Most of them boys were good for nothing at all, except learning me how to do things like fistfight and get in trouble. Only thing I was glad about was how Sam taught me how to spit across the room and make it land in a can. Now, that was useful.

Shush now, I told myself. None of that mattered tonight. Not with the magic dust swirling all around me so hard my stomach felt like a Mason jar full of cow cream right before it turns into curdled butter.

Nothing no how could ever be as fun as Christmas at the Woodson house, even if it wasn’t much of any kind of fancy. It had us—this family—in it, didn’t it? That was enough, even if we were as poor as dirt and too dumb to stop laughing about it.

Us kids had to go to bed extra early on the night before Christmas so special things could happen. I didn’t know how Mama and Dad did anything special for us with us having just about no money in the world. I sure loved it when they did, though. Loved it more than running home barefooted the last day of school.

I stared into the dark with my hands folded over each other and whistled for a little while until those sweet banana pies Mom was making after breakfast tomorrow just rassled my mind down to the ground. She never made such a thing as that except on Christmas day. Those pies tasted so dang good, you felt rich as Solomon when you ate them. She made enough for us kids to have two whole slices if we cut them kind of skinny.

After the pies, Mama would stir something else together in her big crockery bowl. Pretty near the best thing anyone ever made—her Christmas Candy Cake! She’d take that pretty thing out of the stove with the marain icing sitting up on it like stiff snow. Shiny patches of melted red, green, and white candies sparkled on the top. Whooee, us kids about lost our eyeballs right out of their sockets just looking at it. Wouldn’t have been surprising at all to see our eyes rolling across that wood floor after Mom whisked her cake over to the griddle to cool down.

Thinking about it now bout made me throw up since I wanted a piece of it so bad. How could I ever fall asleep? Dang near stupid to try. Next thing I knowed about is when one of those no-good brothers threw a pair of overalls on my head. I flung it off madder than a bee with three stingers and couldn’t believe it was light outside. 


I leaped off of that mattress and grabbed Doodles up tight and barreled down those creaky steps two at a time. I ran quick through the kitchen and into the front room and into Mama and Dad's tiny bedroom. Had it happened? The magic?

The glow in my mama’s eyes was as loud as any shouted-out bunch of words. I couldn’t hardly take my eyes off of hers, they were so bright. I put Doodles down and shook my hands in the air just to get my nerves settled down.

Can we? Can we look now? Huh?

Mama counted our heads to see if we were all there. After the last head, her usual serious face broke out in a smile bigger than the whole of Oklahoma. She stepped away from the iron-post bed where her and Dad, and sometimes a few young’uns, slept. I tell you, us kids scampered under that bed like rabbits out running a pack of slobbery hound dogs. When we came back out, we were holding on to one of Dad’s long gray and white winter socks. Those socks looked like they had the mumps, they were so full. 

Doodles laughed right out loud at us holding our fat socks with both hands like someone was gonna steal them away from us. We clawed them open and dumped everything out in our own special spots. Hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and pecans poured out first. Then came an apple and an orange. My mouth went dry to bite into that shiny red apple, so I did and ate it all up. That was all the winter fruit we’d ever get, so us kids always gobbled it up quicker than you could say shut up.

The bottom of our socks sagged with ever kind of hard candy. Oh, the colors and
shapes just made us crazy happy. Some of the candies were square with dimples all in them. Other kinds were round with flat ends and little drawings like Christmas trees and holly painted on them. How someone painted so tiny on so many pieces, I’ll never know. Best of all were the big hunks of folded over ribbon candy. That was our mama’s favorite, too.

I finished eating my orange and was looking for a dishrag to wipe my hands on when my brother Snipe threw an orange peeling at the side of my face. My hands turned into fists, but then something kind of strange took me over and dusted the mad feeling right off me. I just felt like smiling at him instead. I tossed him a piece of my own candy. He shore did look surprised.

After a breakfast of mama’s special red-hot pork sausage, eggs, biscuits, milk gravy, and sorghum, we started in eating our candy. Only time all year we’d get any.
Two of those no-account boys had to help me with all the stacks of breakfast dishes, and that, all by itself, was a Christmas miracle. I almost never got any help with those dadgummed dishes. This morning while we worked, we had a contest to see who could put the most ribbon candy in their mouths.

I don’t know who won cause we sucked and slurped on it with our mouths gaped open and our eyes bugging out just like a dog when you pulled his ears way back. After a while, we busted out laughing and near choked to death on candy juice.

Dad said, “Hey,” at us in a low, gruff voice from the other room. We knew that meant stop right now or get your rear ends whooped, so we hid and did it one more time.

After making her banana pies, Mama got Dad's hammer and put a big peppermint stick and a handful of those ribbon candies inside a flour-sack dishtowel. All us kids gathered around to watch. We made Big Eyes at each other every time she swung that hammer in the air and brought it down to crush the candy for the top of the Christmas Candy Cake.

You know, I can't swear, well, you ain't even supposed to swear, but anyways ... I can't promise if it's true or not, but I got my feelings about it that God Hisself must have gave that Christmas Candy Cake recipe to our Mama.

I mean, why not?

Don't it stand to reason the Almighty would want a special cake like that for His son's birthday? 

– Biddy Woodson, Nowata County, Oklahoma, 1933

For a complete adventure mystery featuring Biddy, read Blackberry Road published by Sundown Press and Available on Amazon in Audible, Print, and eBook.

Click HERE for Mama's Christmas Cake Recipe, both the Old-fashioned version & the New-fashioned version.

What holiday stories and recipes have been passed down in your family?

I love to hear from you!

Merry Christmas!

BlackberryRoad is published by Sundown Press and is available on Amazon in Audible, Print, and eBook.

“Trouble sneaks in one hot Oklahoma afternoon in 1934 like an oily twister. A beloved neighbor is murdered, and a single piece of evidence sends the sheriff to arrest a Black man that a sharecropper’s daughter, Biddy, knows is innocent. Hauntingly terrifying sounds seeping from the woods lead Biddy into even deeper mysteries and despair, and finally into the shocking truths of that fateful summer.”

 The Accidental Road, Fire Star Press.

"A teen and her mom escaping an abusive husband tumble into the epicenter of crime peddlers invading Arizona and Nevada in the 1950s. Stranded hundreds of miles from their planned destination of Las Vegas, they land in a dusty town full of ghosts and tales, treachery and corruption. Avoiding disaster is tricky, especially as it leads Kat into a fevered quest for things as simple as home and trust. Danger lurks everywhere, leading her to wonder if she and her mother really did take The Accidental Road of life, or if it’s the exact right road to all they ever hoped for."

Jodi Lea Stewart is the author of a contemporary trilogy set in the Navajo Nation featuring a Navajo protagonist, as well as two historical novels, Blackberry Road and The Accidental Road. She is hard at work on her sixth novel set in old New Orleans and St. Louis. She currently resides in Arizona with her husband, her delightful 90+-year-old mother, a crazy Standard poodle named Jazz, two rescue cats, and numerous gigantic, bossy houseplants.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Bu++ Bites Build Gristle by Jodi Lea Stewart

It’s like this – the gander that was flapping my face, back and legs . . .

. . . while simultaneously biting blood blisters on my little three-year-old derriere didn’t know he was contributing to my future confidence factor.

Being left alone in trees by older cousins while they went off to play games assuredly built my self-reliance.

How did I get all this country-flavored therapy?

By being reared in a farm atmosphere with a pack of heathens for cousins, that’s how.

Descending upon Grandma and Granddad’s farm every summer made my cousins and me wacky. Throwing our shoes and socks over our shoulders as soon as we arrived, we screeched with pure summer madness.

My gristle got a good start during those summers

I was the youngest, shortest, and most sensitive of the cousin pack *actually, they called me bawl-bag*, which swelled in number from six to twenty+ throughout the summer. Why? My mom was one of eleven kids. That makes for lots of cousins, lol!

Our fun was simple in those days - we simply created something from basically nothing.

Running wild and barefoot, teasing Heir Gander (the baddest dude on the farm), and not minding our elders were outstanding activities.

Of course, not minding always resulted in a lesson on branch cutting (for switches) and a character-building session involving our gluteous maximus immediately thereafter.

Challenging Grandma's Gander to a mad race across the barnyard was forbidden.

And thrilling. 

Except for me. My legs wouldn’t get me very far before I was missing in action. A little wing whipping before being rescued by the cousins was worth all the grass-rolling hilarity that followed.

One day, Gander snapped

Possessed by Hitler himself, Gander went for blood, and I was his victim.

Hair-raising screams brought a rescue unit of five or six bug-eyed adults.
After Heir Gander was slightly reconstructed by my hysterical mom, I experienced a grit-building event. My mom, with multiple pairs of cousin eyes staring, pulled down my shorts to inspect the gander bites. Snickering, then outright peals of laughter, echoed through the barnyard.

That’s when I cried. Hard.

My gristle was building!

Other times, when my cousins grew tired of babysitting me, they left me in a tall tree and told me to hold tight and be sure to not fall.
Hanging on for dear life—I’m afraid of heights to this day—I squalled until they came back. When they did, I was the center of attention. Merrily swung onto a pair of shoulders, I was teased and promised games and stories. They even meant it.

I was all giggles when we returned to the farmhouse. Any notice of my red eyes or purple face was attributed to the heat and my allergic problems.

Experiences like these were difficult, but I’m glad I went through them, and so many others later on. Why? Well, I have a theory:

A little grit in your craw makes life’s toughest tidbits easier to swallow, let alone digest.

You know I love to hear from you!


Just for fun . . .

 "Hey, Marilyn, did you read Jodi Lea Stewart's newest novel, The Accidental Road?"

"Jane, honey . . . I was her consultant! After all, it's practically written about me."

Jodi Lea Stewart is the author of a contemporary trilogy set in the Navajo Nation and featuring a Navajo protagonist, as well as two historical novels. Her current novel, Blackberry Road, is available on Amazon. Her next historical novel, The Accidental Road, debuted a few weeks ago. She is hard at work on her sixth novel set in New Orleans and St. Louis. She currently resides in Arizona with her husband, her delightful 90+-year-old mother, a crazy Standard poodle named Jazz, two rescue cats, and numerous gigantic, bossy houseplants.

 The Accidental RoadFire Star Press.

A teen and her mom escaping an abusive husband tumble into the epicenter of crime peddlers invading Arizona and Nevada in the 1950s. Stranded hundreds of miles from their planned destination of Las Vegas, they land in a dusty town full of ghosts and tales, treachery and corruption. Avoiding disaster is tricky, especially as it leads Kat into a fevered quest for things as simple as home and trust. Danger lurks everywhere, leading her to wonder if she and her mother really did take The Accidental Road of life, or if it’s the exact right road to all they ever hoped for.

Blackberry Road is published by Sundown Press and is available on Amazon.
Trouble sneaks in one hot Oklahoma afternoon in 1934 like an oily twister. A beloved neighbor is murdered, and a single piece of evidence sends the sheriff to arrest a Black man that Biddy *a sharecropper’s daughter* knows is innocent. Hauntingly terrifying sounds seeping from the woods lead Biddy into even deeper mysteries and despair, and finally into the shocking truths of that fateful summer.

Jodi Lea Stewart was born in Texas to an "Okie" mom and a Texan dad. Her younger years were spent in Texas and Oklahoma; hence, she knows all about biscuits and gravy, blackberry picking, chiggers, and snipe hunting. At the age of eight, she moved to a vast cattle ranch in the White Mountains of Arizona. As a teen, she left her studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson to move to San Francisco, where she learned about peace, love, and exactly what she DIDN'T want to do with her life. Since then, Jodi graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Business Management, raised three children, worked as an electro-mechanical drafter, penned humor columns for a college periodical, wrote regional western articles, and served as managing editor of a Fortune 500 corporate newsletter.