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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?

EXCERPT


     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. 

Morning? 

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. 




Wednesday, October 9, 2019

New Release — John D. Nesbitt Western Double: Pearl of Great Price & Leaving the Lariat Trail


Pearl of Great Price

Mr. Thorne, a mysterious traveler posing as a writer, arrives in a small Wyoming town—but why is he really there? When his colleague, Miss Greer, joins him, he discovers that the townsfolk can be downright unfriendly.
The two of them are after the worst kind of criminal—one who deals in artifacts of a grizzly nature—and they intend to stop him, no matter what his position might be. Will their luck hold as they confront him—and discover what he keeps hidden in his basement? 

Leaving the Lariat Trail

A young cowhand, Charles Landon, wants to go straight and break free from a crooked gang, but it won’t be easy. When his former associates hatch a plan to rustle cattle, Charles decides to move on—and the old gang members don’t believe he can be trusted. 
As they begin to come after him one by one, he realizes he’s going to need to carry a gun—it’s the only way he can get out of LEAVING THE LARIAT TRAIL alive!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Grow Your Own Jewelry? by Jodi Lea Stewart



My childhood as the only girl on an Arizona ranch could get downright lonesome.
Television and radio reception were nonexistent, and all the wonderful gadgets of today weren’t yet invented.

Friends were far away, so play dates and overnighters were as scarce as green grass, which is plenty scarce in the high deserts of the Southwest.

One day, probably as a result of my mournful expressions and heavy sighs, my mother – shrouded in mystery – beckoned me to follow her to the garden. There, between a peach tree and the rock house that supported our water tank filled with well water, she poured several tear-shaped seeds about the size of corn kernels into her hand from a packet.

What were they?

Job’s Tears, she said, and I was immediately beguiled. What a name! I could barely breathe as I asked her what we were going to do with them.

Plant them, was her reply.

And we did.

What exactly are Job’s Tears?


For starters, Job’s tears are nature’s jewelry.


The plants grow a pre-drilled, polished bead that can be used to make an endless assortment of necklaces, bracelets, and other baubles. The male flower grows up through the center of the bead. When removed, it leaves a hollow core just right for stringing.


People have grown Job’s Tears for thousands of years. In western India, a bead-making shop circa 2000 B.C. was uncovered. They found beads made from soapstone (man-made beads) and Job’s Tears (nature’s beads).

Different cultures have used these beads in creative ways. In Africa, shaker gourds enclosed with a loose net and covered with hundreds of Job’s tears are said to produce a lovely musical sound.

Why are they called 'Tears?'

The tear-shaped beads sometimes refer to job of the Old Testament, a man who endured great suffering. They are also called David’s Tears, St. Mary’s Tears, Christ’s Tears, and Tear Drops.

So, why are they called tears? Who knows? But it's dramatic and fun to do so.

More than a pretty bead
  • Coix lacryma-jobi – Job’s Tears’ scientific name – is a close relative to corn. The plants strongly resemble corn but are skinnier. It is considered one of the earliest domesticated plants.
  • The beads have been used all over the world as a source of food and medicine.
  • They can be ground into meal, or used as a coffee substitute.
  • They are common in products sold in Asia. When supplies of rice were low during the Vietnam War, Job’s Tears became a staple substitute.
  • In Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and Vietnam, Job’s Tears are available as flakes or powder. They are often added to other grains, liquors, candy, bath products, vinegar, and tea.
  • Hatomugi, the Japanese word for Job’s Tears, is used in traditional Japanese Kampo herbal medicine. The grain is valued as a nutritious food and has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to support hair, skin, nails, and as a digestive aide.
  • Here’s what Amazon says about them: This plant’s seeds are used in soups and broths, and can be used in any way that rice is used. They can also be ground into flour for making bread. The seeds are popular for making decorations and have herbal and medicinal uses. 
Growing Job’s Tears
Job's Tears are easy to grow. The plants don’t need a lot of water and are quite hardy. Here’s a link telling you exactly how to do it, but I promise, it’s easy!

Growing Job’s Tears and stringing the beads into necklaces remains one of my fondest childhood memories. My mother learned about Job’s Tears from her mother. Why not make some passed down memories for your special girls and guys?

They’ll never forget it. 

Amazon has the seeds right now. And don’t forget to come back and tell us about it, okay?


 I always love to hear from you.







 The Accidental Road, Fire Star Press, debuts September 2019.




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. 


She 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, debuts in September 2019. 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.





Sunday, September 15, 2019

Book review: Trading Horse by Darrel Sparkman



Blurb:
Range detective Jim Murphy digs in his heels to keep from falling in love with beautiful Connie Pinder, a rancher's daughter who's involved in the case Jim is investigating, right up to her pretty little neck. Following the trail of a stolen horse, Jim discovers it's actually a trail of murder, as well as a ruse by a ruthless gunfighter with his sights set on kidnapping Connie. Jim knows he can't let that happen, so that's when the bullets fly! TRADING HORSE by Darrel Sparkman is an action packed adventure full of gun smoke, and unforgettable characters.

My review: 
Trading Horse is a fun story that made me feel like I had my grandpa sitting here regaling the story of how he met and fell in love with my grandma.

You kinda get a feeling there's more to Jim than what needs the eye, but as the story goes on, you become more convinced that appearances are truly deceiving and there's definitely more to the man - even a fancy suit can't hide. Connie is a great match for Jim. Her attitude, charm, and fight keeps him on his toes and keeps her from being boring to him.

It's cute watching them figure the other out and how the meddling of folks around them help to push them along. When you realize just what trading horse means and how it comes into  play, you'll find yourself chuckling and shaking your head.

This is a easy-to-read winsome little story to be lost in for an hour or so.

Purchase links:




Wednesday, September 11, 2019

New Release — Trading Horse by Darrel Sparkman

Range detective Jim Murphy digs in his heels to keep from falling in love with beautiful Connie Pinder, a rancher's daughter who's involved in the case Jim is investigating, right up to her pretty little neck. Following the trail of a stolen horse, Jim discovers it's actually a trail of murder, as well as a ruse by a ruthless gunfighter with his sights set on kidnapping Connie. Jim knows he can't let that happen, so that's when the bullets fly! TRADING HORSE by Darrel Sparkman is an action packed adventure full of gun smoke, and unforgettable characters.

EXCERPT


     The gambler’s first mistake was trying a bottom deal. It was slick and when that card popped up, he looked at me. There were no words spoken. He knew I’d caught him and then he decided to shoot me before I could name him a card cheat. It was close. For a skilled man there is no faster draw than a sleeve gun.

     His last mistake was in thinking I hadn’t already drawn my pistol. Hidden under the table, it pointed right at him. When he raised his hand like pointing at the ceiling, I knew what was coming. The hand dropped, pointing right at me. When his derringer came into sight I shot him. Fair? Depends on your viewpoint.

     He wasn’t good at his chosen vocation. Normally, the town marshal would run men like that out of town with a stern warning accompanied with a few bruises and a dimple in his hat.

     I didn’t want to shoot him. Given a little time, and us being close together, I’d have tried for a shoulder wound. But he was quick with that derringer and gave me no time at all. The gambler was left with a belly wound. If he was lucky, he might be dead by now. A wound like that was a sure ticket to hell, and it takes days to make the passage. I’ve heard laudanum does no good against the pain.