My son turns 11 today

On this date, eleven years ago, I gave birth to my first child, Jase. Man…it is hard to believe that it has been 11 years since I first held him in my arms. Sometimes it feels like he has always been a part of our lives.

Our tradition of celebrating birthdays is ever-evolving.

From the first birthday through the fourth, we just celebrated with family. That included going out to dinner and then eating cake and opening presents at home.

On their fifth birthday, the kids started having birthday parties where they could invite their friends and classmates. For birthdays five, six and seven, each child had their party at a party location – Chuck E Cheese, Funtastic Playland, Inflatable Wonderland or Pump It Up. (Less work for Mom.)

Then on parties starting in second grade (eighth for Lexie and ninth and tenth for Jase), we let the kids have a party at home. We went all out with working with their themes. (Legos, Minecraft, How to Train Your Dragon)

But it is getting where it is not as practical to invite the whole class to a birthday party.  Jase is not friends with everyone in his class. He now has a select group of boys that he hangs out with. So we decided instead of inviting everyone or just the boys like we have done in the past, we let him pick 2-3 close friends to invite over for some birthday fun.

On Saturday afternoon, he had two friends over to play. (He invited three kids but one couldn’t make it.) We tried to make it a little less structured than our typical home birthday parties but did plan activities to keep the boys occupied for three hours.

We started off with a few science experiments.

  • Right after the "rocket" took off.

    Right after the “rocket” took off.

    Chalk Rockets (aka Exploding Chalk) – this is simply liquid chalk (corn starch, water and food coloring) placed in film canisters. You drop in some Alka-Seltzer tablets (or in our case powder), replace the lids and stand back and watch the canisters take off. It leaves an interesting pattern on the driveway of chalk too.

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    Right before they set off all 3 bottles at once.

    Mentos and Diet Cola – this is a classic experiment. You drop Mentos into a 2 liter diet cola bottle and watch it erupt. My husband made devices to drop the Mentos in that also allowed the soda to fountain even higher than normal.

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    Our first and only race.

    Balloon Racers – this was a simple one too. We put a string through a straw and then tied one end to the deck and the other to the fence. Actually we did this three times so each boy had his own string/straw. The boys blew up balloons. Once taped to the straw and let go, the balloons would race off toward the fence.

Unfortunately, it started to rain as we did the balloon racers so we had to postpone some of our other outdoor activities. While we originally planned on letting the boys have a “war” with Nerf guns, we moved inside for some video game action. (And a snack of popcorn and sodas.)

IMG_1754After a few different video games, we let the boys decorate their own cupcakes. That was a messy but fun project. I let them use as much icing and sprinkles as they wanted.

Then since it was still raining, we decide to move the Nerf Gun war into the house. We placed the guns and extra bullets in different locations and let them have fun. They could go anywhere but Lexie’s room. (She was at a friend’s birthday party and had specifically said they couldn’t go in there.)

IMG_1775aTo top off the afternoon and run off some of that sugar, we went back outside for a water balloon fight. We tried a new water balloon package that allows you to fill 120 water balloons in 60 seconds. It worked great and was well worth the money. (For Jase’s ninth birthday we had a water balloon fight and it took my husband and I quite a while to fill and tie all those water balloons.)

The boys all had a great time. Jase then got to celebrate on Sunday with the family. We went out to dinner (Olive Garden was Jase’s choice), and then opened presents and had cake at home.

And today, on his actual birthday, Jase is going with the other fourth graders on a field trip to the state capitol (Austin). They left at 8 am and won’t be home until 5 pm – two and a half hours after school is over. Add in that we had him celebrate his birthday at school last Friday (donuts for the class) and he has had a great four days celebrating his birthday!

Today’s Featured Author – Brandon Davis Jennings

Today I welcome author Brandon Davis Jennings to my blog. His second book, Battle Rattle, was released last month.

Interview

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in Hampton, Virginia, but my family is West Virginian. My childhood was spent mostly on the west coast in California (the Mojave Desert) and in Washington State. My dad served twenty years in the USAF, and that’s made it difficult for me to pick a home. Home is where my friends are, and they are all over the place. But my wife and I have finally settled in South Bend, Indiana. We want our daughter to have a place she can call home, and it’s looking like that place will end up being South Bend, Indiana.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I wrote when I was in high school and in grade school too. But back then I didn’t know that a person could be a writer. I thought all the books had been written and that anyone who wrote in contemporary time was just kind of fooling around. I really started to feel like a writer when I was in Saudi Arabia during the initial invasion of Iraq.  I was writing while I was  there, probably as catharsis. But I never really stopped writing  after I began in Saudi. And then while I was in undergrad for Journalism, I learned about MFAs in fiction. I had no idea you could get a degree in telling stories. I applied four places and got into Bowling Green State University earned an MFA in fiction and then went on to get a Ph. D in English with a creative dissertation. So it was probably Operation Iraqi Freedom that did it to me. It was the encouragement of friends, family, and mentors that kept me at it.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

Because the vast majority of the work I’ve been doing the past few years has been nonfiction (although the book I am promoting presently is fiction), my self has infiltrated a lot more of my characters than it may have otherwise. Or another way of  looking at it is that my self is a lot more readily apparent to me in my present work because all the nonfiction I’ve written has helped me to understand myself better. And I don’t think art comes from nothing, so even when a character does something I would never do, I probably have the character make that decision because I disagree with it. Stories are often more interesting when characters act in ways that we believe we would not. The Iliad  is interesting in part because Achilles chooses to go to war and die: whether we like it or not. I’m more interested in Ajax the Greater, but this probably isn’t the place for a rant about that.

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

My next book is a memoir in essays. Some of it has been published already in variou journals. But if I had to simplify it, that book is about growing up a military brat, having been molested on the night MIke Tyson lost to Buster Douglas, and how keeping that secret for twenty years affected my life.

Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?

I do write full-time, but I’m also a stay-at-home dad. So I have to wake at 5 most mornings to ensure I get some writing done before my daughter starts requiring attention. She naps a couple times a day still (she’s one), and that makes it easy for me to dive in and out of projects. It prevents me from doing any marathon writing sessions, but I don think those are often as productive as the word count might lead a writer to believe. Every one has her own process of course. But writing is no different than anything else: after a while, you get tired and sloppy and what might seem like a great sentence at the time of writing it, ends up being complete garbage upon later inspection. I am more productive now that I have a daughter than I was before she was around to keep me on my toes. She and my wife drive me to make the best art that I can.

Please tell us about your current release.

Battle Rattle is my second Kindle Single and the second book I’ve written about a group of American enlisted-men who live in segments: deployments broken up by brief respites lived at home. Unlike the majority of the books about war that have been released recently, this book doesn’t focus on any one of the particular conflicts American is involved in presently. This book isn’t about The Iraq War or the war in Afghanistan. It’s about these men who’ve been enlisted and serving long enough to have been to war in many different places. It’s also about how the jobs they’ve chosen impact the lives of their families at home. What I’m hoping Battle Rattle does is show people the America that I’ve witnessed and participated in during my 35 years. And I believe that despite much of the heartache and sadness that this book contains, it is hopeful because it should force readers to see these characters fully without giving them the chance to turn their heads.

How did you come up with the title?

The title wasn’t easy. I don’t think titles are ever easy, though. There were a lot of choices: many of the titles I came up with were terrible and easy to rule out. But Andrew Eisenman (the editor at Kindle Singles I worked with on the book) suggested Battle Rattle to me and after a lot of thinking about what exactly that meant to me and to the book itself, it made a lot of sense. For anyone who is not familiar with that phrase, it is something said in the military that deals with the gear one is wearing. An airman, soldier, marine, or sailor is in full battle rattle when he’s wearing his flak gear and all the other items that are required for his specific job. The play here is sort of on PTSD and you might say someone was “rattled” if a situation had caused him stress. An explosion might rattle a person, but since this book is just as concerned with the characters lives at home, battle seemed to work well as a way to indicate that not all the rattling was coming from time spent in war zones. Anyone who’s been in a relationship knows that not all battles are fought by soldiers. There was a battle over who would change the kitty litter at our house for years. Then my wife got pregnant and she won that battle.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

A lot of the research I did for this book was mining my own history. But that isn’t the extent of it. I had to read about a lot of different conflicts and the locations where they took place. But because the book is not supposed to be tied to any specific town or city in America and because it isn’t supposed to be tied to any specific war abroad, much of the research I did that would have allowed me to make things specifically southern or specifically Iraqi had to be tossed out. I’m sure that if someone took enough time they could make a pretty solid guess about where each chapter of the book takes place. But also, I think that the place where these characters are is less important than the time they are there in. They live in an America that has been at war for nearly two decades depending on how you want to delineate which conflict started when. The war I participated in started in 2003; it’s now 2016. I’m not sure when kids start to remember things like their country being at war, but I remember talking to my students when I was teaching creative writing at Western Michigan University, and I asked them if they could remember a time when we weren’t at war. None of them could. That’s not what my childhood or early adulthood was like. I joined the Air Force in 2000, in peace time, and the war that was being fought when I left the Air Force is still being fought today. I consider all the things a writer pays attention to as research. And I’ve had my eyes and ears open while working on this for the past decade. Of course the real research for all books is in observing people, and I’ve been doing that for as long as I can remember.

Do you have an all time favorite book?

My favorite book is Catch-22: not because I think it’s funny. I think it is one of the saddest books ever written. The saddest part about the book to me is that so many people use it as a way to gauge the humor in other military fiction. Really: Yossarian’s situation is horrifying. Each time he goes on a bombing run he faces death. And he survives time and again until he’s  completed all the missions required of him. And then they raise the number of missions, so he just has to go back up and do more. Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of funny moments in the book, but it’s not a funny book. Which is probably why I like it so much. War is not funny, but some people are able to laugh in the most grim of situations and that is a large part of what makes life worth living: laughing when it seems like all hope is lost.

What book are you reading right now?

I just finished The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I’d tried finishing that book about ten times over the last eight years and it was only now, after I was done with Battle Rattle that I was able plow through the final 300 pages and finish it. I do not recommend it. If you’re going to read Dostoevsky, read Crime and Punishment. It’s much more interesting and engaging. And if Crime and Punishment is too daunting, there is always Notes From Underground. And if you prefer to read a living person’s work, I’d recommend The Deathmask of El Gaucho by Dan Mancilla. That book won a contest I judged; it’s really good. I’ve read it three times. I’ll probably read it again.

Book Blurb

battle rattleFor Derrick “Vez” Vezcheck, dwell time – the period at home between deployments – is a different kind of battle. Swap enemies for civilian expectations and you get a sense of what Vez is up against: a patient and loving wife who’ll stick by him no matter what, a young daughter who’s a little too OK with seeing dad every six months, and a community that’s quick to thank him for his service, even if he himself has long forgotten what he’s fighting for.

In Battle Rattle, Brandon Davis Jennings’ darkly comic and all-too-real follow-up to 2015’s award-winning novella Waiting for the Enemy, the war is never out of sight and definitely never out of mind. With redeployment looming and everyone around him falling apart, Vez must choose between making things right at home and utterly destroying everything in his path—before it gets decided for him.

About the Author

Brandon JenningsBrandon Davis Jennings is an Operation Iraq Freedom Veteran from West Virginia. He is the author of Waiting for the Enemy, which won the Iron Horse Literary Review Chapbook Competition. His works has appeared in The Literary Review, Passages North, and Hayden’s Ferry Review and has been translated into German and Czech. He earned an MFA in Fiction from Bowling Green State University, and a PhD from Western Michigan University. He lives in South Bend, Indiana with his wife, Kristine and their daughter, Shannon. Battle Rattle is his second Kindle Single.

You can find out more about Brandon on his website.

You can buy Battle Rattle on Amazon.

 

Pricing your e-book – revisited

When I began this blog, I wrote about pricing your e-book. This was three and a half years ago, and I was new to the industry. Today, many authors still struggle with how to price their e-books.

You worked hard – spending months, even years – on this book. You think it is worth as much as any New York best-seller. The problem is you aren’t Stephen King or John Grisham. No one – or very few people – recognize your name.

Now while e-book versions of New York bestsellers sell from $6.99 to $14.99 (based on my quick glances of prices from three well-known authors), should you expect the same price for your book?

In my opinion, no. You may have a well-written novel but people don’t know you, and many will not be willing to shell out that type of money for an unknown.

There are readers out there who only want discount books. Some will pay 99 cents while others think they can find enough good “free” books. And then there are those readers who are suspicious of a cheaply priced book and consider those not worth their time.

You have to decide what the readers of your genre will pay. And you have to decide what you feel comfortable pricing your book. Sure you want to make money but if no one buys your book because it is priced too high, then even if it is a quality read it won’t sell.

pricingI am among the readers who will not pay high prices for books, whether they are from famous, well-known names or unknowns. I buy books anywhere from 99 cents to $3.99 from an unknown author. And I don’t go much higher for those well-known authors like Nora Roberts. I wait until I see the book on sale (usually in paperback) and buy it then.  I don’t think I have every paid over $7 for a fiction e-book.

How you determine your e-book price is totally up to you. You can price it high because you think it is worth that, or because you know how much work went into writing, editing and publishing your work. But readers typically don’t care much about what goes into writing a book. They only care about the end result. They want to know what is in it for them.

Assumingly that is hours of enjoying a good book. It can also take them to exotic destinations or even to other worlds. It can introduce them to interesting characters. It can provide them an escape from daily life. Your book may be able to offer them all this and more.

But just because you offer all this to your reader doesn’t mean you can automatically price your book at a higher price. Many readers will still not take a chance at a new author with books priced too high. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore your books value to the reader. It just means you need to price it low enough to entice readers to give it a try.

As with anything, there is always an exception to any “rule.” There is nothing wrong with offering a short story or the first book in the series at a really low price to entice a reader to give your work a try. My short story, The Search, is free everywhere but Amazon (where it is just 99 cents). I wrote this short prequel to my The Elemental trilogy to be a loss-leader. I am hoping people will download (or buy it) and enjoy it so much that they will want to buy the next three books (and then my stand-alone book, The Heir to Alexandria). I know many authors that have the first book in their series either perma-free or priced at 99 cents for the same reason.

So bottom line…consider carefully what price you give your e-book. A lot of authors, including myself, price their books at the $2.99 mark since this allows the higher royalty rate on Amazon but is still low enough to entice readers to give an unknown author a try. Is this rate right for you? Only you – and the e-book market – can decide.

 

Our vacation plans changed yet again

Two years ago we took a trip to Disney World. Anyone who has stayed on Disney property knows that it is not cheap. So for the following summer we decided that we would just go on a vacation closer to home. We decided to go to Houston (about 3 hours from here).

But that plan changed when my parents decided to take my brother and my family on a Caribbean cruise to celebrate my Dad’s 80th birthday and my husband and my 20th wedding anniversary. So we pushed the Houston plans to the summer of 2016.

That was the plan when I wrote in January about our summer plans. We were going to save money and go on a vacation closer to home so that we could re-do the counter tops in our kitchen. Then we got a much larger than expected tax refund. And my husband mentioned going to Disney in December rather than waiting until June 2017 as was our original plan.

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Christmas Tree outside of the Animal Kingdom Theme Park. (2009)

Now, before the kids were in elementary school, we had taken them to Disney World a couple of times in December. The weather is great and the theme parks and hotels are all decorated for Christmas. But if you recall a post I wrote back in January, I try not to have my kids miss too much school. Typically they have only missed a day if they are sick.

OK…I admit to taking them out early for the rodeo and once for a beach trip. Every June Disney trip has had them missing the last day of school. I always thought I would feel too guilty to take them out of school for a whole week for a vacation.

I stewed over my husband’s suggestion for a week or so. I began looking at prices of hotels to see if it was any cheaper to go in December verses waiting until June. (Nope, not really much of a price difference.) I even talked to a few parents I know who have taken their kids out of school for a family vacation whether it was Disney World or a cruise. None of them regretted it. One, who now is a teacher at my school, highly encouraged me to do it.

“You won’t regret it,” she said. “Think of the memories you will make.”

Our principal is very family oriented. My kids are good students. If the teachers give make up work, we will do it. If they get zeroes on work for the days they miss, it won’t affect their grades that much. And honestly, who really cares what your grades were in third and fifth grade anyway.

So I decided we would do it. We would take them out for five days in December.

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Caribbean Beach Resort

Now each time we have gone to Disney, we have stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort. My husband and I spent our honeymoon there and an anniversary trip before taking the kids to that resort. But when I looked, there was no openings for the time we wanted to go. (9 months in advance and no standard rooms? Weird but it is the same time as a youth sports groups annual competition and they may be holding rooms for them.)

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Animal Kingdom Lodge

I have always wanted to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. But this is a deluxe resort and $$$$$. I was thinking if I could get it on a discount and it was only a little more than our normal resort then I would go ahead and do it. Pricing it out with the discount I assumed might be offered and it was still out of our range for what I am willing to spend on a resort.

Savannah View at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Savannah View at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Then I read about renting Disney Vacation Club points from a DVC member. This would make the Villas at Animal Kingdom Lodge affordable for us. After looking at room options and dates, we booked a Studio with a view of the Savannah for the week after Thanksgiving. I am so excited! I cannot wait to check out this resort!

Today’s Featured Author – Margaret Brazear

Please welcome author Margaret Brazear to my blog. Today she is sharing with us an excerpt from The Judas Pledge, the first book in her Holy Poison historical romance series.

Excerpt

Her plan was put on hold indefinitely when one morning a messenger arrived on horseback asking to see Richard.  The man seemed to be in a panic and Bethany ordered refreshments for him, but he refused to tell her his message; that was for His Lordship’s ears only.

A few minutes after he had gone, Richard came to join his wife in their bedchamber where she sat on the bed, wondering why the messenger had been so secretive. Her heart sank when she saw he was buckling a sword at his waist.  He strode across the room and took her face in his warm hands, then they dropped to her shoulders and he lifted her to her feet.

“King Edward is dead,” he announced. “Jane Grey has been proclaimed Queen in London.”

She knew at once why he was wearing a sword and her heart almost stopped in her chest; he had come to say goodbye.

“Mary has gathered forces at Framlingham and is even now on her way to London with an army.  I will join her in Sawston where she will stay the night.  There is little time, but you must promise me that you will not put yourself in any danger while I am away.”

All she could think of was how to stop him, how to keep him here and safe where he belonged. But there was no way and she knew it. She felt certain these gloriously happy weeks would never come again.

“What sort of danger?” She asked at last.

“Rely only on Anthony for news, please. It is a dangerous time and if you say the wrong thing to the wrong people, it could be construed as treason.”

Treason? He could speak to her of treason while he risked his precious life for the little papist woman?

“Aren’t you the one in danger of being condemned for treason?” She was shivering with fear now and did not realise she was digging her fingernails into his arms.  “You are going to support Queen Jane’s enemy against her. You are planning to ride into London with Mary Tudor, right into the lion’s den. The next time I see you could be in the Tower.” She reached up and kissed his lips, held her arms tightly about his waist, desperately trying to make him stay. She could not stop the tears which were brimming over and falling down her cheeks. “Please, Richard, do not go. I think I would die myself if I lost you.”

So she had said it. She had taken those feelings out of their little box and thrown them at him, despite wanting very much to keep them safe inside, where he would never see. They had an agreement and this was not part of it.

He held her away from him to look down into her eyes and smiled gently as he hugged her close. She could feel his heart beating rapidly against her cheek, could feel the shuddering sigh as he breathed in deeply.

“You really love me,” he said, but with a little puzzled frown on his brow. “I had not expected that, but you do. You really love me.”

Then he returned her kiss, a kiss that went on so long she thought she would faint, a kiss that took her breath away and aroused in her that longing she had so recently discovered. And she was so afraid it would be the last kiss.

Gently, he took her arms from around his waist and pushed her away.

“Pray for me,” he said swiftly, and with that he was gone while she wondered miserably if she would ever see him again.

***

When the messenger had gone, Richard sat for a moment wondering why his heart failed to sing at the news of the King’s death. If only Mary had been declared Queen, as her father’s Will had decreed, he would not now have to leave his wife and risk his life to fight for her.

He had waited for the Protestant boy to die, his allegiance was to Mary and until now he had longed for the day he could raise his sword in defence of her, the day he could help her to return England to the true faith. He had looked forward with joy and excitement to the day he would ride into London at Mary Tudor’s side, raise her flag before her army and claim the throne of England for the true heir and the true faith.

Since he invited Bethany into his life, he could summon no enthusiasm to leave her, no matter what the cause.

He shook his head to clear it. He had no time for this; he would have to go, and go quickly. He took his sword from its place over the fireplace and buckled on his belt as he climbed the stairs to say goodbye to her. She waited, seated on their bed and looking more beautiful than he had ever seen her, and he could see in her eyes that she knew already what the news would be.

He could not love her; he could not afford to risk his heart. He had no intention of ever loving her, only of giving her the respect due to his countess. He did not love her! It was not possible. It was merely an infatuation from which he would soon recover once he was away from her.

But when she clung to him and begged him not to go, when he saw how much he meant to her, his resolve almost failed. He was always popular with women; he was handsome, well built and charming and with skills in the bedchamber they could find nowhere else, but he never had expected any of them to love him as this woman did.

She had kept her side of the agreement, or tried to. She had followed all his instructions on how a countess must behave so that when he finally presented her to the monarch, she would move in court circles and not disgrace him. He knew there were many among those circles who gossiped about his choice of bride, who condemned her as being unworthy to wear the title, but he had little use for the opinions of others.

She had stood beside him every day in his private church and said the mass as he had taught her but he knew she was uncomfortable with it, even afraid of it. She trembled with fear in that church, although she tried to hide it; she stared at the statues with terror in her eyes and she seemed no closer to embracing his beliefs.

She had paid attention to the lessons his priest gave her, but he knew the subject was of academic interest to her, nothing more. She was an intelligent woman who enjoyed learning, but she was nowhere close to believing what she was taught and now he doubted she ever would be.

He had been arrogant enough to believe her faith was unimportant and she would soon see the truth; it was a mistake, a big one.

Now it was too late. His duty lay with Mary and he could not afford to be distracted from that duty. And there was still no sign of an heir.

Book Blurb

The Judas PledgeIt is 1553 and for five years the fifteen year old protestant King Edward VI has reigned with the aid of a Lord Protector. It has been twenty years since King Henry VIII broke away from the yoke of the Roman church and Catholicism is outlawed and a thing of the past.

Bethany is the daughter of a wealthy merchant and her only concern is to avoid an arranged marriage to the impoverished baron her father has found to marry her for her dowry.

When the wealthy Earl of Summerville suggests a marriage which will make her a very rich countess she is thrilled and his confession that he is a hated catholic and that he expects her to follow his faith, means little. If Bethany had thought about it at all, she had believed there were no Catholics left in England. Her eyes firmly fixed on a handsome, amiable husband and the title, wealth and huge country mansion which comes with him, she believes she will never have to adhere to that condition, she believes there will never be another catholic monarch, despite his assurances that the catholic Mary Tudor will succeed her brother to the throne.

She has no idea how hard it is going to be to keep that pledge when Mary gains the throne and begins a brutal campaign to bring England back to the church of Rome. Bethany is horrified to learn that not only is her new husband a catholic, he is a close friend and advisor to the new Queen Mary.

As Bethany’s protestant family and friends are persecuted for their beliefs, beliefs for which they are prepared to die a horrible death, she finds the struggle to support her catholic husband and give lip service to his faith to be impossible despite having fallen deeply in love with him.

This is a tale of love, passion and betrayal in an age when God is a very real part of everyday life and the way he is worshipped worth of dying for.

HOLY POISON is a series of historical romances concerning the ordinary people who lived through the religious upheaval brought about by Mary Tudor’s determination to return England to the Catholic Church, a violent five years for which she was ever after known as ‘Bloody Mary’.

About the Author

Margaret Brazear was born in London, England in 1948, to a working class family. Her father was a lorry driver and she had what was then a secondary modern education. Her interest in history was piqued when she was in her teens and she went on to study in earnest the fascinating subject of England’s past. She has written stories since she could write and is proud and delighted to have found a following to her historical romance fiction.

She is a widow with three grown up children, two grown up grandchildren and a deep love of four legged furry creatures, especially dogs.

You can find out more about Margaret on her website or check out her Facebook Author Page.

You can purchase The Judas Pledge on Amazon.