The Wisdom of Rocks and Making Time to Create


Some rocks from  my rock collection. That white rock is from a writing retreat I did in Spain.

I was driving home last night from work thinking of what I’d say in an end-of-the-year blog post. It didn’t take long for me to circle back to early 2017 when I began research for my current work-in-progress, Proxima Five. One of the main characters in the novel is a geologist named Leah Warren. So, first things first, find a geologist to talk to. Plans were laid to meet my friends Darlene and Peggy for dinner at a local restaurant named Sweet T’s. Peggy is a geologist and we share an active love of rocks. We talked over dinner about the geological clock and how slowly it moves. How the youngest rock is tens of thousands of years old. And over the past year as the pace of stories about debacles in our nation’s capital have glutted the daily news cycle I’ve longed for a bit of that geological pace. Wouldn’t it be nice if things just slowed a bit?

But that isn’t exactly where my thoughts ended up on the drive home. Thinking about time came later. What immediately came to mind was the fact that Sweet T’s, a local favorite, is gone. Completely leveled in the Tubbs Fire that raged through Santa Rosa during October. So much happened in 2017. One small crisis after another, culminating with an inferno in October. And this was before the intense fires in southern California later in the year.

Sweet Ts

Sweet T’s after the Tubbs Fire of 2017.

Repeatedly during the year, I was grateful to be able to find a respite from reality while writing fiction. However, as I look back, the story of Proxima Five evolved over the last few months, influenced by the reality of our times. A story that began as an examination about what happens when power rules unchecked, became a more nuanced narrative about power dynamics, sex, and culture, about the mechanisms that come to exist in society as a result of those factors.

It’s fortuitous that I would have the opportunity to write Proxima Five. It gives me a place to put thoughts into something constructive. But Proxima Five is an epic shift from my newest book, Love at Cooper’s Creek, due out February 1 by Bold Strokes Books.

LoveAtCooper'sCreekLove at Cooper’s Creek is a meditation on small town America in the Deep South. It’s sweet, hopeful, funny, and heartfelt. The story is partly about running away and at the same time, being found.

“A sense of connection, a sense of belonging washed over Shaw. She looked at Kate who had covered her mouth with her hand. The wet paths of tears were on her cheeks. Shaw didn’t have the language to explain the emotion that crowded her chest. It was as if Charlie had sent her a message of kinship from some other place, some place beyond knowing, beyond words. She couldn’t explain it. The moving monument was like some secret presence of the divine, and in that instant, she knew she’d been loved.” (from Love at Cooper’s Creek)

I guess the moral of this end-of-the-year blog post, if one exists, is that 2017 made me realize how important it is to give ourselves breathing room, breaks from reality to create, in whatever form that takes.

Our studio has a holiday lunch to celebrate the end of the year. As the host of the gathering I always try and have some inspiring quote that I share with the team. This year’s quote was from Mary Oliver and I intend to make it my goal for the New Year. I always tell people, invest in yourself. When I say that I don’t mean financially, I mean, give yourself time.

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” ― Mary Oliver

Happy New Year.

My New Release: Crossing the Wide Forever

Crossing The Wide Forever 300 DPIIt was hard not to get lost in the research for this book. Not the technical data or anything like that, but rather the personal stories of the women that migrated west during the mid-1800s. Many of whom were white and from middle-class economic backgrounds. Slavery and massacres were prevalent during this time period and gravely impacted the lives of black and native women. Conflicts between anti-slavery and pro-slavery factions in the Kansas territory required farmers to carry firearms to the field with them. The heated debate over the extension of slavery into the territories west of Missouri were being hotly debated in Washington D.C., while in the Deep South succession was in serious discussion. A lot was going on in the 1850s. I tried to be strategic about where I placed this story because of that.

I hadn’t realized until I started this book how many first-person diaries were available. Many of the story details that might seem far-fetched, like the electrical storm on the plains, or the ghoulish skulls of long dead buffalo, are taken from first-person accounts. The women who made the journey west didn’t so much write about how they felt, maybe they kept those feelings private, but they did describe the day-to-day challenges of managing a traveling home (wagon) on the open prairie.

I also didn’t realize how many white women dressed as men to migrate west. I had this idea that one of the characters in Crossing the Wide Forever might disguise herself as male but I wasn’t sure how plausible that was. It turns out there were lots of reasons for white women to disguise themselves as men. Some were fleeing abusive relationships or hoping to avoid an unwanted marriage arrangement. Some found themselves in situations where they had to feed and care for their children alone. Many white women during this time had two options, get married or resort to prostitution. The third, more radical option was to dress as a man and find work. Only men had the luxury of finding decent paying jobs on the frontier. In many cases free black men and white men worked side-by-side.

One of my sources for the historical setting of Crossing the Wide Forever was a book by Peter Boag titled, Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past. Boag’s book contains stories of both men and women who cross-dressed. I can only assume that some women also cross dressed so that they could marry the woman they loved, as many of them did. Sex was not viewed as binary at the time and there was no real word for homosexuality so newspaper stories about these cross-dressing women rarely made any mention of sexual orientation or the role that may have played in the woman’s decision to dress in masculine clothing. Sometimes the undertaker was the only one to discover the true identity of many of these women when he prepared their body for burial.

Winslow Homer’s work as a watercolorist during the mid-1800s provided some of the basis for Lillie’s career path as a landscape painter in Crossing the Wide Forever. Lillie’s experiences as a woman in the male-dominated field of art were inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s early life. O’Keeffe overcame many obstacles to succeed as a painter. Some of what she had to say about art critics and how they interpreted her work through a misogynistic lens is heartening to read, especially if you’ve ever received a bad review.

This novel is not intended as a history lesson and it was my goal not to let historical detail bog down the story. But context is important. All of the research was simply to put the reader in Cody and Lillie’s world. The story is about adventure, about charting your own course, about believing in yourself, and ultimately about falling in love.


Writing with D. Jackson Leigh and VK Powell

Defiant bottle

Photo by my wife, Evelyn Braddock.

“Coming in June, July, and August of 2018. Three humorous yet very romantic stories about three friends, written by three friends.” – D. Jackson Leigh

I couldn’t think of two writers (and friends) who would be more fun to collaborate with on a trilogy of romance novels set in the Deep South.

My pal and fellow Bold Strokes Books author, D. Jackson Leigh wrote a hilarious (almost true) story about how this trilogy came to life. What her blog post didn’t include was the whiskey bottle she carried lovingly from North Carolina to Northern California that launched the brainstorming session. If you haven’t checked out D. Jackson Leigh’s recap of the night in question you can read it here on the Bold Strokes Books blog.

I’m extremely excited about this series. D. Jackson Leigh beta reads all my novels and I feel that she encourages me to be a better writer. VK Powell is one of my favorite authors and Bold Strokes Books colleagues. I enjoy the wit and heart of her novels.

Here’s a recap of the three novellas in the Pine Cone series:

Trilogy wallpaper

Photo and book cover photos by Evelyn Braddock.

Take My Hand by Missouri Vaun: Art critics raved about the originality of Clay Cahill’s paintings in her first solo show in NYC. But she was unprepared for the psychological pressure that followed and the betrayal of someone she thought cared about her. Clay retreats to her hometown, Pine Cone, Ga. She takes a job at her grandfather’s garage driving the tow truck and sets her paints aside.

River Hemsworth owns a boutique art gallery in NYC and is busy mounting her next show when she receives a call from a lawyer in Pine Cone. River’s aunt has bequeathed her a local gallery. She arrives in the small town, intent on unloading the property immediately and returning to NYC, but then she wrecks her car and has to be rescued by a broodingly handsome tow truck driver. River is out of place in a town where the local’s idea of fashion is anything with a Carhart label. But slowly her perception begins to shift and so does Clay’s. For the first time in months, Clay’s inspired to paint. River has given rise to desires she never thought she’d feel again. And those desires must be expressed on canvas.

Take a Chance by D. Jackson Leigh: Trip Beaumont likes being a big fish in a small pond. There’s hardly an animal she can’t heal or a woman she can’t charm within fifty miles of Pine Cone, Ga. – except for the irritating and elusive new cop who keeps leaving parking tickets on her truck.

Canine officer Jamie Grant has never liked rule-breakers, but she’s especially incensed when she discovers Trip owns the veterinary truck that is constantly parked illegally around the small town. She’s searched carefully for a quiet, eclectic community to settle down with her gastric-challenged canine partner, Petunia. Instead, she finds herself on collision course with the woman who stole her girlfriend and broke her heart after an ill-conceived threesome in college.

Take Your Time by VK Powell: Grace Booker’s life is good—but not quite everything she wants. Her job as a county deputy has its challenges, but she enjoys helping people. Her most recent good deed, however, ends badly and Grace is left with a raucous African grey parrot, Dirty Harry, who hates her. When Harry becomes louder and more neurotic, Grace takes him to the new vet, Dr. Dani Wingate, and sparks fly when the woman instantly assumes Grace has been abusive to the bird.

Recently laid off from her dream job as a zoo veterinarian in a large northern city, Dr. Dani Wingate accepts a temporary position in tiny Pine Cone until an opportunity opens up back in the city. The only thing she wants more than a lesbian who can do uncomplicated is a one-way ticket out of Pine Cone.



The Adventures of Nash Wiley

Today marks the release of the first in a series of fun short stories featuring the likable, comical, perpetually searching, Nash Wiley. Four short stories will be delivered by Bold Strokes Books during the course of the next four months, including today’s release of Death By Cocktail Straw. Each narrative builds on the next until the last story in the series is released in February 2017.

Here’s a brief synopsis of each wild Nash Wiley adventure. Happy reading!

death-by-cocktail-strawDeath By Cocktail Straw
Release Date: November 1, 2016
How did a club night with friends go so off the rails? Nash’s day had started out so well. An adorable barista flirted with her as she picked up her morning espresso, which may have contributed to the distraction that moments later nearly ended in disaster. Nash had used the word “disaster” carelessly not realizing how far the rest of her day would spiral after her tragic morning commute. Picking up girls after midnight in an ER is a clear sign of desperation, right? Unless that girl is the enchanting nurse who keeps coming to her rescue.

one-more-reason-to-leave-orlandoOne More Reason to Leave Orlando
Release Date: December 1, 2016
Nash Wiley, aka: slow learner, discovers that hooking up with your sexy neighbor isn’t such a great idea, especially if you like your apartment and you’d like to keep living there. Having sex with both of your neighbors is an even worse idea, especially if those neighbors happen to be in a relationship… with each other. Threesomes always sounded so exotic and exciting in the abstract. As it turns out the reality of sleeping with two women at the same time is a lot more complicated. But it wasn’t like it was Nash’s idea and when the offer presented itself she found it impossible to say no.

smothered-and-coveredSmothered and Covered
Release Date: January 1, 2017
The last person Nash Wiley expected to bump into over a two a.m. breakfast at Waffle House was her college crush, decked out in a curve-hugging law enforcement uniform. Nash can’t believe her luck when Ms. Crush asks to join her, explaining that she’s just getting off shift. But something seems a little off. It could be the glitter in her eye shadow, or the black lace bra peeking from her barely buttoned uniform shirt, or maybe the exotic dancers who stroll in from the local gentleman’s club and crash their private reunion. Nash isn’t sure she’s still hungry until the waitress takes her order. “How you want those hash browns, hon?” Ms. Crush pins Nash with a sultry gaze and answers for her. “Mmm. I’ve heard she likes hers smothered and covered.”

privacy-glassPrivacy Glass
Release Date: February 1, 2017
As Nash Wiley entered the elegant Savannah Victorian and scanned the room she had one thought: this is one gay wedding that could really get out of hand. Only a lesbian would think it was a good idea to invite so many exes and then let them offer up toasts after drinking way too much white wine. But the evening turns even more surreal when Nash commandeers a stretch limo and Anna Hayes for a late night drive out to the beach and friendship turns into something more. Champagne on ice, seat belts optional and privacy glass a must.


The End


My wife Evelyn took this picture.

I finished the first draft of the manuscript for Crossing The Wide Forever today. Weighing in at just over 67,000 words it’s the longest story I’ve written to date.

There seems to be a moment about seventy-five percent into every book that I have written thus far where the whole thing stalls and I worry that I’ve gone off the rails and have no idea how it’s all going to come together. I lose sleep, I fret, I drive my wife Evelyn crazy recapping scenes in the story. (She says not, but I’m sure I do.)

With a fourth cup of coffee in hand, my writing playlist piping in through noise-cancelling headphones and the lights in my studio dim… I write the next 1,000 words. Because you just have to. You have to push through to the other side.

Four thousand words later I crawl into bed, exhausted, frustrated, and dream about the book. Scenes flash through my mind like I’m watching a movie. And then it happens. Somewhere between asleep and awake, at about four o’clock in the morning the whole thing comes together in my head. I can see it all the way through.

In the dark I get up and go downstairs to scribble all of it down on a giant yellow legal pad. My cat Otis is happy. He finally has somewhere to sit. (Cats and paper, what is that?)

I’ve also noticed that every time I finish a book, the minute I type the words “The end,” I’m euphoric. My head feels lighter. I can finally stop worrying about these characters that I’ve been living with for weeks. I’ve gotten them through to the end and they’re going to be okay.

Everyone gets what they need in the end, except me, because now I’m feeling sad. I begin missing those characters. They have more stories to tell.

I email the acquisitions editor Sandy at Bold Strokes Books and tell her I have a great idea for a sequel. Sandy is always kind in her correspondence, so she promptly replies and gently reminds me sequels don’t sell as well. Sigh.