The First Time ~ by Darlene Kuncytes

     You finally get that email you’ve been waiting and waiting for…Here are a few ideas I came up with for your cover…Your heart is pounding so fast that you can barely breathe.  This is it. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for like a child waits for Santa on Christmas Eve. You open the attachments, your hand shaking slightly as you tremble with excitement.Click…And…there it is! You know it immediately, and with every ounce of your being. Your very first book cover ever!     You practically squeal with delight, trying hard to contain your jubilation. (But who are we kidding?! You’re pretty sure the neighbors think the tornado sirens just went off because of the sound emitting from your lungs, and you couldn’t care less.)
     This is your moment.
     It’s perfect! It’s exactly how you imagined it, only a thousand times better! You want to put that cover on everything you can get your grubby little hands on—pins, key chains, mugs, bookmarks…the list goes on and on.
     It’s really your book! Your story. Your sleepless nights and hours spent editing, and it’s all really coming together with this one amazing piece of art designed especially for you!
     That’s your name and title staring back at you!
     This gorgeous, perfect cover just seals the deal on the dream you’ve waited a lifetime for. 

You are an author! 

     This first moment can never be duplicated. And…it’s marvelous! Then, some years, and many books later, the cover model does something reckless and irresponsible, something that tarnishes his/her reputation. And your precious first book is collateral damage, wreckage in the storm. You can’t help but feel a little betrayed. This person has tainted that beautiful memory, ruined the experience, and maybe even soured your outlook on the whole industry.
     The cover is the image that helps to bring your words to life in the most amazing way. They go hand in hand. But now you’ve found out that the person whose hand you thought you were holding was only an illusion.
     This happens more than I’d like to imagine in the book world. And it’s not just cover models. It can also be editors, artists, publishers, other authors—all are capable of sabotaging your optimism and your memories. 
     You’re dealing with people and people can disappoint. And this new world of social media can just compound the problem. It’s much too easy for someone to get a bug up their bum and voice their opinions in the nastiest of ways.
     I will never understand it. It makes me sad that someone would alienate themselves from the people who made them who they are, but it is done every day.
     Professionalism means a lot in this industry. ANY industry, for that matter. You need to think before you type because, no matter what you think, once it’s been seen, it’s been seen. And you can never predict just how far the destruction will reach and who you will hurt.
      Luckily, I have been blessed with the most amazing cover artist imaginable, and she was quick to redo not one, but two of my covers. And I really do love the new ones so much. Probably even a little bit more than the originals with He Who Shall Not Be Named adorning them.
     Now, over eleven books later, I still get those butterflies in my tummy each and every time I see that email from my cover artist sitting in my in-box. Mostly it’s because I know what is waiting for me there will be gorgeous, and amazing, and exactly how I imagine my characters to be. 
But, do we ever truly forget our first time?Not really. 
     So, while I’ll never again feel that flush from seeing my very first cover, I will treasure the memory of it. It does get a bit easier every day to look at that canvas hanging above my sofa, because no matter what, I still do love it so much. As I love ALL of my babies. 
     But, it’s really the stories inside that count. They are the little bits of your heart and soul that you put into each and every one that makes them come alive when a reader opens the cover. 
     No. I will never get that first time feeling again, but with experience and all the friendships I’ve made along the way, the excitement I feel each time someone tells me they love my books and they love my covers is just as good... 
     If not better. 

I write!...therefore…I research?? ~ by Joanne Jaytanie

Research is part of a writer’s life. It doesn’t matter what you write; if you want to pull your reader in, make them believe, you must anchor your story with what—could be possible—or what if. At least that’s my belief. 

I write suspense and paranormal/supernatural, and I tend to pull in scientific elements. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no science whiz, but even so, my plots often revolve around components such as DNA manipulation, multiple births, accident reconstruction, and biological discoveries. To a certain extent, I write what I know, what I've been exposed to, or what I’ve learned. My upcoming release, Salvaging Truth, is a prime example. In 2016, when I first started creating the initial premise of this plot, I scoured the internet for any mention of my theory. There was research being done relating to the idea and after reading some reports and studies, I knew I could build a viable plot. 

Another form of research: Anyone who knows me, knows that my immediate family is and was deeply embedded in the military. My husband, step-son, brother-in-law, and father-in-law, all served in the Navy. My dad was in the Army. My step-daughter was active duty Coast Guard and continues to serve in the reserves. To date, all my full-length novels include main characters who are or once were military. I was never in the military, but I have a darn good wealth of resources to draw from. I question my family members extensively, and I’m eternally grateful that they are always willing to answer all my crazy questions. 

I also gravitate toward the Hawaiian Islands. I’ve never been there, but I have a good friend that lives there, family members who have lived or visited and my online research. I learned my lesson while editing my first novel—never to assume. There's a scene in, Chasing Victory, where she is in the forest, and someone or something is stalking her. I originally named an animal, but after editing a few times I started questioning…do the Hawaiian Islands have bears? Nope.

Yes, I write fiction, and I want to write a story that will grab the reader. Make them get goosebumps, a quickening pulse, teary-eyed, and needing to turn the page. In order to accomplish any of those emotions, they can't be pulled out of the story to wonder...Really? 

So, I'll continue to do my research and when I miss something or thought what I wrote I was correct—I'll thank my Editing Goddess for catching my blunder...But that's a story for another day. 

Until next time…

To find out more about my books and to watch the book trailer of Salvaging Truth, click the link below.

Tomorrow is not Promised ~ by Shannon Binegar-Foster

Just 5 days into the new year our community suffered a tragic loss. One firefighter died in the line of duty. He was fighting a fire in a grain bin when it exploded causing him to fall 80 feet. Another firefighter was critically injured and has a long road to recovery ahead of him. 

To see the outpouring of love and support from our community has been overwhelming. The day after the explosion, I found myself overcome with great sadness. I can’t imagine what the families were feeling at that moment. It is times like these that I am reminded how important it is to tell those you love how much they mean to you. 

In today’s world we are all so busy, so much so that we often forget to tell our family we love them. We don’t spend enough quality time with friends or family. So this is my gentle reminder for you to stop and make time for those important to you. Say what you feel and reach out to those you have lost touch with for tomorrow is not promised.

Photos courtesy of free photos


FORBODING: a strong inner feeling or notion of a future misfortune, evil, etc.

Yeah, that kind of sums it up for New Orleans. 

Before the year 2000, I had never been to New Orleans. Since then, I have traveled there almost twice a year—sometimes more often.  This last week I took an afternoon walk through the alleyways and cobblestone streets that cris-cross the historic part of downtown known as the French Quarter. 

On this trip, I was particularly interested in some of the intriguing doorways you find off the beaten path.  In a place like New Orleans, your mind can play tricks on you. One can imagine all sorts of things when peering into a darkened entry. 

Is this some ghostly portal? What devilish creatures haunted this place a hundred years ago? 

Or did it house that relief from months at sea, that so many worn out sailors craved?

On one of my previous trips, I was drawn to one of the most famous sites in New Orleans - Pirate's Alley. 

Graphite drawing by Ralph Duncan

Famous or infamous, detailed, factual information about the history of Pirate's Alley is elusive. And yet, it is one of the most photographed and painted landmarks of the city. One can find some version of a painting or photograph in nearly every shop in the French Quarter.

I had heard about it and sought it out, walked it many times before I decided to pencil my version.  And I went back several times after. It is one of those places that you can get a different feel each time you stand on the cobblestone street; a street that is just 600 feet long and 16 feet wide. In the daytime warmth of the south, there is a feeling of welcome and contentment. But in the evening, as darkness begins to fall and the fog from the Mississippi rolls in, you might start looking over your shoulder, fearful of---well, pirates.

It seems that the pirate Jean Lafitte (although he would have referred to himself as a privateer) is the main character in the story of how this alleyway got its name. Lafitte, his brother Pierre, and their men came to New Orleans about 1803, the year of the Louisiana Purchase. Accounts say that people would whisper behind his back---PIRATE! Lafitte and his band controlled the black market commerce and the sale of illegal goods openly in Pirate's Alley.  Throughout history, it seems that the line between outlaw and hero has many times been blurred. This time was no exception. It has been said that Pirate's Alley was the meeting place between Lafitte and Andrew Jackson when they allied together to defeat the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814.

Some say the street is as famous as the residence of the renowned author William Faulkner. In fact, his former living quarters is now the home of Faulkner House Books. But, truth be known, Faulkner only lived in Pirate's Alley in 1925 for about six months.  But that is New Orleans and Pirate's Alley; famous for food, fun, and great legends, and an excellent subject for artists. Here is my version. Enjoy—and watch out for pirates!

Unconventional Love by Grace Augustine

Courtesy of free photos

     Ben and Hildy sat at the park from mid-morning until the sun went down. It wasn’t uncommon to see the couple every Saturday, choosing just the right spot to spread out the blanket. There was always a book, always laughter, always a picnic basket filled to the brim with snacks to share.
     Theirs was a unique relationship. Ben, twenty years’ Hildy’s senior, had lived a hard life…one of prejudice at work, as well as church and many other societal situations. He’d worked hard in the coal mines until age got the better of him. Retirement sent him into a deep depression for which he was hospitalized. That’s where he met Hildy.
     Hildy, a sassy thirty-year-old, loved her work as a therapist on the psych floor of Trinity Hospital. She’d seen many come and go and smiled when she remembered her part in their healing. She’d stopped by Ben’s room the day he was admitted.  Her heart sank when she saw the uncommunicative, handsome older man sitting near the window.
     “Hi, Ben. I’m Hildy. It’s nice meeting you,” she greeted, taking the older man’s hand in hers and smiling brightly.
Her greeting met with no response. 
     “I can see we’re going to have to do something to cheer you up.”
     Ben turned toward Hildy and looked at her compassionate blue eyes. He shrugged his shoulders.
     “What’s the use?” The deep voice questioned. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
     “Oh, now, that is just a lie, sir, and you know it. Before I snap my fingers, you’ll be waltzing out of here. I promise.”
     Hildy continued meeting with Ben daily for the next two weeks. Each day she read excerpts to him from her favorite books. By the end of the second week, she noticed Ben smiling and engaging in conversation with her.
     “I have a surprise for you, Ben. Get your sweater and come with me.”
     Ben followed Hildy from the room. Soon they were walking hand in hand to the gardens at the hospital where they sat on a bench in the noon-day sun.
     Hildy opened her book and read several poems from Edna St. Vincent Milay. Her voice was sweet and positive and soothing. She glanced at Ben and smiled when she saw him smiling, eyes closed, as he took in every word she read.
     Each Saturday, Hildy led them to the same bench. Each Saturday, Ben held one side of the book and Hildy the other. Each took turns reading. Then, one day, it was time for Ben to be released from the hospital.
     “You’re going home today, Ben.”
     Ben sat with his elbows on his knees, hands folded, and head lowered. He wasn’t sure he should say what he was thinking but went ahead anyway.
     “Why did you do what you did, Hildy? Why did you read to me? Why were you kind to me? Not once did the color of my skin matter. Not once did my former profession matter. Not once did you judge me.”
     Hildy patted Ben’s arm then grasped one of his hands in both of hers.
     “Ben, I only see your heart. I see a loving, kind man who needed to be shown his worth.
     A tear fell down Ben’s cheek.
     “Hildy, I don’t want to say goodbye to you.”
     “Who says we have to say goodbye?”
     Every Saturday, for the past five years, Hildy and Ben met at the park at 10 am. They sat on a blanket, they laughed and read books, they shared a meal and their souls with each other. And, when the sun went down, Ben walked Hildy to her car and hugged her tightly.
     “I love you Hildy.”
     “I love you, too, Ben.”

Futurism ~ by R. R. Saucier, Editor, Writer, Observer

     I am an amateur futurist. Ever since I saw my first episode of the Jetsons in 1962, I have wanted my own flying car, Rosey the robot maid, and a wind tunnel that would do your hair, wash, and dress you while you did nothing (I am not a morning person). None of those have come true yet, but the Jetsons’ future bewitched me, enticing me into a lifelong fascination with what the future might bring.

The ‘60s were manic-depressed when it came to the future.  The Seattle World’s Fair predicted technological nirvana and built the Space Needle as a lasting tribute to a future not dissimilar to the Jetsons—after all, George and Jane were living in a Space-Needle-like home. But while many were promising a glorious future, dire warnings of a future filled with overpopulation and environmental disaster were prevalent.  Many predicted the earth would suffer horrible calamities in 50 years if we did not control our population. Hunger, drinking water shortages, and people living in overgrown rabbit warrens prone to crime and despair were all part of the portrait of the future.

It’s now 60 years later; have the warnings of the 1960’s come true? Overpopulation is a moving target, depending on the amount of people the earth can maintain without causing environmental deterioration and an impaired quality of life (see Webster for this definition). Most contemporary estimates put the carrying capacity of earth under our current conditions somewhere between 4 and 16 billion.  Current population is over 7.3 billion…so are we there yet?

One of the most fascinating books on population basically says the earth will take care of itself.  Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague (1995) supposes that the natural environmental forces that govern the existence of life on the planet will take over when human population overstrains the environment. Garrett provides the science behind the correlation and causation of a wide number of diseases and overpopulation. Whether it’s malaria, tuberculosis, hantaviruses, or Ebola, she makes a case for humanity’s numbers being curbed by our own infections. 

So when I read articles on the current typhus epidemic in Los Angeles or the growing number of cats in Wyoming who are dying from bubonic plague, I think back to Laurie Garrett’s work and wonder if nature isn’t striking back—again. [And yes, bubonic plague is contagious between cats and humans. Fleas and rodents are not your friends!]  

The environment may be overstressed, but human overpopulation is the cause. While we work to clean up the environment, Mother Earth is working on the root cause—as is the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation. But few in our leadership talk about overpopulation directly, because if you think politicians are too scared to deal with the environment, try overpopulation with its corresponding issues of birth control, abortion, and equal access to health facilities and insurance.  Those issues are enough to scare us all. But Mama Earth does not respond to lobbyists, folks, so she’s going to take care of all of us, whether we like her approach or not.  

Laurie Garrett, The Coming Plague.  Worth a read.

Heirlooms~ Gifts from our Ancestors ~ by Lori Crecelius Roberts

I love history. I’m a history geek and claim it. I’ve always loved antiques for as long as I can remember. Through the years, I’ve been blessed to have in my possession many heirlooms from my family. As a historian, I see the value in those items that were part of my ancestors’ lives.

My father’s ancestors came to America from Germany in 1764. For as long as I can remember, the stories about their emigrating to first Philadelphia and then to picturesque eastern Tennessee in the 1780s piqued my curiosity. It’s no wonder the genealogy bug bit me at a young age.

My grandmother and I spent many hours talking about the family. She and my grandfather lived on the same home place that my great-great-great-grandfather and grandmother lived before Indiana became a state in 1816.  

As an author, the names and stories passed down through my grandmother and family members have found their way into the pages of my novels. The items from their past appear in the scenes of my stories.

I use family names in my stories as well. In my latest book, the main characters are my Crecelius ancestors who came to America from Reichelsheim, Germany in 1764.

My grandfather’s pipe from the early twentieth century was the first heirloom I received. It still has the smell of the tobacco inside. A shaving mug and brush, razor and strap, land deeds, and family Bibles are treasures that I hope to pass down someday. 

My great-great-great-grandmother’s spinning wheel that traveled from the mountains of eastern Tennessee to the hills of southern Indiana remained in the homestead until the 1960s when it spent the next fifty years with my aunt. Upon her death, the heirloom was passed to me. 

A cast iron bean pot that also came to Indiana was used during the 1700s and placed in the fireplace of the Indiana homestead. It stayed with my mother and father until this year. 

Slowly, items from the first generation in America have found their way to me. Perhaps it is fitting and proper, one who loves family history should be the keeper of the heirlooms. The items can only be enjoyed by those who see their value.

Get to Know Our Members Shannon Binegar-Foster

Creative Shannon Binegar-Foster

Shannon and her husband, Steven, and their 20 lb cat, Gizmo live in Eastern Iowa. She is a 10+ year cancer survivor and loves all things purple and teal, paisley, and elephants. When she isn’t creating beautiful artwork and coloring books, she teaches swim classes at the local YWCA and spends time with friends…oh yeah and reads over 200 books a year.

Foster's Creations began in 2001, as a means for Shannon to create unique gifts of love for family and friends. As her thirst for perfection grew, so did the popularity of her ever-evolving products.

In September 2015, she stumbled across hand lettering and fell in love. Her passion for art was reborn. Her favorite is watercolor/pointed pen modern calligraphy. This is a way for her to relax and express herself.

Her first book, Prayer Journal with Coloring Pages, was published July 6, 2017.

Check out Shannon's Member Page by clicking the link below.

A Healthy Approach to Writer's Block by Marj Ivancic

The empty page awaits, a vast and terrifying blank landscape. And the longer it remains without script, the more intimidating it becomes. Sometimes, it’s writer’s block preventing us from tattooing that white wall. Other times, it’s that scene. You know the one. The chapter you’ve been dreading since the moment you realized your beloved story couldn’t live without it. 

Dammed up by apathy, indecision, or revulsion—it doesn’t matter—the words aren’t making an appearance anytime soon.

What to do?
I read a blog post in which the author plucked advice for such a conundrum from fifteen published writers. After getting over my initial dismay that three of them opened their quotes with some variation of the dreaded “try and…” grammatical error, I did glean some valuable guidance: write something else; find where the story drifted off course; get over the fact that the first draft will suck. But I was disappointed that not one of them touched on—dare I say it—exercise.

Wait! Don’t run away yet! Hear me out.

Pick up any health-related magazine or journal—heck, Google it—and you’ll find an article touting how physical activity helps prevent Alzheimer's, manages diabetes, and lowers risk of heart disease. But it’s the benefits to the brain that makes putting the body in motion so important to writers.

We’ve all joked about the grey mush between our ears, but did you know there’s white matter in there too? And it’s responsible for getting information from one grey iceberg floating in the cerebrum to another. According to the article “Why Is Physical Activity So Good for Your Brain?,” physical activity strengthens those communications highways, resulting in faster cognitive processing. Considering language and communication are two of the primary functions managed by the cerebrum, white matter plays a major role in powering a part of the brain writers rely on to get their story from thought to page.

Want a little proof?
The Stanford News website published an article about a 2014 study that showed walking improves both creative thinking and inspiration.   At its core, the experiment compared walking to sitting, but its scope spanned a variety of those states: walking outside, walking on a treadmill, walking on a treadmill facing a blank wall (Ugh!), being pushed in a wheel chair outside, sitting outside, sitting inside, to name a few. 

While in these conditions, the 176 participants completed four creativity tests. One focused on their ability to construct “complex analogies” in response to a simple prompt. The more deeply associated to the root of the prompt the response was, the better. The other three tests centered around the ability to devise creative uses for common objects, also known as “divergent thinking.”  The results of all these tests showed that the walking segment scored highest.

Did you hear that? I’ll say it again—the movers out thought the sitters. 

When you’re standing (or sitting, as it were) in the writer’s block desert, sweating and thirsty, wouldn’t you love to get a little inspiration, to be able to devise a cunning plot twist, or craft a few lines of thought-provoking prose? 

A wee bit of moving around doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?
The benefits of exercise don’t stop there.
Physical activity aids not only our minds but our souls as well. Take a complaint of depression or anxiety to any doctor and one of their first questions will be about your exercise regimen. The chemicals produced by a good sweat are as potent as fairy dust for fending off those I’m-a-terrible-writer blues. 

The Mayo Clinic listed the following benefits of regular exercise: 
Gain confidence
Take your mind off worries 
Get more social interaction
Cope in a healthy way

I don’t think anyone is saying exercise will turn you into a grinning idiot who never has a bad day. But if you put a little effort into getting out of your chair, you’ll be better equipped to stand up to those whispers of negativity. You may even find yourself able to recognize the toxic in your life, both people and situations, and find the strength to cut free of them.

So, the next time you’re feeling bullied by that empty page, let your body be your muse—and walk away. Literally.

  1. Christopher Bergland, “Why Is Physical Activity So Good for Your Brain?,” The Athlete’s Way.  

  2. May Wong, “Stanford study finds walking improves creativity,” Stanford News, Stanford University Communications, (access 17 August 2016).

  3. Mayo Clinic Staff, “Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms,” Mayo Clinic, (access 17August2016).

Photos courtesy of free downloads at and the sites.

Finding Joy in Nature’s Treasures ~ by Jacquolyn McMurray

Like most serious writers, I spend lots of time in front of my computer writing/revising/editing and attempting to keep up with social media. To give my body a break from the screen, I go outside to walk around a bit. It brings me joy to observe and appreciate the treasures nature offers.

And yes, I am fortunate to live in Hawaiʻi where our climate affords me the opportunity to go outside every day of the year.

Our house on the farm is situated so we cannot see the sun rise or set on the horizon, but we do get to enjoy the vibrant colors that light up the sky.

Our hens provide a few eggs, but more importantly, they are a primary source of entertainment for me.  I love watching them care for their chicks and the way they follow me around in case I might toss them some corn. 

Most every day, a walk around the farm yields something edible—eggs, citrus fruit, avocados, macadamia nuts, limes, papaya or bananas. I am baffled that a hen can lay an egg without breaking the shell and that one tiny seed can produce a tree that bears more fruit than a family of four can eat.

My husband marvels at my ability to find four leaf clovers. On occasion, I’ve found five, six, seven, and eight leaf clovers. Treasures indeed!

Even when I venture beyond the farm, I’m on the lookout for gifts from nature—the  patterns in the hollow of a tree trunk where bees once resided,

the weathered tree stump that resembles a horse’s head, 

or the unfurling of the hāpuʻfern.

There are countless ways of finding one’s joy. For me, appreciating nature provides a quick fix. What do you do that brings joy into your life?

Indie music singer/songwriter Jordan Danielsen

Interview by Grace Augustine

Being an author has allowed me to meet many people from all walks of life. Four years ago, I hosted a Wine/Music/Books event at Fireside Winery, just south of Marengo, Iowa. That was where I met Joanne Jaytanie. I also met a very talented musician, Jordan Danielsen, who made me a groupie with one song!

Jordan Danielsen and Jef Spradley

     A native of Denver Colorado, but raised in the Iowa heartland on the banks of the Muddy Mississippi, Jordan grew up with guitar in hand and a harmonica around his neck. He has spent over a decade hosting open mics, performing in wineries, casinos, pubs, restaurants, festivals, and everywhere imaginable from Madison, WI. to St. Louis, MO.

     A wandering loner at heart, Jordan has spent much of his musical career as a solo act. However, he has also played with some of the finest musicians in the Midwest, created two full-length albums, and has done some touring as well.

     In 2011, Jordan released his debut CD, Night Alone in the City, an album very diverse from start to finish. It's chocked full of soulful horns, electric guitars, acoustic ballads, blues, and a tiny bit of hip hop. Jordan's lyrics tell the story of his life growing up in Davenport, Iowa, and at times borders on the hilarious.

     2014 brought the release of Old Soul, an album much different than it's predecessor. Jordan spins his musical tales of rivers, road trips, and great grandfathers in the Civil War. Sleek piano, organ moans, and a haunting fiddle make this collection of songs very soothing yet exciting and take you along for the ride.

     The same year Jordan began touring with a young musician out of Houston, Texas by the name of Jef Spradley. Jef plays a small stripped down drum set while singing some pretty amazing harmonies. The two together put on an entertaining show and one not to miss. 

     Always on tour and never without a song in his throat, Jordan writes from his life experiences and reflects his personality through his music. With many more songs to record and endless gigs to play, he continues to strive for new audiences every day.

     He also does some awesome covers from other musical legends. I can't end this post without sharing with you my favorite Jordan Danielsen song. Check out his website by clicking the link below.


Father of Water by Jordan Danielsen

It’s Just a Dog…And that’s what makes them so extraordinary, Part 7 ~ by Joanne Jaytanie

This series is about sharing a bit of my friend’s lives with their dogs. In conjunction with acquainting you with the role my dogs have played in my life, and how they have influenced my writing.

ME:  Please share your history of the dogs in your life. 

DENISE:  Like many people, I grew up with dogs and have always had them in my life. We never did any ‘training’ when I was growing up – obedience classes weren’t a ‘thing’ in our household! My first dog was named ‘Stadar’ and was a kind little West Highland White Terrier. Later, came hunting dogs. The dogs either worked out, or if they bit or barked too much, my parents took them down to the local gas station and simply turned them loose. I pray those dogs ended up in a more tolerant household, and I did my best in my life to make sure that would never be my go-to solution.

I got the first dog of my own in college, where I lived in a rented house across the street from the landlords. Dogs were forbidden in our rental agreement, but somehow I thought I could get a puppy and hide it from them. That’s college-age thinking for you. I got a little Labrador puppy named Ben and he was in the house with me when I was home, and on a chain in the back-basement yard when I was at school. I taught him to crawl on his belly past the front room window so the landlords wouldn’t see him in the house. That was my first introduction to training for a specific behavior, and it worked like a charm. I’m sure the landlords eventually figured out that their renters had a dog, but they were kind enough not to say anything.

In 1995, I had a sweet male Labrador named Bondo who became reactive on leash. I went to the Academy of Canine Behavior to get help for the problem and was introduced to their obedience programs, which I enjoyed tremendously. Meanwhile, I was hanging around dog shows, taking photos and having dreams of being a show dog photographer. When I learned of the Academy's Apprentice Program, I was working with a career counselor at the time due to being laid off in the banking industry, so I applied for the program and got in. I spent four years at the Academy, working with problem dogs – some very dangerous. You get good at handling pretty quick when you are working with dogs who want to cause you harm. During that time, I obtained my first obedience title with Bondo, and was hooked. I then adopted a troubled Doberman Pinscher named Riata that the owners relinquished to the Academy and begin taking competition obedience with her. We were doing well until she bit another Academy trainer quite severely and had to be put down. My greatest failure – I wish I had her now, given what I now know. But her demise paved the way for an extraordinary animal. I then purchased a Red Doberman puppy that would change my life. His name was River.

River came to me at the time in my life when I was most excited about learning, about having a working breed, and when I had the most time to devote to training. He learned over 30 commands and tricks and was a natural ham. We earned our obedience title, conformation title, therapy title, CGC, and ROM. I loved him dearly. He was a great ambassador for our breed. We were inseparable.

He lived for 11 years, during which I obtained a little sister for him, a sweet little yellow Labrador named Kimber, after my favorite competition shooting pistol. She was the sweetest, easiest dog I have ever raised. After River passed away, I waited for quite a while to get the next dog, so I could spend time with her and give her the undivided attention she deserved. She was something special, and we pursued hunting training as something new and different. She earned her obedience title, CGC, and Junior Hunter title. She was a fantastic dog and lived to be 11 also.

When she was 8 years old, I purchased a puppy from Foxfire, a black Doberman I named Kix. He was different from River, much more energetic. He ran everywhere, never walked. He turned out to be much more sensitive and taught me that all behaviors I once thought a puppy would grow out of (crotch sniffing, for one) would not necessarily go away without assistance. He lives today and is still the most social dog I have ever owned. He can get any dog to play, and during my years at Riverdog, he was indispensable as a dog we could use to teach a fearful dog to play or get a bully dog to let down and enjoy another dog. A beautiful and fantastic individual is Kix. Today he is 7.   

ME: What part does your dog play in your life?  

DENISE: My dog is my companion, my friend, my hug monkey. I’m just a normal person who loves the feel of a dog, the breath of a dog, the mind of a dog. The beauty of a dog. The love of a dog. I’m no different than anyone else in that regard.  

ME: I hold you in high regard. Not only as a friend but as a successful business owner. Please tell us how your business came about?

DENISE:  I left the Academy after realizing there were no advancement opportunities for me beyond being a trainer. I decided to pursue show dog photography and teach a few classes on the side at Linda Shea’s. I spent a lot of time on show grounds and became disillusioned with the prevailing attitudes and fellowship among the competitors. Meanwhile, my puppy classes at Linda’s were taking off, by word of mouth. River became the namesake for my company – first, Riverdog photo – then Riverdog Canine Coaching. When photography went digital and all photographers had to update their equipment, I decided the investment was too great, and turned my attention to teaching obedience classes full time.

I soon turned to a business consultant to help me navigate being a business owner. In 2002, she looked at my financials and said, ‘You’re going to need a building.’ So, I went looking. No one would talk to me – no one wanted to lease a building to house dogs. But a company in Issasquah took a chance on me, and since I wasn’t doing overnight boarding, we opened up Riverdog Canine Coaching in downtown. We offered classes, Training C.A.M.P. (an alternative to board and train that I made up myself) and daycare, which was just beginning to be a ‘thing.’

We made everything up as we went along – manuals, play floor layout, everything. We made a lot of mistakes, but the most important mistake we never made was losing a dog. It was my worst fear, and we never lost a dog in our care. We did have one border collie who climbed a fence in our early days, but luckily, he was trained to a recall and he came back when we called him. Afterward, we installed a security lip on all our fencing, double gates on all our interior and exterior doors, and never had a runner again.

The hallmark of our business was our free behavior evaluations, which was a service originated at the Academy. People needed a safe place to start figuring out what they needed to do with their dogs, and my goal was to provide that safe, non-judgmental, caring place for the citizens of Issaquah. We expanded two times, contracted once, then expanded twice more. All due to demand.  We took time for staff, in weekly meetings. We vowed to do things other franchises would never do – we put candy on our counters, hand wrote daily report cards for every single dog in our care and kept snacks in the fridge. We held annual retreats during which time we worked with all the staff to assess the year, and plan for the next, and included fun field trips, like Wolf Encounters and trampoline parks. We had a fellowship with each other, and it worked. Our turnover was extremely low, and we had several staff with us for over 10 years.  

I never dreamed for what we eventually became – a 12,000 sq. foot campus with over 135 dogs cared for daily; 34 employees; thousands of dogs trained and cared for over 16 years. It might surprise you that the dogs weren’t our first priority, either. We were a people business first, a dog business second. It worked.  At the time we sold, we had a seven-figure revenue, a stellar reputation both online and in our community, no debt, and never any involvement in lawsuits or any legal trouble. We did our best to always do the right thing, and it was reflected in our business from door to door.

ME: Now that you have sold your business what plans do you have for the future?
DENISE: I am married to a farmer and after 16 long years in the dog training business, my husband’s farming has sort of had to take a back seat. Together we have decided that it is his turn to pursue his dream of farming, so we have purchased a hay farm in Eastern Washington to augment our current farming of beef cattle and Christmas Trees here in Western Washington. 

Since the sale, I have gone back to doing what I love the most – teaching obedience classes. I currently teach one night a week at Riverdog and am loving it. I also really enjoy owning and managing Kimberland Collars, a small specialty business that we run out of our barn, producing the smallest micro prong collars in the world by handcrafting the collars out of steel with antique iron tools. These are the only micro prongs made in the U.S.A. and are highly sought after by both everyday dog owners and professional trainers who work with small dogs.

ME: Let’s talk a bit about horses. I appreciate you letting me pick your brain with regards to their habits, reactions, and temperaments. You were my “Go-To” person when I was writing Corralling Kenzie. What part do horses play in your world?

DENISE: I have been riding horses since I was about 20 years old. Here on the farm, which resides on the Middle Fork S Ranch owned by my father-in-law, I have plenty of places to ride, and plenty of work to do, be it moving cattle from one pasture to the other, or hauling Christmas trees to the burn pile, or riding fence line to check for elk damage. I have shown horses, entered roping competitions, and generally just enjoy my time with them. 

I always felt that it was important to remain a student, when you are teaching by day. So, I ride in a lot of clinics and struggle with the same things my own dog training students struggle with – how to solve behavior problems, how to learn new things, how to be consistent, etc. I think being a student with horses has helped me be a better teacher of students with dogs. I also wrote my dog training curriculum using a lot of the ‘natural horsemanship’ style of riding that I enjoy. Concepts from renowned horsemen such as Buck Brannaman, Ray Hunt, Wayne Robinson, and Joe Wolter are all intertwined in my class curriculum, most notably: “Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.”

ME: Denise has spent her life training and sharing her world with dogs, and I just couldn’t let her get away without having her share a story with us.

DENISE: My favorite story is one that I tell in class when I teach my students the command ‘Touch!’, which is used as an emergency recall, when your ‘Come Here!’ command just doesn’t work.

I was camping with friends and we were getting ready to barbeque some good juicy steaks after a long day of playing on the beach. We were hungry. I placed the steaks on the side table of the BBQ for a moment and turned my back to arrange the seasonings. I instantly heard a terrible gasp, then another, from my friends standing nearby, and as I turned around to see what the trouble was, I saw River streak past me, running full speed away with one of the raw T-Bone steaks in his mouth.

Away he went, bounding joyfully over the campground lawn, looking like he wasn’t going to stop for miles. I called, ‘River! No! Come Here!’ but there was not even a tiny break in his stride. I called again, and just when my hungry friends thought all was lost, I remembered my emergency recall command. And this indeed was an emergency! There was a steak at stake!

I took a deep breath and called out, ‘Riiivvveer!! Touchhhhhh!’ and stared at the fleeing dog. Gradually, without breaking stride, his path began to turn into a big circle, and mercifully he began to make his way back to our campsite, still running full speed, still with the steak in his mouth.

I had always traded River for something better, should he steal something and then bring it back. But I had to think fast…what would be better than an entire steak? What would I trade him for? On one hand I was furious with him, on the other, I wanted to reward him if the steak made it back intact. When he finally got to me, I held out my hand and he dropped the steak in it. He was panting crazily, which made him look like he was smiling. Who could resist that face?!! He may have been quite proud to have brought me such a delicious prize. I don’t know. But he looked darn proud of himself! I could hear the sighs of relief of my friends, who would now not go hungry. Disaster had truly been averted.

I told him what a good dog he was, and reached back behind me in a ridiculous effort to blindly find something to reward him for. My hands found a bag of Lay’s Wavy BBQ Potato Chips, and I took the bag and threw the entire contents on the ground as his reward. Gleefully, he began snatching up potato chips off the ground; more gasps from the friend gallery. Ten minutes of eating potato chips I think more than rewarded him for a nice 2 lb. T-Bone.

I tell this story to inspire people to have more than one recall command, and one like ‘Touch!’ which has no punishment if not performed – only big rewards when it is performed. It saved me that day, and it has always made me proud when I think of the story.

You can find Denise here:

Dedication of Corralling Kenzie

This story was born from a single photo that overflowed with the love between a horse and his Doberman. Denise, a longtime friend, posted the photo of her horse, Boone, and her dog, Kix, on Facebook in August 2014. It was so poignant, I felt a deep stir of emotion, followed by an ‘aha’ moment, and Kenzie’s story blossomed in my mind. The photo captured an overpowering emotion, and I wanted to portray as powerful a feeling in Kenzie’s story. While writing Kenzie’s story, I often found myself pulling the photo out and once again becoming enthralled by the image. 

I would like to dedicate this book to Denise Caley Stringfellow, her thirteen-year-old red dun quarter horse, Continental Boone, and her Doberman, Kix ~ Foxfire’s Shore Thing.

I would also like to thank my friends, Denise and Dianne Nation, for allowing me to pick their brains and verify horse information. They are two dedicated horsewomen, whose lives are enriched by sharing them with these amazing creatures. I hope that all of them approve of Dakota and Boone. 

Thank you, my friends.

Until next time…



  Foiled and hand-colored card   I continue to bring in cards to the food bank where I volunteer weekly. Since we are past Mother’s Day, I’v...