Meet Our Members ~ Author Kristine Raymond

Kristine Raymond didn’t figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up until later in life. You guessed it! It’s being an author. Since writing and publishing her first book in 2013, she’s gone on to complete two romance series – one historical western and one contemporary – write an anecdotal, non-fiction short about her first year as an indie author and try her hand at contemporary erotic drama. 

When she’s not writing, she’s learning how to navigate the publishing and promotional side of the business. When she’s not doing that, she enjoys spending time with her husband and furry family, reading, gardening, and binge-watching shows on Netflix.

Please click KRISTINE'S PAGE to find out more about her.

A Must Do Experience ~ by Darlene Kuncytes

     As an author, I have been so very lucky to have attended quite a few different events and signings in the past six years.
     For my blog post this month, I’m going to touch on what the experience is like, and why authors and readers alike really need to do their very best to attend at least one of these author events. 
     I don’t care if you have one book out, or fifty - there is absolutely nothing like the energy and camaraderie of a well-put together author signing.
     As attending authors, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to meet fellow authors, cover models, publishers, and photographers.  We hang out and mingle with these talented writers, and get their views and opinions on everything from what to do when you have writers block to where did you get those amazing drunken cupcakes that you are handing out to readers! lol 
     This is an amazing community of support and love, and there is nothing like it when you have fifty plus of them all together at once.
     For the reader, it’s the chance to meet and talk with the people who weave the stories they know and love, and they have the chance to meet authors who may be completely new to them.
It’s totally a win/win! (oops! Sorry, my Valley-girl came out there just a little bit!) But it truly is something authors and readers alike need to experience at LEAST once in their lifetime – but let me warn you now, they are so much fun, they very easily become addictive!
     I love meeting and interacting with readers. SO very much. It positively revitalizes me when I find myself feeling a bit sapped of creative energy. Getting to talk with new people, and seeing familiar faces is like catching up with old friends, and it does the soul of a writer so good! 
     For readers, it’s an almost magical experience that won’t soon be forgotten. It’s exciting, and crazy and SO much fun! Plus, you get to talk with authors and get to know what makes them tick. Not to mention collect lots of fun swag! 
Me? I’m just here for the fun and hugs!! Lolol
     For me, the true proof of a great event isn’t really the number of signed books that I’ve sold. I judge a good event on whether or not I’m hoarse at the end of the day!! Lol If I barely have a voice left, then I’ve had a fabulous day!
     So, in closing, for the authors out there who may be intimidated by the very thought of attending these events, start smaller…but START! This is something you really need to experience. Friendships are forged. Idea’s are thrown around and you get to spend time with some amazing people!
     For the readers: Ditto! Come out. Meet us! Talk with us! Get to know us! You really have no idea how much we love meeting all of you amazing readers!

     Thanks for taking the time to read. I hope I’ve shed some light on how much fun these signings are!

It’s the little things ~ by Joanne Jaytanie

This past February my husband Ralph took me on a trip to Hawaii to celebrate my birthday. It was the first time I’ve visited the islands. I’ve already written about some of the amazing sights I saw in a past post, The fantastic sights of HawaiiAnd some would say, I’m writing about them once again, except these sights are wonderous from a different point of view. The everyday things I was privileged to witness while visiting the farm of my friend, Jackie. These are the types of things which I suppose some would call—ordinary. I prefer to call them extraordinary…

I don’t have chickens, but I found them fascinating because I had the opportunity to watch them interact for days. There is a backyard flock and a front yard flock. When the backyard chickens were fed, the front yard flock was interested in what was happening, but they wouldn’t approach the backyard while the backyard flock was eating.

Notice the cat in the bottom picture? The cats and chickens coexisted peacefully.

Have you ever seen chickens in a tree? I did. Even with all the coops to choose from, the front yard chickens chose to sleep in a tree.

During our walks in the Macadamia Nut orchard, Jackie introduced me to Mr. Fancy Pants. He was a new tenant and only had eyes for her. Mr. Fancy Pants was nowhere to be seen, but as soon as Jackie called him, he’d instantly appear and talk to her.

The chickens weren't the only fowl on the farm. A wild turkey or three often wandered through the yard. 

The oversized foliage was impressive. It reminded me of the movie, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." 


Look at the size of this Elephant Leaf! This leaf isn't even the largest one on this plant.

Bananas grow from the purple flowers on the plant. As the petals curl back, a “hand” or bunch of bananas is under each petal. Each hand consists of “fingers,” and each finger is otherwise known as a banana.

You can see the stages in this picture. Once the petals all fall off, the fruit turns upwards towards the sun.

There was no better way to end a day on the farm than enjoying dinner and drinks on the lanai and great conversation with dear friends.

Until next time...

Quality Time ~ by Lesley Bimonte Verbus

threw my hat into the ring for a seat on our local City Council a few months ago. I thought long and hard about if I had any hours left in the day to do so - but I did it anyway. I didn’t get the appointment and that was probably a blessing. At least I can still fit in a few Board and Commission meetings from time to time. I do love watching my city grow and operate. 

I am writing this post while I am sitting on an airplane flying from Columbus to Baltimore. While I’m sitting here, I am hoping I have better luck than my husband, Scott, did just last week when Southwest decided to give his luggage an extra five day vacation before returning home. This flight today is for a four day business conference for my day job as a Business Analyst for a health care service company. However, before hopping on this plane, I dropped off two weeks worth of work to our CPA in order to file our tax return for the IT company that Scott and I own.

Mild mannered Business Analyst by day - Superwoman Business Owner by night!

Okay, by early evening…this Superwoman has a 10:00 bedtime.

I definitely cannot and will not take even a fraction of the credit for Linear IT Solutions. Scott busts his hump day in and day out (and many nights, too) to keep our company in the spotlight. My job is to keep the employees, vendors, and Uncle Sam paid. Sometimes, Scott will use me as a pretty face at Networking events because there’s no denying that still has an appeal to many businessmen. Last Friday, during the lunch hour, we ran over to the bank to take care of some business for Linear. Knowing that there was more to discuss, we scheduled me to come back in on Saturday. 
“What time would you like to come in tomorrow?  I don’t want you to get up early on your day off.” I laughed at the well-meaning banker and replied, “What’s a day off?” I spent two more hours there on Saturday morning.
      When I arrive back home at the end of this week, I will catch up on my day job (and all the new projects that will inevitably result from this conference), follow up with my CPA, follow up with the bank, and then turn my Susie-homemaker hat on. You see, I am also the Treasurer for my stepson’s Cub Scout pack and we have a Committee Meeting on Sunday. Bank ledgers, expense reports, and Scout accounts, oh my! Fortunately, the year is winding down (only three months left) so all we really have left are a couple Spring events.
      Ah yes, Spring events. Coming soon to a field near you is another season of flag football - because Sundays aren’t busy enough! An hour of practice and an hour of games (unless it is a double header that day). This all happens after a Church filled morning of Mass and Sunday School. I teach 2nd grade Parish School of Religion (PSR). My kids are only six weeks away from their First Communion so we’re working feverishly toward that. Next weekend, my teaching partner will be out of town so I will have all 23 of those angels to myself.

Whatever time that is left on Sundays goes towards weekly food prep. Long ago are the days of Scott and I stepping on bodybuilding stages, but the lifestyle never really goes away.  Two to three hours and we have our meals for the week done and in the fridge for our family of three. Except dinners; I make dinner fresh every night.  
     The time and money spent by food prepping is astonishing. I highly suggest it. In another attempt to streamline our home life, I have made a tidying goal for 2019. While I haven’t gone full Marie Kondo yet, I have been trying to corner of the house at a time. I’ve already made two trips to the consignment shop and a trip to Amvets. I also found a couple nice websites for re-selling old textbooks and leisure books ( and In one evening of scanning ISBN bar codes, I racked up over $150 in rainy day cash. Scott unloaded some old gym equipment and an old motor and parts to a metal scrapper last weekend and we have some exciting plans to empty out the garage this Spring.  
     What is my reason for the whole house clean out? Well, my number one reason is so when we move to North Carolina in 2028 (yeah I know that’s nine years away, but there’s a good chance this will take until then) I don’t have to move anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Plus, the less stuff in the house, the less there is to clean, right?
      I just took a break here to go hit the fitness center after checking into my hotel, and shortly I’m going to head down to the lobby to meet my day job team for dinner. Tomorrow will start a few days of all day meetings and business cases. When I get back to my hotel room I have some payroll and financial analysis to do for Linear. My schedule is crazy, but I still try to get to the gym three to four days a week (five on a good week!) 
    In a couple weekends, Scott and I are heading to Indiana for Scott to shoot in the All the Write Curves photo-shoot coupled with a couple custom shoots.  We decided to stay in Indiana for a night just to hit the town and take in the evening together.  
     You see, between the day job, the business, Cub Scouts, church, city operations, gym time, athletics, modeling, and whatever our son’s extracurricular activity du jour is, I am still a wife - a completely enamored wife who is crazy about her husband. 

You know that dinner I said I make each night? We sit down, together, and eat dinner. We always sit down, if even just for an hour, each night just to connect.  Every marriage needs that time to reconnect. Scott and I both work from home and we spend literally our whole day together. But spending time together isn’t enough - it has to be quality time.  Life is crazy, life is busy, but no matter how fast the world keeps spinning, we have to make time for those relationships that make us whole. I wouldn’t trade 9:00 - 10:00 PM each night for anything.

Lesley Bimonte Verbus is a well-known bodybuilder and model. Her husband is internationally known cover model, Scott Nova. They reside in Ohio.

MS Research Needs Your Help ~ by Grace Augustine

 Every day one or more persons worldwide are diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Currently there are more than one million people in the United States alone battling this autoimmune disease.
     March is National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness month. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you see a daily post--an MS Fact--that you may or may not know. Bringing awareness to the general public of this disease helps everyone understand what those who are stricken go through daily.
     Some of you may ask: How can I help? Here are several ways.
     1. AWARENESS—Learn as much as you can about what this disease is and how it affects those who have it.
     2. EDUCATE—Once you learn, educate others. To quote an old children’s television program (G.I. Joe) “Knowing is Half the Battle.” If you know something it seems less frightening.
     3. GET INVOLVED—There are several ways you can do that.
            a. Visit a local MS chapter meeting
            b. Attend a fundraiser
    c. Participate in WALK MS or BIKE MS to raise awareness
    d. Support your friends and family by checking in with them
    e. Put yourself out there as an advocate. Don’t be afraid to stand up or speak up for someone you love who has MS
            f. Attend The Little Black Dress event (sometimes it is a dinner and wine tasting)
            g. Ask if you can attend seminars with your friends/family to become better educated
            h.  Support your friends and family who participate in walks or other events to raise funding for research
             i. Remember the NMSS and State level research departments in your financial plan
     On May 4th, I will be participating in my 2nd WALK MS event here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I would love to have you walk with me if you are in the area. And if you can’t, I ask that you please consider helping me reach my goal this year by giving financially to support research.    
     Every penny counts. No amount is too small. Please, click  MY PAGE and join my team WALKING WITH GRACE. You may register as a walker by my side, or as a virtual walker, and the site is a safe site for donations.
Last year, my friends, family, and Rexco Equipment, who put change jars at each of their locations, helped me exceed my my goal by raising over $1000. I walked the first two blocks before I had to sit in the wheelchair and be pushed to within the last two blocks. I walked across the finish line. It was a personal victory and one I hope to do again this year.
     Thanking you in advance for your love, encouragement and support the past sixteen years. Through research, let’s find how we can cure this autoimmune disease. By doing so, it may open the doors to finding cures for other diseases that fall into the autoimmune category. 
    With a grateful heart I always remain,

              Walking with Grace

To learn more about Multiple Sclerosis, please visit

Photos courtesy of

Hey Buddy! What’er Ya Doing?

Exploring the Country through Sketches and Stories 

Or as the “Urban Sketchers” (yes that’s a real group) say, “ See The World One Drawing at a Time.”

Essentially the idea is to draw or sketch or paint (in a sketchbook most of the time), with simple equipment and usually standing in the street or elsewhere outside to capture a scene or image from direct observation. There are no rules. Except to say that while sketching from photos is common (for me too) it is not really in the spirit of the activity.

I didn’t always enjoy sketching out of doors. Frankly, I wasn't very good at it, and it always felt rather chaotic and rushed. However, since I travel quite a bit, I decided to make use of what seemed endless subject matter. So off I went with a pouch of pencils, a pocket watercolor paint tray, and a sketchbook to make a go of it.

At first, I would essentially sneak up on a subject matter, if it was a person, or find myself a place to sit out of traffic and curious eyes. I was plenty happy to get a sketch down quickly and move on, and the results were what one might expect. 

One of my first sketches was during a trip to Manhattan. I had an afternoon to myself in Lower Manhattan and decided I would catch a ferry (I always ride a ferry if I can) across the East River to the Brooklyn Bridge Park. I grabbed an adult beverage at the beer garden and sat behind this big brute of a guy. 

He appeared to be of the biker persuasion, and I decided I would try to sketch him. So I tucked in behind my beer and began to sketch. All the while making sure my sketchbook kept a low profile. I was very much a novice and tended to push too fast instead of trying to relax and enjoy myself. 

Over time, I began to slow down and felt more comfortable sketching from positions that were not de facto hiding places. As a result, I discovered I usually had a much better view of my subject.  

It seemed like my art turned a corner about the time I made another trip to Manhattan. I decided to visit the American Museum of Natural History. The Mastodon skeleton was on display as well as skeletons from many other prehistoric species. I was in the mood to take this on, so off I went. I felt charged up when I arrive in front of the giant animal. There was a table right in front of the display on which I could set my work. Here, I knew, I could take my time and enjoy the sketch.   

After about 20 minutes of sketching and head into my work, I felt something brush against my arm.  About a dozen little school children were inching in to get a closer look. I am inclined to talk to children if they look interesting, so for about the next half hour it was just they and I. I often find that when I engage someone during a sketching session, I seem to shut out the rest of the world around me. And for sure, it is a pleasant experience.

I now look upon outdoor sketching as an integral part of exploring and engaging with the world around me. I look for unusual situations — for places and people I would not likely see or visit in any other aspect of my life.

One day, a day that was unusual because I was not traveling across the country, I participated in a walking event in the nearby town of Bremerton, WA. It was an event organized to showcase art displayed outdoors. I slung my backpack full of my sketching tools and headed out. Halfway through, I noticed several street artists painting a massive run-down brick wall. I am not sure what was its original purpose, but, it was huge and a perfect blank canvas for these artists. There was paint and color everywhere. Ladders lined the wall, people in coveralls climbing up and down, running around and spray-painting everything in sight. How in the world was I going to draw this? Where would I even start?

Well, start I did. And I got through it. The nice thing about keeping the art in the sketchbook is that there is no pressure to make it perfect. I certainly did not. Even now as I look back at my sketch, I can still smell the paint in the air and feel the commotion of the day. And that is the best reason to sketch as opposed to taking a photo and moving on.

Sketching out of doors is not always about engaging with people around you. Sometimes, you come across some thing or some place you just have to sketch. There was that place this year on vacation trip to Hawaii with my wife. I was pointed to an old church one day while touring the Big Island with our friend and hostess Jackie McMurray. She knew I was looking for old sites with character and texture to sketch. A few days later, I had a day to myself and returned to that church. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but what I found was the Henry Opukuhaia Memorial Chapel. Henry Opukuhaia inspired the American Christian Mission to Hawaii in 1820. 

It was very old, but in surprisingly good shape. There were some very old graves but some that were comparatively new. The inside was open air and appeared as if it was still used on occasion. I was grateful to be able to take my time. To think about the history of not just this particular place, but, of the Islands and the people that have lived there for so long. As I sketched, I experienced the feel and the beauty of the place and the island.

"The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play--his mind and his body --- his art and his science--- He simply pursues his vision...leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both."---Michener

Six Reasons Why Writing is Better with a Group ~ by Author Kristin Wolfgang

Darlene Javar and Jacquolyn McMurray writing

     Most people consider writing a solitary task. Thoughts travel through fingers to tap on a keyboard. The end goal is to share writing with readers, but not until it is complete: edited, revised and published.  That may be the stereotype, but it turns out: writing is better with friends.

Darlene Javar reading her published poetry to us 

     When people discover I’m a published writer, they want to know how I got started. I’ve always loved to write, but it wasn’t until I was invited to join a group that I started taking my writing seriously. 

     The six reasons why writing is better in a group are: motivation, learning about genres of writing, critiquing, exploring markets, writing retreats and friendship.

Novelist Jacquolyn McMurray

1: Motivation

When you know you’ll be meeting with your writing group every month, you are motivated to write! We bring drafts to group to share, give each other recommendations on improvements and bring back improved drafts the next month. Many Friday nights, I sit at my computer working on my writing so it will be ready to share the next day at group.

2: Genre Exploration 

For the first eight years, our group had four members. We were interested in different genres, but we all had the goal of becoming published authors. Several of us tried short stories, essays, and poetry. We did writing exercises together using Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and prompts from other books. When we heard about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2009, two of us decided to spend extra time writing together in November and cranked out our first novels.

Beginning writers should try out a few genres to see which they like most. I went from essay to short story to poetry to songs to mystery novels to educational nonfiction to romance novels to children’s chapter books!
Writing goals- posted! 

3: Critique

      Beginning writers are easily intimidated when it comes to sharing their writing. It can feel like taking your first-born baby to the doctor. You know you need to have her checked, but you fear what the doctor might say about your perfect little darling. To protect our egos, our group has strict rules about how to critique. Everyone brings printed copies of their work so that each member has a copy. The writer reads their work aloud while the other members take notes on their copies. The writer often tells the group what they want from the critique.

      One of our members only writes poetry and she often wants to talk about specific words. She asks questions like: “What images come to mind and how do the words work with the other words in the poem?” A short story writer may want to discuss only one part of their story. The most important rule is to focus on the writing. Be careful not to attack. It is important to share what is good about the writing as well as what needs improvement. 
Poet Darlene Javar in California

4: Markets

        Our group also spends time sharing the writing technique books and magazines that we own. We share and investigate publishers, agents, and tools like Scrivener and We critique query letters, synopses and book proposals. We share contests and upcoming events. We have attended several local writing conferences together.

5: Retreats

     In 2012, I moved to Texas. We vowed to have yearly retreats, so we’d write together for a week every year. Setting aside a whole week for just writing is a great idea. We set goals on the first night and planned to keep any extra outings to a minimum. We walk daily and keep a good supply of chocolate.  For the five years I was gone, we met in five different places and wrote.
     In 2017, I moved back to Hawai´i and we’re still meeting once a month with yearly four-day retreats.  This year, Jacquolyn and I are working on a Christmas novella duet (two shorter novels sold together) to self-publish in November 2019. We’re both working on our own projects—my chapter book series and her historical romance. Darlene still writes poetry and joins us when she can. We’re also working with new writers to help them get started and form their own writing groups.

 Novelists Jacquolyn McMurray and Joanne Jaytanie (visiting Hawai´i) and me

6: Friendship

     Besides the wealth of writing, critiquing and sharing we have done, my three writing partners have become lifelong friends. I can honestly say that without our writing group, I wouldn’t be writing today.  

     How can you find a writing group? Talk to people around you about writing. Go to local writing conferences. Look on the internet for groups in your area. 

     Author Kristin Wolfgang wrote 102 Reading Response Lessons and Star of My Heart, a sweet romance novella. She teaches 5th and 6th grade at Volcano School of Arts and Sciences and has four lovely children. She is working on a Christmas Romance duet with Jacquolyn McMurray and is writing her chapter book series (ages 6-12): Animal Saving Sisters. She’d love to hear from you! Send her your comments and questions at  ALOHA!


Lakeside Living 1: the heron & catfish vignette ~ by Ruth Ross Saucier

     I lived on a small lake for nearly 20 years. Only trolling motors were allowed, and those were used rarely--so the lake was a refuge for an amazing cross-section of nature. Birds, fish, mammals, rodents all flocked to it and lived around it for the water and the food. If you parked yourself in front of the view and held still, you never knew what you’d see, because the show was always on.

     I was staring at the lake from the deck one day when a heron came into view. He was stalking something painfully slowly, his skinny legs not even leaving a ripple in the water. He lifted one leg and then froze for the longest time, slowly cocking his head slightly to peer into the water. He waited and I waited with him, barely remembering to breathe. In a split second he slashed through the water and his head reared back with a big, fat catfish flopping madly.

     The struggle continued for a while and the heron
finally lost patience and threw the catfish up onto my lawn. The heron followed the catfish onto the lawn to inspect his catch. There the catfish continued thrashing, so the heron stabbed him, once, twice, and scooped him off the lawn and juggled the persistent fish in his beak.
When the catfish refused to submit, the heron hurled the fish to the ground twice more and stabbed him again and again. I was wincing from the violence of this National Geographic struggle, but I could not tear my eyes away. Finally the catfish was barely fighting. Satisfied, the heron scooped him up and juggled the fish in his sword-beak until the catfish was facing down the heron’s gullet, all whiskers swept back.

     Stretching out his neck, the heron began gulping the fish down until every last bit disappeared. But no; the catfish became a sizeable, writhing lump that squirmed down the heron’s neck until it vanished.  Undeterred and relentless, the heron slowly resumed his hunt. 

The First Moon Walk ~ by Lori Roberts

     It’s hard to believe that in July, the first moon walk will be 50 years old. I was six years old in 1969, and I don’t remember watching the historic walk. We had been to a church picnic that day, and I was tuckered out by the time the astronauts made the touch down.
     Even though I fell asleep before Neil Armstrong took those famous steps on the moon, I’ve always been interested in the space program. I grew up in southern Indiana, about forty minutes from the home of a pioneer of the space program.

I grew up knowing about Virgil “Gus” Grissom. He was born and raised in Mitchell, Indiana. His biography is impressive prior to coming to NASA. He served in both WW2 and the Korean War. He graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I didn’t realize he was famous when we visited the small museum containing the small Liberty Bell spaceship at Spring Mill State Park, in Mitchell. As a child, we visited often, and I remember how tiny the spaceship seemed to a 4th grader.
      Over the years, I came to know more about the space program and the bravery those early astronauts displayed during the early days of the space program. Grissom was selected to command the first manned mission of what would become known as Apollo 1. Unfortunately, Grissom and the rest of his crew, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, never made it into space. They died on January 27, 1967, in a fire during a pre-flight test at the NASA Space Center in Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral), Florida. Grissom left behind a wife and two children.
In the late nineties, my ex-husband was transferred to CraneNaval Support Center, and we moved to Bedford, IN. Mitchell and Bedford are in the same county, less than 5 miles apart. Driving into Lawrence County from all directions, one is greeted with a large sign: “Welcome to Lawrence County, home of astronauts Grissom, Bowersox, and Walker. Yes, that’s correct, three astronauts all from the same small southern Indiana county.
     Our county is proud of the accomplishments of these men, and their families are still part of the community. I’ve had the grandchildren of Mr. Walker in my class at school.
     As authors, we may never make the best-selling author list, or make a tidy sum in royalties and sales, but we are leaving a legacy to our children and grandchildren. When someone checks out my books in the library or purchases them at a signing, I’m living my dream, just like Gus Grissom, Kenny Bowersox, and Charlie Walker.

Baggage ~ by Lexa Fisher

Photo by ​Caroline Selfors​ on ​Unsplash 

How often do you think about the emotional or mental baggage you carry? It may be the slow burn of a grudge you’ve held for years, the barbed sting of insults you’ve felt, or the grating result of bad service. Maybe it’s a friend or grumpy co-worker who comes to you with a complaint, or just feeling that life isn’t fair. You try to help by listening, nodding, and offering suggestions, but a solution doesn’t seem to be what they’re after. No, it’s someone to share in their suffering, someone to carry their problems for them. On top of your own. 

Photo by ​Jeremy Bishop​ on ​Unsplash
An article in ​NBC news​ goes into detail on the effects of this mental load on our health and how heavy it really feels, like straps digging into our shoulders. We may also be just as guilty of unloading our own problems from time to time. My first recognition of this situation happened when I read Catullus’ Carmina 22 in Latin class: To each one of us one’s own mistakes have been assigned; ​Sed non videmus, manticae quod in tergost --but we do not see the knapsack that is on our own back.  

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” is a saying I’ve seen in various forms.​ If something isn’t making your life better by giving you happiness, comfort, fond memories, why hold on to it? Have you ever taken a vacation for which you packed way more than you needed? Emotional baggage is just like that. Lighten your load by mentally opening your carpet bag and as you pull out each item, ask yourself how it serves you. Do you really need one more negative thought? Say goodbye to that burden.

Photo by ​Максим Степаненко​ on ​Unsplash 

Talking through our problems with friends can be cathartic. Having to put into words, spoken or written, how we feel often identifies the real problem as well as the feelings we harbor. But let others carry their own bags, just as you carry your personal baggage. You don’t have to be callous or uncaring, and it’s better for the unloader if you help them recognize problems as their own. It’s far better for someone to resolve issues in a way that matters to them, in a way that they can manage, and at the time they are able. So lighten your own load, and don’t take others’ burdens home. 

Photo by ​Jed Owen​ on ​Unsplash 

Resources: ​

Holding a grudge is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. son-to-die/#12155c71446c

(Musical) Life Begins At??? ~ by Greg Hancock, Antique Singer Songwriter from Devon, UK

There is no shortage of articles, blog posts and even whole websites dedicated to exploring the fact that the music industry is changing fast. Most concentrate on two things: the rise of technology and the demise of live music. Both of these are things I will mention later but I want to focus on a positive aspect to the rise of technology that is relatively new too...
     I got my first guitar when I was about ten, and after learning the usual four chords, soon lost all interest in doing things the “right” way, and in learning to play other people’s songs. This meant I was not the kind to lead a campfire singalong... in fact for most of my life the very idea has filled me with horror!
     No, I very soon discovered that making up my own songs was
much more fun and much more interesting. I had no idea what I was doing of course, but soon found that I could come up with words that fitted a chord sequence in a new way which gave me a lot of satisfaction. Since childhood then, I have never stopped this activity. What HAS been missing until relatively recently is recording, and performing in public.
     Looking back now, I think this was probably down to shyness and anxiousness that others might not think my songs were as brilliant as I did! In thirty years from the age of 20 to the age of 50, I think I performed my own songs in public no more than three or four times. Guitar playing and songwriting became very private activities for me and the knowledge that the songs would not be performed perhaps allowed me to explore depths of personal honesty and chord weirdness that would have been unthinkable if they were ever to be exposed to public scrutiny.
     So... my fiftieth year... was a strange one. In January 2012 I was living in Abu Dhabi where I had been for a decade. I was single. I had money, a respectable job, a lovely flat and two beautiful cats I had adopted in Saudi Arabia several years before. By December, I was living back in the UK, married, completely broke, jobless and living in a small rented flat with just one of the Saudi cats remaining. It took some adjusting!
One of the few advantages of the UK was the delicious warm brown ale that the English do best. My local pub was full of a very eclectic crowd of people, but I was pleased to see a wide age range and felt quite comfortable there. One evening it turned out there was an open mic night. My earlier instincts kicked in and I thought it would be dreadful... but it wasn’t. I was knocked sideways at the quality and variety of the performers. More surprising was the respect and appreciation shown to one or two of the musicians who were even older than me...and to be honest, not that great. My show-off attention-seeking gene suddenly kicked in and I resolved to come and show what I could do the following week. As the day approached I was amazed at how nervous I felt about it all. I practised for hours, and kept changing my mind about what to play. However, the evening came and I took my guitar and put my name on the list.
     I am sure it wasn’t a great performance! My fingers trembled and my voice wobbled, but I did manage to do three original songs and halfway through the second one became aware that people were actually listening and paying attention. Unexpectedly, this gave me confidence rather than greater self-consciousness and I actually started to enjoy myself.
     When I had finished, I found myself chatting and exchanging music gossip and ideas with a whole host of others who were there. People as young as 17 up to others in their 60s were equally interested and interesting. Several of the people I met that night have remained good friends, and I really felt I had tapped into a social network that I would find very satisfying.
     In less than a year, I felt able to try to get gigs on my own. Just corner-of-the-pub and restaurant gigs, and mainly requiring covers, but still letting me cut my teeth about performing in public – and actually paying just enough to be able to live a little more comfortably. I often felt a bit conscious that I was the oldest person in the venue... but again, I found that nobody else seemed to care about that if they liked the way I played, so I stopped worrying about it!
     When I recorded an EP of five songs, I could only afford three
hours of studio time, so I asked two friends who were much more experienced musicians than I was to learn the songs, and we recorded everything in one afternoon. I really didn’t know what to do with the finished EP but having asked around I did send it off for local radio play and review. The response was amazing to me. Hearing my music on the radio was very encouraging and gave a new confidence to go further. As a songwriter, I think I was always able to fit clever sounding words to a tune. What I lacked was anything interesting to say, and so fell back on the clichéd themes of love and loss of love that is the norm. I never really believed in that stuff though, and my efforts sounded horribly insincere to me. It really wasn’t until I was in my forties that I started to think I might have something to say about things that might be of interest to others. I learnt to comment but not explain. I avoided the pronoun “I” and told stories in the third person even when they were in fact very personal. I think both these tricks can lead to a more comfortable listening experience for the audience. Self-confessional music can be wonderful when done by the likes of Joni Mitchell, but can also be slight squirm-inducing and tedious when lesser artists try it. Especially perhaps when they are older.
So this is where I come on to my main theme. One of the things blamed for the decline in the music industry is the developments in technology that have been so extraordinary in the last fifteen years or so. As it became possible to listen to music on the internet without paying for it, the listening habits of many also started to change. However, it is this same technology that has made it possible for many artists to get their music heard. Simple home studios can be set up very cheaply and the resulting recordings can easily be good enough to be presented to radio stations and so on. Neil King who runs FATEA in the UK, often mentions that his mail bag is filled with new music from people who in previous years would rarely have considered sending it in: older people, family people and people from diverse backgrounds.
     Now, the decline in live music as a mainstream activity for the majority of younger people is undeniable. It is increasingly a niche activity. Music no longer defines youth “tribes” as it did from the 50s to the 80s. The stars of today and the future are not musicians or even DJs – but online playlist curators. Social media interaction and online gaming are what many young people use to define themselves as different from their parents’ generation, and those are the places they will receive their main influences from. It’s true that some young people are as obsessed with music as my generation was, but they are more likely to be musicians themselves and to be actively making music. A large audience made up simply of interested listeners and fans is becoming increasingly hard to find. People just don’t go out so much – for various reasons – and spend less when they do. It is very noticeable that the majority of people involved in the world of acoustic folk, blues and roots music are middle aged or older. These days, when performing, at 56 I am sometimes amongst the younger people at the venue! The quality and skills of some of the younger musicians coming through is utterly mind-blowing, but they too are having difficulty finding opportunities to play to their contemporaries, relying on the old codgers who will still buy tickets and CDs to provide some sort of income. 

     As a case in point, just this week I attended a sell-out gig by a local band who are all extraordinary musicians and are doing some very original but upbeat and quite poppy material. The age range in the band is 24 – 28 years old. Two of the band are teachers at a music academy and about a third of the audience was their students. The other two thirds probably averaged between 38 and 45, with many my age and older. The reflections from the light show on the large number of bald heads was dazzling!
     The result I think will be a severe decline in the number of musicians who can actually become professional and not rely on other paid work to make a living. Maybe for a few years when very young, it is fun to live in a van and have only enough money to survive each day...but it really isn’t fun when you’re older – I’ve tried it. Even some of the most popular and in-demand musicians lead a precarious hand-to-mouth existence today.
     This is where technology comes in again to assist. I have decided that I am far too old for a full time career in music. My life is too complicated with other commitments, and I like online shopping too much! However, this no longer means that I can’t get my work heard. I can be part of a large community of like-minded people of all ages, and all around the world. Many of the people I have got to know online, through following their music, or through radio chat threads etc have become real friends in the analogue world too. I can have regular interactions with some of the musicians I admire and respect the most... and have also been able to form real friendships with some of them too.
     I can record and get my recordings out there to people more

easily than was ever the case in the past. I can also have total control over what I record. I curl up on my sofa with a cat or two and network mercilessly online, constantly on the lookout for opportunities. I keep up to date with what other musicians in my field are doing, and can use the reactions of others to what they are doing as a guide to what to encourage and what to avoid in my own music. I have never written with an audience in mind. I continue to write for myself, but it’s very satisfying in middle age to find that there are others who “get” me and like what I do....and they’re not all the same age as me!
     Technology means that it is much easier now for older- and perhaps less photogenic – artists to be active in the music world. There is no longer an urgent need to get a record label deal, an agent or a manager.
     (Although if anyone fancies it, I’d would love to have all three!)

 To get in touch with Greg, click on WEBSITE

Sometimes Life Does Imitate Art

  The book I’m currently working on features a protagonist who is an assistant manager at a food bank. The idea came to me because I love vo...