New Release: Mountain Laurel Christmas by @JanSikes3

I am delighted to welcome back author, friend, and fellow Story Empire contributor Jan Sikes to my blog today. Jan has written a brand new novelette and it’s just in time for the holidays.

Jan is a master at writing short stories, and I think this one is her best to date! (Read my five-star review here.)

Now, I’ll let her tell you all about this delightful story.

There are many famous quotes about music, but this one from Leo Tolstoy grabbed me. Mr. Tolstoy was an accomplished musician and composer and had a deep abiding love for music. He said, “Music is the shorthand of emotion.”

To my character in Mountain Laurel Christmas, music is everything. It gave him a reason to keep living, a dream to follow, and a way to vent his feelings.

I’ll share a couple of short excerpts to show that:

My one solace was, is, and always will be, music. I’d often disappear for hours at a time, taking my guitar with me. A stream runs a few hundred yards from our miner’s shack on the side of the Cumberland Mountains. That’s where I’d go to find solitude. I’d play my guitar and sing to the fish that jumped out of the water, turtles that sunned on a log, and frogs that leaped from stone to stone.

And the second one:

Anger crashed through me. I tore up the porch steps and into the house. Brushing past April, I charged straight to Mama, but nothing I said would make her look at me. She was gone.

The worst thing a boy can do is cry in front of his older sister. Once I said my piece, I grabbed my guitar and headed for the creek as I’d done a hundred times since Papa died. Oh, how I pounded on the guitar that day. The more I cried, the harder I hit the strings. But, by the time I dragged myself back to the house, mentally and physically exhausted, I’d written my first song about tragedy in a Cumberland Mountain coal mine.

Do you play a musical instrument or have a deep appreciation for music? I’d love to hear from you!


Orphaned, his family torn apart by tragedy, Cole Knight has come a long way from a ramshackle miner’s cabin on the side of the Cumberland Mountain.

Daring to follow an impossible dream, he’s made it big in the music business. Now, he’s a country music sensation with a huge house, fancy cars, plenty of willing women, money, and adoring fans. He should be on top of the world. Instead, he’s drowning in a swirling pool of self-contempt and relentless guilt.

It’s easier to lose himself in a bottle than face the hard truth…he hasn’t delivered on a promise he made to his father.

It’s almost Christmas, and the sting of failure drives him back to that tiny cabin in the mountains. But has he waited too late to put the shattered pieces back together—to find himself and restore a lost family? 










No Such Luck #NewRelease by @stacitroilo

Hey, everyone! Today I have the privilege of welcoming back Staci Troilo to my blog. She is a good friend, fellow author, and contributor at Story Empire.

I’m always excited when she has a new release. I’m confident you’ll enjoy No Such Luck. If you’d like to check out my five-star review, just click here.

But for now, please give a warm welcome to Staci.

I’m grateful for the invitation here today, Joan. Hi, everyone. Thanks for taking a few minutes to chat with me about my new release, No Such Luck. It’s a short, seasonal clean romance just right for this time of year.

Piper Seidel is home for the holidays. A stroke of bad luck has her there a bit earlier than expected, and nothing has gone right since she arrived, but she’s there. And she’s looking forward to the holiday traditions of her youth. But even Christmas tree shopping doesn’t go smoothly. It’s a good thing her stepmother is overbearing—and sends her best friend to the rescue. The following excerpt gives a glimpse into how things don’t go according to plan.


“Who cuts the tree, Piper? You or Frank?”

“Dad. Why?”

Jack stepped closer. When he spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper, so low that she had to lean in to hear him. “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

“That’s tradition.”

“That isn’t what I asked.” He looked toward where her father stood, still on the phone.

Piper thought back to Dad’s flushed complexion and wheezing breath on his way up the mountain. Maybe him down in the snow, struggling with a handsaw wasn’t the best idea. Dragging a tree down the hill probably wasn’t, either.

To Jack’s credit, he didn’t say anything else. He scooped the saw from the ground where Dad left it, knelt in the snow under her “perfect” tree, then began sawing. When the tree started falling, she stood and watched it.

“For God’s sake, Pea, move!” Jack lunged at her.

He tackled her into a snow drift just in time. They only got scraped by the top needles of the tree.

“What on earth are you thinking?” Jack asked.

“I don’t know.” Breathless, she gazed into his eyes. Got lost in them. Finally, she blinked. Cleared her throat. When she continued, her voice was husky and low. She barely recognized it. “The tree is so pretty, I can’t stop looking at it. And you cut through the trunk so much faster than Dad does, I just wasn’t prepared for it to fall so soon.”

Jack stared at her for a long moment, then shook his head.

Despite the bad luck Piper’s suffering since losing her good luck charm, she’s lucky to have a friend like Jack.

I hope you enjoyed that quick sneak peek. No Such Luck, the first installment of the Keystone Couples series, is available now on Amazon.


Seeds of luck usually wither. The rare one grows and blooms.

Piper Seidel has one thing going for her—a red carnation given to her by Tommy Burnett in the tenth grade. It might have dried over the years, but it’s still her good luck charm. Losing it sets her life in a downward spiral, forcing her to return to her hometown where she comes face to face with her high school crush.

The years have been kind to Tommy, who looks better than ever. Unfortunately, Piper is at her worst, continually embarrassing herself whenever he’s around. The only plus? Her long-time friend, Jack Rhodes, still lives in town. Since she last saw him, his legs have grown longer, his biceps thicker, and his shoulders broader. He was always the brother she never had, but now she can’t help noticing him in an unsisterly way. Jack is every bit as caring as he’s ever been—until her bad luck drives him away, maybe forever.

Piper needs a new good luck charm, and fast, before she loses her final chance at happiness.

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Heads up, Writers! The Conflict Thesaurus Is Here

It’s always fun when there’s good news to share, and today is one of those days. You may know Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi, the authors of The Emotion Thesaurus. I’m a big believer in the helpfulness of their books, so I joined their Street Team for The Conflict Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Obstacles, Adversaries, and Inner Struggles (Vol. 1).

It’s just been released, and I am so excited to share a bit about it as well as a super fun event.

The Conflict Thesaurus tackles all the ways conflict can be used to build tension, push the story forward, raise stakes, and pressure characters to do whatever it takes to win. The guide dives into over 100 conflict scenarios and how each can be adapted to challenge a character inside and out. Problems, Moral Dilemmas, Ticking Clocks, Obstacles, Challenges…say goodbye to writer’s block, weak plots, and unmotivated characters. If you need help in any of these areas, check it out.

Speaking of challenges, here’s a question for you.

Can You Survive Danger as Well as Your Favorite Protagonist?

Let’s face it, as writers we’re always doing bad things to the protagonist. We put their loved ones in danger, force them to make impossible choices, and worse. But wouldn’t you like to know how you’d fare as the protagonist of a story?

Let me put it another way: if you were in the hot seat, could you handle the pressure? Would you make good decisions, or bad ones?

It’s time to find out by taking the Conflict Challenge!

Become the protagonist in a special story Angela & Becca have created using scenarios from The Conflict Thesaurus. And heads up, if you survive, you win some cool stuff!


While you’re trying not to die in the Conflict Challenge, make sure to enter Angela & Becca’s Conflict Thesaurus release day giveaway, too. But hurry – it ends October 15th.

So, take the challenge…if you dare. And don’t forget to come back and let me know how you did against Camp Deadwood!

Guest Author – D L Finn #NewRelease

Hey, everyone! I’m super excited to have a first time guest to my site today. D L Finn is no stranger to the blogging and writing world and she has a brand new release to talk about. Denise, take it away!

Thank you for having me here today, Joan, to share the release of my children’s book “Tree Fairies and Their Short Stories.”

The last story in this collection, “Goldie,” focuses on the small cat-sized animals, the fisher and Humboldt marten. They are not animals I’ve seen in my forest, but they live in the coastal redwood forest where the story is set.

They are both a part of the weasel family and are cute but feisty. I wouldn’t want to run into one when walking, especially if they felt threatened. The fisher weighs between 4.5 to 12 pounds, while the Humboldt marten is much smaller at 1.5 to 3 pounds. Both are carnivorous and prefer the older forests.

Although there has been a steep decline in the Humboldt martens, they are not extinct, as once thought. They have been recently added to the Federal endangered list. The fisher has limited protection depending on where they live. Both weasels were once highly sought after for their pelts, and their territories are now limited, which is why the fairies have taken an interest in protecting them.

Fun Finn Facts

1. If I sit quietly in the trees, I can feel their wisdom.

2. I’ve heard a fairy sing.


When reality and magic meet in the forest

It’s 1969, and twelve-year-old Daniel Burns is camping in the redwood forest with his family. Danny wants to listen to his music and read, but his family has other plans. S’mores around the campfire and stories end their first day. The family is sleeping soundly in their secluded tent when Danny wakes up and finds his sister, Colette, is missing. Assuming she went to use the outhouse, he goes after her. When he finds his sister, they discover there is a thin veil between reality and fantasy.

Two bonus short stories offer a glimpse into the magical world that finds Danny and Colette. These hidden beings not only share our world but have a role in protecting their forest.




The full moon filtered down through the giant trees, bathing the forest in a glow that made it easy for the fairies to see. A woodpecker had done its job clearing out the insects it found in the old redwood. As the tree grew, so did an opening that became an animal den. A fisher—a member of the weasel family—nestled there with her four babies. Her long, fluffy tail, half the length of her sleek body, was protectively curled around her brood.

Goldie and her little brother, Oren, quietly watched them sleep. It had become Goldie’s habit to check the animal dens to make sure they were safe. The fishers, who were no bigger than the cats humans kept as pets, held a special place in her heart. They were adorable, with their big, bearlike ears, pointed faces, and huge eyes. Their dark brown fur was so soft it was hard not to pet them. They didn’t trust tree fairies, and she didn’t blame them. The fairies would zap animals, birds, or insects that developed too much curiosity or mistook them for food.

Oren spoke in a voice Goldie strained to hear. “I’m watching for owls.”

Not wanting to wake the fishers, Goldie responded in a softer tone. “Thanks. They are pests.”

Oren nodded solemnly and looked behind him. They’d seen a brown-and-gray horned owl hunting earlier in the evening. Its yellow eyes had widened in hunger as it dove at them. A quick jolt was all the discouragement it needed to stop bothering them. Would those birds ever learn fairies weren’t on their menu?

Oren had settled in a holding pattern, looking over Goldie’s head into the den. They made eye contact, and she jerked her head in a motion to leave. Their silver wings glowed at night, making the fairies easy targets if they weren’t careful. They rested briefly on a lower branch of the redwood.

Oren smiled as he swung his bare feet, making the branch sway. “Thanks for bringing me along this time, Sis.”

Purchase Links:



Author Bio

D. L. Finn is an independent California local who encourages everyone to embrace their inner child. She was born and raised in the foggy Bay Area, but in 1990 she relocated with her husband, kids, dogs, and cats to Nevada City, in the Sierra foothills. She immersed herself in reading all types of books but especially loved romance, horror, and fantasy. She always treasured creating her own reality on paper. Finally, surrounded by towering pines, oaks, and cedars, her creativity was nurtured until it bloomed. Her creations include adult fiction, poetry, a unique autobiography, and children’s books. She continues on her adventure with an open invitation to all readers to join her.

D. L. Finn Links:





It’s Here! #NewRelease #LegendsofMaderia #ColdDarkNight

There were times when I thought this day would never come. At last, it’s here. Cold Dark Night, the first novel of my Legends of Madeira series is now available on Amazon in eBook format. (The paperback copy will be available soon.)


New husband, new house, new town… and a new mystery to solve.

Tami Montgomery thought her police chief husband was going to be the only investigator in the family when she gave up her journalism career and moved with him to Madeira, New Mexico.

But after the historical society asks her to write stories for a book celebrating the town’s history, she becomes embroiled in a new mystery. If she can’t solve this one, she could lose everything. Her research uncovers a spate of untimely deaths of local law enforcement officials. Further digging reveals a common link—they all lived in the house she and Jason now share.

Tami isn’t a superstitious person, but the circumstances are too similar for coincidence. Then she unearths an even more disturbing pattern. And if history repeats itself, her husband will be the next to die.

From now through June 15, you can purchase Cold Dark Night for only .99. After that date the price increases to 3.99. I hope you’ll visit Amazon to get your copy.