Category Archives: Guest Writers & Bloggers

The Making of a Serial Note Writer

by Elizabeth H. Cottrell

I am so grateful to Karen for inviting me to be a guest on her blog. She is friend, encourager, editor, brainstormer, and occasional rear-end kicker, and my life is richer for her being in it.

I confess I have a morbid curiosity for what makes serial killers tick. What were they like as children? When did the seeds of their obsession begin? Who is responsible for it? 

When someone asks me, “Your book is called WHAT?” I can sense a similar curiosity for how on earth I chose this, of all things, to write about: HEARTSPOKEN: How to Write Notes that Connect, Comfort, Encourage, and Inspire. 

So, I began to wonder myself how far back those seeds of passion for note writing began, and here’s the behind-the-scenes story:

I’m sure it began with my love for getting letters in the mail when I was a girl living in rural isolation on our family’s cattle farm in Virginia in the 1950s. The combination of distance and my mother’s time spent caring for my four younger siblings made it challenging to get friends over very often, and the three younger brothers next to me in age didn’t quite fill my definition of appropriate playmates. Thankfully, my grandparents were letter writers, and to this day, decades later, I still have a stash of their letters carefully stored in my desk. One of my favorite jobs was to walk—or ride my bike—to the end of our long driveway each day and check the mailbox in hopes of finding mail.

The next signs of this peculiar passion showed up in the crook of a Mimosa tree (which we called “the powder puff tree”) in the side yard of our country home when I was probably between eight and ten years old. The next best thing to a treehouse was the large side limb of that tree which angled up at about 30 degrees and then branched again to form a natural seat where I could perch with my feet dangling. I loved climbing up and fancied I was invisible there, hiding in a secret place. When I was able to have friends over, we rigged up a basket on a rope to haul secret messages up and down from that seat. At some point, I decided I wanted to put stamps on the messages like real mail. I created perforated squares by laying a piece of paper over an old window screen and used a pencil to draw the edges of stamp-sized squares and rectangles.  We used tape or white glue to attach them to our top-secret missives.

Fast forward five decades, and this is how I tell the “conversion story” in my book:

A letter from a stranger was the lightning bolt that changed my appreciation for the potential of personal notes forever; from that day on, I saw them as a force for good in the world.

I’ve always written notes, because that’s what we were taught to do when I was growing up in the 1950s. I learned the skill from my mother and both my grandmothers. They all wrote beautiful notes. It was expected. It was good manners.

But the day I received that letter, I suddenly realized it was so much more.

The letter was from a woman devastated by the loss of her son:

“I truly appreciated the encouraging letter you sent my son’s fiancée after my son took his own life. She shared it with me, and it came during one of the most difficult and testing times of my life. I know I have read your note over 25 times; it was a lifeline which kept my spirits up.”

What on earth had I written that could have meant so much to this woman? Her son’s fiancé was a neighbor of mine and only a casual acquaintance. I only remember, upon hearing the news of this man’s tragic death, that I wanted desperately to reach out to her and let her know she was not alone. To this day, I have no idea what I wrote, but I know it came from my heart and carried a genuine desire to comfort her.

On reading the mother’s anguished missive, I remember experiencing a moment of instant clarity: a note crafted with thoughtfulness and compassion can have impact and create a ripple effect. I’ve been a believer in the power of note writing ever since. 

I never aspired to write an etiquette book or a simple “how-to” book. My book’s goal is to help you find your own voice that I know already exists nestled in your heart. Once you learn to tap into it, you will never again worry about what to say or fear you will say the wrong thing. You will realize you have a free, powerful connection tool that can be used to nourish the most important relationships in your life, both personal and professional.

“Consider the flipping of a light switch. You can’t see the electricity. You may not understand how it works. But when power starts flowing through the open wire, it is nothing short of miraculous. I want to show you how to find and flip that switch in your own note writing. Once you learn how to make your notes heartspoken, they are no longer an obligation—they’re a privilege and a joy.”

So now you know how it all started. 

If you’re at all curious, or you just want to get some of the free tips, tricks, and downloads I send to those on my email list, add your first name and email here: Heartspoken book. There’s no obligation to buy the book and you may unsubscribe at any time.

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Elizabeth’s circuitous career has taken her from published leprosy researcher to stay-at-home mother, to community activist and leader serving on nonprofit and corporate boards, to ham radio operator, to freelance writer/editor and blogger at Heartspoken.com. Above all, she is a connector and encourager whose expertise and passion for note writing is coming at just the right time to a world made keenly aware by pandemic that we humans are hardwired for connection. Click the FOLLOW button on her amazon profile: Amazon author profile.

Connect with Elizabeth: 

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Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers, Special Events

Let the Fool’s Journey Begin

By Shawn MacKenzie

We are all Fools, starting our journey through life

with a faithful leap into the unknown.

May the wind catch our wings and the Tarot guide us on our way.

When a project reaches its end stage and publication looms like Smaug over the Lonely Mountain of Erebor, jumbles of emotions begin to stir. It’s a regular salmagundi of excitement, relief, joy, topped off with a generous dollop of dread. This describes to a T how I’ve been feeling the past few weeks as the launch date for my Tarot of Dragons gets close enough to touch. And, personally, I can’t wait to do just that.

In anticipation of this—and to appease the butterflies in my stomach—I thought I’d offer a glimpse into Tarot of Dragons’ companion book, Wisdom from the Dragon Realms.

While the bulk of the book focuses on interpretations of the Major and Minor Arcana, it also includes a brief history of the Tarot, a discussion on whether to invert cards or not (I choose ‘not,’ especially when draconic energy is thrown into the mix), and Tarot basics, from first touch to readings, simple and complex. After all, to work with the Tarot is to embark upon the Fool’s Journey; and every traveler can use a few guideposts along the way. Especially if you are new to Dragon Country, the Tarot, or both.

So, today, I want to talk about a few of the earliest guideposts on your way. 

Pleasures of Acquisition

Some people say that Tarot cards take on an added aura when gifted. It’s a nice idea and that’s how I got my first deck, decades ago. And it was certainly special for the giving. But through the years, I have added numerous decks to my collection, some were presents from friends and family, some I gifted to myself. Today there are so many decks available through traditional publishers and Kickstarter projects that I find being my own personal Gift Dragon is the most expedient way to get a deck. Especially if it’s one I am eager to lay my hands on. I find Un-birthdays—or Un-Hatching Days—provide a perfectly ubiquitous excuse for such gifting. So, treat yourself and enjoy.

Care and Feeding of Your Tarot

The Tarot is a tool for bridging our inner and outer worlds. And how should you care for such a tool? With respect, of course. 

I was taught that the best way to keep one’s cards was to wrap them in silk and place them in a special box or pouch. This would safeguard their energy. Now, this was back in the day when Tarot cards came in flimsy little boxes like regular playing cards. They practically cried out for extra protection. Times have changed; now many decks, including Tarot of Dragons, come in sturdy, elegant boxes, perfect for long-term storage. (I still use wooden boxes for my favorite decks. Old habits die hard.) 

Box or pouch, wood or cardboard, velvet or silk, the choice is yours. The important thing is that you treat your cards with the care and deference they deserve. To that end, don’t leave them lying about where your cat can chew on the corners or an oblivious guest watermark them with their cup of tea. 

The Tarot must also be fed. When you bring home your new deck in its pristine, cellophane-wrapped box, it’s a mystical tabula rasa just waiting for your personal imprint. A new deck is hungry to be claimed, and you need to feed it with your energy to make it your own. How you go about this is up to you. Some people do this through repeated use—also the best way to get acquainted with unfamiliar cards. For myself, I will put a new deck under my pillow and sleep on it for a few days, let my dreams seep into them. After all, Dreams and the Tarot both navigate the land of symbols. They speak the same language. Naturally, if I am not sleeping well or having bad dreams…well, that’s like dining on magic mushrooms instead of chanterelles. Not exactly lethal, but the energy can be unreliable.

So, guideposts are erected—initial markers to consider when getting a new Tarot deck, be it your first of your thirtieth, my Tarot of Dragons or your long-awaited kickstarter deck. To help you on your Fool’s Journey. 

Safe travels, my friends.

Author’s bio:

Shawn MacKENZIE (Southern Vermont) is a life-long student of the strange and mysterious—myths, arts, religions, sciences, the occult—as well as all creatures, seen and unseen, real, cryptic, great, and small. In addition to Tarot of Dragons, she’s the author of The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook (OP), Dragons for BeginnersLlewellyn’s Little Book of Dragons, as well as numerous essays and fictions. Minnesotan by birth, she now lives in the shadow of the Green Mountains with nine cats, two rats, and an Amazon parrot. They are a constant inspiration. Working with the Tarot has been an integral part of her life for more than forty years. 

The Tarot of Dragons will hit bookstores in June and is currently available to preorder from LlewellynAmazon,Barnes & Noble, and bookstores and occult stores, large and small, everywhere.

Note: Since penning this, I was surprised by the arrival of my advance author’s copies of TofD. Reality strikes and it is as beautiful as I could have imagined. Thank you, Firat and everyone at Llewellyn.

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Filed under Dragons, Guest Writers & Bloggers, Illustrators & Illustrations

Blog renaissance

The author and her family, 2015, by Rick Heit Photography

 

Back in March, I posted this blog renaissance mission. I have had a few guests and have plans for more. Would you like to be included? See contact info at the end of the post.

Blog history 

Years ago, I produced week-long, special-event, promotional blog articles in collaboration with others. 

Over those years, I featured artists, writers, bloggers, other editors and proofreaders, photographers, sculptors, potters, graphic designers, jewelry makers, furniture makers, chefs, cooks, crafters, and more. 

The good feels

I felt good doing that. I am doing that again.  

Any time I can lift someone’s spirits – show their art or photos or jewelry or sculptures and share their passion with others – it gives me a warm fuzzy. 

It also helped me grow – in my perceptions and with creatives around the country and around the world.  

Resurrecting these partnerships

I would like to resurrect those special moments. Not in week-long events (man, that was a lot of work!), but with special events for anyone who has a book, artwork, or food truck launch or for creatives who simply want to share their special talents with my audience. 

All these blog features will be shared to my FB, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 

Contact me

If you are interested in a special-event feature on my blog, use the Contact Form or send an email – karenrsanderson@midco.net.

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Links to a handful of previous collaborations –  

Emmett Russell – Furniture maker and metal sculpturist – from 2015

Chris Eboch – Myths about writing for children – from 2015

Photographer Rick Heit – Interview with Rick Heit epic photographer – from 2015

Editor spotlight with Darlene Elizabeth Williams – Editor Spotlight – from 2014 

My Main Street with Minot’s Main Street Books – My Main Street – from 2013

Darlene Foster – Darlene Foster, tweens author – from 2013

Elizabeth H. Cottrell – Tools for touching hearts and lives – from 2013

Shawn MacKenzie – You are your words – from 2013

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Note – One of my greatest pleasures is when I present a guest in the best possible light. I will take more care with your blog appearance than with my own. I reserve the right to edit your submission.

Rick Heit Photography

For more info on Rick Heit Photography in Minot, ND, click here.

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Filed under Artists, Book Cover Design, Editing & Proofreading, Guest Writers & Bloggers, Illustrators & Illustrations, Kid Stuff & Children's Books, Photography, Prose & Poetry, Special Events

Are Children’s Books Just for Children?

By Darlene Foster

I write children’s books. Actually, I should correct that. I write books suitable for children. But they are books any age can read and enjoy.

            Recently I listened to an interview with Lawrence Hill, author of the award-winning novel, The Book of Negroes.He discussed his latest release, Beatrice and Croc Harry, which he describes as a story for children and adults. He mentioned there should be no separation between children’s and adults’ books. He mentioned that as authors, we should not shy away from including serious and painful issues in children’s stories as they can handle them. He also mentioned, and I agree, many adults enjoy reading from a child’s point of view.  

            As a young reader, I devoured everything in the children’s section of our small prairie library, so I started reading from the adult section. I read Gone with the Wind in three days when I was twelve years old and loved it. Obviously, some books are not suitable for children. I recall my mother hiding books like Peyton Place and Tropic of Cancer, because she knew I would read anything I could get my hands on.  

            Recently a neighbour mentioned that he was sad that his daughter was now able to read on her own, as he could no longer read all the wonderful children’s books, including my Amanda Travels series. I replied, “Why not? You can still read them on your own and then discuss them with her.”

            There are no reading police that watch out for adults reading children’s books. If there was, I’d be in jail or fined heavily as I read a lot of novels written for children. I just finished reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin. Although it was written over a hundred years ago and the writing might be difficult for modern day readers, it was wonderful to follow the delightful Rebecca as she adapted to her new surroundings. I re-read Anne of Green Gablesevery few years.

            Reading is how we learn and grow, at any age. Children’s books often explore themes such as identity, injustice, misunderstanding, family crisis, friendship, disappointment, and death, among other contemporary issues. Things adults confront on a daily basis.

            I am always pleased when adults read my books and comment on how much they enjoyed them. One adult reader, planning a trip to New Mexico, got ideas of things to see and do on an upcoming visit by reading Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind. I am delighted to have many wonderful reviews from adults who have read my books.

            Once on a crowded ferry from Vancouver Island to Vancouver, I sat with a family of five. Two adults and three elementary-aged boys. Each one of them was reading a different Harry Potter volume. I commented on how nice it was to see a family reading the same series together. The mother explained they purchased one complete set and share the books amongst them. She said they didn’t mind reading the series out of sequence. I can only imagine the lively discussions between the kids and the parents.

            Much can be learned by reading children’s and young adult fiction and non-fiction. When adults say they don’t understand young people today, perhaps they should read more from a young person’s point of view. Children’s books written by C.S. Lewis, E.B. White, Enid Blyton, and Kate DiCamillo, to name a few, can be life changing for readers of all ages.

            I don’t believe children’s books are just for children. I think I need to change my tag line to—I write books for everyone to enjoy!

            Because, let’s face it, we are all children at heart.


“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children

is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”― C.S. Lewis


1. Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask
2. Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting
3. Amanda in England: The Missing Novel
4. Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone
5. Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music
6. Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind
7. Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action
8. Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady

Darlene Foster’s Amazon Author Page

Darlene Foster’s Website


Darlene Foster grew up on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, where her love of reading inspired her to see the world and write stories. She is the author of the exciting Amanda Travels series featuring spunky Amanda Ross, a twelve-year-old Canadian girl who loves to travel. All ages enjoy following Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another in unique destinations. When not travelling, meeting interesting people, and collecting ideas for her books, Darlene enjoys spending time at her house in Spain with her husband and entertaining rescue dogs, Dot and Lia.

Darlene Foster

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Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers, Kid Stuff & Children's Books, Special Events