Category Archives: Silver Empire

An Interview With S.D. McPhail – Part 2

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key
Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

Last October, by a stroke of good fortune and timing, I was offered a chance to review one of the most unique novels I’ve encountered in a long time. After a few months of discussions, my friend S.D. McPhail agreed to allow me to publish it. Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is, without a doubt, one of a kind. I’m also pleased to say that it’s not just unique – it’s also actually good. The book is available for pre-order now, and will be available for purchase this Saturday. I highly recommend buying a copy and reading it. But if you can’t wait until Friday (and let’s face it, you really are that excited about this book!) I’ve got a three part interview with Ms. McPhail.

As with my typical interviews, one part will post each day through the end of the week. Yesterday’s Part 1 focused on the book itself. Today’s Part 2 focuses on Ms. McPhail’s experiences with writing and publishing. Finally, Tomorrow’s Part 3 will focus on Ms. McPhail herself. As always, these interviews are presented unedited.



What made you decide to get serious about writing?

For many years I worked in a corporate environment at various companies, sometimes in positions that were interesting and challenging, other times not so much. When the work got really boring, I started a blog where I wrote movie reviews. I discovered that I enjoyed analyzing what made me like or dislike a film. Most often it came down to how original or well-executed the story was, not the actors or the special effects. Critiquing other stories got me thinking about the kind of story I would like to write. When the contract on my day job ended, that left me with lots of time to do more than just think about it.


How long did it take you to write your first novel?

A ridiculously long time because I was learning how to write fiction while I was trying to write a novel.


How much time do you spend writing every day?

Not enough and not as much as I would like. I try to put in at least four hours a day. Some days I do well, occasionally I am elated to have spent a good six or eight hours at the keyboard. Then there are the days that life interferes, and I feel guilty about neglecting my characters.


Is the second one going any faster?

See the last question. The next one should go must faster because I learned so many valuable lessons while writing The Origin Key.


Do you enjoy the writing process or is it a slog?

There are days when it is definitely a slog. On those days, nothing seems to flow easily, the characters refuse to cooperate, and every idea feels trite or stale or obvious or boring. But when it starts to flow well and I can get into the zone, there is no better feeling. That’s when writing is most enjoyable and makes the slog to get there worthwhile.


Did you try submitting your works to any traditional or other indie publishers before you settled on Silver Empire? If so, what was the response like?

I sure did. And I made the egregious newbie mistake of querying agents before my novel had been edited and polished enough. I got back polite, standard rejections that showed not the least bit of interest. So I kept rewriting, found an amazing story editor, and continued to query as I made my novel even better. I still got rejections, but usually more personalized with encouraging comments such as “Even though we are not interested in this one, please feel free to query us in future with other novels.” After many, many rejections, it became clear that my story didn’t fit neatly into a single publishing pigeonhole. It blurs lines between genres and isn’t quite like anything else on the sci-fi/fantasy shelves. I believe a lot of the rejection wasn’t due to a poorly written story, but rather an unwillingness to embrace something refreshingly different or a perceived difficulty in marketing a genre-bender.


You’re with a pretty small and new publisher. What made you decide to go with us instead of just self-publishing it?

Even though I had heard of a few amazing success stories for self-published authors, I realized those were the exception and not the typical experience for new writers. I could have self-published, but knowing how much work an author has to put into marketing their books these days—whether traditionally or self-published—I wanted help from someone who already knew the ins and outs. I wanted a partner with publishing experience so I could concentrate on writing the next stories in the series while we developed a marketing strategy to sell books. After researching you and Silver Empire, I felt like we would work very well together.


How has your publishing experience been so far?

It’s been fantastic! Being able to meet with my publisher and talk in person is an enormous confidence-booster. You’ve been extremely responsive and offered some great ideas. I can’t thank you enough for being willing to listen to me and explaining the business side of things when I have questions. With a small publisher, there’s a lot more personal attention that I’m not sure I would ever get with a busy, overworked agent or a big publishing house.



That’s it for part 2. Tune in tomorrow for a bit more about Ms. McPhail herself!

An Interview With S.D. McPhail – Part 1

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key
Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

Last October, by a stroke of good fortune and timing, I was offered a chance to review one of the most unique novels I’ve encountered in a long time. After a few months of discussions, my friend S.D. McPhail agreed to allow me to publish it. Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is, without a doubt, one of a kind. I’m also pleased to say that it’s not just unique – it’s also actually good. The book is available for pre-order now, and will be available for purchase this Saturday. I highly recommend buying a copy and reading it. But if you can’t wait until Friday (and let’s face it, you really are that excited about this book!) I’ve got a three part interview with Ms. McPhail.

As with my typical interviews, one part will post each day through the end of the week. Today’s Part 1 focuses on the book itself. Tomorrow’s Part 2 focuses on Ms. McPhail’s experiences with writing and publishing. Finally, Friday’s Part 3 will focus on Ms. McPhail herself. As always, these interviews are presented unedited.



Congratulations on the pending release of your first novel!

Thank you so much! It’s quite a surreal feeling.


Where did the inspiration for Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key come from?

It’s probably the culmination of a lifetime of reading science fiction and fantasy. I tend to prefer adventure stories with a hero who keeps getting back up after being knocked down and who, perhaps reluctantly at first, has the guts to do the right thing even when it’s much easier to simply walk away.

But I’m guessing you’re looking for a more specific answer than that, so here goes. I’ve always loved studying ancient cultures. In fact, my first year as an undergrad was spent majoring in archaeology/anthropology. I am fascinated by how television’s Ancient Aliens can take the most ridiculous theory and make a case for how extraterrestrials were involved in human history, with no way to prove it. I’m also a fan of classic movies, including silent features from Hollywood’s earliest golden era such as 1924’s The Thief of Bagdad starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Combine all of that and add in the premise of another classic movie, 1937’s Lost Horizon about an ancient peaceful society hidden somewhere in the Himalaya Mountains, and call me inspired.


Which works and authors would you say influenced the book?

That’s hard to narrow down. I’m a big fan of both Star Trek and Star Wars, not to mention movies like Indiana Jones, Independence Day, Galaxy Quest, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Dan Brown’s books featuring the intellectual hero Robert Langdon are definitely in the mix. Someone told me The Origin Key could be described as “Aladdin meets Mission Impossible.” I can’t really argue with that.


What was your favorite moment of the book to write?

I had it on good authority that you know you are truly a writer when your fictional characters talk to you during the writing process, and perhaps even at random moments throughout the day when you aren’t writing. I experienced an argument with one of my main characters who refused to say the bit of dialog I was typing for him. I tried to convince him that he needed to say it exactly as I had written it, but he was adamant. He won the argument and I changed the dialog. When I realized what had happened, I was elated because I finally felt I was a real writer!


What was the hardest part of the book for you to write?

I could answer with “the middle” since it was a bit of a challenge to weave together a lot mystery and intrigue to keep the reader guessing about the final outcome. But what may have been more difficult was writing the fight scenes. Everything that was perfectly choreographed in my mind was not so easy to describe clearly and succinctly.


How many more books do you plan for the series?

Right now, I plan to keep writing about Dodrazeb and Rasteem as long as I can invent new adventures for him. I also want to feature some of the other characters, such as Laneffri or Kamran or even Vestanji as the main character in their own novel-length story. So the answer is “a bunch.”


Can you give us a hint of what we should expect in the next book(s)?

There will be more revelations about the complex history of Dodrazeb and perhaps what exactly it is the scholars continue to search for. My short story A Ruby for Dyree is sort of a Dodrazebbian fairy tale that Rasteem discovers may contain more fact than legend. It features a ruby that isn’t simply a ruby. Oh, and more than one white tiger.


Do you have plans for any more novels outside of Treasures of Dodrazeb?

As a matter of fact, I do. An idea for a cozy mystery series set in a small town in Mississippi populated by eccentric characters with crazy secrets is on my radar.


Can you tell us when we should expect your next novel?

I wish I could say very soon, but it might be next year. I’m working hard at writing the next Dodrazeb adventure as fast as I can, but I don’t want to sacrifice quality for speed. I want it to be as entertaining as possible, and that takes time.



That’s it for part 1. Tune in tomorrow for a bit more about how Ms. McPhail approaches the writing and publishing process!


  • An Interview with S.D. McPhail – Part 1
  • An Interview with S.D. McPhail – Part 2
  • An Interview with S.D. McPhail – Part 3


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key
Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

I’m excited to announce today that Silver Empire’s first novel, Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key by my friend S.D. McPhail is now available for pre-order on Amazon. This is hands down the best third century Persian historical sci-fi sword-and-science book that I’ve ever read. But don’t take my word for it.

  • “A Smart, thrilling mix of history and fantasy. S.D. McPhail is definitely an author to watch.”

    Brian Niemeier, Campbell Award-nominated author of Souldancer.

  • “The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a stunning debut novel from an author to watch. McPhail’s creation is packed with tension and excitement, from the political machinations of the empire to the almost Atlantean history of Dodrazeb and mythical Anutupi. The imagery is enchanting, but the adventure is mesmerizing.”

    Ashley Chappell, author of the Dreams of Chaos series.

In the third century, the Persian Empire was a world power whose influence stretched from China to Europe. The king and his sons maintained peace with a powerful army—until the day a horde of screaming vandals attacked the king.

Pursuing a criminal known as the Viper, Prince Rasteem becomes suspicious when the Persian army easily conquers Dodrazeb. Princess Laneffri is desperate to expel the Persian invaders from her kingdom and she will stop at nothing to protect its secrets—especially the Origin Key. Is Dodrazeb hiding the Viper or something even more dangerous? When Rasteem learns what the Origin Key can do, he must find a way to make the princess an ally to save both their kingdoms from annihilation.

Don’t wait – pre-order your copy today and get the special early price of only $2.99!


Morgon and the kids are heading out of town this weekend o visit family. For the first time in a very long while, I’m going to have a good chunk of time at home on my own. I intend to spend it writing. I’m currently about 62,000 words into my first novel, Post Traumatic Stress. I’m targeting 110k for the first draft, with the intention of trimming it down to about 80-90,000 words for the final draft. The draft as written is currently on track for that.

The novel comes in bursts. I’ve gone long periods without much time to write. On the other hand, I’ve had some very good days. I’ve seen friends online talk about 2,000 words being a good day. That’s not me. When I get in the zone, I get in the zone. My best day so far has been over 4,000 words – and that was a day where I’d already been at work all day. When I get in the zone I can pretty easily turn out 500 to 1,000 words in an hour.

This weekend I’ll have little in the way of distractions. I’ll also, for once, have rather a lot of time. I plan to get myself in the zone and move, and I’m targeting 20,000 words as my goal from Friday morning through Monday evening. I think I can make that happen.

More fun, I plan to “live tweet” as I write. Don’t expect something every five minutes, but expect regular progress updates and maybe the occasional hint of something that’s just made it into the book. You can follow the fun on my Twitter feed. Writing will begin in earnest after I get home from work on Friday evening. This will either go very well or very poorly, but either way it ought to be entertaining.

Post Traumatic Stress

Everybody faces demons in war. After surviving a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, Sergeant Michael Alexander came face to face with actual demons. When the Army sent him home on a medical discharge, the demons followed. Now they’re going after his friends and terrorizing his home town. Now Michael must face up to the past, with the help of his not-quite-father-in-law, a young friend, a hapless and overly bureaucratic secret military group that gets in the way more than it helps, and an ancient order of knights chartered by the Vatican.


"Between the Wall and the Fire"
“Between the Wall and the Fire”

Alfred Genesson has left a very kind review of Between the Wall and the Fire at his Injustice Gamer blog.

Cower not, fierce reader! We have before us today not a novel, but a collection of short stories, edited by Mr. Russell Newquist. Each story in here has it’s own crime against Social Justice, if not multiple. The stories are solid, and I’ll attempt to keep from too much spoiling the stories. These will be done along the mini review format I tried earlier.

This is a very solid anthology. Read and enjoy, fierce reader, for these tales have fires to warm the heart. Vascular muscle is tough, but full of iron. Seven of ten fell deeds.

Click through the link to read the whole thing.

Mockers Podcast Shout-Out

Brothers Eric and Andy Mocker of "The Mockers Podcast."
Brothers Eric and Andy Mocker of “The Mockers Podcast.”

Between the Wall and the Fire, got a shoutout last night on The Mockers Podcast by brothers Eric and Andy Mocker. What did the brothers think of my latest collection of science fiction and fantasy stories? Tune in for yourself to find out! You’ll also get to hear Eric’s opinions on the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Warcraft movies. Don’t miss their weekly sports quiz! And finally, make sure you stick around for their “mockumendations.”

While you’re at it, you might want to go check out their back catalog. They’re still relative newcomers in the podcasting world, but they’re coming on strong. Take a look!

OPEN SUBMISSIONS – Superversive Superheroes

superheroYesterday I discussed what superversive fiction is and briefly talked about the two anthologies of superversive science fiction and fantasy that I’ve published in the last two years. Today I’m pleased to announce that Silver Empire is now accepting submissions for our next superversive anthology.

Our first superversive anthology focused on “manly courage.” Our second focused on “devotion to family.” This time the theme will be “superheroes.”

  • It should be a short story of roughly 3,000 to 15,000 words. These are loose guidelines. If the story is strong, we’ll accept stuff outside of it. And I’m not going to quibble over a few words if it’s 2,998 or 15,011 words or something like that. But that’s about the size we’re shooting for.
  • It should be a science fiction or fantasy story.
  • We are looking for exclusive publication rights, and also the rights to republish the story in our upcoming Lyonesse project (republication will only make you more money, so don’t fear!)
  • Submissions are due by April 30th, 2017.
  • The theme of this anthology is “superheroes.”
  • The anthology is deliberately superversive. Thus, we’re looking for serious submissions. Satire and Parody are ok *IF* they take the theme seriously.
  • The superheroes should be heroic – or if they aren’t, the story should showcase this as a failing. No “Captain America was actually Hydra all along” stories will be accepted.
  • You must have the rights to the characters you use and be able to legally transfer them to us for the purposes of this anthology. Unless by some miracle you actually are DC or Marvel and want to let us use your characters, we can’t use them. Trust me – we want to use them as badly as you do. This is just how the world works.
  • Payment will be in royalties – no advances. The royalty rates will be relatively high, but our sales volumes will likely be relatively low. Exact rates will depend on how many stories end up in the anthology but will follow a simple formula based on word count (50% of sales sent to authors, prorated to each author based on the word count of the story compared to the word count of the anthology as a whole).
  • Stories that are part of a larger world or series that you’re developing are perfectly fine – even if previous or later stories are not published through us.
  • Submissions should be in Word format (doc or docx is fine).
  • Submissions can be e-mailed to

What Is Superversive Fiction?

Some of my works have been labeled with the term “superversive.” But it’s not a common term, and people often ask me what it means.

Urban Dictionary says the following:

Nurturing; supportive, building up — opposite of subversive
The superversives decorated the object with daisy chains, linked their arms around it and sang “Jerusalem.”
The definition is quite good for a short definition, but it only takes us so far – and their example usage is truly bizarre. So let’s take another stab at it. Here’s a definition given by Mr. John C. Wright, as relayed by his wife, L. Jagi Lamplighter, on Sarah Hoyt’s blog.
“You know how subversive means to change something by undermining from below? Superversive is change by inspiration from above.”

This definition is slightly less concise but far more informative. The last half century or so has seen quite a bit of subversive literature – literature designed not for building up civilization but for tearing it down. It has many features to it: heroes who aren’t heroic, the world is portrayed as a terrible, evil place, beauty is nowhere to be found, good always loses in the end, etc. Some of this started out as a fair and necessary reaction to literature that had become too whitewashed. The world has warts in it, and portraying a world without them lacked character and truth. But the pendulum has swung too far. Too much art today shows only the warts and neglects to show the beauty of the world.

OK, that gives us a good idea of what superversive isn’t. But superversive is more than just “not subversive.” We could take the next step by looking at the Superversive Manifesto, proposed by M.C. Tuggle. But although there’s plenty there to like, I think it misses some the mark.

If subversive is about tearing down the structures of society, superversive must be about building them back up. Specifically, I believe superversive fiction absolutely must contain some of the following elements:

  • Heroes who are actually heroic. They don’t have to be heroic all of the time, or even most of the time. But when the time comes, they must actually be heroic.
  • People are basically good. Not all the time, not in every case – and certainly not every person. But basically.
  • Good Wins. Not every time – a good story always has setbacks in it. But evil winning is most definitely not superversive.
  • True love is real. Again, maybe not for everybody. But it’s real.
  • Beauty is real. It’s ok to show the warts. But show the beauty, too.
  • The transcendent is awesome. There’s no obligation to show any particular religion, or even really religion at all. But superversive literature should show the glory and splendor of the wider universe around us, and it should leave us in awe of it.
  • Family is good and important. Not every family, sure. But those are the exceptions, not the rule.
  • Civilization is better than barbarism. This doesn’t mean barbarians are evil, or that they aren’t fun. But in the end, they’re… well, barbaric.
  • Strength, courage, honor, beauty, truth, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility are virtues. This can be demonstrated by showing people breaking the virtues. But they must be recognized as virtues.
  • There is hope. Superversive stories should never leave the reader feeling despair.

The “What every boy needs to know about being a man” speech from Secondhand Lions sums it up very well.

BetweenTheWallAndTheFireI apply the term superversive pretty strictly. I’ve put out two anthologies of science fiction and fantasy short stories that were deliberately themed with superversive intent. The first, Make Death Proud to Take Us, carried a theme of manly courage. Every story is specifically written to showcase men being courageous – something that is lost in a great deal of modern fiction, where too many men are slimy, sleazy, weaselly, and fearful. The second, Between the Wall and the Fire, tells stories about devotion to family. We live in a world that is constantly trying to break down families in every way. We opted to instead showcase families: why they are important, what they bring to the world.

Some of the contributors didn’t even know they were participating in superversive projects. In fact, I’ve had to explain the term – after the fact – to more than one of them. And yet in the case of one of my authors, I can specifically say that throwing out a superversive topic – with no explanation of why I’d chosen that topic – resulted in the best story she’d yet submitted to me, hands down. The fact of the matter is that even if you don’t agree with the superversive movement, these are the kind of stories that resonate with people.

At Silver Empire, we continue to make the effort to publish superversive fiction. Not everything we publish is explicitly superversive. Indeed, I’m pretty strict about using the label. But I’m also not particularly interested in publishing subversive fiction. There are plenty of other outlets who will do that. Enough other people are tearing the world down without my help. I’m ready to build.

Life Began at Thirty-Three

Both the story below and the introduction are lifted from my latest anthology of science fiction and fantasy short stories, Between the Wall and the Fire. Unlike every other story in that collection, this one is not science fiction and it’s not fantasy. I will leave it to the introduction below to explain why it was included anyway.

In December of 2006, my sister-in-law Dani’s family invited my not-yet-wife Morgon and I to join them for Christmas in the suburbs of Chicago. Since our last trip to Chicago had been for my brother’s wedding and we’d enjoyed the trip greatly, we happily accepted.

The trip went pear shaped even before we left. As December waned, so did the health of Dani’s grandmother. Morgon and I debated skipping the trip, but then we got word that Dani’s grandmother had been specifically looking forward to seeing us. To this day, I don’t know why – we’d only met her once, at the aforementioned wedding. But I can suck up a lot to make an old woman happy, so we went ahead and made the trip.

It had already started to go downhill, and it only accelerated from there. The heat was broken on Dani’s SUV, and it was cold. The drive turned into a very long one, and by the end of it Morgon was literally shaking despite being wrapped in blankets and spare clothing. Then, of course, the trip got even more awkward as Dani’s grandmother continued to decline.

We did see her, and in hindsight I’m glad we did. She died a few days into our trip. At that point, Morgon and I decided to get out of everyone’s way. We rented a car for the trip home and decided to head out early. But since we were already most of the way there, we decided to stop in and see Morgon’s grandfather Verne in Galesburg. We had hoped to find time to make it up there anyway. Now that we were on our own, and had control of the transportation, we made it a point.

I had met Verne once or twice before on some of his previous visits to Huntsville, but I didn’t know him very well. He was old – in his late eighties at the time – and his hearing was very poor. It was hard to communicate with him. I wasn’t particularly enthused about the trip, but I knew it was important to Morgon.

We stopped in at his little house in the country. It was the first time I’d seen the place, but I liked it. It was cozy. Verne was pleasant and welcomed us, even though his hearing made it hard to communicate. Then the awkwardness of the trip continued. We sat on the couch and he sat in a chair across from us.

And he handed me this story. Worse, he clearly expected me to read it, right there in front of him.

I have to admit that my reaction was uncharitable. Here was a man I barely knew, on a trip that had already been pretty rough, handing me who knows what to read. But manners got the best of me. I expected to read a page or so, skim the rest, force a smile, and tell him I enjoyed it.

That old codger pulled a fast one on me. The story was good – really good.

It is presented here completely unedited, exactly the way he gave it to me nearly a decade ago. The language is simple. The story isn’t always told in order. It isn’t science fiction or fantasy. But it’s a good tale, and it tells a great tale about a simple man and his family.

Most of all, it’s True.


Life Began at Thirty-Three
by Verne Luvall

At age 33, having survived the war, free and able to do as I pleased, there seemed to be a lack of purpose or direction. All of my friends were married. I had dated girls forty miles north and fifty miles south, but none developed into anything serious.

All of that changed quite suddenly. I was a tool and die maker at Gale Products and part of my job was troubleshooting in the punch press department. Virginia Mureen worked in the time study department and her job brought her to the punch press department to post the piece work notes. The foreman of the department took a liking to both of us. One day he said, “Verne, you two should get together.”

I said, “Aw, Bud, I’ve known her all her life. I have played with her brothers, and we live only about three blocks apart, and I just don’t know about dating in the neighborhood.”

From that day on, we were one. We didn’t have one of those romantic courtships. She could always remember what I wore on that first date. It made no difference what we did as long as we did it together. I did considerable fishing at Lake Rice, and she joined me and became a very good fly fisherwoman.

One night as we were walking from the car to her house, without any forethought, I said, “Will you marry me?”

She said, “You know what the answer is.”

After our engagement, our thoughts turned to our future home. I came from a large family in the Depression, and there seemed to be so much dissension. My dad lost the house twice, and it became so ramshackle that I had people drop me off a block away so they couldn’t see where I lived. From all this, some very strong convictions were made.

First, I wanted a brick house in the country with a fireplace and not heavily mortgaged. The only way some of this could be accomplished was to do as much of the work as possible myself. I didn’t want the wife to work outside the home, and there was to be no bickering.

So, we began looking for a home site and searching for house plans. Gale Products owned Gale Lake, and it had a nice fireplace, and we spent many evenings working on house plans in the lighthouse.

Since the inside of the house was where the homemaker would spend most of her time, we wanted it to be as efficient and labor-saving as possible. Once this was accomplished, we had an architect put it all under one roof complete with nine closets.

Unfortunately, we found that the land promised to us could not be sold since a brother had a chattel mortgage on the property and would not ell. Time was running out since it was April, and we set October for our wedding, so we pigeonholed those plans and settled for a simple, two-bedroom house with crawl space and bought a lot in the Mast Addition on Farnham Street. We were the first to build their own house.

We had the foundation laid and the house framed and I took over from there. Virginia helped me do the shingling. The siding was delivered to her mother’s double garage, and we spent our evenings priming it on both sides. After I installed it, it was time for the final paint job. While working on the original plans at Gale Lake, we liked the color of the fireplace and decided to use it on this house.

The man at the paint store furnished a basic color plus the necessary material to produce the desired color. He did not mix the two. A relative had been wanting to help us, so we decided to let him do the painting. He did not mix the paint, either, using only the basic color. When we stopped by after work, it looked like the sun was setting in the east. It was a bright orange red – a shock at first, but it sort of grew on us. It really stood out among all those white houses.

In time we added a white picket fence, and one evening I was down behind it pulling weeds when two girls riding horses came by. One remarked that she sure liked the color of that house, but her horse didn’t and wanted to shy away from it.

In time, the fence was no longer needed for our children, Jeff and Missy, so it was again time to look for that home site in the country. At last resort we were about to settle for a piece of ground near Shanghai. One evening we had some friends over for dinner. It was Glenn and Mabel Glass who lived on the Alexis Angling Road. Virginia had gone to school with their daughter Cynthia, and I had hunted ducks on their pond. Imagine our surprise when they said, “We heard that you were going to buy land near Shanghai, but we can’t let you do that. We knew you wanted to buy in the country, but we wanted to be sure you wouldn’t sell out to some chicken thieves in a few years.”

We had choice of three locations, and we chose a five acre patch of brush on the southwest corner of their property. We called it “Stillwood.” There were times later when I thought Wit’s End might be more appropriate. We have always felt a deep gratitude to them for their generosity.

The first improvement had to be a well. The cost of a drilled well seemed too expensive, so I decided on a dug well. A water witcher marked two locations, and I drilled two test holes fifty feet deep with a two inch hand auger. Fred Kelly, who owned a service station, loaned me his wrecker to lift the auger. No water was found on either location, so a 135 –foot drilled well furnished plenty of water.

Eventually, the basement was dug, blocks laid, and the house framed, this by professionals. This was per our original plans. All my weekends, holidays, and vacations were spent finishing it. To be closer, we sold the house in town and moved into a log cabin a few miles from the home site. This was fine, but the log cabin was sold suddenly, and we had to move into the basement of the unfinished house.

The lavatory at the head of the basement stairs was connected to the septic tank. The shower and sink to the floor drain. The four inch drain pipe to which the upstairs bathroom would be connected protruded through the foundation to the trench to the septic tank.

There were no eaves and that night (our first) a four inch rain fell. The trench filled and water began coming in through the pipe. All night and part of the next day was spent catching the water in 50-gallon cream cans and pouring down the drain. Just when it seemed finished, a large piece of soil loosened and fell into the trench causing more water.

The heat convection for the basement did not arrive until after Thanksgiving, so the only heat we had was from a fireplace and a small laundry stove. After work, I had to cut enough wood to last the next day.

It took two weeks for the toilet stool for the lavatory at the head of the stairs to come from Abingdon. In the meantime, an outhouse donated by a neighbor had to be used. It was some distance from the house, so I would escort Virginia there at night. When I finally was able to install the stool, it had to be kept covered since there was no heat upstairs. The refrigerator was also upstairs, so Virginia had to wear a wrap when she visited it.

There was considerable overtime at the factory, so whatever time was available was spent on the house. Sometimes a job wouldn’t get finished until 2 A.M. We lived in the basement for two years. The brickwork and fireplaces were done by professionals.

Our life at Stillwood was full of surprises. Our road had only been graveled to a dead end road which ended a short distance from our drive. More gravel was added to our drive, but after that there were only two ruts.

One Easter morning, Virginia noticed a car stuck in front of the house and about that time there was a knock at the door. On opening, there stood a little black man. He said, “Missta, I’m stuck in the mud. Could you give me a push?” I told him it was useless because I had been through that before. We tried to no avail. Then, he asked to use the phone. He called a man in town who had a wrecker. “Elmer, this is Bob,” he said. “I’m stuck in the mud out here in the country. Could you come get me out?”

Elmer said no because he was too busy, but he said, “You’ve got to help me. I’ve got to get home and take the wife and kids to church, and I’ve got this chick in the car.” He finally got a neighbor to pull him out with a tractor.

One evening, the daughter of a Galesburg policeman and her boyfriend landed in the same spot. They were supposed to have been at a party on the southeast edge of town.

Thanks to friends and neighbors, Jeff had horses to ride. One was Star, a very large but gentle one. One day, we saw Missy tying this big horse to the bumper of our little Volkswagen.

When asked about Jeff, she said he was running Star down in the pasture and she fell. “I think he’s dead.” Just as we were about to look for him, he came limping through the yard, and we were relieved to find that he was not seriously injured. We never did find his glasses.

Then there was Tony the pony that was given to me by a man I thought was my friend. He assured me that fences would not be a problem, but Tony could always find a bad spot in my fence.

He would watch me prune a tree and after I left, he would finish the job to suit himself. The grafts I made on nut trees were just the right height to scratch his belly and he utilized all of them. One day two of our neighbors’ horses came to visit him. They were running up and down on either side of the fence having a great time. It could have been funny, but the horses were running in my new strawberry bed. He would also play hide and seek with Missy.

We had several dogs. Binky, a black Lab, was the first while we were living in town. We both took her through obedience school. She was also a good hunter.

Next was a collie. Virginia always wanted a collie, so I gave her a puppy for Christmas. We named her Holly.

Then there was Tika, a Doberman which Jeff sent us from Mississippi. She died suddenly after only two years.

One day an Irish setter showed up wearing a collar and broken chain. This we later learned was because he was afraid of storms. The back door still shows evidence of his attempted forced entry. Other than that, he was a pretty good ole dawg.

Last but not least was Boots. She was a spayed border collie cross which Missy could no longer keep in town. Ordinarily, a spayed bitch would stay pretty close to home. Not Boots, she had to be where the action was. One day, there was a knock at the door, and it was a neighbor who said, “Your dog has been killing my ducks and chickens.” He said he could replace them at the Salebarn for $20, so I turned it over to my insurance. After that she was tied unless I was with her.

One day, I didn’t think it necessary just for the short time it took for lunch. When I went out, there laid a lamb on the drive. I knew the neighbor would blame the coyotes, but I also knew that I would be driving past his house many times, so I confessed. The lamb cost $75, and this was billed to the insurance, and they canceled my policy. This wasn’t as bad as it seems because my new insurance was much less.

All our dogs were buried near a tree of some significance. Holly was buried near a maple tree which began as a tiny seedling on her grandmother’s grave. It had been transplanted to our place in town and then to the country.

Besides some fantail pigeons, we also acquired two white banty hens. A friend thought they needed some male companionship, so he contributed a gamecock rooster.

One of the hens became broody and tried to hatch a pile of rags in the garage. Feeling sorry for her, I found some banty eggs for her. When they hatched, one of the chicks was a husky black rooster. As he grew older, he kept testing the old rooster, and one day the feathers flew and the old rooster was banished from the flock. He immediately made friends with Shag and followed him around like his shadow.

Jeff belonged to the Warren County 4-H Club, and at the Prime Beef Festival, the 4-Hers got a chance to catch a greased pig. Jeff caught one, so it was necessary to build a pen. We were fortunate in having a hog house given to us. For feed, the whole family would glean the picked cornfields on a Sunday afternoon. There was also a person nearby who furnished popcorn to the numerous concessions, and he gave us the stale corn. One day, he said, “Here’s a treat for our pig.” He gave me a sack of stale cashews. He was right. The pig would almost climb the fence to get them.

This was just the beginning of our piggy experiences. Jeff worked for the neighbor farmers during school vacation, and he would bring home runt pigs that the farmers didn’t want.

He belonged to the Explorer Scouts. One summer they took a canoe trip in the Country Waters on the Minnesota Canadian border, and I was allowed to tag along. This left Virginia to care for some little pigs. When we returned home, she said no more.

Jeff’s project in 4H was bee keeping. A beekeeper friend helped him assemble the necessary equipment. Once I was working with the bees, and he was watching while waiting for Virginia to take him to some activity in town and was stung. On the way into town, he broke out with a rash and had trouble breathing.

Virginia had the presence of mind to go directly to the hospital. After being discharged from the hospital, it was necessary to take a series of immunization shots. The bees had to be removed until he left for college. I managed ten to twelve hives for several years after that.

We always had a large garden, fruit trees, and berries, so our freezer was always full. That is except when the neighbors’ livestock invaded. One day a couple of cows were sampling our sweet corn and an old sow and pigs were dining on the tomatoes.

Eventually, board by board, we managed to make the house livable. You might say I made the house, but she made it a home.

Virginia passed away on June 25, 1989, five days after being diagnosed with acute leukemia and is now resting in a little cemetery close to home. I pass her almost every day.

One of her last requests was that Jeff take me on his upcoming trip to Costa Rica. She knew how much I enjoyed the one in 1983. I can still remember how the gate keeper at the Peoria airport let her walk out to the plane to say goodbye.

She was active in a number of organizations and was an election judge during elections at the Townhouse in Kelly Township. It was heated with a hand fired stove and had outdoor plumbing.

I would take her there early in the morning and pick her up after the polls closed. It was a good place to catch up on the neighborhood gossip.

She leaves so many friends and pleasant memories. She should have been an ambassador because she could enter a room of people and be friends with all. This gift helped me overcome the complex I had acquired during childhood. She made me feel important.

During my younger days, one word that was never mentioned was love, so it was too difficult for me to say. However, I could give Virginia a big hug and say, “Boy! I could sure go for you.”

Upon retiring, I didn’t take a full pension, so she would be assured of an income after I was gone. I expected her to live to be a sweet little old lady, just like her mother who lived with us for five and a half years.

Nothing has changed within the house. Her sewing basket still sits by her chair. Her knickknacks are in place, and her many beautiful needlepoint samplers adorn the walls.

One is a replica of an old pair of my hunting boots which has a plaque beneath (not needlepoint) which says…

A husband is…
A husband is someone who takes your heart
and keeps it next to his forever and a day.
There is a particular brand of togetherness with
Husbands you can never feel with anyone else.
A husband is the only labor saving device
you can cuddle
His standing joke; the best thing you ever did
was marrying me is nearer to the truth
than he will ever know.
My husband is someone I love so much
that a lifetime is not long enough to share
with him.

Another sampler best summarizes my life after 33. It reads…

To Love And Be Loved
Is The Greatest Joy On Earth

~ VL ~



Jeff Miller has left a very fantastic review of my latest science fiction and fantasy anthology, Between the Wall and the Fire. A few excerpts that particularly humbled me:

The collection starts out very strong with “Edge” by Russell S. Newquist. The story starts with some explanation of motorcycle physics and introduces the main character a P.I. You start to get the feeling of some SF noir and then the action ramps up, and ramps up again. The situation gonzo as you start to find out about the inhabitants of this world. I really enjoyed how this was layered and that for a short story a definite beginning/middle/end. Like most good short stories you are satisfied with it while at the same time wanting more. In this case I could not have thought of a better ending. Just perfect.

I’ll have a post later this week about how that particular story came about. It was an incredibly fun one to write, and I’m glad that people have enjoyed reading it. Also this:

“Knight of the Changeling” by Rusell S. Newquist was another one I greatly enjoyed. What happens in the genre of urban fantasy when a changeling is discovered and you try to recover the switched-out child? First off I just loved how the changeling was detected. Mostly I enjoyed the dangers of fairy land and then how it was all resolved.

This story, on the other hand, was a giant pain in the rear from beginning to end. I had thought that the theme of “family” would make for an easy Peter Bishop story. That was not the case at all. Even coming up with the concept for this story was like pulling teeth. So I’m very glad that people enjoyed the final product!

Jeff also has some really wonderful things to say about my fellow co-authors on this anthology, and you should definitely take the time to pop over and read the whole thing. On behalf of all of those co-authors, we thank you Jeff!