Write by the Rails Blog Tour Guest Post: Linda S. Johnston

Journaling and Finding Your Inner Turtle


Our world moves at a frenetic pace. Innovation allows us to do everything faster – access information, disperse information, travel. Technology hurtles us through time. But can our emotional and spiritual selves keep up?

Don’t get me wrong, I think innovation keeps life dynamic and interesting. But I also think that sometimes it forces us to move faster, whether we want to or not. Maybe I feel like being slow once in a while. We’re all familiar with calling in for a “sick day.” I propose a new term – slow day. Couldn’t we all use a “slow day” once in a while? Maybe I want to be Carolyn Slowsky from the Comcast commercial today. She and Bill just move at their own pace and darn it, they like it. No high speed internet for them. Okay, I do like high speed internet – it has made doing research easier and less tedious. But, can we take another lesson from these fascinating reptiles? I say yes.

Slowing down means allowing our emotional selves to catch up. I sense that people today, especially young people, are uncomfortable with sitting still and being quiet. It makes them feel uneasy and unconnected. Here’s where journaling comes in. Keeping a journal gives ourselves permission to be quiet and to reflect on our day, our life. It allows our souls to take a deep breath.

This is a valuable lesson to teach young people. It says its okay to disconnect for a few minutes each day to allow your inner self to calm down. Unplug, be silent, and record your thoughts. It’s healthy and can help keep us balanced. To me, this is as important a skill as knowing how to solve an algebraic equation.

So today, give yourself permission to slow down, even for a few minutes. Jot down a few thoughts about your Tuesday. And if you think Bill and Carolyn are just a couple of reptilian dullards, think again. Maybe they just know the value of slow.

Thank you Cindy, for letting me be your guest today!

Writer and artist Linda S. Johnston enjoys combining history, art, and nature in her writing. Her first book, Hope Amid Hardship: Pioneer Voices from Kansas Territory, is a collection of pioneer writings on the happy side of life in early Kansas and includes watercolor sketches throughout. To learn more about Linda and her writing, please visit www.lindasjohnston.com

Write by the Rails Blog Tour Guest Post: Tee Morris

Humble Beginnings: The Importance of the Origin Story

Origin stories never fail to make me smile.

I think I’ve seen at least four tellings of Superman’s origins, the last one being Man of Steel which I don’t mind saying I enjoyed immensely. I still remember as a kid being so excited when, in reruns, ABC ran the pilot episode of The Six Million Dollar Man.

As we have seen, though, origin stories can all-too-easily be screwed up in their telling.

How so? Think about when you saw Darth Vader for the first time. You’ve just witnessed an all-out firefight, the bodies of both sides (of a skirmish you still didn’t quite understand all the details behind) littering the corridor of this spaceship, and then through the smoke and haze emerges the big man in black himself, his respirator the only sound you hear.


Pretty terrifying, huh? It was one of those unquestionable watershed moments of cinematic history…

…forever tainted by the whiny Annakin Skywalker we met in those god-awful Star Wars prequels. Now, whenever I look at Vader, I think, “Eh, it’s Annie in the suit. No big.”

So yes, origin stories are very easy to screw up.

It’s always good to never forget your roots, never forget where you come from. From those first few steps into a story, it’s the details of things—the sounds in the room, the weight of the blade in hand, the hard taste in your mouth when breathing deep a winter’s night—that build a character, a place, a setting. Ground rules are established. Crucial decisions are made, and from these humble beginnings, heroes and villains come to life. It’s those details that define your world and the people within it. Keep those details close. Within them is where the real story resides.

So yeah, I love a good origin story, and I was lucky enough to pen two of them in the summer of 2013. The first was with Valiant’s Bloodshot series, commissioned by Amazon’s Kindle Worlds. The other was in “A Nocturne for Alexandrina” from our recent anthology Ministry Protocol: Thrilling Tales from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Take a look at how The Ministry came to be.


It all started with a new queen on the throne, and a hot summer’s day at the palace….


London, England
Buckingham Palace

For the first time since becoming queen, Victoria—unequivocally—was not amused.
Today was just one of those days where being queen really was more trouble than the title warranted, and certainly there was a lot of trouble to being queen of the British Empire. First, you needed to look like a queen. That went without saying. Getting up early enough to dress the part. Then there was the pomp and circumstance on the tiniest of life’s most mundane details. Just making it to the table to enjoy a hearty breakfast with her beloved betrothed, Albert, practically demanded an act from Parliament. Then came the maintenance of the Empire itself. Petition upon petition from her overseas representatives, all imploring the crown for more money. Many of these “imperative missives” from ambassadors were about as dodgy and as superfluous as a man trying to sell high quality sand to a Persian desert gypsy. This, however, did not try her patience so much when compared to the explorers wanting to “expand the Empire” with her financial help.

Antarctica? Really? Why in the name of God would anyone wish to claim any part of that frozen wasteland?

She then felt a light trickle against the back of her neck. I’m the Queen of the British Empire, she seethed, and with all this technology in my realm they can’t keep this palace cool in the summer? It’s not even two years old! Bloody hell.

Suddenly conquering Antarctica struck her as a good idea. A summer retreat there sounded quite nice. Perhaps this was the price of being “the first” of anything—a sacrifice of creature comforts.

What gave Victoria a real chill of dismay was that she had only been queen for just over two years. And this miserable, droll routine would be her life for the next few decades. No, becoming queen had not come as a complete shock to her. Victoria’s entire life and training had been leading to this, but certainly this predestination did not make the transition any earlier. Good Lord, just the news reaching her had hardly been an easy process. She could still remember that night involving a rather delightful dream of a Scotsman from good breeding, fine manners, and the kind of calf muscles, just visible from his kilt, that promised thighs and accompanying backsides a woman would take great delight in having within reach. She was enjoying a day’s riding and then a lovely tea—and that was when she knew it was a dream, of course, as a Scotsman, no matter how fine the breeding, would not enjoy a tea, nor describe an Assam as delightful. He was about to become quite forward when she was awakened at the break of dawn by Mamma, informing her that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were in her sitting room, awaiting an audience.

How disappointing. She would have preferred to return to her rather saucy dream, but instead she was to accept the charge of Queen of the British Empire.

Now, Alexandrina Victoria, crowned Queen Victoria, merely tightened her smile and gave the most imperceptible of sighs through her nose. Yes, even queens woke up on the wrong side of beds, even ones as plush and as comfortable as the ones in Buckingham Palace. She had to find a silver lining to this day, or remain trapped in this rut. For the rest of her life. She was queen; but she was human, too. Currently, she was bored and frustrated to the point of tears.

“Finally,” spoke her Lord Chamberlain, “we have a request for an audience.”

Then he paused. Queen Victoria crooked an eyebrow, inclining her head to the Lord Chamberlain. Yes. Yes. Out with it.

“This request is — well…” He went to speak again, but his words appeared replaced by a clumsy silence. “He wants permission to establish a new branch of Her Majesty’s government.”

“I see,” Victoria acknowledged with a nod. Let’s see, she thought, suppressing a wry grin as she dreamt up new ministries. We are in need of a Ministry of Truly Appalling Pub Songs. We have no Ministry of Tweed. I think there are some patterns that are in desperate need of regulation. And then of course there is the priority to establish a Ministry of Silly Wal—

“Your Majesty,” the Lord Chamberlain spoke, his voice shattering her witticism. “This branch he proposes would cover the entire Empire. It would be a global entity.”

That caught her full attention.

“Does this petitioner have a name?”

“Professor Culpepper Source.” The Lord Chamberlain paused to look over the papers in his hands, and then added, “He’s a scientist.”

“Is his name registered or recognised in any of our Royal Societies?”

“No, Your Majesty.”

She turned to look at him. “And the reasons behind how he made it this far in the petition process and why I am seeing him this afternoon?”

“It is the evidence he has presented to his patrons and, in particular, to me personally.”

“Are you saying you yourself have entertained this Professor Source?”

The man’s complexion blanched as he spoke. He looked so pale in that moment that Victoria believed he would succumb to the vapours. “I cannot impress upon you the importance of seeing this man.”

Perhaps Victoria’s silver lining was at hand. “We shall see this man straight away then.”

She was a tad disappointed at catching a glimpse of the petitioner when he came around the corner. The closer he drew, the fatter he became. He was a portly gentleman, with a rather bushy moustache that in some odd manner flattered him. The receding hairline, however, she found slightly irritating. Perhaps with a full head of hair, she would have found him quite dashing. In a rather plump sort of way. The suit seemed common enough. Not of any fashion she recognised, but of a tweed that did not speak of any fortune or elevated station.

A scientist. That is exactly what he looked like. A kindly scientist.

On this deduction, she gave a long, low sigh. This day, I fear, she grumbled inwardly, is not going to get any better.

“Your Majesty,” he announced, giving a deep bow. When he came up, he paused, taking in a deep breath.
“Something amiss, Professor Source?”

He blinked. “Beg your pardon, mum?”

Mum?! Victoria asked, her back straightening slightly. Did he just call me ‘Mum’?!

She began to worry about her appearance; she was only twenty, after all!

The man then released a little cough as he began what appeared to be a case of some sort. “Do forgive my impertinence, Your Majesty. I’m just a bit nervous, is all. I did not expect to see you upon such short notice.”

On that, Victoria softened. An honest man. What a refreshing change. “Well, professor, it would seem that Fortune favours you as we are having a rather slow day here at the palace. Still, our time for an audience with you is fleeting.”

“That it is, Your Majesty, so let us not bandy about.” He clapped his hands together and then motioned to her. “I desire your company tonight, and yours alone.”

That gave the collected court quite a shock. Victoria, on the other hand, raised an eyebrow. A bit bumbling. Sincere. Mindful of manners. And now, forward. With her.

This ought to be fun.

“This is a bold request you make of your Queen.”

“Yes. So bold that you may wish to have me thrown in irons, but what I wish to bring to your attention—more importantly, what I have to show you—are matters pertaining to you and only you.”

“Are these matters pertaining to the preservation of the Empire?”

The odd man nodded, his two chins jiggling as he did. “Of course.”

“Then why not share these matters with my Privy Council, with those whom I trust with my life and with the direction of the Empire?”

“With all due respect and honours, Your Majesty,” Source began, “you may trust them. I, however, do not.”

Her Lord Chancellor stepped forward, and Victoria started at the deep hue of red his face had turned. “How dare you, sir! You did not tell me of this outlandish—”

Professor Source spoke over his tirade. “Sir, may I remind you of our previous luncheon, or should I reveal those daguerreotypes shared in confidence?”

That stopped the Lord Chancellor. Quickly. His red blush quickly receded to a ghostly pale wash. He swallowed, glanced towards Victoria, and then took a few steps back.

“Is this true?” Victoria asked the scientist.

“Did I lie to your Lord Chancellor, Your Majesty? No. I am no cad. Did I withhold a few details in my petition?”

His eyes twinkled. “Yes. I am a bit of a rogue, on occasion I am afraid.”

She had worn a smile often in court, but this one was the first in a long time that was truly sincere.

“And why should we trust you?”

“Because I am the only one you can trust concerning the darkness that threatens your empire.” He gave his odd cravat a slight adjustment and then tipped his head back proudly. “I have been witness to things unparalleled and unexplainable, and while some of these revelations are fantastic and inspiring, there are phantasms and evil forces beyond our collected comprehensions that counter their purity and benevolence.”

Victoria felt herself shift from intrigued to positively enthralled.

“You are a most peculiar man.” She rose from her throne, and gestured him closer to her, though her guards flanked them as they walked. “You also have conviction.”

“Shall I expect for your company then upon the hour of nine?” He reached into his pocket and checked the time. “That should give you ample time to dress in something appropriate. Something that would allow for movement and—considering who you are—anonymity.” He then paused, as if a thought suddenly came to him. “Dress warm.”

She crooked an eyebrow at that. “Warm? But it’s summer.”

“I know,” he said with a nod. “Trust me. Dress warm.”

Victoria pursed her lips, looked to either of her guards, then leaned in and whispered, “Outdoors, are we?”

“Avebury Circle.”

“At night?” She glanced over to one of her guards. He looked poised and ready for an order. She leaned forward to make certain her guard couldn’t hear her reply to the odd man with “Sounds like a lovely evening.”

The professor reached into his coat, and produced a small folded parchment held between two fingers. “I will be by the fire, waiting for your arrival, Your Majesty.” His eyes darted to the present gentry, and then he whispered, “Alone.”

“We can make no promises.”

“Nor do I expect you to.” He gave a wink, extending the parchment to her. “I could be mad. Or an anarchist. Or both.”

“Doubtful,” she retorted, taking the paper from between his fingers. “You are far too clever.”

He beamed in reply, stepped back from the Queen, and spoke to her again in a full, proper voice. “Your Majesty, my gratitude to you and your devoted court for your time.” He took up the small case by his feet, and then with a few more steps back, his body remaining in a slight bow, the man turned on his heels and walked out.

“Your Majesty?” the Lord Chancellor spoke finally, causing her to start. “Your Majesty, I am sorry, I had no idea—”
“He shared something with you?” Victoria asked. “Exactly what, may I ask?”

His complexion paled even further. “Documents.”

“Really?” She felt her twin shadows follow her up to the man. He flinched as she leaned into him, his eyes seeming to bore into the floor underfoot. “These documents must have some hold upon you.”

“Your Majesty,” he spoke, his voice hard and brittle. “What I saw…”

Tears welled in the man’s eyes, and Victoria stepped back. Now she was to be the one stunned to silence. She was the queen of the most powerful nation in the world; yet an odd man armed only with a large suitcase, it would seem, could win himself a private audience.

She opened her eyes, read the time and place on the parchment, and then folded it back up neatly.

Yes, a bit of intrigue was in order. Things were getting unbearably dull in court. Now free of Mamma’s influence and ruler of the British Empire, it was high time for her to stretch her legs and have a bit of fun.


Tee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.

Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair were finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light.

When Tee is not creating something on his Macintosh, he enjoys a good run, a good swim, and putting together new playlists to write by. His other hobbies include cigars and scotch, which he regards the same way as anime and graphic novels: “I don’t know everything about them, but I know what I like.” (And he likes Avo and Arturo Fuente for his smoke, Highland Park for his scotch!) He enjoys life in Virginia alongside Pip, his daughter, and three cats.

Write by the Rails Blog Tour Guest Post: Philippa Ballantine

Brand as an author
By Philippa Ballantine


We’re all little fish in a giant pond. Thousands upon thousands of books are published every year, and every author wants people to find theirs. It seems like an impossible mission to get people’s attention in such a huge field. It can be rather overwhelming the first time you take a step out into the world of the buying public.

For me, it has been a long haul to think in a more entrepreneurial manner than my creative, writerly self is naturally inclined to. After years I finally think I am coming to terms with that most frightening term that is often flung about, ‘writer platform’.

When my agent sold my first novel to Ace Books in the beginning of 2009, it was a phrase I heard over the phone, and I had no real idea how important it was. However I quickly learned that publishers want numbers, they want to know authors are invested in their own promotion, and they want to know you have a grasp of social media technology that has become so important.

After years of trial and error here are some of the strategies I think are essential to building your author brand. You should be building this even before you get a book contract so that you are prepared to fly.

• Don’t be afraid of new types of social media. Dip your toe in. Not all will be to your liking, but give them a good go before giving up on them. At first I really didn’t like Facebook, but after learning how to handle Pages and game requests, I actually enjoy it.

• Keep numbers on all your social media presences. They matter. So keep track of the number of followers you have on Twitter. The number of people on your Facebook page. The people who are subscribed to your Pinterest or Tumblr. They will all help a publisher understand you are committed, and have people interested in our writing.

• You need to take every promotional opportunity you can get. As long as the cost remains bearable, go to events. Do blogtours, go on podcasts to talk about your book and writing. Even if it is something you are not familiar with, put yourself out there. You will never know the new people who will learn of your existence.

• Don’t forget to the power of the Ask. Find people who are book bloggers, who blog about your subject, think about the potential for cross promotion, and then send them a polite query. The worst thing they can say is no. Again, it can be terrifying, but it can also be exhilerating.

The days of authors in ivory towers are long gone, but with a sturdy author platform under you, it can be fun to be in control of your own presence.

I’ve used all of these in the build up to the release date of Book Three of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences By Dawn’s Early Light, which is March 25th.

Hope you found something useful in this post, and thanks go out to Cindy for hosting it on her site. Don’t forget to check out Write by the Rails, which is full of a diverse range of amazing writers. You can find out more about the Ministry on its site, and me here.

Write by the Rails Blog Tour Guest Post: Stacia Kelly

EndofRopeLet’s face it. We all hit a wall sometimes. That blank page stares back at us as if it’s going to reveal the words with magic ink, and we just have to find the perfect concoction to get the ink to reveal itself. Unfortunately, it never happens that way. Trust me, I’m sure most authors have tried.

So, what to do when you hit a wall and can’t come up with an idea?

We’ve all heard the standard ideas. Change your scenery, go someplace new. Call up a writing buddy and bounce ideas off each other. Go for a walk, and so many others. I’ve tried them all and most of the time, they work. I’ve been known to figure out plot holes while in the hot tub with Nick Kelly when we’re working on the Urban Samurai series. We’ve scared a few people at a local Louisiana Bistro too. I think they really thought we were plotting human trafficking and soul snatchers. We’ve since decided when need some sort of sign to put out when we’re out at dinner and working on stories. The Urban Fantasy can sound too real if you aren’t listening closely enough and we venture into discussing demons.

Sometimes, I even pick five random words and try to do a writing sprint with them. Every so often one of those will make it into a story or an article. Last week though, I hit a wall with Gaian – the Goddess of Earth. I needed to add a new scene, and it was refusing to cooperate. I tried reading other genres, moving my writing time and space to Starbucks for a few hours. I got too sidetracked people watching. That was procrastination kicking in. My subconscious was fighting tooth and nail about the scene. It was as though I didn’t want to write it, but knew I had to.

Eventually, I got it. Whether it was to sidetrack myself from being on the plane this past weekend, or the fact I was surrounded by 100 other people who were focused on anything but talking to the people around them, I was trapped. I had to write.

But, what about some creative alternatives (skipping the whole let’s not terrify ourselves and retreat into the other realms for self preservation)?

1. Role Playing Games. Nick Kelly introduced me to these after I’d graduated college. Welcome to the realm of Dungeons & Dragons. Why it works? At first, I was skeptical, highly skeptical. Then, I really got into crafting my character, her history, her skills, and her overall personality. I had to stay in her head because I didn’t know what the other characters were going to do. And we’d write. We’d write one on one, or as a group. Mostly by hand in the early days. Now, the group has changed and evolved, we jump online once a month to meet up with friends in Romania and around the US and play via Google Hangouts. They’ve managed to incorporate a D&D app into the actual Hangout. Just goes to show you how many people must be playing some sort of game. I know the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences has an RPG coming out in March 2014. That will be another one to check out.
2. Cosplay/Reenactments – Dressing up in costume? And being out with others doing the same? Yes. It’s a great creative outlet and can help you get into character. Cosplay covers the gamut of the sci-fi and the unusual, while re-enactments are geared toward historical events. I haven’t tried either, but what better way to get into your character’s head than dressing up like them and working on a scene?

3. Photography – I used to post up a photograph, any random one I liked, on Fridays. It was meant to be a memory jogger for writer’s. Here’s a photo, now write about it exercise. We had a lot of fun with it. Some people would even play around in Photoshop to make the image surreal and use it for their more esoteric writings. Search the web, or better yet ask some of your photography friends if they have any great pictures that might help trigger a scene for you. My friend, Kathy Strauss of Imagewerks, always sends me some of the best pictures to play with. I’ve also been good at taking pictures whenever I can. I never know when I’m going to need them to help craft a scene.

With just these few suggestions, I’m sure there are other ideas floating around out there that help to spark your creativity…do share!

Stacia Kelly

Stacia Kelly

Stacia Kelly is a Health Coach, Author, Business Mentor, and she loves helping others find their passion and live it. Visit her website and blog at http://staciakelly.com/

Write by the Rails Blog Tour Guest Post: Nick Kelly

Can you imagine the kind of quotes you could get out of Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson on Twitter? Facebook status updates from Da Vinci?  Six-second Vine videos from Edison?

Nick Kelly (right) helped lead a panel on "couples who collaborate" -- and recorded it for podcasting -- with, from left, Tee Morris, his wife Pip Ballantine and Nick's wife, Stacia Kelly.

Nick Kelly (right) helped lead a panel on “couples who collaborate” — and recorded it for podcasting — with, from left, Tee Morris, his wife Pip Ballantine and Nick’s wife, Stacia Kelly.

Technology has zipped forward in the past few years, making a connected world where information is instantaneous. No one waits for tomorrow’s morning paper anymore. Information streams right to our computers, hand-held devices, and phones as quickly as events take place. (During the Grammys, someone created a Twitter account for Pharell Williams’ giant hat was created and topped 1000 followers.) 

We live in a hyper-connected world, and social media tools can be a huge benefit to writers in the 21st century. Facebook is a wonderful social resource in the truest sense of the word. The world’s largest social media network has over 500 million users who connect several times a day. Facebook allows users to create private or public groups with shared interests. Users can send messages directly to one another, and can use business pages to promote their work. For authors, professional pages are very useful. When a user gains more than 5000 friends, a professional page is the answer. Businesses (that means you, writers!) can run promotions, track progress and look at metrics for the reach of the most effective posts.

Twitter is a little less social and a little more business, depending on how it’s used. The most productive way of meeting others I have found is joining chats. Simply search on a hashtag (The # sign followed by a topic) to see all posts on that topic. Some of my favorites are the Sunday night #nostalgiachat, #ptchat for teachers and PTA members, and #fitstudio, which has a roaming health topic each week.

LinkedIn is all business, all the time. Writers looking for a professional career should consider LinkedIn an extension of their resume’. Many employers look at LinkedIn profiles to find a user’s connections and education. This site should be considered from a business standpoint. Writers can often find job offerings, or freelance opportunities to cover topics.

The most important thing to remember is that each of these sites and networks is just an ingredient in the overall recipe that is your brand. A writer can reach different audiences with different tools, and there are tons of resources out there who can help. If you’re struggling with how to get the most out of your online presence, partner up with a writer who’s a little tech savvy. Many of us will help out for free, if that means getting another writer’s amazing creative story out to the world. Don’t be afraid to start a blog and share your thoughts or your writing. As you can see here, sometimes that creates a great outlet to reach your audiences and others as well.

My writing wouldn’t be what it is without having met some of my friends in Write by the Rails, and I wouldn’t have met any of them without social media. Take a gamble, get educated, and enjoy the ride! 


Nick Kelly

Nick Kelly

Nick Kelly is a musician, professional speaker, and an author. catwalkHis works include the cyberpunk/sci-fi novel, “Catwalk: Messiah” (Book One in the Leon “Catwalk” Caliber series), and “Ichi” (Book One of the Urban Samurai series). Both are available on Amazon.