About Once Upon a Word: We're a large group of multi-talented authors working together, to bring you the best romances.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


My heroes are all wounded. Not just emotionally, but physically, as well. Being a hero in a Cheryl Pierson story is like being an expendable member of the landing party on Star Trek. If you had on a red shirt when you beamed down to the planet’s surface, you could pretty well figure you weren’t going to be returning to the Enterprise in one piece, or alive.

In my historical western release, Fire Eyes, U.S. Marshal Kaed Turner is tortured and shot at the hands of the villain, Andrew Fallon, and his gang of cutthroats. A band of Choctaw Indians deposit Kaed on Jessica Monroe’s doorstep with instructions to take care of him. “Do not allow him to die,” the chief tells her.

Can she save him? Or will he meet the same fate that befell her husband, Billy? Although Kaed’s injuries are severe, he recovers under a combination of Jessica’s expert care and his own resolve and inner strength.

The injuries he sustained give him the time he needs to get to know Jessica quickly. Their relationship becomes more intimate in a shorter time span due to the circumstances. Under normal conditions of courtship, the level their relationship skyrockets to in just a few days would take weeks, or months.

Wounding the hero is a way to also show the evil deeds of the villain. We can develop
a kinship with the hero as he faces what seem to be insurmountable odds against the villain. How will he overcome those odds? Even if he weren’t injured, it would be hard enough—but now, we feel each setback more keenly than ever. He’s vulnerable in a way he has no control over. How will he deal with it, in the face of this imminent danger?

Enter the heroine. She’ll do what she can to help, but will it be enough to make a difference? This is her chance to show what she’s made of, and further the relationship between them. (If he dies, of course, that can’t happen.)

From this point on, as the hero begins to recover, he also regains his confidence as well as his strength.

It’s almost like “The Six Million Dollar Man”: We can build him stronger…faster…better…

He will recover, but now he has something to lose—the newfound love between him and the heroine. Now, he’s deadlier than ever, and it’s all about protecting the woman he loves.

Or, his injuries may give him a view of life that he hadn’t hoped for before. Maybe the heroine’s care and the ensuing love between them make the hero realize qualities in himself he hadn’t known were there.

In my holiday short story, A Night For Miracles, wounded gunman Nick Dalton arrives on widow Angela Bentley’s doorstep in a snowstorm. Angela is tempted at first to turn him away, until she realizes he’s traveling with three half-frozen youngsters, and he’s bleeding.

As she settles the children into the warmth of her home and begins to treat Nick’s injury, she realizes it’s Christmas Eve—“A Night For Miracles,” Nick says wryly. “I’m ready for mine.”

In this excerpt, the undercurrents between them are strong, but Nick realizes Angela’s fears. She’s almost as afraid of taking in a gunman with a reputation as she is of being alone again.


Angela placed the whiskey-damp cloth against the jagged wound. The man flinched, but held himself hard against the pain. Finally, he opened his eyes. She looked into his sun-bronzed face, his deep blue gaze burning with a startling, compelling intensity as he watched her. He moistened his lips, reminding Angela that she should give him a drink. She laid the cloth in a bowl and turned to pour the water into the cup she’d brought.

He spoke first. “What…what’s your name?” His voice was raspy with pain, but held an underlying tone of gentleness. As if he were apologizing for putting her to this trouble, she thought. The sound of it comforted her. She didn’t know why, and she didn’t want to think about it. He’d be leaving soon.

“Angela.” She lifted his head and gently pressed the metal cup to his lips. “Angela Bentley.”

He took two deep swallows of the water. “Angel,” he said, as she drew the cup away and set it on the nightstand. “It fits.”

She looked down, unsure of the compliment and suddenly nervous. She walked to the low oak chest to retrieve the bandaging and dishpan. “And you are…”

“Nick Dalton, ma’am.” His eyes slid shut as she whirled to face him. A cynical smile touched his lips. “I see…you’ve heard of me.”

A killer. A gunfighter. A ruthless mercenary. What was he doing with these children? She’d heard of him, all right, bits and pieces, whispers at the back fence. Gossip, mainly. And the stories consisted of such variation there was no telling what was true and what wasn’t.

She’d heard. She just hadn’t expected him to be so handsome. Hadn’t expected to see kindness in his eyes. Hadn’t expected to have him show up on her doorstep carrying a piece of lead in him, and with three children in tow. She forced herself to respond through stiff lips. “Heard of you? Who hasn’t?”

He met her challenging stare. “I mean you no harm.”

She remained silent, and he closed his eyes once more. His hands rested on the edge of the sheet, and Angela noticed the traces of blood on his left thumb and index finger. He’d tried to stem the blood flow from his right side as he rode. “I’m only human, it seems, after all,” he muttered huskily. “Not a legend tonight. Just a man.”

He was too badly injured to be a threat, and somehow, looking into his face, she found herself trusting him despite his fearsome reputation. She kept her expression blank and approached the bed with the dishpan and the bandaging tucked beneath her arm. She fought off the wave of compassion that threatened to engulf her. It was too dangerous. When she spoke, her tone was curt. “A soldier of fortune, from what I hear.”

He gave a faint smile. “Things aren’t always what they seem, Miss Bentley.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into what makes my heroes ‘tick.’ Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of A NIGHT FOR MIRACLES!

Cheryl's Amazon Author Page:


Saturday, January 26, 2013

StoryTeller's 7:      Jory Sherman's Literary Walk of Fame

(This interview originally appeared on my blog - on Jan. 22, 2013, and represents the first of a series of interviews with authors/writers who answer seven questions about themselves and their craft).

  • In his fifty years of writing professionally, Jory Sherman has published more than 400 books, and several hundred short stories.
  • And he's still going strong, producing compelling prose on blogs, and in storytelling.
  • His career began in the late Fifties as a poet in San Francisco's famed North Beach.
  • Since then, Jory has meandered along a literary walk of fame, collecting numerous awards for excellence in his craft. These include a Spur Award from Western Writers of America for his novel The Medicine Horn, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his novel, Grass Kingdom.
  • He also the recipient of WWA's highest honor, the Owen Wister Award, presented for lifetime achievement.

Although most of his storytelling has focused on the Western, Jory has written a number of genres over the years.

I'm honored to introduce Jory Sherman for the debut of this blog's StoryTeller's 7 --seven questions for writers, authors, and other creative friends who pay us a visit.

1. Describe your latest project in one sentence, and tell us the inspiration for the story?Jory Sherman's The Baron Decision
 JS: THE BARON DECISION is #7 in a series about 3 ranching families in the Rio Grande Valley.  It begins with the last battle of the Civil War at Palmito Hill in the Rio Grande Valley. It tells the story of the post civil-war tribulations of those ranchers. Published by Cactus Country.

2.  You recently mentioned to me that you have a "bunch of books waiting in the wings," and that you "enjoy the journeys" through your mind. Most writers would give their eyeteeth for one good idea. Where do yours come from that makes them so plentiful?
JS: The stories all bubble up from my subconscious after meditation, or a short night of sleep.  The subconscious, I think, is connected to the Universe.

3.  What made you want to become an author --that gave you the motivation to want to write stories?
JS: Writing is a disease.  I caught it when I was 8.  It seemed a way to express the inexpressible.  The first story was about the death of my puppy.  I cried and then wrote about the dog’s death.

4.  If you were on a late-night train traveling across the US, in conversation with your favorite authors, who would they be (living or dead) and why?
JS: Although I would enjoy continuing conversations with friends who have passed away, like Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury and Fred Bean, I’d probably enjoy talking with James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov because of their skills with the English language that are far superior to mine.

5.  Give us three "good to know" facts you want readers to know about you. What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview, and how would you answer it?
JS: I am a social hermit most of the time.  I thrive in isolation from society, but live in books that I listen to and read on my Kindle.  I study people, but they are not aware of my scrutiny.  I was not always this way.  As I grew older, I got busier and there is little time to socialize.

A question that is never asked, but which I would answer, is “what value do you place on your friends?” My answer would be that friends have the highest value in life, and I miss them when they leave this mortal coil. I just talked to a friend I’ve had for many years. He has written for movies, television and mounted stage plays. He will be 100 years old in March, 2013. Friends are the true treasures of life.

6. What's your favorite way to unwind?
JS: It used to be with a beer, or Jack Daniels. But, I’m diabetic and left all that behind some years ago. I also read more science books than any other. Same with TV.  The Science Channel gives me further explorations into physics, quantum mechanics, the universe, etc. 
I  also love to listen to biographies and autobiographies, and sit outside with my little dog and my cats and kittens. 
My mantra is “never miss a sunrise or a sunset,” and so, I spend a lot of time watching my animal friends cavort and romp in the early morning or late afternoons.  Among them, I’m a strange bird.

7.  What do you consider the best moment of your writing life?
JS: I suppose it would be when I won the Spur from WWA for THE MEDICINE HORN because my publisher, Tom Doherty, got his first award from WWA for that book, and my agent, Nat Sobel was also at my table. I had undergone a triple bypass after an elk hunt with bow in Colorado, and my arteries to the heart were all clogged up. Because of the strong anesthetic, one with a long tail, it took me a year to write that book.  And, Tom did not like the book at all because he mistook the hero for the father, and it was actually the son because it was to be a trilogy.  
Tom liked his heroes to be well over 6 feet tall, and mine were a short man and his small son. He beamed when he was given the plaque for my book and hung it on his office wall in New York.

Visit Jory Sherman's website.
Jory's Blog.
See the list of his novels on Amazon.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


by Tom Rizzo,
author of Last Stand at Bittercreek and Heroes and Rogues

When I was growing up in a small town in Ohio, a few of us in my neighborhood started a club. The membership qualifications, or even purpose escape me now. All I remember is that membership was open to a select few.

Secret handshakes and whispered passwords were part of the ritual of belonging. The guy with the biggest yard happened to have an actual clubhouse at the back of the property, bordering an alleyway. The clubhouse was really nothing more than a shack, fashioned mostly out of old newspapers, cardboard, and a few chunks of wood, with a slanted roof. It reminded me of how frontier families might have built their homes.

As a bonus, this same family also owned the neighborhood’s only Bing cherry tree–those extra-large, heart-shaped cherries, deep maroon in color. His father considered the tree some sort of treasure, I think, because he used to warn us, on a regular basis, and without a smile: “Thou shall not steal.” Of course, it didn’t stop us from periodic, clandestine raids.

The durability of the clubhouse always amazed me, especially given the unpredictable weather patterns of the Midwest. The fact that it rarely leaked was testimony enough to the inventiveness of the family who built it – and, without advice from Mother Earth News, which didn’t exist at that time. The big advantage of our one-room clubhouse was its size. We were able to stand upright. Adults were not. This was good, because it limited their presence. After all, who wants uninvited outsiders kneeling around during high-level secret conversations?

The exact nature of our secret discussions eludes me. I do, however, remember a summer day when one of the guys floated the idea of allowing girls to join. A sudden stillness permeated the cramped, humid quarters of the Prospect Street Irregulars. We exchange furtive glances. Eyes rotated to the ceiling. The member who originally brought up the idea slumped to the floor, and shook his head in silent acknowledgement of the sheer audacity of his suggestion. No one spoke of it again.

I don’t remember many other votes that carried similar significance. Obviously, we broke no new ground when it came to equal rights, or any other political or social correctness. Our secret society was a front for fun-and-games. Among our biggest challenges: mapping a strategy to raid a Wonder Bread truck, and purloin sample packets containing two slices of bread, and a small pouch of sugar and cinnamon mixture.

Grown-ups run the real secret organizations. They exist at almost every level of society – political, collegiate, fraternal, and ethnic. Only a select few have access to the confidential handshakes, passwords, and coded language shared, usually, during some level of ceremonial initiation.  Sometimes their purposes are innocent. Often, they’re evil or suspect.

Nineteenth century America had its share of secret societies, many of them controversial. Among them: the Know-Nothing Party, officially known as the American Party, grew out groups that opposed immigration. Other secret societies – the Order of United Americans, and the Order of the Star Spangled Banner – emerged with the same purpose.

In an 1855 letter, Abraham Lincoln expressed outrage at the Know-Nothings. He wrote that if the party ever won power, the Declaration of Independence would need amending to reflect that all men are created equal except for “negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” By 1850, The Know-Nothings collapsed and became extinct.

The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, in 1869, represented the first major effort to organize labor. The effort started as a secret, ritualistic society created by the Philadelphia garment workers. The organization grew slowly, but gained enough strength to state a successful strike in 1885 against railroad baron, Jay Gould. Within the following year, the group grew to a membership of one-half million, but declined, when the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was organized. 

Numerous secret societies emerged in the 19th century. Among them: the Molly Maguires, and the Freemasons

Today, hundreds of secret societies operate throughout the U.S., according to Ritual America, written by Adams Parfrey and Craig Heimbichner. 

These groups span a broad spectrum of society. And, like the small secret society of my childhood, there’s a certain exclusionary nature to membership.

                                       # # # 

Drop by Tom's newly refurbished website at  http://www.tomrizzo.com/   and let him know if you like it...
The first 100 subscribers will receive a free copy of Heroes & Rogues.

The ebook version of Last Stand at Bitter Creek is on sale for $2.99 for a limited time at Amazon and Smashwords.  Please leave a comment to be entered to win a free ebook copy. Winner to be chosen Wednesday, Jan. 23rd.

Here are the story description and a brief excerpt:

A patrol of soldiers massacred...
A hidden gold shipment missing...
A priceless U.S. historical document stolen...
An undercover agent betrayed, and on the run...

For Union Army spy Grant Bonner, the war can't end soon enough. Tired of living a life of deception, he desperately wants to put his past behind him, but agrees to one last assignment.

The mission is compromised and Bonner is entangled in an intricate conspiracy. Ambushed and left for dead, he recovers only to learn his battle for survival and justice has just begun.

Accused of the cold-blooded killing of several fellow soldiers during a train robbery, he makes a daring escape and becomes the target of an unrelenting manhunt.

For some soldiers, the war isn't over, and won't end until Bonner makes his Last Stand at Bitter Creek.


"Be careful for God's sake!"

The warning came from one of the three soldiers struggling to transfer the last of five coffins from an army wagon into a railroad baggage car at the Cincinnati Railroad Station.

Bonner had taken refuge from a light rain under the overhanging eaves of the depot, and looked up in alarm to see the three men perform a kind of spontaneous dance trying to maneuver the wooden casket into the boxcar. The weight inside the container appeared to have shifted, slipped from their grasp, and slammed to the ground.

He shoved the cargo manifest he had been reviewing into his belt, and hurried over to the railcar, hoping the mishap didn't generate unnecessary attention, although he noticed a few passengers staring out their windows.

"Couldn't help it, Sir," one of the men said. "Damn thing's heavy, lieutenant. Hell, they're all heavy. No offense, but these guys must have died from overeating."

Bonner noticed the other two trade glances, trying their best not to laugh, but his mind was focused on the comment about the weight of the coffins. It was improbable all the dead soldiers were overweight—not in this army. His first thought was the gold. Smuggling it out in coffins struck him as daring, and a possibility he couldn't ignore. Somehow, he had to find a way to get a look inside those boxes. Retrieving a nearby lantern, he lowered it over the casket to check for damage.

"Lieutenant." A voice, firm and laced with authority, echoed from the darkness beyond the railcar. "Get over here. Now!"

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Character Derailment, or "Wait, what?"

Character Derailment

or, "Wait, what?"

You are reading a steamy romance where a dashing but poor soldier arrives in town and falls in love with the daughter of a rich man.  She eventually returns the love, her heart winning out against her better judgment, but complications abound.  The story is chugging along, gathering steam, the reader being pulled along by the writer as you shovel more emotion and conflict into the plot and show the two lovebirds struggling against the world around them.
Then this bit of conversation happens: 
They twirled across the dance floor.  “My Darling Brad, I have terrible news,” Amanda exclaimed, and then broke down completely on his shoulder.  Fortunately, the orchestra music hid her sobs from the surrounding dancers.  “My father has forbidden us from marrying after all!”
The tall, handsome man pulled her close as his talented feet continued sweeping them around in the crowd, heedless of the scandalized looks from the couples around them.  “My dearest Amanda, my love,” he finally said, “did the fact that I saved him from false charges not sway his resolve at all?  Have I not proved my honorable intentions?”
She sniffled and pulled the perfumed handkerchief from her sleeve to dab her eyes.  “Nay, my love, he remains resolute. He will never admit you desire me and not the fortune I will inherit.  He insists I marry the Duke before the month is out.  There is nothing for it but we must elope, as you have begged me to do this past year.  I have bribed the ship’s captain, as we planned.  We leave on the morning tide”
He looked back over his shoulder at the young girls gathered around the punch bowl, giggling and whispering to each other.  “You know,” he said, “the Duke has a lovely daughter.   Maybe we’re doing this the hard way.  You marry the Duke, I’ll seduce the daughter, and the three of us can still fool around under his nose.”
Amanda thought for a minute.  “Do you think the captain will give me a refund?” she asked.        
The train jumps the tracks as the story is derailed and the reader says, “Wait, what?”  An otherwise fine story becomes a victim of Character Derailment.
F. Scott Fitzgerald in drag.  Some hidden talents are unbelievable.

Celia had a great article on her blog recently, discussing how characters in a story that are too predictable can run the risk of being too boring.   She pointed out that for an interesting and three-dimensional character, it’s important to have the players in the drama surprise the reader by doing something unexpected once in a while, or perhaps displaying some hidden talent or strength or even flaw.  It’s a great point, and if you haven’t read the article yet pop on over to http://www.celiayeary.blogspot.com/
In her blog comments, I made the observation that this is one of those juggling acts where the writer risks Character Derailment if they go too far and a character does something completely opposite or foreign to our expectations without sufficient justification.  Celia challenged me to contribute a short essay on the subject, so here I am.
Celia is exactly right, in that it is important we look for ways to surprise the reader and challenge their assumptions.  But, once the reader gets to know a character - especially one of the main players in the drama - any action that stands out as contrary to what we expect had better be justified to the satisfaction of the reader.  If not, the story is derailed.
“Well of course,” you say.  Any experienced writer knows this.  “Oh, really?” I reply.  Let me give you an example of Character Derailment from a recent multi-million dollar movie where professional script writers who should have known better completely blew it.  I’m talking about Dark Shadows, the 2012 movie staring Johnny Depp and directed by Tim Burton.  A top actor and director, and they managed according to most critics to make the big budget turkey of the year.  What happened?
Character Derailment.   The movie is a gothic romance about a tragic, tormented man cursed to be a vampire by a jealous witch who also murdered his True Love.  He is dug up after 200 years, where he quickly encounters the reincarnation of his lost love, the lovely Victoria.  Once again he must battle the seemingly immortal witch for the life of his beloved.  Barnabas is actually a good man in spite of his curse.  He is the archetype of the troubled soul.  He has to be sympathetic for the audience to care about his struggles.
But shortly into the movie, he encounters some hippy campers out in the woods.  He sits and has a pleasant conversation where they give him some good advice, thanks these innocent people who offer him only good will, then casually remarks that he’s going to kill them all and drink their blood.  Then he does so.
The audience goes, “Wait, what?” The story jumps the tracks, a victim of Character Derailment.  Nothing the character does from this moment on really matters because he never shows a bit of remorse for this horrific mass murder, so we never really care if he gets his happy ending.  He doesn’t deserve one.
Now about my little scene above between Brad and Amanda.  Brad certainly courts derailment with his sudden shift in character, especially since Amanda fails to react so the shocking behavior is not justified in the story.  Like the reader, she should be shocked.  This is her lover, the dashing soldier, the hero, suddenly spouting hurtful nonsense in her ear!  So have we succumbed to Character Derailment?
Remember, I said “it must be justified.”  So let’s change the ending of the scene.

He looked back over his shoulder at the young girls gathered around the punch bowl, giggling and whispering to each other.  “You know,” he said, “the Duke has a lovely daughter.   Maybe we’re doing this the hard way.  You marry the Duke, I’ll seduce the daughter, and the three of us can still fool around under his nose.”
Amanda gasped and jerked out of his arms.  “You’re not my beloved!” she exclaimed.  “It’s true, what the old midwife claimed.  Brad really is being possessed by the ghost of his evil twin brother!”   She slapped the leering face before her, the crack of her hand on his cheek causing the orchestra to stutter to a halt
Now we have justification and the story continues screaming down the tracks, picking up steam while the reader can’t wait to find out along with Amanda what’s going to happen next.
So, can you think of any instances of Character Derailment that ruined an otherwise good story?       

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Clean Up Your Computer Month - by Stephanie Burkhart

January is a busy time of year. Some people make resolutions and goals for the rest of the year. January is also "get organized" month. Along with getting organizing and working on your resolutions, it's a great time to clean up your computer.

Let's face it, we use our computers every day and they can get pretty funky, so I though I'd share some tips with you on how to keep your computer clean.

Did you Know?
A study in England discovered the "average" office keyboard had bacteria and germs 6 times the level on a toilet seat.

Okay, I'm grossed out. That fact alone has me motivated to clean my computer.

Here's some tips:

Use compressed air to get rid of light dust build up on the screen/keyboard.

A Q-tip dipped in alcohol is another way to quickly clean your keyboard. Just don't drip liquid between the keys.

When you clean the monitor use a lint free cloth or a cleaning product designed for monitors. Windex now sells a "wipe" specifically for electronics and monitors.

Don't use water on the keyboard. Trust me on this.

Question for you: How often do you clean your computer? Do you have any cleaning tips that work for you? Feel free to share. I'd love to your comments.

Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 Dispatcher for LAPD. January is spent taking down Christmas and going to Weight Watchers. 

99 Cent Contemporary, International, Inspirational Romance

Blurb: Will Sofia's faith give Darrin his heart back? 

Opening Line: This was going to be the most challenging thing he'd ever done in his life. 

Review: 5 Stars, Billie Houston, Amazon Reader
"I loved this warm-hearted tale. Ms. Burkhart has a talent for wrapping drama around ordinary people and spinning a touching love story."

You Tube Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lC6_397PerU