Friday, September 4, 2015

Ransom Canyon by Jodi Thomas!


Been a while since I visited with you and shared something here but this is something I can't keep to myself!
I am, once again, feeling the awe associated with hosting one of my favorite and most successful authors on my blog. Jodi Thomas is an award winning, multi-published author on the NYT Bestseller List and USA Today. Besides being able to take readers into small Texas towns full of life and history she weaves story lines with characters we all know.

The new series, RANSOM CANYON, takes us out of Harmony. WINTER’S CAMP is the prequel to RANSOM CANYON. Readers meet James Kirkland in WINTER’S CAMP. He has lived his life as a rover and loner. As time passes he begins to yearn for a home. The day comes when he happens to come up on an Apache camp where he is welcome but alert. He notices a young woman standing to the back with her head down. She is still and is covered in mud from the top of her head to her toes. She stinks. She is treated cruelly. When she looks up and Kirkland sees she has blue eyes he realizes she’s a captive. He bargains for her and leaves with her. One day, out of the blue, she tells Kirkland her name is Millie. Trust is slow to come.

As Kirkland and Millie travel they begin to trust. He is taking her to the place called Ransom Canyon where he plans to build his home. After a multitude of hurdles they marry and begin the Kirkland legacy in Ransom Canyon.

Generations later in RANSOM CANYON Staten Kirkland has become a loner after losing his wife and child. He rarely leaves his ranch. There are times when the loneliness and despair threaten to overrule him. He seeks out fellow loner Quinn O’Gradywho was his wife’s best friend. Eventually, friendship becomes more but Staten isn’t ready for anyone to know. When Quinn’s past horror comes back to haunt her it is Staten who pulls her out of the darkness.

Lucas Reyes is a dependable high school kid who wants nothing more than to go to college. He has worked with his family as ranch hands all of his life. One night Lucas and his friends go to a place that is forbidden. An accident happens that injures the girl Lucas secretly feels more than friendship for, Lauren is injured. Another friend, Reid, talks to the police and other authorities about the accident. He blames it on Lucas and tells the story making himself the hero. Friendships shatter.

Yancey Grey walks into Ransom Canyon a free man. Recently released from prison he looks things over and finds a place to stay in a senior retirement community. He works as a handyman for them and lives in the back of an office. Yancey has spent his life in and out of foster homes and other facilities. He is shy and has never had a true friend. The older citizens take Yancey under their wings. He is grateful but can’t understand it. Ellie, almost a nurse (she’s a student), sees to the health needs of the senior community. She’s all business and serious. After a near fatal shooting on Staten’s ranch Yancy and Ellie become friendlier.

I liked every character but as a retired nurse I fell hard for Ellie. I could see me in her. I’m looking forward to being a member of the Ransom Canyon Community.

A fifth-generation Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jodi Thomas chooses to set the majority of her novels in her home state, where her grandmother was born in a covered wagon. A former teacher, Thomas traces the beginning of her storytelling career to the days when her twin sisters were young and impressionable. 

With a degree in family studies, Thomas is a marriage and family counselor by education, a background that enables her to write about family dynamics. Honored in 2002 as a Distinguished Alumni by Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Thomas enjoys interacting with students on the West Texas A&M University campus, where she currently serves as Writer in Residence.

Commenting on her contribution to the arts, Thomas said, “When I was teaching classes full-time, I thought I was making the world a better place. Now I think of a teacher or nurse or mother settling back and relaxing with one of my books. I want to take her away on an adventure that will entertain her. Maybe, in a small way, I’m still making the world a better place.”

When not working on a novel or inspiring students to pursue a writing career, Thomas enjoys traveling with her husband, renovating a historic home they bought in Amarillo and “checking up” on their two grown sons.

For more information, please visit Jodi’s website at

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Oklahoma wildflowers and OWFI--post conference thoughts

Each year I try to attend the Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc. (OWFI) conference in Oklahoma City.  It takes place the first weekend in May therefore the drive is pleasant and colorful, unless tornado season kicks in early. Wildflowers and green grass color the landscape. This year was no different except the trip home seemed more vivid. Yellow Black-eyed Susan's blanketed the medians and pastures. They were occasionally interrupted with red-orange Indian Paintbrushes and pale pink flowers. I don't know the name of the pink flowers but I imagine it has to be something dainty and feminine.

My favorite section of the three hour drive is through the Arbuckle's where the sides of the hills have been lain bare. Building the interstate years ago uncovered a geological treasure that is studied by scientists from all over the world. The striae of stone emphasizes several geological eras. Often the layers are almost vertical rather than horizontal. Water trickles down the sides from some hidden sources. Boulders, stones, and rocks hang in the air by some magical force. Some are trapped by other stones on the way down. Others collect on the side of the road. The wildflowers grow amid the stones.

Rocks fascinate me. I don't know why nor do I understand it. Perhaps it is because they hold some sort of magical power. Maybe it's simple and it's just because they are so beautiful.

Following the conference, on my way home, the landscape around me seemed more colorful, more tangible, more welcoming. I think it's because my creativity was open and receptive. The photos above were taken at the scenic lookout. It's a mere example of the beauty Oklahoma offers.

The conference! Where to begin--it's always like a reunion. I see people I only see annually. I meet big name authors. I go to workshops and try to soak up as much knowledge as I possibly can. I try to retain everything. Choosing workshops is difficult. At least for me. Laughter is present in every corner. Small groups can be found talking at tables in the lobby and bar. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the hospitality of The Embassy Suites Hotel near the airport. The staff is always kind. They remember us. It's amazing in this age.

This year I served as the Shepherd (guide) for Sarah Henning. A lovely young woman and author. That was a genuine pleasure. She didn't need me much. I met Lee Lofland, a top cop, and Les Edgerton, an ex-con as he describes himself. I learned more about the importance of covers from Brandy Walker. I learned about First Pages. I learned and learned.

Our banquet table was probably the craziest! Lots of fun. Vicky Malone was our leader but Nick Lyon, H.b. Berlow, Tom Barczak, and Les Edgerton stole the show. Arlene Gale and I decided to make it a tradition to sit with each other at the same banquet table.

However, the absolute highlight for me was meeting Andrew E. Kaufman. He's a writer of psychological thrillers that make readers question their sanity. I'm on his "street team" and find it humbling to have actually met him. By the way, I don't think he's crazy. He just writes crazy.

Next year can't come soon enough. One thing I can count on following a conference is a temporary status of Super Writer. That generally doesn't last long for me, but it feels good while it does last. Learn more about OWFI at

Enjoy these photos from the conference:

Me (Winona Cross), Andrew E. Kaufman, and Brandy Walker

 Me (Winona Cross) and Andrew E. Kaufman

Nick Lyon, Tom Barczak, Les Edgerton, and H. b. Berlow

Me (Winona Cross) and Callie Hutton. I'm on Callie's Street Team.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jodi Thomas is visiting!

April 1, 2015! It's not a joke, I really do have Jodi Thomas visiting "Wandering and Wondering with Words"! It is an honor, one that humbles me yet fills me with pride.
Most readers will know that Jodi is a multi-published, award winning author and is a constant on the New York Times Bestseller List and at USA Today. Her latest release, ONE TRUE HEART, takes place in small and usually quiet Harmony, Texas where the inhabitants have personalities as diverse as the west Texas winds blowing over the plains and through the canyons. Millanie McAllen returns as a wounded veteran just wanting to start over and figure out what the next steps in her life will be. Drew Cunningham appears to be a nerd but he's hiding from the past. His sister, Kare, is the local fortune teller, compassion is really her stock in trade. That, and a hidden career. Beau Yates returns home for his estranged father's funeral. His music heals his heart. And, Johnny Wheeler wants nothing but to get a divorce behind him and work the family farm. Now, that's all I can say . . .


The questions I have for Jodi focus on The Writer's Academy at West Texas A and M University (WTAMU) in Canyon, Texas. It is an intense week but well worth the time, money, and fatigue. The faculty members share their knowledge without pretense. Fellow students make friends. Staying in the dorm is a perk for many of us.

Winona Cross: When the Writer's Academy at WTAMU began in the mid-90's did you imagine how successful it would become?

Jodi Thomas: When I accepted Writer in Residence at West Texas A and M University my number one goal was to help beginning writers. It took me a few years to figure out how. When Continuing Education on campus offered to help, I knew we were off to the races. I wanted to help people not only write the best books they could, but learn ways to break into publishing.

We put together a one week class that ran all day. For five days students would live the writer's life. I wanted classes, intense classes--not one hour workshops you can sleep through or skip to go shopping like people do at conventions. I wanted lectures given to the entire group that focused on exact problems and rewards in the industry.

The success was unbelievable. People looking at the Academy sometimes say it is expensive because conferences may be cheaper, but I've never heard a writer who has attended say it wasn't well worth the money.

I believe in the Academy so much I donate my time for the week and usually stay in the dorm so we can have late night critiques. We even study plot structure over popcorn and a movie one night.

WC: I attended the Academy for the first time in 2012. I was in your group and we worked on the first 30 pages of our works-in-progress. After almost three years the book I worked on is being published by The Wild Rose Press. Tell the readers, if you will, how many Academy alumni have moved forward to publication.

JT: I believe ten of my first class have sold. Some have several books out. Check the Hall of Fame page on the

WC: You have shared that you go to your home office to write for several hours every evening. Was developing that habit difficult? Were there hurdles you had to overcome?

JT: I think the hardest thing to do as a writer is to get your bottom in the chair and work. After 25 years and 40 books I still fight it, but I've learned a few tricks.
1.  Make yourself sit down for a short time--I usually say I'm going to sit here for one hour no matter what. Three hours later, I realize I'm working overtime.
2.  Start with reading what you wrote yesterday. It pulls you into the story.
3.  Work on a computer that doesn't have e-mail, games, etc..
4.  Set weekly, monthly goals. You may not reach them all but you'll get some.
5.  When you're stuck, change your environment.

WC: You've earned many awards, including the RITA from the Romance Writers of America (RWA), will you share the feeling of being recognized for your knowledge, talent, and hard work?

JT: I won my first RITA in 1993 with my third book. It never occurred to me that I'd win. I just went to the RWA convention so I could wear the ribbon that said Finalist. The second time I was up I read the other books that were up and decided I didn't have a chance, so I didn't go--couldn't afford it anyway. Hawaii? Third time I believed I had a chance, even bought a new dress to wear. I won. Said my thank you when I turned to leave they wouldn't let me off the stage. Nora Roberts took the mic and said in front of 3,000 people, "On the rare occasion a writer wins three RITA's in the same category, she is inducted into the Hall of Fame". I couldn't believe it! That morning I'd bought 150 dollars worth of books on how to write.

Now, awards line the top shelves of my office but what matters most is the letters I get from readers.

WC: Any advice for authors who feel discouraged?

JT: When you stop growing and taking critique you're as good as you're ever going to get.

Thank you, Jodi, for visiting my blog. It does mean more than I have the words to say. I look forward to seeing you on June 8, 2015 in Canyon for my third visit to the Academy. For writers out there who have considered attending the Academy all I can say is "Just Do It". Regardless of whose class you choose to be in you will be rewarded with new knowledge and kindness.  

I look forward to reading your comments. Thank you for reading.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015



Often inanimate objects become prominent characters in our stories. They take on a living role. One that is just as important as the main characters. The historic Weeks Mansion in Wichita Falls, TX is the setting of many scenes in my soon to be released novella, "Dianne's Destiny: Tales of the Scrimshaw Doll" from The Wild Rose Press (Yellow Rose Imprint). I've wondered what the walls of this stunning place would say if they could talk. Haven't we all wondered something like it in our lives? Legend says the mansion is haunted, I believe it just may be.

When construction on the home began in 1924 Fred and Katie Lou Avis Weeks and their daughter lived in the carriage house. They were able to move into the mansion in 1926.

Mr. Weeks was a successful and renowned attorney. He spared no expense building the home. It remains full of architectural details that feel sometimes decadent, often breathtaking, yet comfortable. A few examples of the details include:

*A two story Italian marble fireplace in the living room featuring faces from mythology catches the eye.

*A two story stained glass double glass door that exits to the back yard. The only remaining original light fixture hangs from the ceiling in the living room (seen below).

*One mason from Wichita Falls, Walter McAbee, was contracted to complete all of the brick work on the carriage house and the home, which he completed entirely by himself using red, vitrified bricks from Coffeyville, Kansas. These bricks give the exterior the feel and quality of unbreakable glass. The concrete work is precise, every brick is placed with the same amount of distance between each one giving a uniform appearance.

*Several of the first floor walls and ceilings are made of dark walnut. The main staircase featuring two landings and the bannister blends almost invisibly at first glance.

*Sadly, the family wouldn't live there long. The stock market crash in the early 20th century hit them hard. In 1931 the bank repossessed the 13 acre estate and evicted the Weeks family.

*The home sat empty for seven years before being sold to the Lebus family. They stayed until 1946 when the Featherston family bought it. They stayed until 1949 when it was sold once again. Other inhabitants included:

*The City Club Restaurant that was said to rival the Country Club. It closed in 1953.

*The American Life and Trust Insurance Company took possession and shared the home with The Back Door Players Theater Group and Region IX Education Service until 1973.

*Gatsby's Night Club, a food and drink establishment reminiscent of a Prohibition Era Speakeasy, resided there until 1977.

*Several other restaurants tried their hand at the mansion with limited success.

*The Weeks Mansion was declared an historic site and placed on the Historic Registry in the early 1980's. (See photo above).

*Shortly after that it was The Marketplace featuring fine shops, dining, boutiques, a tea room, and a photographer's studio.

*The mansion served as a local events center throughout the 1990's.

*In 1999 it became a private residence again when the Shellanberger family bought it.

*In 2009 it was purchased by the Wood Group. My dear friend, Mary Wood, moved into the mansion. She has slowly and studiously furnished and decorated the mansion in its original vintage style.

*The Weeks Mansion is 16, 000 square feet. It includes four upstairs bedroom suites with full baths and a mezzanine.

*The main floor, includes the large two story foyer, a side portico entrance, the formal living room, study, kitchen, formal dining room, breakfast room, master bedroom, 21/2 baths, butler's pantry, dumb waiter, sunroom, and extra large laundry and craft room (formerly the kitchen). In addition to the formal stairwell there is a back stairway to both the upstairs and the basement.

*The main basement stairs open on to an area featuring a long walnut bar, three ante-rooms with arched doorways guarded by Italian marble mythological beings. The basement library includes many law books belonging to Mr. Weeks. The maintenance areas are also located down there.

*Every room and many window sills are decorated with original art.

*Mary opens her home to historic groups, tours, parties, weddings, and other community activities. She believes it is her duty to share the history of this stately mansion and restore it to its former beauty.

*Two other residents charm all visitors--an aging black Labradoodle named Toby and a prissy white male Standard Poodle named Kramer.

*During the Christmas season the home is decorated with at least eight themed trees and decorations turning every downstairs corner into a wonderland. (The photo is of the formal tree in the living room. Notice the walnut ceiling and staircase).


*I invite you to take this cyber blog tour of The Weeks Mansion. It is called The Blankenship Mansion in "Dianne's Destiny". Comments and suggestions are appreciated.