Carving out new traditions

Thanksgiving has traditionally been the holiday that my entire family gathers together. Not this year.

With CDC guidelines encouraging people to avoid travel and large gatherings, we’re about to find out what small or solitary holidays look like. Of course, everyone has missed celebrations this year. Virtual weddings, birthdays and graduations took the place of in-person gatherings. The coronavirus pandemic has shaped and changed our lives.

No wonder mental health professionals are concerned.

If states separate you and your family, you may need to look for ways to feel connected to others this holiday season. One of the best ways to spread cheer is to volunteer. Particularly this year, there are more opportunities than ever, both from a safe social distance in person or virtually.

Deliver food to an elderly person who may not be able to get to the store due to the pandemic. Or call someone who is alone and in need of some company. 

I’m going to suggest a FaceTime champagne toast with my clan. Even if the call freezes, we can send a selfie – holding our holiday beverages – in a group chat. The photos will make us grin and create new positive holiday memories.

This year, we need the holiday spirit more than ever.

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of Anchored Together.

Creating Scary Stories

Halloween is just around the corner, and we all know what that means: spooky writing! 

According to New Reader Magazine, “horror can be very difficult to write. The variety of emotional responses you can bring out is wide, and scared may not always be among them.” The magazine offers simple tips to scare your readers: 

  1. Let your readers know your characters. Give your readers time to familiarize your characters before you let the monster out to play. Give them time to care about and sympathize with them. 
  2. Consider sentence length. When you want to slow the action, make the sentence longer. When the monsters want to attack, go short. 
  3. Use your setting to your advantage. Show readers bits of the effects of what the monsters or the killer has done. Let your readers see the terrified old woman shaking uncontrollably!
  4. Hit them where and when they least expect it. Create the action in a way that you’re directing your reader’s attention in one direction, and then coming at them from somewhere different. 
  5. Spend time understanding your characters. Know how they react in terrifying situations and know their motives. This is where you can play on relationships and increasing threats around your protagonist. 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of “Anchored Together,a new coming-of-age book for teens impacted by family alcoholism.

Banned Books Week

The American Library Association condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information. Since 1982, the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles a list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. The lists are based on information from media stories and voluntary reports sent to OIF from communities across the country.

The Top 10 lists are only a snapshot of book challenges. Surveys indicate that 82-97% of book challenges – documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries – remain unreported and receive no media. Of the 566 books that were targeted, here are the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books:

  1. George by Alex Gino
    Reasons: challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”
  2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased
  3. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
    Reasons: Challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is “designed to pollute the morals of its readers,” and for not including a content warning
  4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
    Reasons: Challenged, banned, and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content; for discussing gender identity and sex education; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate” 
  5. Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
    Reasons: Challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint
  6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    Reasons: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content, for a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged”
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones”
  8. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    Reasons: Challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and for concerns that it goes against “family values/morals”
  9. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
    Reasons: Banned and forbidden from discussion for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use “nefarious means” to attain goals
  10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole
    Reason: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content

Benefits of a backyard office

Tired of working at your kitchen table? The newest working-from-home trend is transforming a backyard shed into a workspace. The benefits include privacy as well as natural light. You might even enjoy a bit of a view from your outdoor office!

A lot of people have found working from home leads to no work-life balance, but having a dedicated space separate from their living areas helps. It may keep you focused when you’re working.

But if you’ll have meetings in your office, how can you create a space where guests feel comfortable? (Definitely move the pitchfork and shovel.) You’ll need electricity in your shed and also Wi-Fi. Maybe a landscaped path leading from the house to your office?

I guess the kitchen table doesn’t look too bad after all…

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of “Anchored Together,a new coming-of-age book for teens impacted by family alcoholism.

Read an excerpt from my new book


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Suzette ran into Dougie, a midshipman who was the same age as she was, although his small frame made him look a lot younger. Many of the other boys teased Dougie about getting into the movies for the price of a twelve-and-under kids’ ticket. She remembered the night he got stuck in the ductwork above her bathroom, last year. Some older boys had forced him to sneak down with a camera to get photos of the commandant’s daughter in the shower. Fortunately, she heard him first.

“Hey there,” Dougie said with a shy smile.

“Congratulations on surviving to sophomore status,” Suzette said. “I bet it feels good to have a whole class of freshmen midshipmen starting below you.”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “It does. How’s life at the convent?

Suzette laughed. “Off to a great start. I’ve got two projects due next week, including one on finding a universal definition of spirituality. I guess I’ll have to go to the library because I know zero about it.”

Dougie raised his eyebrows. “I might be able to help you out. I’ve got a couple of books in my room about spirituality.”

Seeing Suzette’s puzzled expression, he shrugged. “My parents are extremely religious— church every Sunday. They packed a lot of reading material for me— not that I’ll ever use it. C’mon up to my room and I’ll dig through the stuff in my trunk until I find it.”

“Women aren’t allowed above decks,” Suzette stopped in her tracks.

“So? You’re not a woman,” Dougie said, over his shoulder. “Hurry up. My door is right at the top of the stairs.”

She glanced at her father’s office and noticed that it remained empty—no faculty and no secretaries in sight. Suzette took the wooden steps two at a time and was relieved to see the corridor was clear when she reached the second floor. She found Dougie rifling through a large metal trunk at the foot of his bunk, scattering books on the floor.

Suzette stood with her back against the dorm door, but instinctively turned to open it when she heard a knock.

“Hey Dougie, my fake I.D. worked! Let’s celebrate.”

She heard the sound of a pop top on a can and felt a chilly mist spray over her. Foam dripped from the end of Suzette’s nose and landed on her T-shirt, which was enough to make her reek of beer.

Dougie sat frozen on the floor, too horrified to move, while two midshipmen stood in the doorway, clutching aluminum cans.

“Shit, I am so sorry. Oh no. Oh, my God.”

Suzette wiped her face. “Are you guys crazy? What are you doing with beer, for heaven’s sake? That’s totally illegal, in case you didn’t know. I can’t walk into my parents’ place like this. What am I going to do?”

Dougie grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the bathroom.

“You’re going to rinse off.”

“Oh, a great idea. And what possible explanation will I have for being soaking wet?”

“Maybe you fell in the swimming pool…?”

Standing in the porcelain tub and arguing with Dougie, Suzette failed to notice another boy turn the nozzle. Hot water from the shower head hit her with such force that she screamed. And then, she screamed again.

“No, stop it, right now. Turn off the water,” she sputtered.

Seconds later Mike McGrath burst through the door. A senior and the second highest-ranking officer in the school, Big Mac gaped at the scene in the bathroom.

“I heard screams and I…”

He was looking at Suzette, who stood dripping wet and furious. The outer edges of his mouth twitched slightly but he fought to keep from laughing. “Um, you know ladies aren’t allowed above decks,” he said

“No kidding?” she replied. “I can see why.”

She turned to Dougie and glared. “Get me a towel.”

“You two.” Big Mac nodded toward the boys with the dripping beer cans. “Sit down.”

He peered into the hallway and closed the door.

“We’ve got to get you out of here before evening inspection. You can’t go down the main stairway because you’ll run into some of the faculty.”

Dougie scratched his head. “What about the fire escape?”

Big Mac counted the number of doors between Dougie’s room and the end of the hallway on his fingers. There were only six. “It might work.”

Big Mac stood with his hand on the doorknob and waited as Suzette toweled off. Her rubber sneakers squeaked along the hardwood floors as she slid between the beer-can boys who surrounded her like an invisibility cloak. When the hallway was clear, he opened the door and stepped out, extending his arms to block the view. At six-feet-four, Big Mac stood taller than most of the senior class and wider, too.

The others scurried toward the fire escape, leaving a watery trail on the wooden floorboards. Big Mac ordered several guys to towel the floor dry before the Captain arrived for evening inspection.

“We’ll go down with you,” Dougie said. “If anyone is watching from a window, they’ll just see our gray uniforms.”

Suzette frowned at him.

“And don’t worry. I’ll bring the religion books by your apartment later,” he added.


Anchored Together is now available on



Renee interviews author Bruce Ballister


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Bruce Ballister

Author Bruce Ballister won two medals in the 2020 Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Book Awards: The Gold was for a non-fiction project, Welcome to the Zipper Club, while The Bronze medal was for Room for Tomorrow. 

Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about. 

I’m a Tallahassean, not by birth, but I’ve been in this city since elementary school and only left to join the Army during the Vietnam war. I also left in my 30s to seek higher wages in Texas to repay the hospital debt for my preemie daughter. I now have three daughters in or nearing their 40s, and I sometimes have to stop and count that there are six grands. Being a North Floridian affected my writing early on as I experimented with short stories that began to bubble out in my 50s. My first novel, Dreamland Diaries, is set on the coast just south of Tallahassee and is a Sci-Fi – coming-of-age thriller. My most recent novel, Room for Tomorrow, is set in California but its MC’s roots are here in North Florida and the plot takes us to the remote pine woods of the panhandle.

My first degree was in commercial art, not a lucrative profession I found. I translated into construction drafting, then moved into civil engineering design and project management for municipal infrastructure projects and private developments. My second degree in Urban and Regional Planning got me into a slot as County Planning Director and finally as a grant manager for community development projects.

With my education split between left brain and right brain activities, heavy in the arts, and then the sciences, science fiction with a strong dose of humanist character development comes naturally. I’m currently working on finishing the last of a four-part series begun with Dreamland Diaries. Meanwhile, the plot thickeners for a completely new work simmer on the back burner.

 What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?

I’ll answer this for Room for Tomorrow. My last job had me on the road a lot serving rural communities across the panhandle and I became an audiobook devotee. Several of these had a strong influence on my environmental awareness. Room for Tomorrow’s plot, includes time travelers from the future who have survived the Last Day, the day that our atmosphere boiled in nuclear death. On a mission from the new world capital in New Zealand, they are in an abandoned time capsule built before the holocaust. Their mission is to mine technological secrets from a cloud storage facility in southern California so they can recapture lost technology.

My main character is from the present, but she literally falls into their portal to their time gate and becomes an agent for change. She has seen a future in which humanity destroys itself over diminishing resources amid an environmental collapse. With the help of her partner and the time travelers, she creates a new agency for change. The agency, Room for Tomorrow,infuses future energy efficiency technologies into the present to forestall many of the shortages that led to the Last Day.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?

Consistency. My attention seems to jump from project to project. For instance, the fourth installment of Dreamland Diaries went on hold for two years while I worked on Room for Tomorrow. Even now, as I work on that project, the next one threatens to take my attention. Sigh.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success? 

Well, winning a gold and a bronze in this year’s FAPA President’s Book Awards was certainly satisfying. The Gold was for a non-fiction project, Welcome to the Zipper Club. This proved that I have the chops to write and create a successful project. The Bronze was for Room for Tomorrow. I’m happy that it placed, it’s a tough crowd.

 What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

Frank Herbert, Jerry Pournelle, Isaac Azimov, and Arthur Clarke are all noted sci-fi writers. Frank Herbert, especially affected my sense that a fiction story can have at its roots an environmental back story. But equally important are Michael Connelly, John le Carré, and Patrick O’brian. Three very different writers whose craft, style, and attention to detail influence my need to tell a story fully with strong central characters. Albee’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, and Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz are direct inspirations for Room for Tomorrow as are several climate change non-fiction works.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals? 

No, unfortunately, I do not write every day. See next Question…

What are your interests outside of writing?

I am an unsuccessful retiree. I never quite learned the power of the word no. When asked to join the board of the Tallahassee Writers Association, I said yes. Then found myself on the track to that group’s presidency while fostering two conferences. I have just given up a five year track as the managing editor of the TWA’s Seven Hills Review. A contest similar to FAPAs, but limits entries to the first 3,000 words of larger works, short stories, plays, and includes poetry and haiku. I produced five anthologies which publishes the winners in the several categories. Finishing that involvement, I found myself, not saying no to being involved in FAPA’s book awards and now chair that committee.

Hmm… Outside of writing. I love to kayak the rivers and lakes of north Florida. I am presently in training to do the Apalachicola RiverTrek in October. That will be a five day, 103 mile paddle from the Georgia line to the Gulf. At seventy, I don’t have the stamina I once had, but have found that I still am an avid DIYer and a few hours a day in the open air keep me vital. I’m presently building from the bare dirt up, a storage shed to relieve my garage of some of its tools and equipment.

Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.

Keep at it. Start now, you never know what complication life is going to throw at you. My brush with cardiac disease resulted in a gold medal work. And pay attention to the minutia in life. Putting your observations into the mind of your main character makes that person believable and real to your readers. And remember, your main character has to get into trouble. As John Lewis said, get into ‘good trouble’. Save the world, rescue a forsaken child, right wrongs. Let your writing speak, educate, make a difference, and above all, entertain.



Early access and a favor


I’m excited that my second book is about to be released. That’s why I have a gift to give you and a favor to ask. Until August 31, you can download a copy of the e-book before it goes on sale to the general public! (Generous to a fault, that’s me. Just another impoverished author in search of a turret…)

Along with the print version, the e-book and Kindle will be released on Amazon September 1, 2020. That’s where the “favor” comes in! I’m asking you to post a review of ANCHORED TOGETHER on Amazon and Goodreads September 1 or 2. It doesn’t have to be long – just a few sentences – but it will really help me get the word out to other readers.

Thanks so much for your help. Reviews are one of the most powerful marketing tools for an author. I need you!

Master bedroom madness


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The Houston Association of REALTORS® announced it will no longer sanction the use of “master bedroom” or “master bathroom” in its MLS descriptions.

According to Realtor Magazine, “The decision to remove the term comes after a group of real estate professionals said the term ‘master’ on property description represents a potential stigma.”

In addition to Houston, Chicago realtors and builders like David Weekley have announced they will also refrain from using terminology like “master bedroom” and “master suite.” (David Weekley Homes now refers to the space as the “owner’s retreat” instead.)

Many argue that the term has no actual relationship to racism – neither does the term Master’s Degree. “Master bedroom” first appeared in the early 20th century to denote that the room was reserved for the master of the household, who almost always was a man. Why not the “mistress bedroom?” (Okay, that has another weird connotation.) Or the “biggest bedroom?” (Not very exciting.) Maybe the “significant sleeping space?”

Anyone have a better suggestion?



Award-winning author Renee Garrison will release her new book, Anchored Together, in September


Renee interviews author Malcolm John Baker


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Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.

I am a British citizen but have a permanent residency in the United States. They call me a resident alien. I think I must be a small green man from out of space, which is appropriate as my current book is to be called ‘Annabelle’ and she goes on a trip to Saturn with NASA with disastrous results.

However, I am 75 years old, although I do not feel it. I retired many years ago from business in the UK where I was a chartered surveyor. You don’t have the equivalent over here, but basically I dealt with Property Management.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?

I live now in Sarasota, Florida, in a golf club community named Lakewood Ranch. This is my paradise. I was married until five years ago, and after that I thought I needed something to occupy myself, so I took up writing fiction. All my stories are based on either my personal experiences, history or current affairs. I have always loved travel and have seen much of the world.

Every day I see things that are of interest and those incidents go into my books with amendments to make the adventure realistic.

My first book was Revenge is Mine, it is a story of ISIS, two generals’ families are killed in a cruise missile attack, and they set out to kill the President of the US. The story revolves around how they gained access to the country and the escapades with the FBI. He book is about love, adventure and intrigue. One of the ladies then goes to Syria with ISIS, but it does not turn out how she expected.

The next two books are FBI type books involving drug smuggling, treasure hunting in Mexico’s underground caverns. That is From a Jack to a king.Both these books would make good movie material.

The third book Daylight Robbery is as its name suggests, and I am the executive producer of a film that is made for the film festivals which are to take place when the current virus situation clears.

I have always had an interest in the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood, so I wrote a series of four books about Merlin. There is no magic in my books, although I must say J. K. Rowling was an influence in my writing. My Merlin is a time traveler who goes back to Arthurian days with the ghost of the Lady of the Lake, Viviane, the first book is called Merlin’s Secret.He takes back information from today and they think he is a wizard. Three books have so far been published and they are all full of adventure through the ages, culminating at the end of World War II. I am working with two movie companies at the moment for the series to be made films. I found it interesting making conversations with William Shakespeare!

The last book to be published is Which is the Clone?About a young U.S. president who clones himself to come back as president later in life. Needless to say, the results are disastrous.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?

 I write most days, but not more than three hours at a time, but I spend all the time when I am out collecting ideas of events and people characters. I have always self-published, but I now publish the books myself and all are available on my website

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?

As strange as it might seem by biggest obstacle is grammar. I was hopeless at school, but I have to say that when I question people why do they like my books? I am told because they are readable, without having to look up the meaning of every other word.  I think many more writers should go along that route This is particularly relevant if English is not your native language.

 Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.

To any aspiring writers I would say be careful once you get to the publication stage. There are many companies out there who are only interested in getting their income not yours.