My Life Collapsed on December 29, 2013

In a nutshell—

My husband died unexpectedly that morning. My husband’s death left me responsible for managing all elements of our severely disabled adult son who lived with us and required 24-7 care. While my husband and I performed well as a team, his tasks were ones I never wanted to handle. He spent hours doing gobbledygook paperwork, which I absolutely detested.

“Too bad, MJ. Suck it up and start learning,” my husband whispered in my ear from his eternal rest, like he often did when I questioned my talents and stubbornness to succeed. So, I dug in and assumed his chores. A bit of grumbling, working in tandem with my stubbornness, pushed me forward.

Three months later, I had an accident and re-injured my knee which I’d been babying in an effort to put off a knee replacement. That option no longer appeared possible. In the process of getting all the pre-op work done for my knee surgery, my doctors discovered three, far more serious health issues. I was devastated. 

I never thought I would have to deal with chronic, potentially life-threatening, health issues. This meant major adjustments. I had to find methods to curtail the stress and drama in my daily life—no easy task as a caregiver for my son. Plus, find time for new medical regimens: doctor visits, regularly scheduled lab work, and more daily medications than I’d ever taken. I was exhausted all the time. And angry—for not charging ahead full steam and subduing this new lifestyle.

Not happy, lonely, I often felt I was living the life of a fictional character in a future book—a book I’d probably never write, or if it did get written, it would be boring. I had barely enough energy to do the minimum for my son and myself. Amid this maelstrom of emotions and daily routines, my writing life plummeted from my priority list. Six to eight hours a day writing in my office fell into the black hole of…What once was.

That broke my already fractured heart. I was a total mess and not liking what I saw or felt. Somehow, I garnered enough energy to fight off despair and serious depression. I focused each day on what had to be done—then added one more task, phone call, or completed report. After three years of exhaustion and medical issues, I finally had several months when my body started to respond to all those medications and new routines. I even began to think about what it might be like to slowly step back into my writing life.

Talk About Baby Steps…

So much had changed within the writing world. I needed a new computer. The operating system had morphed into a devilish monster that sometimes brought me to swear at the machine which ignored my emotion. The software I’d been so comfortable using in the past now had a steep and frustrating learning curve. By the time I finished figuring out how to do what I wanted to do—my writing time was exhausted for the day. I fought feelings of hopeless stupidity regarding new technology.

Doggedly, I slowly inched my way back with writing projects…

Fast Forward to 2019

My new lifestyle is routine. I’ve learned to cope and manage all the new responsibilities I inherited and settled into a relatively stable health pattern.

What does that mean? I see myself as a writer once again!

I’ve put myself back into my writing space. I still have to finish those last four chapters of the book I had been working on when my husband died. I’ve thought a lot about the themes in that book. I realize I’ve gained greater knowledge regarding life changes. I will use this to enhance those themes as I revise the book.

Just a few weeks ago, I was able to get away for a few days. I flew to California to celebrate my brother and his wife’s 50th wedding anniversary. My brother and I drove down to Big Sur and walked a few paths I’ve been to in the past:

  • First time as a newly-divorced, single mother with the ink barely dry on my graduate degree and an even newer teaching contract in hand.
  • Second time, with the man who became my second husband, the love of my love, who believed and supported me in all my professional ventures. That second time the ocean was wild with emotions and hints of undercurrents and trials. A bit of foreshadowing which together we resolved.
  • Many additional visits with my husband. Always we were swayed, challenged and inspired by the water, the waves, the rocks, the birds, the changing shoreline. Just like our lives.
  • And this last time. Alone once more, but as I sat and watched the waves spread over the shoreline, I felt my muse spirit nudge me, saying “Get going, MJ. It’s time. And next book, use what you’ve learned, what you’ve seen in this new life you lead.”

So, this Reminds Us—Writers Write

We are Compelled to Do So

We find inspiration, plot ideas, characters, scenes, within the scope of our daily lives, our dreams, our dramas, our sorrows, watching the world around ourselves, observing the lives of others.

Writers don’t just write. We watch. We think about what we’ve seen, experienced, read about, listened to a story that jumpstarts a story of our own. Writers are thinkers and need time to think, to create a new world, a new character.  I’ve been doing this in the past several months. It’s made me feel whole again. Like my writerly self is re-emerging.

  • A trip to California and the Big Sur area did that for me.
  • Because I was ready.
  • Because I’ll always be a writer.
  • Because I’m happiest when I am writing.
  • Because I still have books to get written and maybe, just maybe, these last years have given me the new life experiences and situations I can draw from to make my upcoming books the best they can be.

We writers must keep our minds open to all that happens in the world around us. If we do, we will always grow as writers. What we write will be fresh. Don’t we all strive toward those objectives?

That’s a resounding YES.”

by: Mary Jo Schiebl

A short summary of Mary Jo’s, a.k.a Casey Clifford, life might be as follows: She’s been there, done that, and is still trying…”

She’s not perfect and wouldn’t want to be.  She was determined to finish college and graduate school to teach college level classes. She accomplished this while working and single-parenting 3 sons. She taught for 27 years and retired to pursue what she dreamed of doing since she was a child—write the stories that had been tumbling about in her head.

Today she writes women’s fiction and romantic suspense as Casey Clifford. Her first novel received the Holt Medallion for Literary Achievement for Best First Book of 2009. She also won the Write Touch Readers’ Award for the same book in the romantic suspense category. She blogs every Sunday and dabbles in photography. Her other published books have also finaled/won additional awards.

She strives daily to be a wise woman and believes all her heroines have already gotten there. Her Dessert Dames and Soul String series reflect that as do her romantic suspense and single titles.

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New Release Tuesday: October 2019

Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.

New Release Tuesday - March 2019

Lioness: Mahlah’s Journey by Barb M. Britton

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New Release Tuesday March 2019

Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.

Saving the Scot by Jennifer Trethewey

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New Release Tuesday – February 2019

Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.

My Racy Reverse Harem Book Club by Lina Jubilee

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New Release Tuesday – January 2019

Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.

Succubus Heart (Succubus Sirens Book Two) by Lina Jubilee

Beneath the Assassin’s Touch by Katherine Hastings

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Book Review Etiquette

It’s happened to every reader. You have the weekend off. Rain is pouring down. The coffee pot is sputtering, and those tantalizing smells seduce you to crawl under a blanket and pick out your next great read. So, you hop online, go to your favorite bookstore and start scanning those covers. One calls out to you, so you click, excited to see what it’s about. The blurb looks exciting, you’re ready to buy, but you decide to glance at all those reviews just a short scroll away. Five stars. Not bad! You read a few sentences in and… gasp! They just revealed the plot twist! Ruined the ending! Stole the joy you would have gotten from uncovering it yourself. The horror! Now that the plot is revealed before you even opened the first page, you back out and buy another book.

As a reader, I’m infuriated when someone’s spoiler review appears without warning. As a writer, I’m sad for the author who will no longer get the sale of that book from me, and perhaps more books if I enjoyed it and sought out the rest. All because a reviewer didn’t realize they had broken proper book reviewing etiquette.

Last night I was on a message forum where a well-known author came on and she was devastated a reviewer put the who-dun-it in the first review of her new release. Ouch. Not only is that devastating for an author who worked hard to craft a story and unveil information to you piece by piece, it’s sad for the readers who will no longer get to enjoy the surprise that one reviewer got to experience. On that post, author after author, and reader after reader came forward with similar sob stories. And as a reader who won’t read a book that’s been spoiled, I felt awful knowing authors will inevitably lose sales because of it. And the saddest part? Most of these were five-star, raving reviews. Reviewers who enjoyed the book and wanted to support the author by taking the time to write a review had accidentally cost them sales and caused them heartache as well as ruined the experience for those who would read it after them. It was then I realized, maybe people just don’t understand book review etiquette. Maybe we just need to spread the word! So, after polling authors and readers, we have compiled the list of things you should and shouldn’t do when you review your next read.

1) Review that book

This is a post about etiquette, yes. But it’s important to remind people just how much your reviews help support authors. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We want your opinion and your feedback. Your reviews boost book sales and help rank. If you enjoyed a book, give the author the biggest gift you can… your review. But when you do, just be mindful of other eager readers who want to enjoy the surprises.

2) A Book Review is not A Book Report

No one is quite sure how this came to be, but when writing a review, people don’t want a play-by-play of the book. They want to know your overall thoughts on story, craft, and characters. Let them learn the play-by-play as it’s intended… by reading it. A review that reads like Cliff’s Notes is most definitely laced with spoilers and the bottom line is no reader wants to know that stuff before they read a book. Do you?

I’m going to put two reviews below as an example.

When a handsome swordsman comes to Camelot, he discovers the one thing he can’t battle away… his feelings for the beautiful Guinevere. Their growing passion for one another could destroy them both, and they must each choose between their loyalty to their King or loyalty to their hearts.  But when Arthur’s old enemy returns with a vengeance, it’s up to Lancelot to put aside his feelings and fight beside his king to defend not only Queen Guinevere, but all of Camelot.

Proper Review:

Wow! This book has all the feels. It’s a gripping historical romance novel filled with action, adventure, and romance. The writing is beautiful. I practically felt like I was back in Camelot. The characters were wonderfully crafted, and I rooted for them every step of the way. The pacing was perfect, and I had trouble putting it down. I loved this book and highly recommend it for anyone who wants to get on an emotional roller coaster and never get off!

Improper Review:

This book starts in Camelot and Guinevere is betrothed to the King. She really seems to love him, but then she meets Lancelot, his newest knight. After she’s kidnapped by King Arthur’s enemy, Arthur sends Lancelot to find her and they end up succumbing to their love. She cheats on her husband with Lancelot and when he finds out he’s devastated. Eventually she chooses her husband over Lancelot and he’s banished, but when Arthur dies at the end she gets to be with Lancelot after all. It was a great story and I highly recommend it.

Can you see the difference? One reads like a book report while the other tells us nothing to spoil the story but tells us how the reader FELT about the book. And that’s the most important part! Did you like the story? Too fast? Too slow? Could you identify with the characters? These are all very safe things to address, and they are actually helpful to potential readers. But let’s leave those book reports back in High School.

3) If it’s not in the blurb, don’t put it in the review

This is the safest way to make sure you don’t ruin a book for anyone else. Blurbs are carefully crafted to give away just enough info to make a book enticing, but not too much to take away the fun of discovery a reader gets to enjoy when they read a new book. When writing a review, I’m careful to never disclose anything specific the blurb hasn’t already told us. I don’t add in plot twists, endings, who-dun-it’s, or anything you wouldn’t have gotten from the blurb.

In the two reviews above, you’ll see in the first one no spoilers were leaked but you still got an idea of my feelings on the book, as well as an idea of what it’s about. It’s action, adventure and romance. Emotional. Hard to put down. In the second one, I told you exactly what happens! As a new reader, when you open that book you already know many of the major conflicts AND you even know how it ends. As a reader, if I read that first review, I would put that book in my cart. If I read the second review, I would shout curses at that reviewer for ruining a book it sounds like I would have loved. I would back out without buying it and go find another book. So, when you review, if it’s not in the blurb, find a way to get your point across without revealing any additional information.

4) Write the review you would want to read

Having a hard time coming up with a review that isn’t a book report? Try to think about what you wish you would have known before you started it. Without giving away too much, try to help the next readers decide if this is the right book for them. Do you hate cliffhangers, and it ended in one? Tell us that! Don’t tell us what the cliffhanger was but tell us you were disappointed it requires you to purchase book two in order to get the ending. Do you love sex scenes and this writer did a fantastic job? That’s a great thing to add and can help readers decide if they want a book with steamy sex scenes or not. Was it too violent for you? Say that. Readers who like violence in books will purchase it, and it will steer away those who don’t have a taste for it. These are all things that can help you write a book review that actually helps guide buyers and doesn’t ruin the book for the people who read it.

5) Use Spoiler Alerts

If you decide you absolutely must write a review that includes info not already in the blurb, please PLEASE write in all caps at the very top of your review *SPOILER ALERT!* This gives any readers who like to be surprised plenty of warning to flip past your review and not have a book experience ruined.

That’s it! Those are the five simple rules to writing a review that will have both authors and readers singing your praises instead of cursing your screen name. Your reviews are SO IMPORTANT and we want to encourage you to come forward with how you felt about our books. But just be mindful when doing so and let the readers who come after you share in all the joy of discovering a story the way an author intended. Let them share in your surprise.

by: Katherine Hastings

Katherine Hastings loves love. It’s why she writes romance novels. Getting lost writing a romantic adventure is one of her favorite pastimes. When she’s not on an adventure with her characters, she can be found at her home in Wisconsin snuggling her husband, two Boston Terriers, and the world’s naughtiest cat. Two things make Katherine want to leave her happy home these days… going for rides on her dressage pony or floating at the beach in her big inflatable raft. Writing her novels while floating in the lake is one of her ultimate pleasures… that and Fried Wisconsin Cheese Curds, of course.

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Promotion Thursday – December 2018

Promotion Thursday - October EditionIt’s Promotion Thursday for December. Check out where you can find our WisRWA authors this month.

Helen Johannes visited The Wild Rose Press blog with a holiday blog post on December 5.

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2017 Chapter Service Award

Virginia McCullough and Gini Athey presenting Lisa Romdenne with the 2017 WisRWA Chapter Service AwardThe WisRWA Chapter Service Award is an award that WisRWA gives out to members who have shown exemplary service to our organization often going above and beyond the call of duty for WisRWA.  Members are nominated and sent to the Chapter Service Award chair or chairs who will read through the nominations and choose the winning recipient or recipients. The committee received many nominations and were quite pleased to see all the ways our members are serving the chapter.

To serve is to give above and beyond what is expected. This year, WisRWA chose Lisa Romdenne, Past President of WisRWA.

Here is what the nominating individuals had to say about her:

When she was a relative newcomer to WisRWA Lisa Romdenne stepped in to run for president of our chapter at a time we were once again facing the very real possibility of folding. She caught on fast, and in the last two years she’s done a fantastic job. Lisa has handled board meetings efficiently, followed through on chapter commitments, has listened to all sides of an issue, and has shown immense patience and a knack for detail. She has made it easier for the rest of us to do our jobs. While president of the chapter, Lisa continued to be an active, helpful member of the Greater Green Bay Area.

Like the leader she is, Lisa has been willing to help with any project and takes an interest in questions about the chapter raised by individual members. Lisa has done an exemplary job of representing WisRWA as a unique and long-standing chapter of RWA, and has done so with great good humor. She always shows us the best of her outgoing personality.

Congratulations, Lisa!


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Promotion Thursday – November 2018

Promotion Thursday - October EditionIt’s Promotion Thursday for November. Check out where you can find our WisRWA authors this month.

Jennifer Trethewey will be hosting the The Romance of Reading Facebook Group on Monday, November 26.

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New Release Tuesday – October 2018


Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.

Book cover of Forgetting the Scot by Jennifer Trethewey









Forgetting the Scot by Jennifer Trethewey


Book Cover of Salt and Venom by Amy McNulty









Salt & Venom by Amy McNulty


Book Cover for The Dance Hall Wife by CiCi Cordelia









The Dance Hall Wife by CiCi Cordelia


MEANT FOR ME by Lyn Cote









Meant for Me by Lyn Cote


IT HAD TO BE YOU by Lyn Cote









Had to Be You by Lyn Cote


Cover for Forever Knight by Barbara Raffin









Forever Knight by Barbara Raffin


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