Winter Roads

Massive backups and multiple crashes on snow-packed highways. Traffic-choked mountain towns and ski areas. I’m not taking about those kinds of winter roads—I’m talking about getting away from them. Out where things are quiet and peaceful, where schedules and cellphones take a back seat to the wonders of nature.

Double the beauty with the reflections in the hood, find a nice place for a picnic, and be patient with others using the road (even if they drive like a bunch of turkeys).

Polly says to take a friend who enjoys winter, too.

Heart Collector ~ Barbara Russell

Today Polly and I are talking with Barbara Russell, author of Heart Collector: Auckland Steampunk Series, Knight in Distress, The Boy Who Killed Santa Claus, Arabian Days, and more.

I was honored to receive an advanced reader copy of Heart Collector, and to sum it up: I can’t wait to read more. The good news is, she’s already working on the 7th in the series!

Heart Collector is a romantic steampunk mystery that doesn’t disappoint. The characters are warm and quirky, the stakes are high, the Auckland setting is fabulous, and the story pace kept me swiping through the pages. I highly recommend it.

Heart CollectorAuckland, 1884

While other aristocratic, nineteen-year-old girls spend time dancing and partying, Isabel trains hard to become an agent with Military Intelligence Seventh Division, MI7, a crime fighting squad run by Supernaturals.

As a serial killer dubbed the Heart Collector starts slaughtering Supernaturals, Isabel tries to recruit Murk, a dangerous Supernatural man who can turn himself invisible.

Being an empath, she senses other people’s feelings as if they were her own. Anger, lust, love, worry—souls have no secrets for her. If Murk wants to attack her, his feelings will broadcast his intention, and she’ll be ready.

What Isabel isn’t ready for is to meet the man who will collect her heart and to fall in love with him.

Release date February 6. Available for preorder:

The Heart Collector ~ Auckland Steampunk Book 1

Barbara, tell us about blending steampunk and supernatural elements into a Victorian Era setting. What inspired the story?

I’ve always loved steampunk stories. The first I read was a steampunk/futuristic novel set in Italy by Stefano Benni. A rarity since the majority of the steampunk novels are set in Victorian London, and I fell in love with the genre because it’s always a bit funny, has some sci-fi elements, and there’s usually a mystery. I’m a sucker for mysteries. I read everything by Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle. So I thought, why not setting a steampunk novel here in Auckland? This gave me the opportunity to add a bit of Maori culture in the story

What is your favorite scene in the Heart Collector?

I think all the scenes with Trigger, the orphan Isabel—my main character—takes care of. He’s fun to write and I don’t have to worry about typos because he uses very bad grammar, lol

It’s a powerful start for a series, how many more stories do you anticipate to complete the series?

I’m currently writing book 7 of the series. The first three books are in Isabel’s point of view. Then next books are written with others POVs.

Will future books feature Isabel and M17?

Isabel will always be present, in the background. She’s the protagonist of the first three books, then I’ll leave room for others characters.

What is one of your hobbies and how has it enriched your writing?

Trekking and climbing! I love hiking with my dogs. Forests are the best places ever to think about plot holes and characters’ developments. Not to mention that a good trekking recharges me. I need to get out of the city and its noises now and then and be surrounded by trees and nature.

What advice would you give budding writers?

Read everything, from memoirs to sci-fi novels. I love fiction, but true stories are amazing. There’s a lot to learn from non-fiction books as a writer, and you never know what might inspire you. 

Click here for Barbara Russell’s other books.

Thanks, Barbara, for the wonderful read and the opportunity to get to know you better. I’m looking forward to the next Auckland Steampunk story. Oh, and you won Polly over with your love of hiking with dogs. She’s ready to go!

Book Cover Contest Update

Thanks to all of you, Calpulli has made it into the 3rd round in the cover contest. That means the top 25! I am thrilled and humbled to have received so much support. Voting for the third round is open. There are no sign-ups or registrations and no email requirements. Just a quick, anonymous click.

Click here to vote

To say thank you for your support, the e-book edition is FREE through January 20th. Read what you’ve been voting for on me!

Click here to get your free copy.


Cabins of Winter

Polly decided taxes and book work are boring and that we needed a break. I agreed. She said, “Road trip!” I agreed. She’s a wise dog and knows life is too short not to get out there and enjoy what we love doing the most: taking the camera for a hike and a picnic. Even in the winter. Especially in the winter.

We love the history of old cabins, mines, ghost towns, and other lonely places. Winter is a wonderful time to visit them. It’s when the temperatures drop and the snow closes in that you get a real appreciation for a snug little cabin, with its promise of shelter and warmth. After the hustle and bustle of summer tourists and fall color peepers, when everything is a silent drift of white, those voices from the past can once again be heard drifting from the gaps in the chinking.

Who was here before us? Miners, perhaps. Maybe settlers, homesteaders, and ranchers. Those for whom a cabin meant the difference between life and death when it was 20 degrees below zero, there were several feet of snow on the ground, and the nearest town was miles away.

Be still and listen. The wind rattles the branches and hisses snow over the ground. Frost turns a rusted piece of barbwire into a twist of shining crystals. The memories are still here in the crumbling logs and dirt floors. Each one has a story to tell. Listen, and you just might hear it on the breeze.

A short word to the wise about visiting these places. Never trespass. Know where you are and if you don't, take your shots from a distance. Be respectful. Unlived in doesn't mean abandoned. Don't take anything except pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

A New Year Begins

May your coming year be filled with grand adventures and someone special to share them with.

Wild places to revel in, get lost in, and find yourself in.

Sweet friends and sweet dreams.

May you have four seasons of love, laughter, joy, and peace. I hope you dream big and then set goals to make those dreams come true. Above all, Polly and I wish you a dog kind of New Year. Celebrate each moment for what it is, show unconditional love for those around you, and find time to smell the flowers.

Birds of a Feather

During winter, when wildlife can be hard to find, there’s always plenty of action to be found around the bird feeders. Big birds, small birds, noisy birds, quiet birds. Each has its own unique personality and we love to watch them all. Their interactions, relationships, and pecking order are fascinating to observe.

Some don’t even have feathers, but are more than happy to take advantage of a free snack.

And others don’t come for seed, but that’s okay. It’s all part of nature’s cycle of predator and prey. A cycle as old as life itself. A cycle we can witness at the backyard bird feeder.

As Exciting As Watching Water Freeze

Sometimes winter seems about as exciting as watching the paint dry, or the grass grow, or the water freeze… Wait a second. Watching water freeze is exciting. Granted it doesn’t have the drama of a heavy spring runoff, a summer cloudburst, or a flashflood. Freeze up is subtle, quiet. The beauty of it can be easy to overlook, but it’s there. It sneaks in on cold winter nights and leaves little gifts for those who take the time to find them.

I sat by the little waterfall to watch the spray freeze and coat the rocks and twigs, turning them into shining crystal sculptures.

It is a joy to hike to the lake and check the advance of the ice.


If streams and lakes aren’t in the immediate vicinity, then step out front door on a sunny morning to catch the play of light in the icicles hanging from the eave or on a frozen puddle in the yard.

The wonder of winter is there and getting out to find it takes the boredom out of winter in a heartbeat. Just ask Polly.