Week Three — Letting the Scary Things Out…


I’ve been giving you some free tastes of my writing. The essays here on my blog are normally sweet. You can read a collection of them in the book, Moments of Clarity. But my other books can be… let’s say… a tad dark. So, take the opportunity to read the freebies I’m posting during the month of October. Then you won’t be hauntingly horrified when you read my novels. I would say my brand is a cat. Soft and cuddly with fangs and claws. I’m diverse like that.

So far, you’ve sampled the stories, The Consummate Gardener, and Beyond the Door. They should have given you a bit of a shiver. Now you can nibble on this next story: Without You. I hope you have a frightening read!

Here are your options:

Read the short story here as a PDF:  Without You

You can go to Smashwords and download whatever works for your e-reader, Kindle, Nook, PDF, etc. Click Here: Without You

WEEK TWO—Letting the Scary Things Out…


I promised to let the scary things out in October and I’m good for my word. Beyond the Door is the free short story for week two. Same cover, different tint. Last one was blue, this one is green.

Here are your options:

You can download the HTML and read it FREE online. Click here: Beyond the Door.

You can go to Smashwords and download whatever works for your e-reader, Kindle, Nook, PDF, etc. Click Here: Beyond the Door

This short story is one I wrote last year and originally made as a podcast. You may have listened to it right here on my blog. But, I have rewritten it and ran it past some critique partners and a editor to make sure it came up to snuff.

So, read it if you dare! Maybe not before bed. Or if you want to be up all night, go for it! Read it by candle light in a haunted house during an electrical storm. Your call!



Letting the Scary Things Out…


It’s October and that means time for Halloween. Scary stories. Ghosts and goblins and stuff that goes bump in the night.


When I was in grade school, one of the first scary books I ever read was Alfred Hitchcock’s, Stories Not for the Nervous. I loved every one of those short terror inducing tales. I’m guessing his work, along with a few too many episodes of Creature Feature and Dr. Sanguinary, may have influenced my writing. Certainly, it influenced my taste in reading.

In light of my dark taste in fiction, this month I’m going to embrace scary stories. I am determined to give my readers one story a week that will make them shiver, swallow hard, or at minimum glance around the room nervously. Read them in the dark, right before you go to sleep, if you need to stay up all night.

So, here is the first of four short stories I’ve written for the OCTOBER holiday of Halloween. Click the links below to read the story as a PDF on your computer. I will also try to put these stories free on Smashwords by the end of the month so you can upload them to your Kindle or Nook.

It’s time to let the scary things out!

gardenercoverDownload this link for a PDF: The Consummate Gardener

Enjoy this story if you dare!!

Thanks to Brenda Lenz and Kathy Foucher for your critiques and edits. Thank you to Victorine Lieske for the image used on the cover.

In the Chute

tatergateToday is the day. I’m going to work on building my brand.

My dad raised cattle. Branding holds quite a few memories for me. I remember sitting on the top of a fence with a cattle prod. If the cattle wouldn’t go into the chute, I would zap them on the butt. Seems like I had gate duty sometimes, too. Some kind of lever I would pull to shut the cow into the chute. It held their head in an opening. Then someone would brand them or tag them or vaccinate them… whatever it was we were doing to the poor things. The purpose of the chute was to hold them still so they couldn’t hurt themselves. I was a kid. I did what my dad told me to do. Plus, I liked being around the men. They swore and spit and laughed a lot. I could get dirty and climb around and there was an electricity to it all… well, no pun intended regarding that cattle prod, but seriously, it was yelling and banging and mooing and commotion. It was one of those many times on the farm requiring a group of people to complete a task. I liked being a part of the group and right in the middle of the action.

But of course, branding has a new meaning now. You know branding even if you don’t think you do. It’s the thing we see that immediately tells us what the product is. Think Coke’s lettering style. Pepsi’s blue can. Those big McDonald’s arches.

I think Janet Evonovich may have one of the more stand-out author branding techniques with her covers. Solid bold colors, big splashy lettering, numbers. You know her books when you see them.

cow-brandI’ve read an author’s brand is their promise to readers. It tells the reader what to expect from us. Who we are. I guess it has the exact same purpose and meaning as it did with cows. Who is this cow? Who does this cow belong to? And all with no hot iron or burning fur! Ouch. Glad about that.

Yet, I keep putting it off as though I’m afraid of getting in that chute! Maybe what’s stopping me are those memories of cattle.

Regardless, the one thing I am consistently told by other other writers is that I have a very specific writing voice. My work can be recognized by my style and voice. This reminds me of the first time I remember someone telling me I was pretty. I remember looking in the mirror to check… I couldn’t see it and didn’t know why. I also remember thinking they were just saying it to be nice. It was probably an aunt or my mom. They have to tell us we’re pretty, don’t they?

So, to create this brand, I have to identify exactly who I am. What do I want to say? What are the things I can promise about me and my writing. That’s harder to figure out than one would think! I keep looking in the mirror and I just can’t see it.

But, it’s my goal for today. Figuring out what my brand should be. How should my books look? If I had a logo, what would it be? What and how would I describe what you can expect from my books? Wish me luck!

Sarcastic Rant


Here are my sarcastic questions for the day:

Why are the children in Walmart crying? Seriously. Every time I see babies crying… and there seem to be a higher percentage of them doing so in Walmart than any other place in the universe I’ve visited… I want to go up and talk to the baby. I want to say, “Baby? Why are you crying?” I watch the wailing child. Normally, they are being denied more time in the play area. They are being made to put a coat on. They are not being given the big box of Fruit Loops. And sometimes they seem to just be straggling along behind their parents and squalling. I want to go up to every one of these children and say, “Babies! Stop crying! This is the easiest time you will ever experience in your life! You are fed, clothed, tucked into bed at night, given toys, and played with. No one expects anything of you. You have no schedule to keep. No work to do. You don’t even have to make it to the bathroom on time. Just crap in your pants and someone will remove it and replace the diaper with a fresh one and lotion and powder. Yes. An adult will make sure your tushy is soft and smells lovely! Just lay there. Seriously. WHY ARE YOU CRYING!!!??? You don’t even have to pay for the mess you made in aisle three. (Disclaimer… of course, some babies have a good reason. I’m talking about the average child who cries just like all of us did when we were little and had no idea how good we had it!)

kitty in the box_2Next question: Why do we have to tell people not to mail live animals? I mailed a package recently and went to the US Postal service website to create a mailing label. Somewhere on the page, it had a caution: Please do not mail live animals. I don’t like living in a world where we have to tell people this. I don’t want to have this thought of a baby kitten in a box being shipped across the country. I don’t want to think about the idiot who is stupid enough to do that, either. I think the moron who puts a kitten in a box to ship across the country should get in a bathtub and blow dry their hair. I’m not even worried they might read the tag on the blow dryer, cautioning them not to do so. I highly doubt they can read or care about such rules because I would assume they’re running around sticking forks in toasters.

Last question. What are the ingredients in shampoo, anyway? I stand in the shampoo aisle and try to figure outshampoo-carcinogen-537x363 which kind to purchase. Quite the task. How in the world do we make these decisions? Luckily we have advertising assisting us in our confusion. It’s Herbal. It contains Jojoba! Biotin, Vitamin B7, Tea Tree Oil, it’s Organic, has Collagen and Weightless hydration coconut water!!! Moroccan Argan Creme!!  Honestly. I did not know I needed these things. I also don’t know what they are!! When I read these ads, it seems to me they are telling me I am supposed to know what these things are. Oh, yes… of course… Argan Creme. I know what that is! What, you think I’m ignorant?! I’m a woman who shampoos her hair. Of course I know what Argan Creme is. Jojoba? Sure! Biotin? Of course! I wouldn’t dream of using a shampoo without Weightless hydration coconut water. What—you take me for some kind of fool?

There. I feel a little better. Thank you for enduring my rant. Now I’m going to go somewhere and grumble about mosquitoes and flies.

It’s a NEW BOOK!

My friend and talented author C. Hope Clark was kind enough to give me an editorial review for the back cover of my new book, Moments of Clarity.

“Gina’s homespun words of life lessons and nostalgia fill me with a cookies-and-milk warmth and make me crave smothering hugs. “Filling the Void” in particular made me wish that memory was my own. This author can make you so happy to be breathing and smiling. She’s found her niche.”

Hope Clark, award-winning author of The Caroline Slade Mysteries and The Edisto Island Mysteries. www.chopeclark.com


Here’s the Proof. The book, Moments of Clarity is born and is now available as a print or digital copy from Amazon. Soon, the eBook will also be available on iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

For the last couple of years, I’ve worked on selecting the right stories from this blog to put together as an anthology. I’m thrilled with how it looks and reads, and I think you’ll like it, too.

These stories are close to my heart—about my family and my childhood. I think this book is uplifting and humorous.  I believe you’ll see some of your own life in these essays, and reading this book will bring a smile to your face.

I hope those of you who visit my blog will share this news with other readers. I’d also like to give away some free digital copies to the first several people who put their email along with a comment in the comment section of this post.

The way I will give away a digital copy is to give a coupon for the book to Smashwords. There, you will buy the book and download it in whatever format works for you, Nook, Kindle, PDF, etc. I will send the coupon code to your email address.

When my print order comes in I will give away a few print copies, as well.

Happy reading, and thank you for following Moments of Clarity!


Thorns and Flames

Thorns-smallerSo, I wrote Thorns of Rosewood and published it in March 2014. I’ve gotten some nice reviews. Even Publishers Weekly has chimed in with a decent review. I’ve sold a few thousand books. I’m a happy little writer.

I am diligently working on book 2 in the series and it’s developing right before my very eyes. I love it when that happens. A writer starts with a plan and then the characters take off at a run and steal the show away from you. I love it when those little buggers do that.

Recently in book 2, I found that the nasty woman, Naomi, from book 1 just kept rearing her ugly head. That woman just won’t go away! I knew book 2 would be about fire, and it is, but somewhere along the line my characters just couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. The story has turned into various forms of fire… playing with fire, setting fire, putting fires out, and particularly, old flames.

So there ya have it. I’ve been struggling over the book’s title for about five months. Rosewood on Fire. Embers of Rosewood. Burning Rosewood. All interesting ideas. But the winner is:


It fits. I like it. And I can almost see the cover.

I’m getting excited about this story! Even I don’t quite know how it’s going to end. Yup. It’s always a surprise to me, too. I have a sloppy outline, but by golly, if my characters get a better idea, I’m behind them 100%.

Oh, and by the way… Thorns of Rosewood just happens to be .99 now and will only be that price for a short while longer. Buy it now so you’ll be ready for Old Flames of Rosewood in March, 2015!

One more thing. Thank you Deb Carlin for promoting my book this past week. Such a cool website you have over at thebookdork.com!

Critique Groups and Character


If you’ve read my book Build a Writing Team, you know I’m a proponent of critique groups. I’m also a fan of people with good character. There are quite a few out there in this world and I’m happy to say I know many people with ethics, compassion, and a decent sense of right and wrong.

Unfortunately, we must be careful not to cast our pearls before swine. I know plenty of people without character, too. And I know to avoid them and smile. Be nice to them… they bite. Don’t taunt a junk yard dog on a chain and expect it to act like a sweet little lap-dog.

I want to address something here on my blog about an unfortunate lesson I learned this past week. I am a part of a group of great folks in Omaha who have a critique group. Nice people. Smart people. Intelligent people. And the group’s leader is one of those wonderful examples of a person with character and integrity. So, for the most part, this is a lovely group of folks.

badappleExcept for that one bad apple. I won’t name him, that’s not the point, but I do want to share my story so others can learn from it. There is a lesson here for those who run open critique groups, and for individual writers as well.

In this writing group, we send in our submissions via email to the group leader. Then he sends them via email to everyone in the group. The people who receive the chapters to be critiqued, read through them, critique them on paper, and come to the meeting prepared to tell the author what they liked and what they would change. They give the author the critiqued paper to keep and use as they wish. (I am in another critique group that does it differently. Every critique group will have their own methods.)

COVERAgain, if you’ve read my book, you know I believe in honest critiques. When I ask for a critique, I’m not looking for compliments, but suggestions for what doesn’t work in the piece, and ideas about how to make the piece better. That is the entire point of critique. Not everyone understands that. They are looking for compliments, and you know, I’ll go to my best friends for that. In a critique group, I need keen eyes and honesty to help me see the problems I’m too close to the writing to see.

Here’s where we come to the part about character… or unfortunately, the lack thereof.

The bad apple of the Omaha group, unbeknown to the other members, had been taking the emails of our submitted chapters, converting them to PDF’s, and putting them on his website with his critique at the end.

He was publishing our work without our knowledge or permission. Our rough draft work. Our unedited, unpolished, work. And even more audaciously, he was including his critiques. For anyone in the world to see.

As I said, I want the critiques. But when one asks another to critique their work, it is a private matter. Neither party should make the information public without the other’s permission. I no more have the right to publish his comments without his permission, than he does to publish my writing. Fair is fair, after all.

The group leader and the members whose chapters he’d put on his website all asked him, very nicely, to please take down the chapters.

His response was that he would do so, but he was insistent that it was just a mistake, he was under the impression the website was private. As a writer, that comment is what I would call a plot hole! He had developed his own website. He had a privacy statement of his own on his website. But that this man crossed a line is not the point.

The point is, as writing critique groups, it should be noted to any and all, especially new group members, that it would be a breach of trust and possibly, depending on the situation, breaking copyright laws, to ever publish another author’s work without their permission. An author worth their salt doesn’t publish work until it’s been thoroughly critiqued and professionally edited. It’s coal and has a lot of chiseling and buffing to be done to it before it becomes a diamond. Then, ultimately, only the author of a work has the right to first publication unless they give signed permission to copy, print or transfer in any way before someone other than the author can publish it.


So, what is the solution?

In my situation, the offender has been removed from the group. Kicked out. Eliminated. “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, bud!” That’s good swift decision-making and leadership of a man with character!

My personal solution is that now, on every document I send out for critique, I will be putting this notice near the top of the document:

© 2014 G. M. Barlean. All rights reserved. This document and the information it contains is a work in progress and is the property of Gina M. Barlean. It shall not be copied, reproduced, or published in whole or in part without written permission from Gina M. Barlean.

Will it stop someone who is unprofessional and of poor character from using it inappropriately? Of course not. That would be called crime, often done by criminals. Bad people exist. Shit happens. Life isn’t always fair. Worse things happen. You’ve read the news. But it’s one more little step I, as an individual, can take to protect myself.

I sincerely hope this never happens to you. You may want to consider implementing these ideas in your own critique group or the work you forward digitally for critique. You may also want to share this information with other writers you know. I present it only in the name of helping out other writers to protect themselves and to be aware. Don’t get mad… get smarter, because there are some real idiots out there and they know how to work computers, too.

My Little Stories

CoverIt’s been suggested I compile the stories here in my blog and put them in a book. Seemed like an easy enough little project.

One year later, I finally have it done! The book will be novella sized and in a few years, I may have enough new stories to make another book—provided people actually buy the first one! We soon shall see.

I will order the proof to the book today and by next week I’ll have it in my hot little hands, then I’ll be able to decide if it’s up to snuff. Then I’ll continue to that nasty process of formatting for ebooks and promotion and so on and so forth.

While this process takes its course, I am looking for someone to write a nice little recommendation or review for the back cover. If you’re interested in doing so… say if you’ve been a follower of my blog and want to give me some help… please let me know. I’ll make sure you get a free signed print copy, and of course my undying gratitude.

Here’s the cover. Hopefully by October the book will be ready to buy, and I think it would make a great Christmas present for anyone who grew up in the ’60s, ’70s, or comes from a rural or small-town background—or just enjoys positive stories about family.


San Francisco Solitude

Lovely Chinese women playing on the street corner.

As I write this, a street band is blasting Foxy Lady, and the corned beef and cabbage I had for dinner at Lefty O’Doul’s is grumbling in my stomach, so I’m not sure I can capture the personality of San Francisco. I think a good vacation deserves at least a little waxing poetic, so I will do my best. And our trip to San Francisco has been, most definitely, good.

I’ve often thought I’d enjoy city life—especially when I was young. I can’t say I still feel that way. Maybe if I were wealthy enough to live on the outskirts or in a quiet gated community off the beaten path. But, living in the heart of Union Square would not be my notion of an ideal existence. (We’ve been told the cost of an apartment per month is several thousand.) Yet, this amazing city has offered us some wonderful memories.

One memory I’ll keep was standing at the fore of a catamaran—ocean breeze making my hair a frightening sight, and salty spray in my face as we sailed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The sway of the boat, the sight of other ships sailing, and the sound of the many languages spoken by other visitors. Dolphins leapt from the water. Ever-present seagulls flew above us as though their job was to make sure we got exactly where we were to go. How wonderful those final moments of solitude we seafarers shared near the end of the trip. We collectively quieted, staring out at the water and approaching city skyline, glad we spent one hour on the sea.

I most enjoyed the quiet moments in the midst of all the noise of the city. Music blaring, (Play That Funky Music is seeping into our window on the 12th floor as I type.) taxi cabs honking, and the cable cars ding-a-linging right past our corner here on Powell and Geary is constant. Yet, for about forty-five minutes yesterday we sat in front of a fountain in Golden Gate Park and enjoyed a lovely young woman with long dark hair as she played her harp. Such peace and gentleness in the middle of so much bustle. A slice of solitude.

The people are a delight. Lombard street zig-zagging like a crazy dream made by a maniacal street crew. There’s enough sour-dough bread here to strengthen the weakest jaw. The sound and smell of sea lions at Pier 39 will make you smile as you cover your nose.

Yes, I like it here just fine.

But I must leave. And as I review what I’ve typed, it seems obvious to me, I love solitude more than excitement. So, good-bye San Francisco. You are an amazing place. Loved the Dim Sum in China Town. Loved the seafood and even those constant hills and jabbering taxi drivers. I’d certainly return, but my home is now calling me.

I will leave you with some pictures, and a few quotes about this amazing place.

“The Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I’m here.” (Billy Graham)

“Now there’s a grown-up swinging town.”  (Frank Sinatra)

“One day if I go to heaven…..I’ll look around and say ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco’.” (Herb Caen)

“San Franciscans are very proud of their city, and they should be.  It’s the most beautiful place in the world.”  (Robert Redford)