American Banjo Camp (ABC) 2014: “Stories” and “passing notes” from a weekend in the “sound”

ABC 2014 Trio

Paul Eliot on fiddle with Peter Langston on guitar playing the original tune, “Bluebonnet” by banjo picker Mike Stahlman – Photo courtesy of Matt Jenson

ABC 2014 – Fort Flaggler, Washinton

The sounds of bluegrass music and the stories told in the lyrics draw me to this genre like no other.  At American Banjo Camp, the sound and stories stretch the imagination and emotions beyond a single genre.

Serendipity is the word that sums up my experience at this year’s ABC. This was my second foray into the immersive experience at a music camp. My first was last year at California’s Walker Creek Music Camp (Anyone interested can read my article about Walker Creek here).

The retreat center at Washington’s Fort Flagler State Park, located in the northern region of the Puget Sound is the perfect setting for harmonizing with nature, especially over a sunny fall weekend.  Along with over 130 participants at the camp, including professional performers and teachers, I found everything about the weekend to be fulfilling and memorable.  From the exquisite food, to the instruction, performances, and the new friendships, I’ve come away with undefined emotions that continue to linger.

It has been almost a week since returning from ABC and I finally realized why my jaw and facial muscles feel like my legs and quads tend to do after a daylong hike in the high country. It occurred to me that nearly everyone I ran across at ABC was smiling – all the time. I finally had to relax from the mile wide grin I’d been carrying around all week.  I’m just glad I know why it was there. Like the other folks at ABC, I’ll be planning to return.

There was one story I’ll share and it has to do with the sound that draws some of us to the music we love.  On Friday morning for those who attended the extra day, there were several demonstration sessions put on by the instructional staff.  The one I attended was “Singing with the Banjo.” The three artist/teachers who shared their talent with us I won’t name – everyone who was there will know who I’m referring to.  I’ll just say that their music, lyrics, and life stories were the launch pad for what turned out to be a transformational weekend for many of us.

What emerged from that intimate session follows:  One of the students sitting across from me was wearing a badge with the name, “Gilles” printed at the top.  Beneath it was a color drawing of a Swiss flag. When Gilles (his name is pronounced zjeel) introduced himself in a Swiss-French accent, he told us he was from Geneva. He said that he loved the sound of American old time banjo but had never heard anyone play it live – only recordings.

I spoke with Gilles after the session and he confirmed what I’d already guessed, that he came to the United States specifically to attend ABC.  He arrived on Wednesday evening and was to return directly to Switzerland on Sunday afternoon. If there were an award for being the most committed student at ABC, Gilles would be the hands down winner. I’m glad Gilles returned to Geneva having heard and listened to his favorite music played by some of the best musicians in the world.

To list all the specific experiences that left a mark on me personally doesn’t seem appropriate as I would likely leave something out or forget to mention a person who made my experience complete. Instead, I’ll just say that I left inspired and will pass on to others who are on music journeys of their own, that for those wishing to live the dream on 5 Strings, ABC is definitely one to add to the list.

For more information on American Banjo Camp, visit them on the web at:

ABC is also on Facebook:

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Interview with Susan Rae, author of “The DeLuca Family Series” and other “Romantic Suspense” novels


Interview with Susan Rae, author of TRUE blue (DeLuca Family Series)


Romantic Suspense Author Susan Rae

I’m so thrilled to have the pleasure of hosting this interview with a writer who has taken on a niche in the suspense and mystery genres and added some spice to to them. I’ve read two of Ms. Rae’s earlier novels; first was freefall, then I discovered ICE blue - the second of three from the DeLuca Family Series. I waited on pins and needles for the release of Rae’s third in the series, TRUE blue.  I must say, that I was thoroughly rewarded with some first class reading entertainment. My review of  TRUE blue is on this blog (reviews of freefall and ICE blue are also posted here).

Lucky for us, Susan agreed to an interview so we can get to know a bit more about an author with a flare for action, suspense, and tension, all mixed in with a little bit of romance. Let’s have Ms. Rae share some of her experiences from her writer’s journey.

Q:  I’ve introduced you as a writer, with a passion for a niche genre.  Could you tell us what best describes the genre you prefer for your novels?

A:  Currently, I write what is considered romantic suspense.  I enjoy writing in this genre, as my bio states, because it allows me to combine a gritty suspense tale with a passionate love story.  The challenge in writing RS is to intertwine the suspense and romance story lines so that both work together toward a satisfying ending (pun intended!) In RS, solving the murder/mystery requires that both the hero and heroine work together, often overcoming differences in personalities and/or  overwhelming odds, in order to save themselves and bring the culprits to justice.  Although I have to admit, my more recent books, including my latest, TRUE blue, leans more heavily on the suspense side with just enough passionate romance to fire it up.TB Cover

Q: How old were you when you set out on your first adventure in writing a novel? Could you comment a little more about why you write and maybe give us some background on your choice of characters?

A: Hmm…  I like to tell people that I write basically, because I can’t help myself.  Characters and story lines are always popping into my head—a story line can be sparked by an article I read in the newspaper or a person I see on the street.  I currently have at least four novels bouncing around in my head. The trick is to corral one, get it down on paper, and start fleshing it out. The other trick is to find the time for all those stories.  I’ve been writing since I was old enough to put pencil to paper.  In college I wrote numerous short stories and poetry and later did some freelance journalism. I didn’t set out to write my first novel until I was a young mother at home with three children to take care of.  That first one was an historical romance, but I soon realized that my real passion was for contemporary suspense.

Q:  You’ve managed to write quite a number of quality novels in a short span of time. How does a day in the life of author Susan Rae unfold?  Do you have a favorite time of the day when you are most productive with your writing?

A:  When I am in full writing mode, my usual day starts out with reading the newspaper while I eat breakfast.  I often find that stories in the newspaper help fuel my writing process. That done, some days I go to the computer and do a quick check of email, Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In. However, even though an author has to keep up on all the social channels, I try very hard not to get sucked into these. Other days, I will immediately attack the writing project for the day—the scene I will be working on.  I often start by writing some notes freehand which usually morphs into a dialogue between characters, where I hear the characters talking, discussing what is happening in the scene. Even if I feel blocked before this process, soon, just by starting with some dialogue, I’ll have half-a-dozen pages of scribbles that I can’t wait to get into the manuscript.  In either case, I am usually at the computer with the book document open by ten am. I’ll write for a couple of hours, have lunch, do some housework, and then get back to it again, not finishing until well past six o-clock.  I find I do my most productive work in the mid to late afternoon.

Q:  TRUE blue has a number of plot strings that I thought were tightly woven, which I thought you concluded with honest precision. To pull this off, how did you keep track of all the moving parts?

A: Yes, TRUE blue is my most intricate murder/mystery to date.  Keeping it all straight was definitely a challenge.  When I write a novel, I start by creating a chart where I break the book into Acts 1, 2 and 3. I list where I want the murder storyline and the characters to be at the end of each act; then I jot down the high points of each act. Now I have a road map to follow as I write the book.  Because I write suspense, I feel I need to know where I am going with the story before I write it, but within that basic outline is where the creative magic happens where the story and the characters take over.  The other important tool I use is the timeline.  For TRUE blue I had to keep multiple time lines, one for the murder twenty-four years ago, one for the current time, and another for the entire DeLuca family showing where they were then and now.

Q:  Your decision to connect the main characters with the story by employing the DeLuca Family ties and chosen occupations led me to believe you must have some familiarity with both.  Do you come from a large family?

New Medium Heartbeats Cover 200A: Yes, I do come from a large family.  I have five siblings—three brothers and two sisters, as well as over thirty cousins.  I find the family dynamics fascinating.  My husband also comes from a large extended family, mostly Italian. I love the Italian culture and I thought it would be fun to incorporate it into my first book, heartbeats, which became the first book in the DeLuca series.Cover_ICEblue_Galley-300dpi

Q:  The sense I got from reading the Notes From the Author, at the back of your novels suggested that you get your inspiration for the settings you use from the places you travel.  How much does traveling play in your life as a writer?

A: I think traveling, visiting other places, especially out in nature, fuels my writing spirit. My husband and I bought our first motorhome before we were married after being inspired by a friend’s trip to Colorado.  We spent our honeymoon on a trip to Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Park.  We have driven to New York, the Carolinas, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Canada and all the states in between. Our next big trip will be to New England’s coast and then perhaps to San Francisco.freefall-200

Freefall, my second novel, takes place in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine Forest and panoramic Door County. For TRUE blue, I was first inspired to visit Montana’s Glacier National Park by the pictures my son took during one of his visit’s there. Once I experienced its majesty for myself, I knew I had to get my characters out of Chicago and to the park to solve the mystery of Sean McConnell’s murder.

Glacier National Park - A setting in Susan Rae's novel True blue

Glacier National Park
– A setting in Susan Rae’s novel True blue

The background picture on TRUE blue’s cover is actually from one of my son’s pics.

Q:  I know that TRUE blue was just released.  Are you working on another project right now?

A: I have two that are fighting for attention.  The first one, Moonshadows, takes place in the Wisconsin Northwoods where Maggie, a journalist, returns to her Native American home to cover a story about mining which turns into so much more.  The second project, currently titled, Finding Emily, is a time-travel suspense which takes place on the New England coast (hence the needed trip there.) Teenage girls are disappearing from Walnut Cove. The Chief of Police, Zach Taylor is exasperated by the lack of clues. Then one night he is awakened by a phone call from his ex-wife—his daughter, Emily, is missing.

Q:  Time to lighten things up a bit – what is your favorite color and why?  Do you have a favorite food? 

A: You could ask me this a dozen times and on any given day I could give you a different answer–so much depends on my mood. But today, I will say red, because it connotes passion, anger, blood, desire, fire for all things and feeds the adrenalin rush required to survive and solve a crime. Ice cream is my favorite food. (That’s a food group, right?)

Q:  Tell us three random things about yourself that you’d hope would make us laugh:

A: I’m often way too serious? I love a good thunderstorm.  I enjoy golfing but I lost at least half-a-dozen balls the last time I went. (Honest, it was a really difficult course!)

Thank you so much Ms. Rae, for candidly sharing insights that readers and other writers will appreciate.  I’m looking forward to hearing more about the successful launch of TRUE blue, and your future adventures as an author who knows how to keep things interesting. You can count me among the first who will be reading Moonshadows and Finding Emily.

Look for more about Ms. Rae, her writings, and events, at the following locations:


Publisher Link:

Amazon Author Page:  Susan Rae, Author 

Susan Rae’s books, including all three  from the DeLuca Family series, can be purchased on Amazon and all other major e-book retailers.  Click HERE for more info.


To purchase direct from Amazon:

 TRUE blue

ICE blue




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When one’s discards become another’s treasure…

…and when treasure becomes art…

Portlander’s Robyn and Dave Stein have pooled their talents, finding themselves among a community of local artists who will be showcasing their wares this summer at the “Cracked Pots” 15th Annual Art Show this summer.  McMenamins at Edgefield is hosting a show of art created from recycled materials, 22-23 July.  The Stein’s Glass Garden Flowers will be among the featured pieces on display and for sale.

photo 2The story behind the wonderful garden decorations the Steins have been creating is as interesting as the pieces themselves.  I asked Robyn where the inspiration came from and she said,  “We have always enjoyed garden art and have some interesting pieces sprinkled throughout our garden (gongs, concrete hand, sculpture, bird houses, garden shed). I also enjoy crafts and love finding vintage items at yard and garage sales and thought it would be interesting to use some of my finds in a garden art project. Putting these hobbies together inspired me to embark on this undertaking.”

The Steins are no strangers to the creative arts.  Robyn has an extensive background in vintage crafts, boutique cuisine, and culinary instruction.  Her husband Dave is a Portland native.  Recently retired from a career in industrial products logistics, Dave has quite a bit of experience with his mechanical hobbies – one of them being an avid collector of vintage Motoguzi Motor Cycles.  Dave is also a master gardener and his handy with just about any project.  His custom designed hand crafted garden shed that stands in the corner of the Stein’s rear garden was featured in the “Oregonian’s” Sunday Magazine.

The Glass Flowers that the Steins create are a result of their collective creative energies. Curious as to how the idea germinated and blossomed, Robyn offered the source of such inspiration, ” I am always looking for new craft ideas. The Glass flowers were not an original idea. We met a woman at the last Crackedpots’ show, who used mostly ceramic and metal pieces in her flowers. We also heard about a woman on the East Coast doing it as well, and thought this would be a fun garden art project Dave and I could do together.”

photo 3

When talking with Robyn about the sources of materials they use in their art, she explained, “After I got the idea, I knew I would be shopping for plates, bowls, saucers, votives, vases, and other interesting glass and ceramic plates, all at yard, garage, estate sales and second hand stores.”

I was also curious as to the planning that goes into this style of art. Robyn explained further, “At first, I had a vision ahead of time, but found this usually did not work. It is mostly trial and error, mixing and matching, like putting a puzzle together. It is harder than it looks. Sometimes, one plate seemingly appears to compliment another piece nicely, butafter putting them together,they do not fit. Or I would never imagine some pieces together, but after stacking them, they are transformed and repurposed to a beautiful glass flower.

Being glass and fragile in nature, many of the pieces have become damaged or broken over the years, either chipped, cracked or scratched, and are no longer desirable. In some instances, they are thrown away or dumped, ending up in the garbage or ultimately in a landfill. Or they are no longer considered to be in fashion, becoming outdated, and therefore sold at garage or yard sales or donated to second hand stores, in hopes of finding a new home or being repurposed to a second life.”

The pieces that make up the Glass Flowers look pretty straight forward, but then I got to thinking, if it were easy, everyone would be making them.  After all, they are very attractive and produce a visual effect of being perpetually in 4

Given her husband Dave’s experience with designing and planning larger construction projects, along with his attention to detail devoted to a few of his other hobbies, Dave’s talents are the perfect complement to the Steins’ budding cottage industry of crafting the Glass Flowers. “My husband is handy, knows how to operate power tools and offered to help me put the glass flowers together. At first, he was going to teach me how to do the technical aspects, but then he enjoyed doing it and this became his area of expertise. My role is to gather the glass and assemble the pieces together, a job Dave prefers that I do. Sometimes I ask his opinion on what he thinks of the piece, and he gives me good feedback, but overall, we have clearly defined roles. We would not be doing this without the other… We jokingly call ourselves “Yin and Yang Productions.”

photo 1The Stein’s Glass Flowers  are still in the germination stage of a budding business venture.  Their art work is indeed for sale. The Stein’s Glass Flowers are available for purchase at Garden Fever in NE Portland (3433 NE 24th Avenue) and can also be bought at the “CrackedPots” show this summer. Otherwise, the Steins currently operate their craft business by word of mouth. You can email them direct at

More information about GardenFever is available at this link.


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Interview with author and poet – Mariah E. Wilson

Interview with Mariah E. Wilson, author of “We Walk Alone – A Collection of Poems”

WalkAlonefront (1)Every now and again, I’ll run across a piece of literature, or in this case a collection of poetry, that is so inspiring that the best way I can think of to share my enthusiasm for it is by getting to know the author. After reading each piece in the collection contained within the pages of We Walk Alone, I was treated to an opportunity to meet with Mariah and learn a few things about an author with a style all her own.  For those interested, my review of We Walk Alone is posted here on this blog. We’re so lucky to have Ms. Wilson with us to provide some insights about her creative talents, so let’s get started:

Q: Could you tell us what best describes the genre for the collection in We Walk Alone?

A: It’s hard to assign my poetry with a genre, especially an entire collection. Some of the poems have a bit of romance, others are filled with loss, some are silly, it’s a broad scope of genre’s really.

Q: You’re married with children and yet some of the poems and the title you’ve given the collection suggest experiences of solitude and in some instances loneliness.  Where would you see the inner themes of your work and the experiences from your family life collide?

Author and Poet Mariah E. Wilson -  Pictured with her family

Author and Poet
Mariah E. Wilson -
Pictured with her family

A: You can see my work and family life collide in the poem ‘Broken Toys’, which was inspired by one of my children. Being alone and being lonely are two different things. I think one of the greatest things we can teach our children is how to be alone, but not be lonely. There is much to be said about being able to enjoy the pleasure of one’s own company and not needing to rely on others all the time.

Q: How old were you when you set out on your first adventure in writing poetry? Could you comment a little more about why you write and maybe give us some background on any formal education you’ve engaged in with the creative arts?

A: I was in grade four and my teacher had the class write a poem for a creative writing assignment. My poem was written in rhyming couplets and though I can’t remember the whole thing, it did involve a nun, Al Capone and a bar, so it was pretty epic.

I write because I like to. I publish because it’s fun. There’s really no other reason. Sure, at times my poetry has helped me deal with things and process emotions when I’ve been overwhelmed, but I write even when I don’t need to, so I can’t count that as the reason I keep doing it. I keep doing it because it’s one of my greatest joys.

I actually don’t have any formal education beyond high school. I did graduate with honours and I do a lot of reading whether it be fiction or non fiction, reading helps. I learn a lot by reading.

Q:  I read my copy of We Walk Alone on a Kindle.  One of the first things I noticed about the various pieces in the collection was the unique visual presentation of how the stanzas appear to the reader. As an example, the poem “We Walk Alone” is presented in the first third of the collection and offers a reading experience, very different than what I’ve seen in other poetry collections. Since a Kindle allows the reader to select various font sizes, would you say that this collection is better suited to a printed version so that the reader can gain the complete experience you had in mind?

A: The only thought I give to font is if it can be easily read. I think the collection could be equally enjoyed in any format. I’d like to think that it’s a good piece of work that is easily able to stand on its own, no matter the format it’s read in.

Q:  I found myself re-reading some of the pieces and even trying out how they feel when reading them aloud.  Have you done any readings from this collection?  If so, can you tell us what sort of reaction you received from the audience?

A: I read all my poetry aloud, alone, in my computer room when everyone else is sleeping. I’m not opposed to the idea of doing a reading, but I have yet to perform one.

Q:  For a change of pace – When was the last time you said or did something that caused you to laugh at yourself?

A: I laugh at myself every day. I was taught from a young age “those who can learn to laugh at themselves will never cease to be amused.”

Q:  Tell us three random things about yourself that you’d hope would make us laugh:

A: I’m not sure these are funny, but they are random.

I’m a 31 year old woman who still has just about every single stuffed animal she’s ever been given.

When I was in grade 1 I got on stage with my class to perform for the school. We were all supposed to sit down on the benches, but I missed and fell over backward, flashing the whole gymnasium my underwear in the process.

Sometimes I watch movies that I know will make me cry, just so I can cry.

Thank you so much Ms. Wilson, for opening a window for us to discover what it is to be a poet with real talent. We wish you the best and great success with your collection We Walk Alone. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the successful launch of this collection and your future adventures as an author.

Look for more about Ms. Wilson, her writings, and events, at the following locations:


Mariah E. Wilson’s Blog

Mariah’s publisher – Writers AMuse Me

Mariah’s Goodreads page

We Walk Alone will be available for purchase on Amazon. Release date is 22 August 2014.  In the mean time – enter the author’s book giveaway on Goodreads


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Review: “We Walk Alone” – A collection of poems by Mariah E. Wilson

Five StarsYou’ll want to savor each one

Author and Poet, Mariah E. Wilson

Author and Poet, Mariah E. Wilson

One of the best things about a collection of poems is that the reader can enjoy the sensation of each poem in manageable bite sized pieces.  However, this collection provided a different experience for me.  I hadn’t intended for Ms. Wilson’s work to captivate me the way that it did.  I read every poem, some of them twice and others I read out loud – all in one sitting.

Ms. Wilson’s talents go beyond words.  There is a visual and almost musical aspect to the wide variety of pieces she selected for this collection. The title piece, “We Walk Alone” has a visual quality that caused me to read with a rhythm and pace I did not expect.  One of the other pieces, “The End of Daydreams”gave me an appreciation for the care the author took in selecting poems that fit together, forming the overall theme of the collection. Of note, there were a few other favorites that I plan on going back to read again.  Among them; “The Echo Remains,” a piece that serves as a reminder that memories can be bittersweet, and “The Ugly Ones,” which I thought would resonate with anyone who’s ever engaged in the creative arts.

I do not consider myself a connoisseur of the poetry genre, but I could tell right away that I was reading the work of an author who has studied this art form.  Her passion for her work came through in every stanza. When I read “The Sad Ones Are The Best,” I could tell Ms. Wilson must have been having a bit of fun with the technical aspects of her chosen genre.

If you’re a reader who enjoys discovering that written words have the power to evoke deep emotion, you won’t want to miss the chance to read from this collection. Nearly all of the pieces in this remarkable collection are still lingering in my thoughts.

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Cover Reveal: We Walk Alone – A Collection of Poems by author Mariah E. Wilson

Today we’re celebrating a soon to be released collection of poems by fellow author andWalkAlonefront (1) poet, Mariah Wilson by showing off the book cover of her poetry collection, We Walk Alone.

Words from the author:

The poems in We Walk Alone examine the journey we take in our head. It’s about the struggle to connect with people and the world around us.

Release date is to be determined.  The collection is being published by Writers AMuse Me Publishing.

I’m sure Ms. Wilson would appreciate hearing from future readers of her collection.  I’m looking forward to the release.  More information about author Mariah Wilson and her work can be found at the following links:





Writers AMuse Me Publishing

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Book Review: TRUE blue by Indie Author Susan Rae

TB CoverFive Stars

Cold Case Comes Alive!

The third installment of Susan Rae’s DeLuca Family Series is a fast paced novel with enough drama to keep me reading late into the night. Ms. Rae is a master of creating tension among the characters that I came to know and like. Joey DeLuca is a detective with a strong sense of dedication to his job and family. His wife Andrea is also on the force. What happens in the first chapters will challenge the love and dedication the couple have for one another.

TRUE blue opens with action and tragedy that coincidentally conjures up a cold case. When fellow detective, Mark Beattie is run down at the scene of a crime, the past comes to life with the recollections of another detective, Sean McConnell, who was murdered twenty-four years earlier. Megan McConnell was just a girl when her father was killed. She and her mother had disappeared to Arizona to get away from the tragedy, but when Megan’s mother dies, she returns to Chicago where family secrets come to the surface. The drama and tension between Joey and Andrea mount as Joey becomes more involved in working with Megan to discover the missing evidence needed to find the killer.

The plot threads in this story are excellent – just enough to keep the reader wondering what the connections are and still full of surprises at every turn, all the way till the end. Though this is a third in the series, Ms. Rae does a masterful job linking it to ICE blue via characters Angela DeLuca and Troy Deavers, who only play minor roles in this novel, which can stand on its own. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to read the other two books in the series.

I can’t wait to read more from Susan Rae – she’s got this genre wired!

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