Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie

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On the Lookout for Guest Authors

Do you have a story to share?  An excerpt from your next great American novel?  Tips for fledgling (or even seasoned) writers?  What have you learned about editors, query letters, traditional vs. alternative publishing venues?

Roads Diverged is accepting guest posts on these and other writing-related topics.  To submit, just leave a comment and we’ll connect.  The more we connect, the more our readerships grow and the more opportunities for all.

That said, here are a few ground rules and guide lines. First, you don’t need to be a professional writer or have the publishing “big boys” banging down your door to post at Roads Diverged.  Just a passion for writing and the desire to learn and share.  If accepted, your post will include a byline and a link to your blog or website as applicable.
Submission guidelines:

  1. I prefer content that’s fresh and original.  That is, content that hasn’t been previously published elsewhere.
  2. Yours truly is partial to “short and sweet.”  Stories should be between 300 – 500 words.   (Tip: humorous and/or true-life “slice of life” vignettes as well as travel stories always catch my eye!) A longer post may be accepted if I really, really like it.
  3. If your post is accompanied by an original photo or two, so much the better!
  4. I do not accept anonymous posts.  You may use a pen name if desired, but it must be specified as such and your real name must accompany your submission (withheld from publication upon request).
  5.  This blog is G-rated.  I reserve the right to reject any submission, for any reason.  Likewise, posts that include links or references to sites that are not G-rated or include spam and viruses will not be accepted
  6.  There is no compensation for any posts.  As in, zip.  Your “compensation” is boosted traffic and exposure for your work.  Roads Diverged is connected to LinkedIn and Twitter.  I’m also on Facebook.   You are encouraged to promote your submission via your own social network.  More exposure for Roads Diverged means more exposure for you.

Ready? Set? Go to the comment section below. Type “I’m in.” I’ll get back to you.



Guest Post: ‘Why You Should Never Skimp on Editing Services’

How Professional Editors Can Help

cropped-writing-photo.jpg          Professional editors became editors for a reason: they want to make better, grammatically-accurate content. They want to help writers reach their goals and love to take weak sentences and polish them into a shine. Professional editors know the market, what sells and what doesn’t, what their readers want to know about, and what style of content best suits their needs. If you’re self-publishing your novel, an investment you should not try to skimp on is editing.

When you become too familiar with your work, you can glaze over obvious errors, miss key plot mistakes, and end up publishing work that lacks readability. A professional editor can look at your work from an outsider’s perspective. They can see what you’re trying to achieve and help you reach it while also helping make it sell to readers. Their experience and knowledge is honestly, invaluable. They see cracks that you may not and their services are worth the high dollar they charge.

Why You Should Pay the Most You Can for the Best Editor

Low-balling or offering less money than you should for editors will show in your work. If you grab a freelance editor that will read your novel for $20, they won’t spend the necessary time to understand it and will give you bad advice. You may save money in the short-term, but your work will for sure suffer.

A great editor is worth the cost because of their reading and editing skills. You can read your work 100 times and still miss the spelling mistake on page 125. They understand where you need changes, what should be cut that doesn’t forward the story, and know the market. If you can only afford $200 for a good editor, make sure they have the best skills available. You want to have someone who will work with you to change your work into something great. You want an editor you can feel comfortable asking stupid questions to that you know will give you the right answers. Someone you can continue to use for any writing you have in the future. Editing really can change your story from a great promise to a throw away.

Online Proofreaders for Penny Pinchers

Money may be tight for you right now and hiring a good editor is out of reach. There are free proofreading tools, such as Grammarly, that find mistakes in your work while teaching you how to overcome your most common errors. Although it doesn’t cost a dime, Grammarly provides top tier services to writers. It can check for plagiarism, grammar, punctuation, offer stylistic changes, teach you how to avoid mistakes, and teach you new writing techniques. It also offers a community for writers to connect through their question and answer boards. I’ve used the boards a few times and the response was fast, friendly, and correct. Grammarly offers everything a writer needs without the expense.

Editors are Here to Help

Editors want to help you and can push you to be a better writer. Many famous writers, including Stephen King, have been using the same editor for years. They find a good fit and stick with them. Editors also offer excellent advice on where the market is going, style, and PR. They can help you find the right people to promote your book while making it your best possible material. Cheap editors may not always know what’s the best direction for your material and they don’t offer all the same quality services. You don’t have to break the bank to get a great editor but you also shouldn’t sacrifice the quality of your manuscript over a few dollars.

By Nikolas Baron


About Nikolas:

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.


‘Training Sammie’

One of the purposes of this blog is to give new writers an opportunity to share their work and give them some visibility*. Every so often I come across an up-and-coming writer who’s a real “diamond in the rough.” Gib Check is one of them. That’s why I’m re-publishing this post from 2011.  Enjoy! Don’t forget to thank him in the comments section. (And thanks again, Gib!)

By Gib Check

           Can you better-informed cat owners tell my wife and me how to train ours? Sammie, our part-Siamese, was already house-trained when we got her, or so we thought. We figured she’d do fine with adjusting to our household routines. Instead, she’s had us jumping through her hoops ever since.

For openers, how does she know to wait until exactly 4:30 AM before she starts pawing insistently at the bedroom door? Cats are too dumb to read the time on our clocks, right? Yet, give or take a few minutes, that’s when she wants us up to start her day.


As I make the bed, she circles my feet meowing impatiently to tell me it’s time for our wrestling match. And yep, I said wrestling. Her previous owner also had a dog with whom he rough-housed a bit. Jealous of the attention the dog was getting, Sammie would join in. So, growling like a wrestler, I tumble her around atop the bedspread for a few minutes. If I don’t, she pesters me until I do.

Next is her water and food bowl ritual. Even if they’re full, I must at least pretend to add more, otherwise she’s displeased. Once I’ve made a big show of dribbling in more of each, she’s satisfied.

Oddly, she thinks using the water bowl is boring at times. Whenever we forget to drop the cover over the toilet bowl, she finds it far more entertaining to scoop up water out of there. Ruthie will head for the john, only to cry out a minute later, “Gilbert! Your dumb cat splashed water on the seat!” (Whenever Sammie is naughty, she’s my cat).

A glutton for being fussed over day and night, she absolutely hates it when we leave on trips. Thinking Uh-oh! at seeing suitcases appear, she begins sounding off and keeps it up as we’re heading out the door. She’s mollified not at all by our friend who cat-sits for us. Upon our return, Sammie scolds us unmercifully the rest of the day.

Contrarily, whenever her snooty Siamese aloofness kicks in, she keeps to herself as if our presence has suddenly become bothersome. During one of her disappearing acts, we realized we hadn’t seen her all day. Suddenly worried she might have escaped outside somehow, we spent until dark looking up and down our block, but no Sammie. Even though she could be a pain in the butt at times, we’d grown quite fond of our temperamental little critter.

Making a final search indoors, I heard sounds coming from behind a dresser set diagonally into a corner. When I peeked in back, there she was! While playing around atop the dresser, she’d fallen behind it and gotten trapped. Totally unconcerned, she must’ve spent the rest of the day catching up on her beauty sleep. Glaring down at her, I exclaimed with a mix of exasperation and relief, “You little goof!” Ignoring me, she nonchalantly began licking a paw to groom her furry face. Beautifying herself is also very important, you see.

Carrying her to the den, I showed her to Ruthie. “Look who I found behind the dresser!”

Blowing out her own sigh of relief, Ruthie laughed, “Can you believe this cat? Back there all this time and never made a sound!”

It’s clear her stubborn streak of independence has convinced her that our house is actually hers and that she can darned-well do or not do whatever she pleases. And so, is there hope Sammie can be re-trained? On second thought maybe I should be asking; is there some way my wife and I can escape being trained by her?

Author Gib Check

Retired from construction, I live on a Wisconsin lake with wife Ruthie and am finally exploring being an author. When I write about our travel adventures, I focus on the fun we have meeting people and exploring these places. I’m also big on hiking, biking, canoeing, and thrill to stargazing. (I keep hinting to Ruthie and the kids about a new ‘scope). But always, it’s the writing I love.

* Have a short story, anecdote, travelogue or “slice of life” piece you’d like to see featured on Road Diverged? Let me know in the comments section or shoot me a line at:

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Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing

Attention fellow writers and readers:

Check out: 7 Lessons in Self-Publishing I Learned in the Seventh Grade  by Mainak Dhar.  This guest post on David Gaughran’s blog,Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish and Why You Should, is a bit long-ish, but it’s well worth the read.  Plenty of practical tips, perspective and ‘food for thought’ here.

Speaking of which, have you self-published?  If so, what was your experience?  Positive or negative?  What are some of the pros and cons you’ve encountered in self-publishing?  Would you recommend this route for publication?

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Author Spotlight: Carol Stratton and ‘Changing Zip Codes: Finding Community Wherever You’re Transplanted’

Today we’re getting to know Carol Stratton, author of Changing Zip Codes: Finding Community Wherever You’re TransplantedCarol has moved twenty-two times and has a passion for newcomers, “as I’ve been one many times.” She says, “I started out in the SF Bay Area and now live in North Carolina.”

Carol has kindly offered Roads Diverged readers a sweet slice of her book via the following devotional excerpt, All Dressed With Somewhere to Go.  Her bio and contact info. follow. Enjoy!

Changing Zip Codes CoverRejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not

be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and

petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:4-6 NIV



All Dressed With Somewhere to Go

Out in front of his Bible school, David Weaver perched himself on top of a suitcase that held most of his worldly possessions. Even though he was sure he wanted to be a missionary, he didn’t have next semester’s tuition. Consequently, he found himself moving out of the dorm room and onto the school’s front lawn.

If it had been me, I would have been kicking the side of my suitcase, calling home to cry on my mother’s shoulder, or writing a very self-righteous letter to the president of the school.

Not David. A man of strong faith, he sported a large smile and a positive attitude. He had tried every other means to raise funds and nothing had worked. So he just sat outside with a grin, knowing God would come through with a miracle.

 Maybe you need a housing miracle. It might be selling a home and finding temporary shelter before you can move on. It might be an affordable mortgage. But whatever it is, know that God is paying attention. Even though heaven seems mute, He has not forgotten your need. But our part is spelled out clearly in Philippians: we are to rejoice, rejoice again, and rejoice always. After we do that we are to present our requests to God in a thankful manner. So let’s review. Rejoice, rejoice again, and pray with thanksgiving—end of discussion.

But when we are talking about a major relocation in our lives, it’s a very difficult thing to do. That’s when we bring God our “sacrifice of praise.” It’s a sacrifice because we have to give up our normal way of handling things—whining, worrying, and stressing. But to use David as an example, getting our attitude right opens the door for God to work. Want to hear the rest of the story?

As David perched outside the administration building, a lady from the office ran out to tell him they’d found him a place to stay. Two bachelors had a room in their house and David could room there for free. In addition, the house was right behind the school, within walking distance.

As he hauled his gear into his new home, the phone rang. One of the owners picked it up and with a puzzled look, motioned to his new roommate, “It’s for you.” Someone from the school’s office had called to tell him there was a job available and he’d better get over there, pronto. David explained how he was in a grubby T-shirt and jeans, but the caller insisted he needed to get there immediately. He rushed over to the employment office. Standing in line with other applicants, he felt foolish in his grungy work clothes among the suits and ties of the other young men. Suddenly he saw one of the interviewers pointing at him. “Hey you, come up here right now.”  Shocked, he walked to the front of the line. “I need someone in construction and see you are dressed for work. Can you start right away?David shook his head in amazement. In one day he’d gone from being homeless to landing a good roof over his head and a job. What an awesome God.

Today as we feel overwhelmed with a move, let’s remember God does pay attention. Our part is to keep a faithful attitude. You might try pulling out a suitcase and putting it by the front door as a reminder that God does provide.

Taken from the book: Changing Zip Codes: Finding Community Wherever You’re Transplanted

Published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas

Available at


Carol Stratton PhotoCarol G. Stratton has been a freelance writer and speaker for over a decade in publications including  InTouch magazine,, Kyria, Forsyth Women Magazine and the Grand Rapids Press as well as two anthologies, Writing so Heaven Will be Different (Wine Press) and Extraordinary Answers to Prayers (Guideposts).

She speaks to MOPS and other women’s groups about life transitions and personality temperaments. She is currently under contract for a women’s inspirational novel called Lake Surrender.

Contact Carol at: or through her website: ChangingZipCodes.

You can also find Carol on Facebook at Changing Zip Codes, or on Twitter at @CarolGStratton.


Interested in being  a featured author? Shoot me a comment. Tell me a bit about yourself and your work. I’ll get back to you by email. (Anonymous comments will not receive a response.)

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What’s YOURS?

Scrooge?  The Grinch?  George Bailey and Old Man Potter?  A Virginia family awaiting their Daddy’s Christmas Eve homecoming during the Depression? What are the holidays without stories?  What’s YOURS?

Submissions for this year’s Holiday Story Showcase are open!  Here are the rules:

– Each submission must be your original work.  Please include at the top of your submission (email only): 1) Your name; 2) A word count; 3) “Holiday Story Showcase” in the subject line, followed by your title.

– Length: between 300 and 1,500 words.

– Any genre. Stories may be inspirational, fiction, non-fiction, or humorous.  Just make sure they’re G-rated.  (I reserve the right to reject any submission, for any reason.)

– I’m looking for clean, uplifting, family-friendly stories that have been thoroughly proof-read.

– First-person narratives are preferred, but not mandatory.

– Stories can be on any winter holiday.

– You may submit more than one story.

– No remuneration, but you may include links to your web site and/or blog.  Winner and runners-up will be shared in my next newsletter.

Submit here.  Feel free to include appropriate photos.

And keep an eye out for my holiday-themed short story, Man in the Corner.  More later!

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The Little Candle…

My long-time friend, fellow author and pastor Cheryl Kincaid has a new book out, The Little Candle That Was Frightened of the Dark. I’m giving Cheryl and her book some visibility here because I think you’d either enjoy it yourself or know someone who would.  Maybe both.  Here’s the scoop:

The Little Candle is a family Advent Devotion that is prefaced by a children’s story about a baptismal candle who sits in shadowy place by a great Advent wreath in a church sanctuary. The candle trembles in the dark until he hears the Advent story told by each of the candles around the wreath. Each of the Advent candles represent the lessons of Advent and tries to comfort the baptismal candle by re-telling these lessons in the Nativity. 

The story culminates with an Advent family devotion which walks family members through the lessons of Advent. The Little Candle is written for children between the ages of three and six, but can be enjoyed by all ages.

Oh, and if you haven’t had a chance to grab a copy of my Thanksgiving-themed micro-memoir, Isabella’s Torch, download it FREE today!

Available in paperback and on Kindle.


‘Our Cute Little Killer’

By Gib Check

            Wife Ruthie is the bird-watching expert, though even I can tell the difference between, say, a duck and a woodpecker. One swims and the other doesn’t. In any case, I like watching the antics of our feathered friends as much as her.

This last winter I glanced outside and spotted one I’d never seen before sitting atop our backyard feeder. Robin-sized, with black and white markings on a pale gray body, it looked very striking. Funny, though, how it was ignoring the birdseed on the feeder platform. Instead, its perky little head kept swiveling from side-to side and down at the ground where seed had fallen onto the snow.

What a cute little birdie, I thought. Ruthie wasn’t around to identify it, so I just kept admiring it.

Suddenly it froze to stare at something below. A second later it swooped down, thrust its tiny beak into the snow, and pulled up a seed-hunting mole! The bird promptly killed it with a few jabs of its beak. Next it flew off with it to the island across from our pier. The bird’s line of flight jogged up and down with its heavy burden, but it made it.

I stood there flabbergasted. Then I was even more surprised to see this cute but homicidal little bird soon resume its perch on the feeder to find more victims.

Interrupted by Ruthie coming home, I rushed her to the window and told her what I’d seen. After laughing like I was only joshing her, she studied our little visitor.

“It’s pretty, but I don’t recognize it. I’ll go find my bird book.”

When I came home the next day, it was her turn to grab hold of me. “I’ve got to show you that bird! You won’t believe what it did!”

As we peered out at our pint-sized killer perched on the feeder, she said excitedly, “I thought you were kidding me yesterday, except it just now grabbed a mole!”

She laughed, “And here’s the crazy part! A squirrel ran over and tried taking the mole away from it! But then little Killer fought him for it!”

She said the two of them had a tug-of-war over the poor mole until the squirrel finally won and ran off with it.

Opening the bird book, she showed me that our mystery guest was a Loggerhead Shrike, a rare species that sometimes visits from the far north. Truly a killer if ever there was one, it preys on small birds and mammals. If thorn trees are handy, it impales its victims on long thorns to snack on later. This explained why no other birds were using the feeder. They were staying way clear of little Killer’s reign of terror.

Visiting friends stood with us at the window, all of us watching it on the feeder and hoping to see some blood-sport. Disappointingly, there was no savagery this time. Maybe it had already knocked off all the moles.

Since our squirrel had revealed itself to be carnivorous, we looked it up, too. Sure enough, we learned that yet another of our cutesy backyard critters often feasted on things besides acorns.

We always thought our backyard was a place where wild creatures peacefully mingled, but as it turns out, it’s a slaughterhouse. And so, dear readers, does all of this sound a bit grim? Then here’s a cheerier note, or at least it is for Ruthie and me; we sure won’t be plagued with any mole problems this year. Better yet, if you don’t mind a bit of bloodshed, maybe we could even send little Killer over to deal with your moles!

Author Gib Check

Retired from construction, I live on a Wisconsin lake with wife Ruthie and am finally exploring being an author. When I write about our travel adventures, I focus on the fun we have meeting people and exploring these places. I’m also big on hiking, biking, canoeing, and thrill to stargazing. (I keep hinting to Ruthie and the kids about a new ‘scope). But always, it’s the writing I love.

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“Tech-Save Us”

Roads Diverged is pleased to feature new talent and fresh voices from time to time.  Today it’s author Gib Check.  Grab a chair and sit down for some chuckles and “oh yeah!” moments with Gib’s humorous ode to modern day technology, Tech-Save Us:

            These days we’re always hearing how the latest technologies will save us precious time and make our lives easier. Great, but what I’d like to know is; what’s going to save me from technology?

My troubles began years ago at UWSP when taking my first exam, not with blue book and pencil, but on-line. Though knowing the material pretty well, I was sweating bullets because I also happened to be computer illiterate. Seated at the keyboard with my computer-savvy wife, Ruthie, alongside, I nervously fumbled my way along and was doing OK. But then I accidentally hit the wrong key and deleted my entire exam sheet! We managed to recapture it, but it was panic city.

Having It Ordering Me Around…

It hadn’t been the computer’s fault, of course, but I’ve been trying to come to grips with our increasingly high-tech world ever since. For instance, one day my van’s digital display suddenly warned, “Low pressure in tire # five!” This only confused me because I couldn’t have told you which tire was number one, let alone five. After stopping to do some air-gauging, sure enough, number five turned out to be the spare I’d put on and it was a bit low. But even though forced to award my van’s computer some points just this once, I hate having it ordering me around.

Some of these electronic marvels strike me as creepy, especially ones which talk. While we were visiting Connecticut, our hi-tech grandkids steered me into an automated check-out line at the supermarket. As I began sliding bar-coded stuff past the scanner, a loud and very eerie metallic voice interrupted, “ERROR! PLEASE SCAN AGAIN!!! Nearly scared out of my wits, I nervously complied. But again, the menacing voice told me I’d screwed up. Really fidgeting by now, I tried once more to obey the confounded thing, but this time I managed to shut down the whole system. When a harassed-looking clerk came over to re-start, she glared at me like I was some ancient relic from pre-tech times. The kids then demoted me to bagging while they effortlessly ran the items through. But to this day I avoid automated check-outs and go to human ones no matter how long the line.

Spaghetti Wiring and Tech Gibberish

When ready to hook up our new DVD player, I actually tried something I normally never do; read the directions. I was soon scratching my head over instructions like; “Connect  Y Pb Pr (COMPONENT-OUT) jacks to corresponding Comp-Vid. If using Comp-Vid. In-jacks (Progressive Scan), set Progressive to On…(I’m  not making any of this up)… Otherwise,  Progressive-Off.” Completely befuddled, I had to go to Emergency Plan B. “Ruthieee!!!, I yelled. Somehow comprehending this gibberish, she untangled my spaghetti bowl of wiring and quickly got our DVD up and running.

“Terminator” Telephone?

It’s no use my trying to fight these gadgets, either, because some of them, including my multi-function cell phone, are like The Terminator. They just won’t stop. While in water up to my waist raking weeds out of our channel, I’d forgotten the phone was in my short’s pocket. When I dug it out after its soaking, it was coated with drippy mud and looked very dead. With nothing to lose, I plugged it into the charger, while smirking, Well, here’s one gadget that won’t pester me any more, right? Wrong. It lit up and has run fine ever since. This set me to thinking; OK, it’s indestructible. With all its built-in functions (which I’m always afraid to try), it’s also smarter than me. Could I coax it into teaching me how it takes photos and sends text messages? If it decides it will, I’ll give it a break and stop taking it swimming with me.

Plan B

I’m clear about one thing, that to keep climbing this high-tech mountain I’m on, I’ll need help. Fortunately, we do have a great library staff that’s always happy to show me where to find “Computers For Dummies”. Also, our 15 year-old grandson, who’s currently building talking robots, can maybe convince me I needn’t flee from them. Meantime, no problem. I can always fall back on Emergency Plan B.

About the author:

Author Gib Check

Retired from construction, I live on a Wisconsin lake with wife Ruthie and am finally exploring being an author. When I write about our travel adventures, I focus on the fun we have meeting people and exploring these places. I’m also big on hiking, biking, canoeing, and thrill to stargazing. (I keep hinting to Ruthie and the kids about a new ‘scope). But always, it’s the writing I love.