Menagerie – 13 Short Stories! #NewRelease @JoanHallWrites

It gives me great pleasure to host my friend and Story Empire colleague, Joan Hall, today! She has a brand-new collection of mystery, suspense, and contemporary short stories. But I’ll let her tell you about it.


Thanks so much for hosting me today, Jan, and for sharing your space to talk about my latest release, Menagerie. It’s a mixed-genre compilation of thirteen short stories. Each tour stop features a different story where I tell what inspired me to write it.

Like me, you’re a music lover. Summerwood is a contemporary fiction story where the male lead is a guitarist in a popular rock band.

Most of the time, I don’t have a title for a book or story until I’ve completed it. This wasn’t the case for Summerwood. I had a title before I knew the first line. It came about because of the name a housing development I passed while driving to work. One morning, I knew I had to write a story with that title.

The only thing I could envision was a young woman browsing a local farmer’s market. Character names, scenes, and the genre came later. The idea of the young woman shopping in an outdoor farmer’s market was inspired by an Al Stewart song from the 1970s, “Year of the Cat.” That’s all I had.

Summerwood is one of two stories inspired by a photo prompt. Many of your readers knew the late Suzanne Burke, and some participated in her weekly flash fiction prompt. One week, she had a picture of a young man on stage. I wrote a short piece about a rock star who’d grown weary of life on the road. After a lengthy tour, he planned to go home where he could unwind.

I wanted to expand the story, and it dawned on me Summerwood was the perfect place. I made a few changes—the lead character, Dylan, became a lead guitarist instead of the lead singer. That seemed to fit better for what I had in mind.

In the story, Dylan collapses on stage and has to drop out of a lengthy tour. He goes home to the town of Summerwood, where he rekindles a relationship with his good friend, Lydia. Dylan comes to the realization that life on the road isn’t what he thought it would be, so he ponders his future.

For the answer, I turned to a real person. The late John Defoore was a music instructor who taught guitar to many popular singers, including Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, and Michelle Shocked. In the late 1990s, he bought an old hotel in the nearby town of Mineola, Texas, with the idea of hosting a music-performing venue. He ran the Piney Woods Woods Pickin’ Parlor for seventeen years.

Story ideas often come in the most unlikely places and times. I never thought I would blend the name of a housing development, a flash fiction prompt, inspiration from a song, and a real music venue into a short story, but I’m pleased with the way Summerwood came together.


After Bodie’s announcement about extending the tour the prior evening, Dylan couldn’t even say his usual mantra. The additional weeks were more than he wanted to think about. All he could do was take one day at a time.

Tonight. If I can just get through tonight.

He was in the middle of a guitar solo when everything began spinning. The bright lights dimmed, and the music was barely audible. Even his instrument seemed foreign. Something wasn’t right. The last thing he remembered was Sid rushing to his side.


King’s. The Tower of London. Glass. What do these have in common?

Each is a famous menagerie.

While this Menagerie doesn’t focus on exotic animals, it does contain a collection of stories that explore various trials people face and how their reactions shape their worlds.

Survivors of a haunted bridge. Women who wait while their husbands fight a war. Former partners reuniting to solve a cold-case murder.

These are just three of the thirteen stories in this compendium, encompassing past and present, natural and supernatural, legend and reality. The genres and timelines are varied, but there’s a little something for everyone who enjoys reading about simpler times and small-town life.

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Friday Free-For-All #Influences #Healing #NewYear

Welcome to the first REAL Friday Free-For-All of 2023!

How has your year started off so far? For me, it felt good to get back into some sort of routine after all the holiday disruptions. Don’t get me wrong. I loved all the holiday activities and spending so much time with my daughters and grandchildren.

Now, it’s back to the real world.

I had one more surgery during the first week of January to remove another squamous skin cancer from my face. This week, they removed the stitches, and now it’s on to full-force healing mode. I am a big believer in all sorts of homeopathic and natural remedies. To help jumpstart the healing, I made a concoction of Colloidal Silver, Frankincense essential oil, Helichrysum essential oil, and Vitamin C Serum. Then before I apply that, I put a layer of aloe vera. I have several aloe vera plants around my house, and the juice inside the leaves is so good for the skin. This is my biggest plant. It’s given me lots of babies over the years. My granddaughters call it my octopus plant. It seriously needs a much larger pot.

After only two days, I already see a big improvement.

Now, on to writing in 2023. I finished “A Beggar’s Bargain” before the end of 2022. Of course, it’s a first draft, and I will let it sit for a while before I read back through it.

I’ve started on a new novella that will be part of a collaborative effort, which we will be talking more about in the coming weeks and months. So far, it’s going slow. And this brings me to a question for all writers. How much do you let others influence your writing? Are you a part of a critique group? If so, how does your group work? Do you meet in person or critique online?

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I personally feel that being a part of a critique group, or having a critique partner, is invaluable. Having a second set of eyes on your work can bring about new ideas you may not have thought of, or they can spot plot holes you may have missed. When we write, we see the scene in our heads, but sometimes those pictures don’t quite make the transfer from visual to written words.

That being said, how much do you let those who critique your work influence it? I’m curious. I take to heart any and all critiques for my stories. Maybe it’s my writer insecurity, but I’m always open to other ideas or different ways to put my stories together.

My main goal is to create the best, most engaging story I am capable of. I’m sure your goal is the same.

While on the subject of writing, my friend and Story Empire colleague, Joan Hall, has a new collection of short stories that releases today! So, congratulations to Joan! You’ll be hearing lots more about this new book over the next few weeks, but here’s a link if you want to grab your copy!


In the spiritual part of my life, I have chosen my word for 2023 and placed affirmations where I will see them daily. My word is Abundance. Here is one of the affirmations I have taped to my mirror.

Do you choose a word at the beginning of the year or feel a certain theme for the year? Another thing I do on New Year’s Eve each and every year is pull twelve Tarot cards, one for each month. It’s always interesting to look back and see how accurate they are. My card for January is the Three of Swords. Not a rosy card, as it indicates a deep hurt or sorrow. But I have faith in the process and know that all of life is not roses. There are also thorns.

We are spiritual beings residing within physical bodies. It takes a lot of effort and coordination to keep everything in balance. But we are not alone. We have help from beyond this dimension of time and space. At least, that is my belief.

Have a fabulous weekend and do something today that yourself will thank you for tomorrow!