The Last Bordello

It’s done. Finished. Inches away from publication. Whew!

Kindle Ready Front Cover JPEG_6175044

Madam Fannie Porter runs the best bordello in Texas. Just ask the outlaws she harbored and entertained for the weekend—Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch.

But when the gang rides off, Sadie, her best soiled dove, is left unhinged.

While the Pinkerton Detective Agency remains in hot pursuit of the outlaws, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union plans a town rally against alcohol and prostitution.

Neither is good news for Miss Fannie.

First, she will never give up a client. Second, while pondering the upcoming temperance powwow, she relies on her business savvy. She forbids her girls from attending the meeting and hires a pianist, the talented, yet virtuous, Meta, to keep the customers coming.

When a temperance woman is found murdered, Sadie becomes the key suspect. Now, Miss Fannie and Meta must discover the truth before the WCTU—or the killer—nails the red door, or another coffin, shut.

IC Blog Tour: Navigating the Writing Path

A big thank you to Clifford Rush for the invitation to the IC Publishing Summer Blog Tour.  Clifford Rush is the pen name for a husband-wife writing team who share 15 years in laws enforcement and write fast-paced crime novels. Learn more about them at


How do I start?

With my first novel, No Hill for a Stepper, my father and his story inspired me.

My second novel? A single image from a dream of course. The small chunk grew into the idea for a story. Then all I had to do (the “all” stated with sarcasm) was to pull out the mortar and pestle and do a bit of grinding (including my teeth when my frustration spills on my keyboard)


How do I continue?

I have no choice but to keep going. My characters tug on my sleeves and pull my hair. They want to know what will happen to them as much as I do.

I almost always write outside where there are no walls to confine me – not a noisy coffee shop but a quiet place in my backyard where the sounds of nature are my only background music.

My new novel in progress, The Last Bordello, is set in a 1901 bordello so research is a must. I love time traveling backwards so scouring the Internet is no chore.

Research, ideas and characters jumbled together, I start sorting them out like panning for gold then only choose the best nuggets.

(this is NOT my backyard)
(this is NOT my backyard)

How do you finish your project?

I keep going. My characters’ lives depend on it.

The Challenge?

Mine is wondering if I have chosen the right structure, the best POV characters, if I have enough but not too much poetic narrative and description.


If you love writing, keep going. It is your passion, your yearning. It calls to you and pleads for your attention. Hug it close.

Passing the Pen

And now, I am so inspired and excited to introduce you to the following contributors who will be sharing their experiences, challenges, and tips, on navigating the writing path from start to finish. Check out their links, and watch for their blog posts on Wed, July 23rd.

Diane Andersen holds a BA in elementary education and has over twenty years classroom experience in all grade levels from pre-K through high school. She currently teaches private piano, voice and violin while pursuing her passion of writing historical fiction. Her first series based on a historic site near her home will soon be available for publication. She also has written articles for local newsletters and a few short stories including one published by Walrus Press. She lives in Illinois with her family, a cocker spaniel, a cat and a rabbit.



Louise Redmann is writing her second medieval romance novel about what a woman will do to protect her daughter from an evil man. She also loves to write short stories and vignettes, some of which may be found on her website:

Now What? I’ll tell you…

For readers, one book closes while another one opens.  I suppose this is true for authors as well. However, No Hill for a Stepper is not only my first published book, it is my father’s story. Aside from the story itself, it is a reminder of the two years spent beside him taking notes and recording his comments on a cheap Sony recorder. It is a reminder of the trip we took back to his roots both in conversation as well as physically to Rotan, Ranger, Roby, Sweetwater and Temple, Texas. Although Dad did not live long enough to see the published version, my sister gifted me with a fabulous present. She looked at me and said, “This is a present from Dad and I.”

“Dad,” I asked. “Our Dad?”


And there it was, my favorite photo of Dad sitting on the front porch at our homestead except this time, he was holding a copy of my book in his hand.

After the book was published, I began asking readers to send me pictures of themselves reading my father’s story.  Not only did the photos make me feel proud, it made me think of how much my father enjoyed sharing his story with others.


So what’s next? An author’s pen is always close at hand. Meta, one of the central characters in my new book, was the first to introduce herself to me. Other characters have either snuck up behind me and tapped me gently on the shoulder or  have introduced themselves quite spontaneously, yelling “here I am! Put ME in your new book.”  Each time I sit down to write, I am eager to learn what they will do or say next. I have little control over these characters.

It is 1910. There is a farm girl who lives in a German community outside of Fredericksburg. There is a prostitute in a bordello in San Antonio, a thirteen-year-old newspaper boy with a rolled cigarette in his mouth and a wise great aunt. There is the madam of the bordello with her trusty assistant who is laced with spice and grit, and a young man with a deep scar across his face. There are strangers and connections.  There is murder.  There is innocence and guilt. There are lies and deceit. There is only one truth.

THAT is what is next.

But No Hill for a Stepper?  It rests comfortably, open, in the center of my chest.

There is Always Hope

     Erin Moffett was one of the nine participants in the “No Hill for a Stepper” essay contest.  It takes courage to write about difficult things but by doing so, maybe Erin has taught other kids that they are not alone and to never, ever give up! Here is her essay…


Being bullied can be an emotional rollercoaster for people. It also leads to depression in kids. A lot of people around the world have to deal with being bullied on a daily basis. This isn’t even limited to school it can also be at work or at home from your mom or dad. You also never know if the person you’re being bullied by has to deal with the same thing, by one of their own family members. It also can be over the silliest of things like the color of your skin, or the clothes you wear. I know personally how this feels, because I have been bullied most of my life.

Being bullied started back in kindergarten.  I have never been popular or all that pretty. When we went out to play in the play ground I never played with anyone.  I sat all alone at the top of the slide, talking to myself. I always had the feeling of loneliness, because I really never had anybody to talk to. I really didn’t have a so-called “friend,” I just had acquaintances. With all that loneliness I fell into a state of depression. That led me to tell myself that I would never have any friends, or that I could never amount to anything. If you never have noticed, when you walk into a cafeteria you see different kinds of groups:  preps, jocks, or academically intelligent kids. I have never been part of any of those groups. I have always felt that I needed to be popular or wanted. With the depression, I had the thought of killing myself. Then I thought that if I died, who would come to my funeral besides my family?  I didn’t really have any true friends that would go, and nobody would miss me. If anybody from school came they would probably say that I was just doing this for attention. Even back when I was in kindergarten, nobody would stand up for me, and even to this day, most people won’t stand up for me because they think that if they stand up for somebody else they would lose some of their friends. There are a couple of friends that I wouldn’t know what I would do without them. There is Blanca she is an awesome friend she holds me accountable for what I do and the mistakes that I have made even with the mistakes that I have made I know that she will always be there for me. There is also Kristie even though she doesn’t always care about what I have to say she will always be there for me to talk to. And last but not least Nancy she has been through everything with me I love her to death. If I didn’t have these people in my life I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. And I probably would have went through with killing myself

Having been  bullied I can help other people realize that they never know what somebody is going through, whether it is at home or at school. I have not had a good home life either, but I try to stay positive and look forward to the future. I learned with this that there are good friends out there for everybody. To help you with the depression and loneliness you have to find solitude in friends and family. No hill for a stepper means to me that there isn’t anything out of reach, always stays true to what you believe in.  Don’t ever let your circumstances outweigh your future.

A Witness to Domestic Violence

The following is from a first place winner in the “No Hill for a Stepper” essay contest.

            “I was blessed with the name of Brandy De La Cruz. For starters, though I was born in Perryton, Texas, I was raised in Oklahoma. After an unexpected tragedy, I was encouraged to move to good ol’ Rotan, Texas to reside with my aunt, Aida. Being the “new kid” in this small town was a life-alternating experience. As a senior in high school, my main goals include establishing Christ-centered relationships, preventing further damage of my GPA, and pursuing a career in the medical field. My mother was the strongest woman I knew and will forever be my hero. I believe her personal experience with domestic violence will prevent me from making the mistakes she once did.”

Violent Generations

            Witnessing violence between one’s parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next. As a family, there are many precautions that can be taken to prevent these kind of incidents from happening. In this essay, I will provide my personal account of domestic violence, the negative impact violence has on children, and the effective way to prevent such violence.

I always thought my childhood was average. I had a loving mother who knew how to raise her voice when necessary, a beautiful brother that often annoyed me to an unreasonable extent, and a step-dad that was nothing but kind to two children that did not belong to him. The trouble started with a subtle raising of the voice. This progressed to yelling. It was not long until the man I called “dad” placed his hands on my angelic mother. Tears welled up in my eyes as my baby brother tried his hardest to console his older sister. This was not suppose to happen to my mom and dad. This should not have been a part of my “average” childhood. It took many years for my mother to find the courage to make a phone call to the police. This finally resolved the issue that tore my family apart. My stepfather was placed in prison and the three of us moved far away to start a knew life.

Though the man was gone, the violence left a scar on my family forever. It was apparent in my mother’s attempts to establish relationships, my brother’s frequent misbehavior, and my desperate attempts to avoid the fate my mother endured. Domestic violence can definitely alter a child. As a school-age child, it puts them at a significant risk for delinquency, substance abuse, school drop-out, and difficulties in their own relationships. Younger children often experience feelings of guilt and anxiety. This leads them to express their feelings through behavioral means. The children can become withdrawn and non-verbal. They may also experience concentration problems and sleeping difficulties.

The only way to prevent domestic violence is to avoid abusive relationships entirely. The key to refraining from these affiliations is to become familiar with the warning signs of a possible batterer. Cues are present in the subject’s personality. These may include, but are not limited to, emotional abuse, threats of violence, jealousy, and an abusive past. Though many people consider abusive relationships to contain merely physical violence, sexual abuse and psychological battering are also common elements in domestic violence. If you are in an abusive relationship, you must get out, stay out, and seek help.

Because my mother was a survivor of domestic violence, I feel it is necessary to do whatever is in my power to assist in the prevention of abusive relationships. This includes presenting my personal experience of domestic violence, showing how children are effected, and explaining how it can be prevented. Though it took a few years, my mom finally realized that her relationship was no hill for a stepper; it was easily overcame once she set her mind to it.

For the Love of Tio Chango

John Flores is a Senior at Rotan High School. He is on the Varsity Center for the football team, and the current Valedictorian of his class. “My dream is to go to Rice University and Baylor college of medicine so I can become a psychiatrist and help people. Neither of my parents work as they are both disabled. My mother has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and is bedridden, while my father has severe back problems that require surgery.”  Congratulations to John for being a first place winner in the “No Hill for a Stepper” essay contest!  Here is his essay:

“It’ll get ya’ one of these days…”

Alcoholism is a very prevalent problem within society. It can also be down right devastating to the family affected by it.  Both my parents have been able to beat their addictions, but my uncle had the hardest time of all. “Tio Chango” is Spanish for “Uncle Monkey” , and that was my uncle Julian’s nickname. It was appropriate, because he liked to climb stuff when we was drunk, which was everyday. I grew up with my uncle being known as the town drunk, and seeing him beg for money to go buy another beer made me sick to my stomach.

Unfortunately, the years of alcohol abuse rendered his body helpless to diseases and infections. It took my sisters and I a whole year to convince him to stop drinking, for his sake. When he saw our determination, and the pain he put us all through, my uncle Julian was finally able to rid himself of his demons once and for all. He told me, on his death bed, that his only regret was not doing it sooner and not being able to spend more time with me.

After his death, I heard whispers around town, satisfied that the “menace to society” was finally gone. Sure he may have been a drunk and hurt quite a few people, but I was still proud of him. From the time he became ill and the time he died, my Uncle had been sober for almost two years. It was hard letting him go, he was like a second father to me, but solace came when I considered that he at least wasn’t in pain anymore.

Some people aren’t as strong-willed as my Uncle was. That’s not to say, however, that it is impossible for them to put down the bottle. Alcoholics Anonymous is the most effective form of therapy and is the number one leading treatment for alcoholics. It provides privacy, a safe environment, encouragement, and offers several tips on how to stay clean. Rehab is another way to help alcoholics free themselves of temptation. Rehab is usually a an in-patient retreat to a hospital ward, where they can monitor your progress more thoroughly. Finally, for those that couldn’t afford anything else, there is hope. As simple as it sounds, showing the alcoholic that he/she is hurting someone they love and that their family is willing to help could be enough to scare the alcoholic. Support throughout the entire ordeal is a must. This is the method that helped kick my uncles bad habit.

Without perseverance, the options listed won’t work . However, with the love and support of family and friends, there truly won’t be “No Hill for a Stepper”. Alcoholics just need to feel their support take each step with them.

Escape of the Everyday Yelling

Darrell Buratti is  a senior at Rotan High School. He plays football, basketball, and works at the grocery store. “I love to go out and have fun with my friends but I also know when to buckle down and get serious.” Darrell was a second place winner in the “No Hill for a Stepper” essay contest.                                     

“No Hill for a Stepper” essay contest – by Darrell Buratti
            Many people in today’s society have family problems. Family problems harm a child not only in their adolescent years; they can continue to follow them through their adult and parenting years as well. In this essay I will tell you the story about one of my closest friend’s family disputes growing up in the house with an alcoholic father and a deceased mother.
            On the outside Richie is just like any other kid in America, he loves to have fun with his friends, party when he gets the chance, and watch sports. His mother died from illness when he was only ten years old leaving him with only his dad rich and his little brother Chris. As the days grew on rich began to try drinking away the pain of losing his wife, which led to becoming an alcoholic. Richie has told me on many occasions how much he wishes he could leave his house and escape the everyday yelling and bickering that his dad dishes due to one thing or another. Richie thanks god every day that his father is not physically aggressive towards him or his little brother, even though they’re scared that passiveness will one day end. I find that Richie can relate to “No Hill for a Stepper” because he is on an ever climbing hill trying to escape his everyday life of yelling and screaming.
            There are numerous ways to try to resolve situations like Richie’s. One of the most common ways of family resolution is therapy. Therapy comes in all shapes and sizes, there are some families that choose to go to therapy many times a week; there are others that only go twice a month. Another big factor is choosing your family’s therapist. You want to find a very knowledgeable, experienced, and licensed therapist who has some family experiences of their own childhood which he/she can compare to.
Before you enter into your therapeutic sessions you should first understand your rights. Children under eighteen are allowed to say whatever they feel to the therapist without the parents knowing. Counselors are also not allowed to share any family information with anybody other then the family itself.  Some families choose to take a religious route when it comes to therapy. Followers of God usually find great comfort in sharing their disputes with a pastor or minister; church counselors can be astounding for great moral support. However, if you are part of the gay community then I wouldn’t recommend going to a church counselor for fear of judgment and shun. Gay families should search for someone who is understanding and knowledgeable of today’s modern cultural differences.
My beliefs on these different types of therapy are shared by many. I believe that therapy should not be your first or your last resort. What I mean by this is that a family should not simply decide that they cannot talk to each other in order solve simple problems instead of going to counseling. On the flip side however, a family should not wait until it’s too late. One individual cannot make the decision to go to therapy, both sides of the relationship must agree on the decision.

At Home on the Range

On November 3rd, I had the honor and pleasure of returning once again to Rotan, Texas to meet the participants of the “No Hill for a Stepper” essay contest and to award prizes to the winners. In my mind, they were all winners in one way or the other but I will need to expand that in a future blog. Each participant was given a free copy of my book along with my deep appreciation.

First, we had a reception for the contestants in the school library. Here’s what I told them.

 “The world belongs to those who show up. Not only did you show up, you participated and THAT gave us a glimpse into the high quality of your character.

 My advice to the readers of No Hill for a Stepper is to resolve issues early on. Your essays showed that you are capable of doing that. You are ahead of the game.

“No Hill for a Stepper” is the story of Cono Dennis, my father who spent some of his most memorable years here in Rotan.

But it is today is when your book begins!

Anne and I spend hours going over your essays and we enjoyed every minute of it. The hard part of course was determining first, second and third places.

Because all the entries were in the essay division, there is more money allocated for the prizes.”

 First prize is $100

Second is $50

Third is $25

And these will be awarded in a few minutes at the pep rally.”

(Cash prizes were made available from the donations received at my October book launch. Thank you for that!)

It was Friday night football, the last game of the season and for two of the participants, seniors John and Darrell, it was truly their last game at Rotan. Not only that, I learned that it was the last year of eleven man football for the Hammers. Next year Rotan will become a six-man team.

Moving on now to the Pep Rally. The entire school district, including the elementary school, entered the gymnasium. I was handed the microphone, stood at the center line and said the following:

 “I am here in Rotan, Texas where, in 3rd grade, Cono wore his first pair of boxing gloves.

In Rotan, where he chased a calf down Main street with his friend, Dorothy.

 – where he met Gene, his best childhood friend.

– where Cono shot his first bobcat and learned about bootlegging. 

– where he picked lambsquarter weeds for his mother to boil for supper.

 – where he learned about ranching from his grandfather Ike, a true texas cowboy.

 Here, where he learned not only about bullying but about how to handle it, and

here where his father was arrested in a café for stirring his coffee with the barrel of his pistol.

 Rotan, Texas is where Cono learned to love football as much as he learned to love the man named H. Govan, who called him “Kid Dennis”.  (everyone cheered at this!)

 Rotan, Texas, where the land is vast and where the folks sized you up from boot to hat, if, that is, they were lucky enough to own both.

 Rotan, Texas, where Cono learned to never give up, where there is NO hill for a stepper.

“No Hill for a Stepper” was Cono’s story about the time leading up to the age you are now. But that was HIS story. Today, I am here because of new stories. I am here today and to honor the participants of the No Hill for a Stepper essay contest.

 I would like to say to ALL of you. Today is where your book begins.

 And with that thought in mind, I would like to introduce you to to the winners. When I call your name, will you please come up to receive your award.

 For 3rd place :  Kyndra Vaught

                                             2nd place winners (tie):  Darrell Buratti,  Ramya Sunku







                      And First Place winners (tie):  John Flores,   Brandy De La Cruz








The crowd cheered while I felt overcome with emotion. There were many reasons I felt the way I did.

“A legacy” Superintendent Ruffin had told me earlier. “ I truly believe you can tell a lot about a person by looking at his/her legacy.    This I think reflects on your upbringing.  Therefore, I can say that your father was truly a kind, warm and reflective person.”  Yes, he was.

I went to the game and set up my books to sell to the Yellowhammer fans.  All the while, I was freezing from the weather only to be warmed by the kind folks that came to talk to me.  One man strolled by my table and said, “My boy won second place.” You could see the pride in his face but more so, you could hear it in his voice. I introduced myself and briefly had a chance to speak with him. “He’s a good boy,” he said. Yes, indeed.

The Rotan Yellowhammers won their last game. The scoreboard, under the signage of “in honor of Cono Dennis”, read, Rotan 12, visitor 2.

No hill for a stepper. And they were ALL steppers.

(Stay close! Their essays are coming soon and will move even the hardest of souls.)

A shock from the past moves me forward

Wayne and Elnora

There goes that universe again!  After all the hard work we put into the book tour in Temple, Texas, I was disappointed to see the low turnout for the evening adult event. But there was a reason and now I know what it was.

I was speaking with the few attendees about my book No Hill for a Stepper, a coming of age story about a young boy (my dad, Cono) who grew up with a brutish and violent father in west Texas during the Great Depression.  My grandfather died when I was five years of age, therefore my memories of him came only from those of my father’s.

A few minutes late, a man in his mid seventies walks into the Historical Railroad Museum, sits down and says, “I’ve been waiting to talk to you. I knew your grandfather,” he said. “And he loved his son.”

It is hard to describe my immediate feelings to his statement. First, I had never known anyone outside of the family who knew Wayne. I wanted to hear more, more! And I did. This man, Alton, often with moisture in his eyes, recounted his memories of the Wayne he knew.

Meeting Wayne  around the age of thirteen, Alton remembered Wayne’s notorious fighting abilities -how quickly he could pull a knife out of his pocket and have it opened before anyone saw it.  He talked about Wayne’s aptitude for math and his undefeated skill in dominoes. Since Wayne could tell his opponent three plays out what the score would be, Wayne never played dominoes for money with his friend opponents.  Alton told me of Wayne’s generosity with others (throwing a dollar bill out the window for the town wino) and of his dry sense of humor. And, Alton talked about the intense pain he was in from his spinal arthritis.

Most of these things I already knew. What I didn’t know was that Wayne was proud of his son and bragged about Cono’s intellect and his boxing ability. What I didn’t know, was that a stranger I had just met had given me a new perspective on my grandfather based upon his own memories.  Remembering his wit, kindness and intellect, Alton looked up to the Wayne he knew with admiration and deep respect. “Times were very tough back then in Rotan and in Temple,” he said. “Maybe he was trying to make damn sure his son could take care of himself, kinda like the song ‘A Boy Named Sue’.

Does my new knowledge excuse the way he treated my father when he was a young boy? No. Some of his behaviors were worse than inappropriate in those early years. But it does tell me that my grandfather made very positive impressions on other people and has reminded me that the core of his heart was not evil. Sometimes I wonder if, on that evening at the Historical Railroad Museum, my grandfather sent Alton to help me see his other side.

Had there been a large group that evening in Temple, the possibility of speaking to Alton would have been greatly hindered. But because of the limited number of attendees, I was given the gift of another person’s perspective on a man I thought I knew but who now I know even better.

A book launched Texas style…

Since I have “friends” now, I’m reblogging this post from 2011. It was a special day for me, indeed.

No Hill for a Stepper book launch
Carolyn Dennis-Willingham


No Hill for a Stepper was  launched Texas style with  James “Slim” Hand as our  special musical guest.  Singing the songs of Cono’s era that would have made Bob Wills and Gene Autry proud, the music was the perfect foreground for our hill country setting. What an evening!  The word for the evening was “surreal” as I saw the efforts of the last 3 1/2 years come to the end of just a beginning. I cannot begin to thank all of the attendees who supported me although I certainly tried! Plus they donated sacks of coins that I will give to the winners of the students in Bell County for the “No Hill for a Stepper” essay contest.  Payin’ it forward as they say.

To the crowd of over seventy people, my heartfelt acknowledgment of my father was this:

“No Hill for a Stepper”  is my father’s story. While my mother, during her lifetime, was thirsty for life, she spoke mostly about her present and her future.  My father focused more on his past.  There were reasons he did so.  First, because he wanted my sister and I to know how very different his life was compared to ours. Pat and I didn’t have to pick lambsquarter for our meals and we didn’t have to live in a dugout for our shelter.  But the other reason he talked so much about his past, especially in his later years, was that he had something to resolve before he died.

As many of you know, my father was very much aware of this novel. A pen guided my hand in response to the things he recounted to me. Dad talked. I listened and wrote and wrote and and I recorded. Never in my life would I have been able to make up his story on my own.

Cono is here tonight, along with my mother.  They are here in the photos and in the songs that James Hand is playing. They are here in my spirit and in my heart. Together, Mom and Dad are where all questions are answered and all things are resolved. They are now where things are no longer discouraging but instead, they are where things are copacetic.  

My father did not live long enough to see the final product. So Dad, here it is – the final product I told you I would finish. “If I  tell you a rooster wears a pistol, look under its wing.”

And then, my fellow supporters joined me in singing Dad’s favorite song, “Home on the Range,” loud enough for him to hear.