Luce Stellare ~ Starlight

A Journal reflecting on the softer side of life. A little mystical. Sometimes magical

DIY Publishing with Local Mystery Author Tracey Ryan

March 29, 2018

West Brookfield, MA

There is nothing as satisfying as a good read. Whether it is lounging at seaside with a paperback or curled up on the couch with a kindle, having the time for leisure reading is one of life’s pleasures. Characters in novels share with us the complexity of human relations. They invite us along as armchair travelers to new environments on or beyond this world. A skillful writer creates a story that only exists in their and our imagination, but is as alive as you and I.

Tracey Ryan – Mystery Author

Tracey Ryan greeted a small audience at Merriam-Gilbert Public Library in West Brookfield MA, promoting her first book published in May 2017. “Wicked Game of the Hunter” is part one of a mystery trilogy set in Hardwick and the seaport district of Boston. By day, Ryan is a Director of Client Communications at Fidelity Investments. The death of her father six years ago prompted Ryan to write this novel now. Ryan said losing him, “made me sit down and reevaluate what is important in life. Who knows what life can bring tomorrow. I wanted to do this.”

Book publication is a complicated business. The traditional route has been for writers to collaborate with someone in the industry that can help with the technical aspects of publication. A partnership with a literary agent can be one-step along the path. A publisher provides in house services with the goal of producing a book to be sold at a brick and mortar store. The logistics may include proofreading, line editing, content editing, cover design, formatting, printing and marketing. Upon publication, the author often agrees to help promote sales on a book tour.

However, the digital age has given authors a more direct route to sales with self-publication of e-books and print on demand books. According to Writer’s Digest, a popular magazine, website and support network for writers in all genres, self-publishing has a long tradition and includes notable writers such as Mark Twain, D.H. Lawrence, Walt Whitman, Jack Canfield, Stephen King and Margaret Atwood.

Today’s self-publication options offer writers the tools of a publishing house. The writer bears the upfront costs for manufacturing, production and marketing. However, they keep all income derived from the book sales. It is DIY for writers.

Phil Sexton, vice president and group publisher at Writer’s Digest recommended the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) as a place to find quality editors for hire. The website has an extensive member directory and job listing available at no charge. EFA webpage advertises that they can “put you in touch with more than 2,400 editorial professionals with a broad array of skills and training—the people you need for self-publishing projects; fiction and nonfiction trade books; website copy; magazine articles; advertising, public relations, and training and education materials; corporate communications; and more.”

Writer’s Digest, has a May 1, 2018 deadline for submissions to its’ 26th Self-Published Book and e-book Awards. The grand prize of $8,000 includes a feature article, a press release to major publishing review houses and a trip to the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in NYC.  They offer Blue Ash Publishing as a DIY product.  Software exclusively for the self-publishing market include Microsoft Publisher, Serif PagePlus and Scribus. Other DIY self-publishers include Book Life by Publishers Weekly and Bookbaby.

Authors with interest in DIY may benefit by joining the Alliance of Independent Authors, a nonprofit organization which will guide ambition and help ground Indie authors in the reality of publishing. The website provides a wide range of services and demonstrates the legwork involved in self-publishing. The writer needs to educate themselves to the possibilities and pitfalls of publishing. Sexton also recommended the Writer Beware Blog as the watchdog group that says it is “shinning a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls.” The blog offers a Thumbs Down list of agencies and publishers to avoid. It is time, talent and money at stake.

Ryan selected Amazon’s Create Space for her mystery novel. The 2nd installment of the trilogy is at the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington D.C. Ryan advocated authors obtain a copyright before handing over the work to a publisher to protect their artistic work. Her background in marketing and communication has given her knowledge of how to manage this area of book sales.

The most important aspect of writing is storytelling. Writing is a craft that is developed with effort and practice. The ability to convey thoughts into words that an audience can connect to is an art. Writers put bits of themselves into the story. Ryan said, “my dad is part of the book. It’s dedicated to his memory and how I can honor him for supporting me. The 2nd book has a large event that happens and I put yellow roses on each of the tables at the event because he sent yellow roses to me at the start of every semester at college.” Books are emotional repositories. In fact, Ryan is so deep into her characters and story, that she said they have taken on a life of their own. She said, “I don’t know who the ultimate murder is yet. I let the story take me on the ride.”

Tracey Ryan may be reached at

Published in The Citizen Chronicle, April 5, 2018: Local mystery author shares clues on DIY publishing




“Things Learned” – Reflecting on School Days in Sturbridge, MA

March 22, 2018: Sturbridge, MA

Robert Briere

Harken back to the days of elementary school for a moment. Along the road to adulthood, memories of teachers and events made an impression on each person. The classmates we shared our days with may have moved, died or drifted away. A few people can look around and see them still a part of their daily life. On a cool winter evening in March, Bob Briere reflected on his school days of seventy-nine years ago. It all began in 1939, 1st grade at Center School in Sturbridge MA.

The Publick House Inn on Sturbridge Common was the venue for the monthly meeting of the Sturbridge Historical Society.  A complimentary coffee and dessert table filled with scrumptious blondies, brownies and cannoli greeted members and visitors to Paige Hall. A crowd of 80 people gathered to hear a talk by Robert Briere, founder and 20 year President of the Society. The significance of the “History and Memories of Snellville School” was shared with the audience. Along with the history, Briere delighted the audience with his-story, personal memories of “Things Learned” in elementary school.

The Fiskdale section of Sturbridge was the focal point of this lecture. When manufacturing came to Sturbridge, it began in the area of Cedar Street and extended to Holland and Brookfield Road. The Quinebaug River flows through Sturbridge providing power to machinery during the industrial age. The notes for tonight’s lecture came from Brian Burns, “Sturbridge, A Pictorial History” with Briere mentioned in the acknowledgements.

Snell Manufacturing opened in 1850 along the banks of the Quinebaug River near Cedar Street. The Snell brothers manufactured augers and drill bits for industry. The mill workers brought their families and created the need for a public school. The Snellville School opened on Arnold Road in 1852. The building still stands today and is now the Sturbridge Senior Center. The school closed in 1958. Vivian Beeman, secretary for the Historical Society, was one of several hands that went up identifying former students who attended Snellville School.

The talk began with a ringing of a school bell and all stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

1st Grade – 1939 Center School, Sturbridge MA

Students learned how to grow beans by planting seeds in an eggshell filled with soil placed on a sunny windowsill. A shy girl named Leonie swallowed a baby tooth during recess causing quite a scene in the schoolyard. One day during recess, Briere was caught up in a scuffle and ended up at the bottom of a pig pile. He tried to rise with all the kids on his back and fell again. When he was finally freed of the other boy’s arms and legs, he fell when his leg would not support him. His leg was broken. The most notable incident from first grade was being caught whispering to Andra Shepherd during class and asked to stand behind the piano as penance.

2nd grade – Miss Maude Callahan

Briere introduces 2nd grade classmates

Briere had an eye for history as a lad. He said, “the nicest thing I can remember in all eight elementary grades was Memorial Day. 1st and 2nd grade school children visited the local cemetery and put a potted geranium on the grave of a Revolutionary War soldier.” The tradition has been revived and currently 30 graves receive this honor now from school children annually.

A photo of the 2nd grade class was shown to the audience. Briere was able to comment on a majority of the 26 children from the photograph taken in 1940. Members of the class include Robert Miner, Nat Curboy, Richard Schmidt, Charles Price, Holly Estabrook, Eunice Miner, Susan Parker, Andra Shepherd, Olivo Garceau, Robert Briere, Paul Biran, Arthur Biran, Jane Dickenson, Robert Crocker, and Arnold Simpson among the photos.

3rd grade – Miss Nelson

The events of the day intruded into daily life in the quiet village. Air raid drills were practiced in Miss Nelson’s class, as World War II was raging overseas. Briere recalled when President Franklin Roosevelt died and school was closed for the day. Ms. Nelson is best remembered for her’39 light green Ford Coupe. Briere said, “Not many families at the time owned a car let alone a swanky one like that.”

4th grade – Miss Kelly

Vivian Beeman spoke of the longevity of several public school teachers. Not only did she have class with Miss Kelly, but also so did her mother. Doris (Lacasse) Malowski knew Miss Kelly as the Principal of the school. Vivian’s children also had Miss Kelly as a substitute teacher. She taught three generations of one family.

5th grade – Miss Anastasia Zolosky was nicknamed the mad Russian

6th grade – Miss Irene Calahan

Briere lit up when he read her name, “she was the nicest teacher in the elementary school. Always had a smile and listened to her children.”

7th grade – Mrs. Shepherd

Andra’s stepmother and the toughest teacher of all.

8th grade – Miss Elizabeth P. Richardson

With the mention of her name, a stir went through the crowd. Miss Richardson said she taught at a Girls Reformatory School prior to her tenure at Snellville. She was known for her purple hair that flies loved to nest in it.  In those days, the windows had no screens and a mild day brought them into the classroom attracted to the scent of her hairspray. Voices of the audience shared a nickname or two and even an old joke about her visit with St. Peter at heaven’s gate.

One of the children lost their home to a fire during the school day. The smell of smoke blew into the classrooms drawing all eyes to the windows to see the activity.

A music teacher from Charlton playing the piano. The boys in the back row figured out that if they moved their legs in unison, thumping lightly on the floorboards while the piano was playing, they could move a flower vase on the piano top. The kids would watch the vase move on the surface to the tipping point of falling off the piano. The teacher would move it back. The boys would get it moving again. She never knew it was them.

Adrien “Jake” Mathieu holding “Sturbridge: A Pictorial History.”

Audience members joined the conversation sharing nicknames and anecdotes of the days. Briere said, “Arthur was Archie; Leodore Menard was Chick; Richard Sheldon was Toot (rhymes with foot) because once at Boy Scout camp someone asked him a question and his answer was quite muffled. The person asked what he said and his answer was cookie crumbs however, it came out as tootie cwumbs. Forever after he was called toot. My nickname, for which I have no idea where it came from, was Boo. In the Air Force, I guess my friends had trouble with Briere so it was Breezy, a name which 62 years later, correspondence is still addressed as to Breezy.”

The habit of nicknames continued into the neighborhood. Briere said, “In Fiskdale tradesmen were called by their vocation as part of their name: A house painter was called, Vic the Dauber. The barber was Bill the Barber. Quite possible no one knew their family name.”

One of the most charming moments of the evening came with the description of day-to-day activities in the elementary school. After a study break, children where tasked with washing their cups at the hand pump faucet. If a girl and boy were sweet on each other, an exchange of cups was a sign of affection.

Andra Shepherd has since moved to Australia with her family. Despite the distance, Andra and Bob continue their friendship begun in 1st grade. Briere said, “We have been good friends all through the years and she has always had a love for Sturbridge. She keeps up with happenings through our e-mails. I have not seen her in possibly 40 years. Good friendships are like that.”

The meeting was recorded for broadcast on Channel 192 Sturbridge Community Public Access TV.

Contact information for the Sturbridge Historical Society
Robert Briere
Phone 508 347 3788.

Published in the Citizen Chronicle, April 4, 2018: Briere reflects on “Things Learned” in local school days

White Flowered Shade Gardens

March 25, 2018

Brookfield, MA

Paul Steen

On Sunday afternoon, Brookfield Garden Club members and visitors filled Fellowship Hall in the Brookfield Congregational Church to talk about the upcoming gardening season.  The day was cool with a sun chasing around the clouds trying to melt the snow off a winter weary landscape. This month’s topic stirred the dormancy out of gardeners with a discussion on “Designing a Multi-Season Shade Garden” by Sturbridge resident Paul Steen.

Steen is a Certified Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. He also is a volunteer on the Master Gardeners call in Help line. Steen presented a selection of shade perennial plants for a blooming garden from March through November. A Q&A followed the hour-long presentation on everything from how to feed rhododendrons to fertilizer ratios for plants different needs throughout the growing season.

Steen recommended the text, “Taylor’s 50 Perennials for Shade” by Frances Tenenbaum. The book provides comprehensive charts on perennial plants, preferred shade level, soil conditions, height, and months in bloom. Because of the wide variety of plants, Steen focused on white flowering perennials. White flowers are attractive against the different shapes and textures the foliage will grow. The colors are not diluted in the shade and draw the eye into the more densely shaded garden areas.

Shade gardens will benefit from accurately measuring the amount of shade with a tool called: SunCalc Sunlight Calculator. The device will determine the amount of sun or shade in an area of a garden. The amount of sun light will influence the health and longevity of the plantings preferred habitat. Placing a climbing rose-bush in full shade will inhibit the plant’s growth and ability to blossom. However, a crested white iris in the same location may thrive and produce healthy growth flowering yearly.

The types of shade are: Full shade – no direct sun. Part Shade 2 – 4 hours of sun a day. Part Sun 4 – 6 hours of sun a day. Full Sun 6+ hours of sun per day. In New England, the sun is never directly overhead. Our hardiness zones in Central Mass range from Zone 4 – 5. Gardeners are taking a chance on a plant labelled Zone 6.

Bridal Veil White Astilbe

The suggested white flowering perennials are:

February thru March: Winter Heathers and Hellebore

April to June: Spring bulbs of snowdrops, snow crocus, and winter aconite

Perennials of Crested Iris, Snowdrop anemone, Woodruff, White Meadow Rue, Lily of the Valley, Fuller’s White Phlox and white bleeding heart.

July to August: Snakeroot and White Nancy

September thru October: Liriope, Toad lily and Turtleheads.

At this time, of year, most gardeners have itchy fingers eager to be in the soil. Many a windowsill and greenhouse have annual and vegetable seedlings started. As the snow melts away, gardeners look for the first signs of crocus to appear. The spring birds are returning and animals awaking from dormancy. Another winter is passing. Welcome the turn of the Earth towards longer daylight hours and fresh breezes full of promise.

The Master Gardeners of Massachusetts offers two public helplines

The Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Wednesdays from 12-4
Phone: 508-869-6111 x104
Email at:

The Mass Hort Elm Bank Help Line hours:

April through October:
Monday • Wednesday • Friday, 10 AM to 2 PM

March and November:
Wednesday • Friday, 10 AM to 2 PM

December through February:
Wednesday only, 10 AM to 2 PM
CALL: 617-933-4929
Email at:

Recommended local garden centers include:

Bemis Nursery
29 N Brookfield Road
Spencer MA

Spencer Greenery
52 N Spencer Road (Rte. 9)
Spencer MA

Lamoreux Greenhouses
9 Schoolhouse Cross Road
Brookfield, MA

Variegated Gardens
245 Westford Road
Eastford, CT

As published in the Citizen Chronicle – Master Gardener Talks about Multi Season Shade Garden

Days of Spring

Spring is a welcome thought today. Every week, old man winter plays the grump and stomps us down with another storm blowin’ in this March.

Spring is shedding horsehair all over my coat.

Spring is the woodpecker drilling away at the tall oak tree.

Spring is the promise of better days ahead.

Spring is the house cats moving from the east to the south window in search of deep, loving sunbaths.

Spring is an old friend.

Spring is the scuffle of skunks in the woods. It’s the aroma of fox scenting the wood paths in search of a mate.

Spring is most welcome today.

All hail the turn of the earth.

MA leads the Nation in Strictest Gun Laws

Brookfield, MA – March 11, 2018

On a quiet, sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-March, the Brookfield Inn Bed & Breakfast opened it’s hearth room to a public conversation with Brookfield Police Chief Michael Blanchard. About 50 residents participated in a two-hour Q&A exchange covering topical issues on guns, gun laws and school safety in Massachusetts.

According to Chief Blanchard, Massachusetts has the strictest gun laws in the nation on who can carry, how to purchase and issuance of gun licenses. He said, “I am very confident in the laws in MA. The rest of the country can do a lot by coming up to our standards.” Gun related deaths, are some of the lowest in the nation with 3.13 per 100,000 due to suicide or accidental discharge of a fire arm. The homicide rate of gun deaths is 1.9 per 100,000. The CDC reported 213 firearm deaths in Massachusetts in 2015. Gun licensing is on the rise in the state with a 66% increase since 2010. Approximately 1 in 14 people own a gun in Massachusetts. In 2016, gun licensing rose another 7%.

Local police have control of who is issued a gun permit. The Chief continued, “however, there are some things that can be improved, especially how mental health concerns are made known to local law enforcement.” Information on a person that is confined for 72 hour emergency restraint and hospitalization because they threatened to harm themself or others is not available (MGL Chapter 123 Section 12), Chief Blanchard said “if the incident occurred in North Adams, it is not a searchable record for law enforcement. This information can help in the determination of suitability to issue a firearms license. He said this area could be tightened up.”

Concern about gun violence at schools was addressed. The Chief said, “It is mandatory that public schools have four fire drills per school year. It is not mandatory to hold active shooter drills at this time.” Local law enforcement is proactive in training teachers, staff, students and parents on what to do in the event of an incident of gun violence. The Chief said “I would be a fool if I stood up here and said it is never going to happen here. This can happen anywhere. That is why we conduct ALICE drills, to minimize the number of casualties. Somebody is going to die. Our job is to prevent casualties. Being prepared as possible is the best way.” ALICE an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate is the training technique often used for public school safety. One question was asked about arming teachers in schools. The Chief said, “if the problem is guns, people who want to add guns to the situation. I don’t think that’s a good idea at this time. I don’t see that as a solution.”

Blanchard explained the steps necessary for residents wanting to legally have a gun. The first is to attend a Massachusetts Firearm Safety Class certified by both the NRA and MA State Police. Not only will residents learn about the laws and consequences of possessing firearms, but how to safely store guns in the home. There are two permits issued by local police. A License to Carry (LTC), commonly called a pistol permit for a hand and long gun. The second permit is a Firearms Identification Card (FID) for a long gun only (rifle or shotgun).

No matter what type of permit is being sought, the applicant must apply to their local police station. A background check will be run as well as an in-house investigation to determine the suitability of issuance. The police chief or sergeant will conduct a personal interview and may check references. The applicant will receive an answer in 40 days. If denied, the applicant can appeal it to a judge with a decision made in 90 days. Both an FID and LTC expire in six years.

Residents must be 15 or older to apply for a FID with parental permission. However, long guns cannot be legally sold to anyone under 18. The website page on Gun Ownership says, “By state law, anyone 18 years of age or older must have a government issued Basic Hunter Education certificate, from any jurisdiction, in order to qualify for their first ever hunting or sporting license in Massachusetts.” The courses are offered at MassWildlife Offices throughout the commonwealth.

Major gun retailers in Massachusetts such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cabelas or Bass Pro Shops will not allow anyone to examine a gun without having the TLC or FID in hand. Blanchard stated, “Dick’s Sporting Goods will not sell a long gun to anyone under 21.”

Gun laws are complex. Any gun that leaves one pair of hands and is transferred to another must be reported in Massachusetts. If the gun was bought at a private sale, gun show or out of state, the owner must report the transaction. If the gun is inherited, stolen or lost, it must also be reported. Massachusetts law requires all gun owners to report ALL private sales, transfers, and surrenders of firearms via the Massachusetts Gun Transaction Portal. The Massachusetts Firearms Records Bureau catalogues the make, model, serial number and caliber of the gun. The seller and buyer information are recorded. It is unlawful to transfer a gun from an unlicensed owner. This creates a searchable data base for law enforcement to trace the movement of guns.

The public meeting was organized by Brookfield Indivisible. Chair, Trudy O’Connell, said the purpose was to educate residents about the facts of gun laws in Massachusetts. The Brookfield Inn, owned by Paul and Melissa Puliafico is located at 8 West Main Street (Route 9) near the Town Common in Brookfield MA

Published in Citizen Chronicle March 13, 2018 – Blanchard: More states should match Bay State gun laws

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