Author H.L. Stephens

Finding "Courage" In the Face of Discouragement, Fear, and Doubt

Imagine, if you will, a battlefield strewn with the blood and bodies of fallen men with two opposing armies determined to destroy each other. New recruits are pouring in with every breath to fill the ranks on each side as the casualties continue to pile up. One army is small and disorganized, filled with the inexperienced warriors who have no idea what battle is really like. The other army is fierce and disciplined, able to out maneuver, out fight, and out last their enemy. A hill separates the two warring parties, and it is merely a matter of time before their battle begins again. Warriors on both sides prepare for it in their own special way.

In the smaller army are two men – one who is terrified and sick with fear; the other who is strong and boastful, certain that suffering will come to the enemy by his hand. The order is given to their ranks to charge up over the hill to engage their enemy with the hope that the element of surprise will be their best defense. Everyone knows the casualties will be heavy but it is an action that must be taken if there is any hope of winning the battle, much less the war. The terrified soldier grabs his weapon, says a prayer and charges over the hill, running into the jaws of uncertainty and potential destruction in spite of his fears. The other soldier who had been so sure of himself now finds his boasting challenged with the reality of the battle before him. He too charges over the hill, a little less sure of his fate.

Who is the bravest of the two men? Is it the soldier who was reluctant and scared but who ran over the hill because he knew he must if his army had any hope of victory? Or is it the soldier who talked a good talk but when faced with action was hesitant to go and yet went anyway? In my mind the answer is both. Both men showed a measure of courage, even if they got there from different paths. We often hear of great warriors throughout the ages who never feared death or the battle, and charged in where angels feared to tread. We have come to equate heroism, bravery, and courage by such classical models. The fact is, courage that is untested is merely bravado. Courage does not exist because of an absence of fear. It thrives within the realm of fear and is calculated by what a person does in the face of their fears.

It is easy to be brave and courageous when everything is going well. It is very hard to be courageous when everything gets suddenly very difficult. Life is full of challenges and hardships. One rarely has to look far to see them within their own life or within the lives of people they love. It matters little what the hardship is. You can see it in the life of

  • a single parent
  • a person with physical or mental disabilities
  • a soldier returning from a war zone trying to readjust to civilian life
  • a teacher with too many students and not enough resources who pays for school supplies for their students out of their own pocket
  • a family that is facing foreclosure
  • a person who has lost someone they loved

The list is endless. These hardships of ours come in so many forms, and each example we face in our lives demands that we make a choice as to our response. Do we run and hide in the face of our adversity, or do we stand firm and do our best to overcome it or at least wear it out a bit? That is where courage is born or is lost, in the answer to that one simple question.

I should know….I have taken both roads at various times in my life. I won’t bore you with specifics because the events matter less than the decisions I made at the time and the lessons I learned along the way. I wish I could say I always took the brave road, looked my fears straight in the eyes, and waggled my fist at them. But I would be lying if I did. There have been many times when the circumstances were too much for me. That is not to say later I didn’t face the same challenge and find my victory over it, but usually the triumph came after some pretty inglorious moments on my part.

I fell down and scraped my knees a lot over the years. More than I care to admit. I chastised myself each time, making the wounds inflicted in my defeat even worse and harder to heal. I lived in fear, self-doubt, and uncertainty for a long time. It finally led to discouragement…..the death blow in any great battle. As I got older (and hopefully bit wiser), something amazing happened. I gave myself a break and a teenie, tiny bit of credit.

I wasn’t perfect, but I realized I had some pretty amazing qualities and strengths that could be used to lift me out of the rut I was in and get me back on track to follow my dreams. I was smart. I kicked butt in school, and when I went back to college in my adult years, I did really well. College gave me a number of the tools I needed to face a variety of challenges that would come way later on. I also overcame my fear of failure by finding strength in something I was good at. I was likable and outgoing in school, so I pulled upon those strengths to give me the confidence to reach out to people I didn’t know. This ability was a boon for a multitude of reasons, including where my writing was concerned. After all, promotion is all about getting out there and meeting people. You can’t do that effectively if you are crippled with fear. I was very disciplined where work was concerned, so I used that strength to set up a writing schedule to ensure I would make consistent progress on my stories – both while going back to school and while working a full time job. I was creative, which helped give me a multitude of ideas to pull from when my writing voice went silent for whatever current project I was working on. I didn’t find myself with writer’s block because I gave myself the latitude to work on more than one thing at a time.

You get the idea. I went from being discouraged and feeling alone, my first book was published in June of this year and I am very close to completing the second book in the series.

I know there will be many more battles in my life; some of them I won’t win, but I also won’t give up if and when I do. I have come too far to turn back now. Like the one soldier, I may tremble at the idea of running over that hill and making myself vulnerable to a thousand different enemies, but I can take the leap of faith knowing it is the right direction for me to go in. I can be confident in my certainty because I found courage in my discouragement and will never look back again, unless it means I can help a fellow soldier make it over the hill too.

H.L. Stephens is the author of the Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of Jack the Nipper. Her book is available at most fine eBook retailers.
Follower her on twitter @HL_Stephens
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Kobo Came Through!!

Hello dear friends! I just had to share the great news with everyone. After 4 months of blood, sweat, tears, harassment of the technical department, and more tears, my book “The Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of Jack the Nipper” is FINALLY available for sale on their site. My business cards will now be completely accurate to what is printed on them. Hurray for technology, and hurray for tenacity when it fails. I am doing a happy dance as we speak. Thank you Lord for smiling upon me today! Happy Tuesday everybody!

Lady Jasmine – The Beauty of the Pitbull Breed

I believe that within the creative process of every story or novel, an author runs the risk of developing an affinity for a particular character; one which strikes their fancy or touches their heart more so than any other. Although my first love will always be Mister Marmee, who is the creative voice behind the chronicles, one of my favorite characters in The Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of Jack the Nipper is Lady Jasmine, a Staffordshire Terrier or pitbull, who is saved from the horrors of the fighting ring and helps Sir Happy Heart and Mister Marmee in their investigation.

For those of you who have yet to read the story and discover the magic of this character on your own, Lady Jasmine is a story of incredible redemption and love. Jasmine was born and raised under ruthless conditions on a breeding farm for illegal dog fighting. She was handpicked as a pup and trained to fight under the most deplorable conditions. Jasmine was neither cruel nor brutal by nature, and she hated every bloody moment she was forced to be in the ring. As the blood lust of her master and the spectators grew, Jasmine was faced with a choice. Would she allow herself to become the monster her ‘master’ wanted her to be, or would she refuse to follow the dark path that had been thrust upon her?

In the midst of her tragedy, rather than surrender to the evils of her world and become in truth what her ‘master’ had endeavored to mold her into, Lady Jasmine rejected the darkness and refused to fight. She knew it would mean her life, but in her mind and heart, Jasmine chose the right path. She wanted to be free from the torment, but most importantly she didn’t want to be the means or the method of tormenting another. Her decision was to be different – to reject the circumstances that were foisted upon her – ultimately leading to her true freedom from the ring and to the great love story of her life.
Lady Jasmine is saved from her situation as a fighting dog through a series of events and is rescued by a loving family. Through their love and gentleness, she is restored to health and is finally able to be the dog she was meant to be – strong, noble, loving, loyal, and true.

Lady Jasmine is in every way the epitome of the true redemption story. She comes from harsh beginnings. She lives a tough life. She is faced with the choice of either surrendering to the evils in her life or overcoming them. She chooses the later and finds a better life ahead. For me, however, Jasmine is more than just a redemption story in my heart. She also represents a story of hope for a breed group that currently faces impossible odds because of being misrepresented, misunderstood, and misused.

The pitbull breeds, which include the Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pitbull, over the last few years have been targeted and demonized in the media because of the unscrupulous actions of evil men who secretly breed aggressive versions of these dogs and use them for the most despicable ‘sports’ imaginable. Terrible things have happened it is true, but the pitbull breeds as a whole are being black listed because of them. In countries all over the world, breed specific legislation (BSL) is being passed that makes owning one of these breeds illegal, and families are finding themselves overnight in violation of these new, often loosely worded laws. Family pets that have never exhibited aggressive behavior are being taken from their homes and destroyed, just because they look like they might have a pitbull type breed in their bloodline.

There is a terrible irony to all of this because back in the Victorian Age, the pitbull breeds like the Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pitbull were considered the ‘family’ dogs to own. They were to the Victorian era family what labs and golden retrievers are to the modern era. How far we have come in our view of these noble breeds and yet how little we have changed in our treatment of them.

With Lady Jasmine’s story, I hope to offer the incredible pitbull breeds a representative that is worthy of them, with a heart and spirit as strong, noble, loving, loyal, and true as the breed standard has always been. And perhaps, just perhaps, as readers discover this incredible character, Lady Jasmine can help to turn the tide of opinion in favor of a breed group that is truly worth saving. Who knows, just as Lady Jasmine chose to reject that dark path before her, we too can reject a similarly dark path and put an end to BSL before it is too late to turn back.

Read Lady Jasmine’s complete story in The Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of Jack the Nipper available at:
Apple iBookstore (US)
Barnes and Noble
Diesel eBooks
Sony eBookstore

Why Mister Marmee And Why a Cat?

Any good writer worth their salt knows the single most important decision that can be made when it comes to weaving a truly worthy tale is the careful selection of the main characters. They are the foundation upon which everything else related to the tale is built. If the characters are weak, the story will crumble, unable to bear the burden of whatever action, drama, or comedic relief the writer attempts to add later on. It is, in my humble opinion, the elementary law of writing physics. If you start with a strong character, everything becomes possible.

You know the quintessential riddle – which came first, the chicken or the egg? The underlying principle behind it is, you must have one to have the other. The real challenge is determining which one of the two was responsible for creating or “hatching” the other. In the case of a story, it is often difficult to determine whether a story inspired a character or a character inspired a story. In the case of Mister Marmee, it was as though he sprang from my mind and heart completely formed into what he is, with neither story nor character creating the other. He was simply complete. I could see and hear him so clearly – his face, his mannerisms, his walk, his gentlemanly sensibilities, his particular accent, the way he gestured when he talked. Every detail was as clear to me as if I had observed him my entire life. I knew his heart and what motivated him. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mister Marmee was without question a marmalade colored cat.

Animals are amazing if you give them a moment of your time as a human being. They resonate to us, and if we allow them, they teach us a great deal about nobility, loyalty, trust, and unconditional love. Think about it. They can see and experience first hand the worst humanity has to offer and yet still find the capacity to love again when given half a chance. Look at the ways in which they serve humankind. Without degrees or training, they have the innate ability to heal the brokenness within us. They see into the very centers of our being, penetrate into our very souls, and love us in spite of what they find there.

I know there are those of you who are looking at your favorite cat or dog right now trying to see what I am talking about. You are most likely shaking your head because your precious pet is doing something embarrassing like licking their butt or some other wonderful thing they love to do when company comes over. My Pom loves to dig in her ear with her back paw and then sniff it like she is checking for infection. It makes me laugh every single time but it is not exactly the most glamorous maneuver. But before you poo-poo the idea of your precious pet being amazing in the way I just described, think about this.

When was the last time it felt as though your life was falling apart? Now, ask yourself….where was your beloved pet? Chances are, they were right there in your face, loving you, and letting you know that everything was going to be okay. Oh sure, they probably laid in your lap later on when you were feeling better and licked their butts because all was fine, but they were there for you when things weren’t. And how many times have you found yourself saying “It’s like knew what was happening.” I am here to tell you……..they did. Animals observe more than we realize.

Besides, what cat or dog doesn’t get into everything? It’s part of their nature, right? It’s just what they do. What a perfect foil for two consulting detectives like Mister Marmee and his famous dachshund detective friend Sir Happy. It absolutely ensures that they will be forever unhindered and underestimated by the people they investigate. After all, who would ever suspect a cat rummaging through the trash? Or a dog sniffing through someone’s belongings?

So now you know why Mister Marmee is who he is and why he is a cat. Because in real life, some of the greatest characters we know are the pets we live with each day.

To purchase your eBook copy of “The Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of Jack the Nipper” for Kindle readers and Kindle apps through Amazon,

To purchase your eBook copy of “The Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of Jack the Nipper” for most other eBook readers (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, others) through,

Samples are downloadable from both locations. Happy reading!

The Day Has Finally Come……Now What?

Well my friends, it is official! “The Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of Jack the Nipper” has finally been published in an eBook format. On June 3, 2012 the manuscript was accepted by Smashwords and on June 5, 2012 the manuscript was accepted by Amazon for Kindle. Now that this day has arrived, I have discovered my list of tasks and responsibilities has only gotten longer. Now I am faced with the daunting task of marketing not only the book but myself as an author. For me, that’s the hard part…..selling myself. Mister Marmee and the other characters I can talk about all day. I guess I need to get to know myself a little bit better and fast. I wonder if the speed dating approach will help. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, enjoy the fruits of my labors. I toiled long and hard to bring them to harvest.

To purchase your eBook copy of “The Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of Jack the Nipper” for Kindle readers and Kindle apps through Amazon,

To purchase your eBook copy of “The Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of Jack the Nipper” for most other eBook readers (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, others) through,

Samples are downloadable from both locations. Happy reading!

And Now The Fun Begins…

I find myself tonight with a sense of wakeful excitement with a spinning head, racing heart, and sweating palms…sensations similar to what one must feel when one peers over the edge of a giant precipice. What has inspired such raw, nervous emotion you ask? I am finally within sight of publishing the first in the series of the “Chronicles of Mister Marmee” novels. The cover art is complete; the final edit is almost wrapped up; and the final formatting is the only other thing standing between me and my first published book.

I have spent the last few years toiling (endlessly it seemed at times) to complete my very first novel. In the beginning, I honestly never thought I would make it this far. When I first started on this road, I was pretty certain when I reached 10 pages worth of material that I was very near the conclusion of my whimsical tale. At that time, I wasn’t certain what sort of audience this pamphlet would have, but here I am many years later and many, many more pages beyond the pamphlet stage with something considerably more substantial than what I thought possible at its infancy.

It all started with an idea – a vision if you will – of an unconventional character set in one of my favorite time periods. The Victorian Era. I could see this character clearly in my mind’s eye as if I was watching a movie about him. I could hear his voice speaking in a very distinctive, cultured British accent. His mannerisms and modes of expressions seemed as familiar to my head and my heart as if they were my own, but I did not know his full story. Not really. Not yet. One thing I knew for certain however from the moment he first stepped into the recesses of my brain; my new character, Mister Tittleewinks Marmalade, or Mister Marmee as he is called by his friends and colleagues, was to become a very close and intimate friend of mine.

Having never written a novel before, I did not know what to expect of myself or of the process itself. I have always been an avid reader so I knew what I wanted to offer to my readers…..what I hoped they would walk away with at the end of my tale. What I didn’t want to do was follow someone else’s formula on how to write. For me, outlines and diagrams make it harder to write and staunch the creative flow for me. That’s not to say I do it better. It’s just my way. And no. I don’t write a stream of consciousness either. I have my own way of doing things with its own quasi organization, and yes I do break a lot of rules, and I like it. Rules are meant to be broken. That’s why it’s called creative writing. Jane Austin, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Mark Twain made up their own rules. They didn’t have a lot of rule books telling them how to do things. They just wrote. If it was good enough for them, I think I can make a few rules up (or at least break a few) as I go along.

Mister Marmee and I have come a long way together. I actually finished the book over a year ago, but I took some really sound advice from someone. I didn’t quit my day job. It’s not that I don’t believe in my writing; it’s just I believe that the bill collectors will come after you if you don’t pay them immediately so the time to work on the book is not always there. So my labor of love has at times been a “whittle” of love……me whittling away at the many tasks it takes to get a book ready for publication. I almost think at times the getting ready part is harder than the writing part. It certainly takes a lot of discipline and dedication to get it done. Looks like Mister Marmee will finally get to meet the world after all.

The Lonely Art of Writing – Baubles and Villains and Things

I often hear people say that writing is a lonely art. I suppose that to some extent it is true. Only one person can hold the pen or type at the keyboard at a time, but writers are never truly alone. We carry a community of people with us wherever we go. For some of us, entire planets or solar systems are toted around like decorative baubles that bump around in our brains. They are not heavy burdens – these communities, planets, and solar systems. They are the material from which we spin our tales. If you know a writer, chances are you have or will appear in some article, novelette, or tome they have created. It is an inescapable reality. Not even strangers are immune from being collected and catalogued by the writer’s gray matter. Sometimes strangers are the most fun to collect, with their unconscious eccentricities and mannerisms. I have whiled away many an afternoon observing the people around me. It matters little whether I am at the mall, pumping gas, or grabbing coffee at the local coffee house. Each place has their gems. Most people are so intent on ignoring you, they fail to realize they have been captured. If I had a camera, I would not be quite as successful as I am. People tend to become very irate when you take their picture without permission. My camera is just as visible as one of those giant black machines with the obscenely large telephoto lens. The only difference is that my camera is comprised of my eyes, ears, and nose; connected together by the giant data collection system of my brain.

With as much as I love to collect the oddities in human nature, I am often forced to look to those closest to me for the meat of any solid character I desire to create. I can easily describe the physical appearance of the person standing in front of me at the grocery store and transform them into a troll or some other fanciful creation. I cannot, however, share that person’s soul with you and make it sound anything but contrived. I must look to those with whom I have a more intimate connection and borrow a smidgen of their essence to bring my characters to life. The warmth of an embrace; the look which says more than any words could capture; the turn of a mischievous smile and the gentle heart behind it – they are all elements which can be taken from my experiences with those people I know and love. When a tale must take a darker, more sinister turn, I still look to those closest to me once again.

As a writer, I have a saying – ‘keep your friends close and your friends’ enemies even closer’. For every sorrow caused by another’s cruelty, whether perpetuated upon me or upon someone I hold dear, I find an unending source of emotion and inspiration to pull from when conflict is needed or when a scoundrel must be introduced (or done away with). Although I try never to stay long within that dark, emotional embrace, it is a powerful source of inspiration to use. As a writer of crime and mystery novels, I can attest I have metaphorically dispatched many an enemy who was the source of such pain for me or someone close to me. So for the world at large, I give this bit of free advice. Try not to rankle the writer in your life lest you find yourself the archetype for every villain from here to eternity. Take comfort though. Love, loyalty, and friendship are just as faithfully rewarded.

I was never supposed to be a writer

People always seem to ask the inevitable question – did you always know you wanted to be a writer? I suppose it perpetually comes up because we all know that person or group of people who always knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. The firefighter, the policeman, the dancer, the statesman – each one always seems to begin his or her career choice when they are barely out of diapers. The future entrepreneur can outsell any other child in their 5th grade class when it comes time to hock whatever cookies, candy, or fruit boxes the band is selling that year. The future extreme sportsman continuously breaks the record for number of trips to the emergency room within every little league or T-ball season. You know what I mean. So naturally, a future writer always knows they are going to be a writer, right?

I dare to say, perhaps not always. You see, I wasn’t supposed to be a writer. I was the brainiac. The one who loved science and math and made all of the other kids’ eyes roll when I declared that differential equations were the best thing since sliced bread. I was going to be a scientist or a teacher or any of a number of things that fit into my neat little world. I loved to read though, and when time would allow (and often when it did not), I read voraciously, as though some dark force would at any moment come and take my precious books away. But I was never a writer. All you had to do was ask me. I might laugh or give a quizzical look like you had asked me something in a language I didn’t speak, but I would never admit my dirty little secret.

Like a back alley junkie looking for his next score, I searched for any and every opportunity to write. No napkin, post-it, or gum wrapper was safe from my wild ideas. One entire page of my first book was reconstructed from scraps of paper found at the bottom of my pocket and old wrappers that were dug out from underneath my parents’ car seat. You don’t even want to know what I used for a pencil when I could not find something resembling a pen. I couldn’t help myself. When I least expected it, ideas for far off and not so far off lands would come swirling through my head. It didn’t matter whether I was standing in line at the post office or playing outside with my friends. The unbidden thoughts assaulted me so that my only respite would come when I finally was able to put pen to paper.

As I got older, I realized my obsession was really a passion, and so I began to legitimize my calling. I bought notebooks to write my ideas in and tucked them wherever I thought I might suffer an attack of inspiration. When computers became all the rage (and I was able to afford one), I even made room for my odd little notions, all the while denying that I could ever wear the mantle of ‘writer’. Then one day, it hit me…..I have been a writer my entire life. I just never knew it. Not unlike the future entrepreneur or extreme sportsman, almost from the time I could talk, I was testing the waters of my passions and setting my sights on a future I never could have imagined, and now, I can say without hesitation….I want to be a writer when I grow up.


Welcome friends to the world of H.L. Stephens where animals talk, legends come alive, and time holds no sway. Join me in my journey where anything is possible. Come back often and bring a friend.