Karen’s Killer Book Bench: Here Be Dragons by Barbara Nickless, Phoenix Rising Anthology by Kristen Moeller & Leslie Aplin Wharton

Phoenix Cover

 読書KAREN’S KILLER BOOK BENCH: Welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench where readers can discover talented new authors and take a peek inside their wonderful books. This is not an age-filtered site so all book peeks are PG-13 or better. Come back and visit often. Happy reading!


Stories of Remarkable Women Walking Through Fire


Over several terrifying summers, deadly wildfires raged across Colorado. Lives were lost, and the flames destroyed thousands of homes. When the smoke cleared and only rubble remained, survivors were left trying to find a way forward against devastating loss. The aftermath of that destruction would span many years, and its effects are still felt today.

In Phoenix Rising, twenty women share their stories of fire, the terror they felt as flames engulfed their communities, and the dark desperation that followed. And how—in the ensuing weeks and months—they worked to recreate a life from the ashes. Their tales of fear and bravery, of deep compassion and heart-rending grief, offer an uplifting chronicle of human courage and resilience.

Stories of Remarkable Women Walking Through Fire

Here Be Dragons
Essay from the Anthology
By Barbara Nickless


The essay I wrote for Phoenix Rising was an attempt to work through my family’s distress after we lost everything in a Colorado wildfire. For me, fire-breathing dragons became a metaphor not just for the fire but for the sudden and unforeseen traumas that all of us endure. As I tried to fight my way back to a normal life, I realized that the traumas my mother had suffered as a child had seeped into me and become my own fears.

On my desk, before it burned, I had a map. A papyrus-yellow sketch of a Lenox globe from the 1500s. I’d chosen this map because it was made during the Age of Exploration when Europeans ventured to the four corners of the globe—into the dark heart of Africa, the wilds of the Atlantic, out among the islands of the Pacific and across the vast New World.

Perhaps unconsciously, I think I also chose the map for its warning to sailors: hic sunt dracones. Here be dragons. Travel past the edges of the known world, the cartographers warned, and you might not come back.

I’d placed the map on my desk in the hope it would inspire me to risk my own uncharted territories—be they places with real geography or the terra incognita of my heart. But it had been years since I’d known how to face down the dragons. For twelve months, until I rolled it up and tucked it away, the map lay in quiet rebuke, reminding me of everything I feared to do.

Also on my desk, before it burned, was a photo of my mother. Whenever I studied her guarded expression, distressingly cautious for a child of only three or four, the photo assured me that the world my mother lived in had always held dragons.

Sometimes, in a half-dreaming state, I would merge the map and my mother’s photograph until she was the one offering caution.

“Be careful, honey,” I’d imagine her saying. “There are dragons.”

Then an embellishment I knew she would have offered if she’d known about my

Lenox map.

“Be careful, honey. There are dragons.”


“Fire-breathing dragons.”


My mother prized being safe over living large. Better safe than sorry was her motto. She had a convert’s fervor when it came to safeguarding her family against life’s calamities. She believed in snake-bite kits and overcooked port. She swore by sanitizing soaps and insect repellent. As a general rule, we steered clear of swimming pools and contact sports. She told me to always pack snow boots and a jacket in the trunk of the car because you just never know. She debated whether—in the event of a fire—I should have a ladder near my window. Only her worry that I would escape the flames to fall to my death ended that.

Like most kids raised in a safe and healthy home, I ran heedless into the world. Head back, mouth wide open, the wind in my hair. I roamed far and wide, collecting pebbles and sticks and scrapes and bumps. I brought home lizards and fell down holes and rode my bike in places that would have made my mother drop dead in horror had she known. Through it all I emerged mainly unscathed, rarely needing more than a tetanus shot or an ice pack. This should have been enough to convince my mother that she was now safe. That the dragons had left the enchanted forest and retreated to their caves.

But what she knew and I didn’t yet know is that the dragons are patient.

Meet Author Barbara Nickless… Nickless-23 LR Edits-2

Barbara Nickless promised her mother she’d be a novelist when she grew up. What could be safer than sitting at a desk all day? But an English degree and a sense of adventure took her down other paths—technical writer, raptor rehabilitator, astronomy instructor, sword fighter, piano teacher and journalist. Now an award-winning author, she spends her free time caving, snowshoeing and hiking the Colorado Rockies. She and her husband live in Colorado, where, in June 2012 they lost their home of twenty-two years to the Waldo Canyon Fire. Her first novel, Blood on the Tracks, will be published by Thomas & Mercer in August 2016. You can contact her at www.barbaranickless.com.


Meet Author Leslie Aplin Wharton…

Leslie has a degree in Human Development from Cornell but her finest education was building an off-grid home with her husband, Mark, in Colorado. They now live in Bellingham, Washington. Leslie writes and speaks on her experience of wildfire, climate change and human resilience. She can be contacted through the website phoenixrisingbook.com



Meet Author Kristen Moeller…

Bestselling author, coach, and TEDx speaker, Kristen Moeller, MS, utilizes decades of training in counseling and personal growth to champion those who become lost in their wild journey through this wacky world. In 2012, she lost her dream home in a devastating wildfire that destroyed twenty-one homes and killed three of her neighbors. Kristen is the author of Waiting for Jack (Morgan James Publishing, 2010) and What Are You Waiting For? (Viva Editions, 2013) and has appeared on NPR, ABC, NBC and Fox News, as well as in the New York Times and the Huffington Post.  Recently featured on A&E’s Tiny House Nation, Kristen, her husband, two large dogs and an ornery cat have found themselves at home in Salida, Colorado.


Links to Kristen, Leslie, and Barbara’s websites, blogs, books, etc.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1MkNKFV

B&N Nook:

B&N Paperback:


Phoenix Rising is also available at local bookstores and Apple iBooks

WEBSITE: www.barbaranickless.com

Email: nicklessbarb@gmail.com


Phoenix Cover**SPECIAL GIVEAWAY**:
Barbara will give away one Kindle copy of Phoenix Rising to one lucky reader who comments on today’s Karen’s Killer Book Bench blog. Thank you, Barbara, Leslie and Kristen, for sharing your stories with us.

Don’t miss the chance to read this book!

12 thoughts on “Karen’s Killer Book Bench: Here Be Dragons by Barbara Nickless, Phoenix Rising Anthology by Kristen Moeller & Leslie Aplin Wharton”

  1. Good morning, Barbara, Leslie, and Kristen, and welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench. Your stories sound wonderful. Living in Colorado myself, I think forest fires are one of our biggest fears. I haven’t lived through one personally so you all have a unique perspective. Thanks for stopping by to share your book!

    1. Thank you so much, Karen, for letting us share our anthology with you! The fact that we’ve already had multiple fire danger alerts this spring makes me worry that we’ll be in for a frightening summer.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Kathleen. The book is heart wrenching. But what inspired me–when I met the women whose stories are in this anthology–is how strong we all can be, even when we don’t think we have it in us.

  2. The excerpt grabbed me almost literally. I have a overwhelming need to read this book. Thank you all for sharing it today. I have to get a copy. I hope I win one but if not I will be buying this one! Thank you Ladies for sharing your book with us!

    1. Tammy, thanks so much for your kind words! I am thrilled that you found the excerpt from my essay engaging. It was difficult to find my words after so much loss. But writing, for me, is healing.

  3. Every time I think of the Waldo Fire, I think of Barbara Nickless. She embodies the word survivor in my mind. Looking forward to reading Phoenix Rising!

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