Then share with us in the comments (here, or on Krysten's blog) some of your funniest and humiliating stories!
We had such a blast with Krysten Lindsay Hager's Middle School Time Warp (and her gorgeous orange-ish Sun-In hair) the other day, that we decided to keep it going. Today I'm on Krysten's blog, sharing some of my best and worst school memories... and some pretty horrendous photos. Stop by her blog and cringe along with me!
Then share with us in the comments (here, or on Krysten's blog) some of your funniest and humiliating stories!
Today we're taking a break from chattering about books and giveaways and silly characters (OH MY!) to talk nerdy to the writers in the house--specifically those looking for agent representation (querying authors) or those dragging themselves along the bumpy, winding road toward publication. I've asked my friend Kathleen S. Allen to drop a little knowledge about what she's learned about writing contests, which definitely is not my area of expertise. Thanks, Kathleen, for sharing with us what you've learned along the way.
Writing Contests: A Writer's Dream Or a Writer's Nightmare?
By Kathleen S. Allen-YA author
Welcome, thank you for asking me to post a blog about writing contests. I’m a pro at entering them. It started three years ago when I entered my first ever writing contest, PitchWars, run by Brenda Drake three years ago. I entered a middle grade zombie book and was not chosen, although one of the mentors I subbed to said I was in her top five. Then I entered the same manuscript into Baker’s Dozen and didn’t get chosen. I kept querying and got some requests but no agent. Finally, I had to shelve the manuscript because zombies are a “dead” genre right now. Pun intended.
Next, I entered several more contests, The Writer’s Voice, PitchMadness, Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, PitchMAS, Secret Agent Contests on three different blogs, plus Twitter parties galore like #pitmad and #adpit and #SFFpit. This time I had a historical novel I workshopped quite a bit and did get requests but again, no agent. My next book was a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera and I thought it would garner me an agent for sure. Again, I entered it into contests, Like A Virgin in January of this past year and was chosen. I got three requests but no deal. I finally shelved it too after getting feedback on it. Was I frustrated? Yes. Did I want to quit writing? Yes, but only for a day. Would I enter another contest? NO, NEVER. Except, I did.
One of the biggest, if not the biggest, contests on the Interwebs is Brenda Drake’s PitchWars contest. She’s done it for three years in a row and I’ve entered all three years. The first year I entered the MG zombie book, the second year an urban fantasy about witches and this year a young adult dark contemporary. In this contest you get to work one-on-one with a mentor for several weeks to make your manuscript the best it can be and then submit to agents. Many people get agents from this contest but even if you’re not chosen to have a mentor, most of them will give you feedback on why you weren’t chosen, so that’s a plus. She always has a Twitter pitch party to go along with the contest too and those are always fun to see if an agent favors your pitch. This year, the pitch party is on Sept. 9th and only for those who DIDN’T get into Pitch Wars. #PitMad 8AM-8PM, EDT. In this pitch party, you write your best 140 character pitch, including your stakes for agents/editors to favor. If you see a pitch you like, you retweet it, only agents and editors are supposed to click on “favorite.” And you must change up your pitches because Twitter won’t post the same tweet twice.
Is entering a contest better than querying? No, not necessarily. It’s important to do both. The one positive aspect of entering contests is all the other writers you meet who are just as anxious as you are to get your writing noticed. It helps to find other writers who will beta read your work for you (and you do the same for them) or find your Critique Partner who will read ANYTHING you write and comment on it. Usually you learn what mentors are looking for via the hashtag #PitchWars as they go through their slush piles, what works, what doesn’t work, how to hook them and so on. It’s a treasure trove of information.
There are so many more contests now then when I started entering them. My rule is to enter three with the same manuscript (if it gets chosen) and then retire from contests. It is important to note you MUST HAVE A COMPLETED, POLISHED MANUSCRIPT TO ENTER. You can’t have an unpolished, unedited (must be edited by at least three people, not family members) first draft. So, no NaNoWriMo novels (National Novel Writing Month in November, write a 50.000 word novel in thirty days) or Works in Progress (WIPs).
My latest novel, a YA dark contemporary I’m querying and entering into contests has been in two contests so far. Operation Awesome secret agent contest, it got a partial request from an agent I’m waiting to hear back from, another full request and a partial request. I got a full request from a Twitter pitch party although that agent passed on it.
So, the bottom line is this: enter contests, get feedback, apply the feedback if it feels right, keep querying too (unless the contest forbids it) and keep going. You’ll never achieve your dreams if you quit!
Here’s a list of contests and months they’re going on:
· PITCHWARS-August, 2014 see Brenda Drake’s blog for more info: www.brenda-drake.com. #PitMad on Sept. 9th, 2014.
· PITCHPLUS5-August, 2014, run by Adventures in YA Publishing. The contest info is here: http://adventuresinyacontests.blogspot.com
· NIGHTMARE ON QUERY STREET-October, 2014 see Michelle Hauck’s website: www.michelle4laughs.blogspot.com
· BAKER’S DOZEN: www.misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com This one has an entry fee of $10.00. Authoress also runs monthly secret agent contests except for June and December that are free and does blog critiques.
· SUN VS. SNOW-January, 2015, this is another one run by Michelle Hauck at www.michelle4laughs.blogspot.com
· LIKE A VIRGIN-January, 2015, see this for more info: http://likeavirgin.kristinaperez.com/
· THE WRITER’S VOICE-Feb./March, 2015, this one is co-hosted by Brenda Drake and others on this blog: www.monibw.blogspot.com
· QUERY KOMBAT in May, run by www.michelle4laughs.blogspot.com
· AN AGENT’S INBOX-run by Krista Van Dolzer, see her blog for more info: www.kristavandolzer.com
· OPERATION AWESOME-They do monthly secret agent contests. See their blog for more info: www.operationawesome6.blogspot.com
· ADVENTURES IN YA, run several including a workshop and first lines contest: http://www.adventuresinyapublishing.com/p/contests-workshops.html
· WRITE ON CON, this is an online conference in August, 2014 but there are agents who swing by and might request pages. http://www.writeoncon.com
And I’m probably missing some but keep an eye on Twitter for upcoming contests. Follow these contest people on Twitter: @brendadrake, @michelle4laughs, @OpAwesome6, @AuthoressAnon, @KristaVanDolzer, @martinaAboone, @FeakySnucker, @RhiannWynnNolet
So, is entering a writing contest a dream or a nightmare? Tell me in the comments your experiences with writing contests.
And even though:
Kathleen has published two murder mysteries If It’s Monday, It Must be Murder and If It’s Tuesday, It Must be Trouble, along with a YA contemporary, How To Be Almost Famous in Ten Days with Gypsy Shadow Publishing and two YA fantasy novels,Lore of Fei and War of Fei with Muse It Up Publishing. She has a Master’s in Children’s Literature with an emphasis in creative writing for YA.
Connect with Kathleen
Today I'm happy to host author Jo Noelle... or should I say authors Jo Noelle? Jo Noelle is the pen name of a mother and daughter writing team made up of Canda Mortensen and Deanna Henderson (Hey, Deanna! Cool last name!). While some ladies write and publish one book at a time, today I'm floored to announce three, count 'em, THREE brand new releases by this duo.
First, let's learn a little bit about Canda and Deanna (collectively Jo Noelle, remember). Then we'll move onto each of the three books, and give readers a chance to enter a super-fantastic giveaway for $100 Amazon Gift Card (swooooooon!). Grab your favorite drink and let's get down to some serious girl talk.
1. What music do you like?
Deanna: I don’t know how to answer that. Do you mean today? I listen to everything, rock, classical, rap, alternative, opera. And I know the words and sing along—with the opera songs sometimes I sing gibberish until I know the words again.
Canda: Rock. I like rock. Not soft rock—it’s not really rock. I like alternative too. My favorite bands are (in order of their appearance in my life) KISS, Aerosmith, (I really liked the BeeGees but I’ll deny it in public), Nirvana, Good Charlotte, and Linkin Park.
2. What kind of books do you like?
Deanna: I like “issue” book. I like self-helpy books. I like YA romance and Chick-lit. Oh and travel books especially the ones with itineraries that tell you what to eat where and give you maps.
Canda: I like snarky characters, romance is the story not the subplot, and paranormal is a big plus. I hate contemporary literary fiction. Gahhh! Too many issues to deal with in my spare time.
3. What is your favorite snack?
Deanna: chocolate covered macadamia nut with caramel cluster things you buy at Costco.
Canda: Peanut M&Ms
4. Teaser for your book in one sentence?
Falling in love is easy in fiction--in high school, not so much.
5. What is your writing process?
We make an outline, chuck it out the window before chapter 2, we argue, negotiate, plead, pout, sometimes threaten to quit. Then we compromise and keep writing. And we laugh a lot.
6. What was your road to publication like?
We wrote the books, rewrote them a few times, got lots of feedback, rewrote them again, sent them to an editor, rewrote, another editor, rewrote.
7. Favorite dessert?
Deanna: Muddy Buddies
Canda: chocolate mousse
About the Books
Lexi’s Pathetic Fictional Love Life
Lexi Middleton has been socially invisible to her classmates, but starting her junior year, that’s going to change. First, she’s determined to hook a boyfriend, ensuring dates with flowers and possible kisses on the doorstep. Second, she wants to be a writer for the school paper, even though it freaks her out to think of everyone judging her by her punctuation and metaphors. High school is difficult enough—keeping up her grades, dealing with increasing sibling rivalry, and trying to stay out of the way of her personal nemesis, Amberlee—but when Lexi catches the eye of her long-time crush, she also becomes the focus of mean-girl tactics. Caught between who she was and who she wants to be, Lexi must decide how to confront a bully, and choose who to let into her heart.
Cassie is going to heaven—if she can get amnesty from hell in the next twenty days. Her assignment is to change the eternal destination of a girl in Albuquerque to earn admittance into heaven.
But when Cassie returns to earth during her three-week, mostly-mortal assignment, her old habits get in the way, (apparently habits don’t die when you do), the partners assigned to help her are anything but helpful, and it turns out the girl she is supposed to help is the only enemy she made on her first day of school.
Oh, I’m so going to hell.
Things aren’t all bad—it helps to have a hot angel on your side. Mmm-Marc. Even though he’s all about heavenly business, Cassie would like to make it personal.
Assignment with benefits.
The housing market is crashing, and Sophie’s life is crashing with it. At twenty-four, her successful real estate career evaporates. She’s broke, can’t find a job, or pay her bills, leaving Sophie wondering how her successful lifestyle became so fragile.
At the urging of her roommate, Sophie accepts a job in her fallback career—teaching six-year-olds. She hopes it’s temporary. After all, how long can a tanking economy last anyway? The best part of the new job is Liam, another employee at Rio Grande Elementary. The worst part of the new job is, well, teaching.
Sophie has a surprise real estate closing from a contract she wrote months ago, leading her to a niche in the real estate market and to a new partner, Kevin. Sophie must choose between Liam or Kevin and between a lucrative career or recess duty.
Meet Jo Noelle
Jo Noelle grew up in Colorado and Utah but also spent time in Idaho and California. She has two adult children and three small kids.
She teaches teachers and students about reading and writing, grows freakishly large tomatoes, enjoys cooking especially for desserts, builds furniture, sews beautiful dresses, and likes to go hiking in the nearby mountains.
Oh, and by the way, she’s two people—Canda Mortensen and Deanna Henderson, a mother/daughter writing team.
Enter Jo Noelle's Rafflecopter Giveaway
Connect with Jo Noelle and Get Your Own Copies
Amazon Author Page
BUY ON AMAZON
Lexi’s Pathetic Fictional Love Life
Visit the Other Blog Hop Participants!
1. Procrastination Station
2. Lala's Books
3. Weaving a Tale or Two
4. Adrienne Monson
5. S. J. Henderson, Author (MOI!)
6. Lindzee Armstrong/Lydia Winters
7. Renae's Writespot
8. Author, Julie L. Casey
9. Christy Dorrity
10. Writing Robin
11. Jordan McCollum
12. Lisa Swinton, Queen of Random
13. Word Paintings Unlimited, Author Sherry Gammon
14. Cortney Pearson
15. Canda's InkBlast
Okay, I'm convinced. I have the most creative, amazing friends.
One of those incredibly creative friends is my buddy Brenda, AKA B. L. Hoffman. She's been keeping those little writing fingers busy these past few years, releasing a ton of book love into the world. For all mystery and action fans, check out B. L. Hoffman's THE SPENCER KANE ADVENTURES. This series is geared toward the Young Adult crowd, and it's touted as being a Clean Indie Read.
Please also check out B. L. Hoffman's standalone book, THE INCIDENTAL INHERITANCE. For now, I'm going to focus on her YA series, but I wanted y'all to know Spencer Kane is only one of her projects.
So, grab your flashlights, there's a mystery to solve...
About the Books
Mystery at Shadow Lake - A Spencer Kane Adventure (Book #1)
Spencer Kane, a teenager on vacation with his family at Shadow Lake, Michigan, finds himself in the middle of peculiar, even paranormal situations that affect many of the lake residents. Spencer and his friends unknowingly cause the events to intensify and become more violent, bringing even more danger to those who haven't yet fled the lake in terror.
Escape From Shadow Lake- A Spencer Kane Adventure (Book #2)
Spencer and his father remain at Shadow Lake to close up the cottage, once Spencer is released from the hospital after a near-fatal poisoning.
The danger continues, as several men, including Spencer's Father, are kidnapped and Spencer searches diligently to find them.
As he puts together the pieces, he discovers the one person he trusted had deceived them all.
He was now on his own to find his dad and the others, and return them home safely…without being captured in the process.
Return to Shadow Lake - A Spencer Kane Adventure (Book #3)
After the rescue of his dad and friends from Shadow Lake, Spencer and his family try to get back to a normal home life. Just as the family settles into their routine, they are visited by a group of American Indians that insist on meeting with Spencer and the others who took part in the removal of ancient objects from the ground at a neighbor's cottage.
Running Fox explains to the teens and their parents the necessary actions that must be performed in order to rid the lake of the evil spirits they uncovered. If the ceremony is not performed, the families will never be able to return to their cottages without the fear that drove them away only weeks before.
One family, the Claytons, who already returned to the lake under the assumption that the evil had gone, are now fighting for their lives at a Michigan hospital. The teens have the opportunity and feel the responsibility to do as the ancient book instructs, and possibly save the lives of their lake neighbors.
The teens encounter unexpected intrusions on their way from central Indiana to Shadow Lake, Michigan, but remain vigilant in their “mission”. Their support for each other keeps them going, no matter how frightening the situation becomes.
The Shadow Lake Trilogy
The Lake Dweller - A Spencer Kane Adventure (Book #4)
With his Florida beach trip canceled, Spencer agrees to help a friend, Cassie Vance, check out a home her family inherited from her uncle in southern Indiana. The generous notion to help clean up the property was met with shocking surprises.
A lake dweller, fixated on Cassie before he laid eyes on her, wants possession of her and the house.
A young boy, Daniel, who is among the lake dwellers, captures the hearts of Spencer and Cassie, and desperately needs their help to survive … and to escape.
Mystery at Shadow Lake (Book #1)
The voice appeared to come from inside the tunnel. I slowly lowered myself down to the bend to get a better look. I didn’t hear anything. I called out “Is anyone down here? Do you need help?”
I turned back to where the flashlight was aimed, and immediately saw two shining circles, resembling eyes glowing from the light, and looking in my direction. Before I could make another move, I heard. “Please help me.”
“Who’s there? I asked again.
As I watched the shiny spheres, they began moving closer and closer. I stared at them at first, not certain if the person in trouble was approaching me, or if I should be running for my life from something evil. As the eyes drew closer, I could now make out a figure. It looked strangely familiar. Then I realized the figure was the little girl I had seen in my nightmare. The same one who had disappeared in the lake and hasn't yet been found.
About B. L. Hoffman
I've been writing since the fall of 2011, and have completed five mysteries. I've always been drawn to mystery movies, books and stories, so the natural writing genre for me was The Mystery. I didn't actually write my books with Middle Grade and Y/A Youthful Adult content intentions, but that's how they turned out, and I'm fine with that. I don't write a story with questionable content in mind, so it doesn't come out in my books.
I live in Indianapolis, IN with my husband of 27 years, Skeeter, and my baby, Ziva (a 2 year-old Pom-Shih/Tzu mix). If you wonder where her name comes from, it's based on the character Ziva David on NCIS (I am asked quite often). Too bad she's not still on the show.
My husband has been and continues to be a great supporter of my writing efforts. I would not be able to continue this endeavor without his backing and encouragement.
I love to take photos...trust me, I have thousands. That brings us to an obvious passion of mine...photography. I've never taken a formal class (but still plan to) and have always loved taking pictures. If you're at an outing with me and my camera, you don't stand a chance of getting away if I see a "Kodak Moment'. (Just ask my nieces and nephews!)
Other pastimes I enjoy are traveling, the outdoors, boating, fishing, puzzles, and popcorn with a thrilling movie to name a few.
I plan to keep writing mysteries unless unforeseen events occur, and hope to write stories that entertain a wide variety of age groups.
Connect with B. L. Hoffman
Let's give a big welcome to my friend Sharon Ledwith, who is not only a fantastic writer, but also the lady to have on your side while learning about writing and promoting books. I've learned a lot from her in the short time we've known one another, and I'm proud to be able to share a little bit about her newest release. So, buckle up those safety belts, kiddos. Here we go...
Legend of the Timekeepers
There is no moving forward without first going back.
Lilith was a young girl with dreams and a family before the final destruction of Atlantis shattered those dreams and tore her family apart. Now refugees, Lilith and her father make their home in the Black Land. This strange, new country has no place in Lilith’s heart until a beloved high priestess introduces Lilith to her life purpose—to be a Timekeeper and keep time safe.
Summoned through the seventh arch of Atlantis by the Children of the Law of One, Lilith and her newfound friends are sent into Atlantis’s past, and given a task that will ultimately test their courage and try their faith in each other. Can the Timekeepers stop the dark magus Belial before he changes the seers’ prophecy? If they fail, then their future and the earth’s fate will be altered forever.
“Why are you here?” Lilith asked. “You’ve already got your life seal.”
“I have more questions for Istulo.” She continued to stare at the disk.
Lilith sighed. “My name is Lilith. What’s your name?”
Her shoulders relaxed slightly. A hint of a smile broke out on her face. Her upturned nose wiggled. “She-Aba. I was born here in the Black Land. Both my parents arrived from Atlantis fourteen years ago yesterday. My mother gave birth to me the next day.”
Lilith perked up. “That would make today your birthday!”
She-Aba beamed. “Yes. That’s why I’m here. For my birthday last year, I had my life reading done by Istulo. But recently, there’s been a hiccup in my plans. It’s like my life seal rearranged itself, and now I’m confused. I’m here for a reaffirmation.”
“What’s the problem?”
She-Aba traced her life seal with the tip of her perfectly shaped fingernail. “My lifetime occupation was supposed to be to design clothing for the people of the various positions in the court and temples.”
Lilith smirked. “That makes perfect sense.”
“I know, right? So why, all of a sudden, would my life seal change from designing clothing to something completely different?”
Lilith arched a fair brow. “How different?”
“Well, instead of clothing people in lavish robes and gowns for others to appreciate, the seal suggests that I’ll be doing the opposite by covering up and hiding the truth. I don’t understand it at all. I thought my life was all planned out for me.”
“I thought mine was too, until my country blew up and slid into the ocean,” Lilith muttered.
“Hey, look at the bright side, at least your hair isn’t red like mine.”
Lilith eyed She-Aba carefully. “What’s wrong with red hair? My uncle has red hair and it suits him fine.”
She-Aba moved in closer. “If you haven’t noticed already, there aren’t many redheads around here. The natives think red is magical, and anyone with red hair is considered a freak of nature.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Lilith said loud enough to cause an echo down the marble hallway. “Is that the reason why those artists were rude to you? Because you have red hair?”
“Red is a very powerful color,” a raspy voice said from behind both girls.
Lilith and She-Aba jumped. They slowly turned to find Istulo hovering over them.
Wearing the same white gown and orichalcum headband Lilith saw her dressed in before, Istulo nodded slightly before she said, “Red represents the essence of life—if we are drained of blood, we are drained of energy. The people of the Black Land understand this, and therefore red is reserved only for their gods and goddesses.”
Lilith giggled. “Don’t tell She-Aba that, she’ll think she’s a goddess.”
About the Author
Sharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/YA time travel series, THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS, available through Musa Publishing, and is represented by Walden House (Books & Stuff) for her teen psychic series, MYSTERIOUS TALES FROM FAIRY FALLS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, yoga, anything arcane, and an occasional dram of scotch. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.
Learn more about Sharon Ledwith on her WEBSITE and BLOG. Look up her AMAZON AUTHOR page for a list of current books. Stay connected on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, GOOGLE+, TUMBLR, and GOODREADS. Check out THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS TIME TRAVEL SERIES Facebook page.
Buy Legends of the Timekeepers
Just validated my word count for Camp NaNoWriMo. Over 31k words edited and revised in April for my upcoming Young Adult novel, In the Middle.
Can't wait to share it with you guys! It's a cool, creepy story... but that's all I'm going to say right now. I don't want to give away too much. :-)
On July 22, 2011 I met Claire Darling for the very first time. At the time, Claire was an 18-year-old high school student by morning, horse trainer by every spare hour after that. She quickly became a friend of mine because she's sarcastic and self-deprecating, a good soul. Two-and-a-half years and three books later, she and I are pretty tight. I've fought for her to fall in love and I cried with her (over and over) when her heart was shattered into pieces. She's struggled and she's endured. She's no Super Woman, but that's why she's real. Well, real is a relative term, but you know what I mean.
Over the past couple of years, I've come to adore good guys Liam and Graham. I've loved to hate all those shady characters--Rayna, Rowan, and Maureen. Maybe you've found the strings of your emotions tugged by one or more of them, too. If that's true for you, then I thank you for investing yourself in my humble words.
There's so much I want to say, but so much I can't because I don't want to give anything away. That, and I'm so overwhelmed by the day that I don't know where to begin and where to end.
Maybe Liam says it best in the last paragraph I wrote today that brought the third and final novel to a close:
"With any luck, tomorrow his big heart will eclipse anything he lacks. At least, this is what I pray as I stare out at the stars strung in the deep blue. I want him to find his own place to belong, because I’ve found that place for myself, a home, and I’m homesick."
Like Liam, I've found a home in Hope Creek and I'm already homesick.
Thanks, guys, for everything you've given me. You'll never know what you've done for me.
I press my lips together and follow him as he leads the way toward the nuns in the back. He’s so focused he doesn’t realize a soft doll slips from one of the bags under his arm and falls to the ground.
“Liam!” I call out. “You--”
A girl with brown ringlets framing her round cheeks runs toward the doll before I catch Liam’s attention. She looks both ways to be sure no one sees her, then snatches it up and into her arms. The doll fits perfectly in the crook of her arm and a smile brightens her face.
“Hey! Little girl!” I say.
She freezes and clutches the doll tightly to her body. Her fearful blue eyes dart to me and back to the doll as I step toward her.
“Hey!” I repeat, coming closer. From a few yards away I can see the tremble in her shoulders. The little girl drops the doll and runs from me.
I stoop down and pick the doll up from where she’s landed in a heap. There’s a smudge of dirt on its plastic cheek and I wipe it away with my thumb. Liam’s over talking with the nuns, and he glances my way.
“That girl--who is she?” I ask when I reach them. I don’t wait for introductions. One of the nuns, the younger one with round spectacles and a pointy chin, looks like she really wants to give me a quick lesson in manners.
“I’m sorry, dear?” The older nun says, wrinkling her forehead beneath her habit.
“There was a girl, maybe four years old. Curly brown hair, blue eyes--or at least, I think they were blue.” I scan the yard as I describe the little one.
The older woman smiles, bouncing the child on her hip. “Ah. You must mean Daphne.”
Do I mean Daphne? I have no idea.
“She ran from me. Do you know where she might have gone?”
The thin, bookish nun nods towards a strand of trees near the rear of the property. The trees are short and sparse, obviously very young, and don’t offer much shelter. A little form huddles at the base of the one in the middle, facing away from us.
I peel back the corner of the foil around the cookies and grab a couple, then hand the tray to the young nun. When I reach Daphne’s hiding spot, I find her with her knees tucked into her chest. Tears streak her face, which she presses to her knees.
“Can I join you?” I ask. I don’t expect an answer, and she doesn’t disappoint. I sink to the grass, leaving several feet between us. “My name is Claire. They told me your name is Daphne.”
She remains quiet except for a soft shudder.
“Daphne’s such a pretty name,” I continue. “A pretty name for a pretty girl.”
The little girl raises her head to glare at me. Blossoms of crimson burn at her cheeks. “Go away.” She hides her face again.
I place the doll next to her gently, so gently I’m not sure she knows I’ve done it. “That’s a nice doll you have there.”
Daphne brings her head up again and starts to say something angry. Our eyes connect and I glance down at the doll laying next to her. She looks down, too, and then back at me.
“It’s okay, pick her up.” I say. “I brought her for you. I knew you would take very good care of her.”
The girl scoops the doll into her arms again and snuggles her little cheek against its plastic face. Her eyes squeeze shut in joy. When she opens them again, I smile. “Would you like a cookie?”
She nods and tentatively takes the cookie from my outstretched hand. Daphne reminds me a lot of Taran--flighty, suspicious, and upset. Like Taran, I don’t push her. I eat my cookie as she eats hers. When it's gone I stand up and slip away. She doesn’t follow behind me like the horse does, but that’s okay.
When I finally felt steady enough to rejoin Alfie, he'd moved on to replacing a broken fence board in one of the paddocks. He didn't say a word about my breakdown, and I’m thankful for it. I helped him in silence, holding the plank steady as he secured it to the fence post with a hammer and several nails. Alfie was getting on in years, he shouldn’t be doing this work on his own.
He took a breather after the next board was up, and stared off towards the few horses still living here.
“Tell me about the horses, Alf. It’s nice to see you, but they’re why I’m here.”
Alfie swiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand then gave a short nod. “I hated to bring you back, y’know, but with Rowan out of the picture, I didn’t know who to ask. Besides, you always were better with the horses than him. He’s got a wicked temper, that one.”
“That he does.” I agreed.
We walked down the fence row until we stood in front of one of the few occupied enclosures. “We’ve got six horses still here, but no one with any horse sense at all wants to help with them, especially the one mare in particular.” I turned my head in the direction he's looking, toward the rear of the paddock to our right. When she noticed us watching, the dark horse inside snapped her body into alert, her head high, eyes wide, and ears pricked. Minus her sun-bleached coat from living outdoors, she was a nice-looking horse and would make someone a fine jumper. The bone structure was all there, I could see it, but so was the fear. The longer we stared, the more her terror echoed back. Without taking her eyes or ears from us, she shrank back against the fence.
I scrunched up my face. “Tarantula? Like the spider?”
“No, no. Tarantella. It’s a dance--Spanish, you know?” Alfie hummed a tune and snapped his fingers as he crossed and uncrossed his arms a couple of times and shuffled his feet. It looked like no dance I’d ever seen or probably would ever see again, thank heavens.
With a shake of my head, I said, "You'd better stick to horses, Alf."
He chuckled and stopped dancing, "Anyway, Tarantella... she was going by the name ‘Taran’, but some of the kids started on with calling her ‘Spider’, so you’re not so far off.”
Spider wasn't a friendly kind of nickname. I wasn't sure what to think about that.
I unlatched the gate to her paddock and walked inside. Taran pinned herself up against the boards of the fence in response, but otherwise regarded me with curiosity. “She looks all right,” I said, fastening the gate closed behind me. “So, then, what’s the problem?”
It happened then, quite literally, with the blink of an eye. The dark horse studied me for all of three seconds before blinking her eye and charging after me. There was no time to fumble with the gate--she’d be on me before I could have made it that far, anyway. My only option was to climb the fence, and with any luck I would be faster than her. With thundering hooves at my back, I launched myself at the fence and scrambled over. Taran clamped her teeth around the heel of my boot before I could swing it over. The old man was doubled over laughing at me dangling in a rather unpleasant position, with one leg in safety, the other in a wild horse’s mouth, and my crotch somewhere in the middle.
“That,” He sighed, wiping the tears from his eyes, “is our problem.”
I couldn't tell you what it is about the forest that calms me. Maybe it isn't the forest, at all, but the murmur of the river against the time-worn pebbles. Or maybe the melody of the birds flitting from branch to bank, the cicadas joining in with their staccato rhythm. Perhaps, even, the aroma of pine sap, damp earth, and moss drew me here--especially on days like today. Mostly, I liked the quiet. No one offered me advice or asked for my help out here. No one spoke at all unless you counted the babble of the water, and I didn't.
Tally snorted and took a tentative step from the shore and into the edge of the creek. I patted her shoulder as she took another swishing step, thankful for the distraction. I'd fought so hard to keep him from leaving, but, in the end, none of it mattered.
The random things that cross my mind go here...