All posts by Alex McGilvery

Finding Pooky

Trains are full of stories, some of them on the noir side.


Five hundred dark miles until we arrived at our next stop. People were already settling in with blankets and cushions. Some of them even planned on sleeping.

I walked the cars checking tickets before they got too involved. The sleeper cars were next. I tapped on the door and a hand would show me the appropriate number of tickets, except for Cabin 31. It was flung open by an old man who made a move toward where his pockets would have been had he been wearing pants.

“Where are my pants?” he asked. An old woman paused in her undressing to reach under a pile of clothes on the floor and hand him the tickets. I checked them and closed the door.

There are certain things that are not meant for mortal eyes to see.

That was one of them.

I finished my walk and sat at my desk in the closet they call the “Conductor’s Office” I hadn’t been there five minutes when a woman flung the door open.

“You the conductor?”

“Yes’m”

“I’ve lost Pooky”

“Pooky?”

“Yes, she’s about eight pounds and wearing the cutest pink sweater.”

I looked at the woman again, taking in the once carefully coiffed hair, the expensive suit. the even more expensive implants. I made a bet with myself.

“She’s a toy poodle,” I said.

“Of course.”

I owed myself about a million dollars. This was the biggest part of my job. Passengers were always losing things on the train; purses, wallets, their virginity. Most things I could find, some not.

“Where did you last see her?”

“I left her with a man and his daughter in coach. He was wearing a black leather vest. I needed to get off at the last stop.” She sniffled a little. “I broke a nail, and I just couldn’t find my manicure kit.”

“I see.” I send her back to her seat and headed for the dining car. A bit of cheese goes a long way to befriending vicious little dogs. Then I was off to coach.

I found the big man in the leather vest making serious inroads on a bottle of something cheap and alcoholic. When I interrupted him he came off the seat at me. I pushed him back into it. He lunged again. I put my finger on his forehead and pushed him back. As he gathered himself for a third try I asked him a question.

“Do you know how fast this train is going?”

“Why should I care?”

“Because it has a lot to do with how painful it will be when I throw you off the train.”

“What do you want?”

“A woman left her poodle with you, she would like it back.”

“That vicious little critter chewed my vest. I sent my daughter to take it back.”

“When was that?”

“How should I know? It was before we left the station.”

“Where is she now?” He just shrugged.

“She is your daughter.”

“Only until I get her to her mother’s. She’s fourteen and can take care of herself.”

I took away the bottle and deposited in the garbage before I looked for the kid.

She sat in the dining car holding a torn shirt with one hand and a coke with the other. I sat down across from her.

“Everyone else was doing it,” she said, “He didn’t like it when I changed my mind.”

“What does he look like?”

“I left him in a fetal position, moaning.”

“Good girl,” She burst into tears, so I offered my handkerchief and waited.

“Aren’t you going to lecture me or something?”

“No.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I am looking for the poodle.”

“Pooky? Didn’t they get her back to her owner?”

“Who’s they?”

“An old couple. They acted like kids in love. You know, holding hands, bumping against each other. It was kind of cute. They were in cabin….” She paused in thought.

“Thirty-one,” I said and she nodded.

“Thanks,” I stood up, “You stay here as long as you need.”

“The waiter told me I had to order something to sit here.”

“Usually you do, but tonight is different. If you do want something, just ask. It’s on the house.”

I waved a signal at Frankie and he came over. I left her ordering enough to feed an army.

Back at cabin thirty-one I could hear high pitched barking mixed with other sounds. I knocked on the door and a moment later the old timer flung the door open.

“You’ve come for Pooky,” he said as he deftly caught the small dog that was leaping and snapping at him. “She’s a nice dog, but I’m too old for a threesome.” He handed me the dog and I let Pooky smell the cheese in my hand. She quieted.

“We are running away from our kids,” he said, “They are going to be so angry.” He winked and closed the door. The kid was right. It was kind of cute.

Pooky’s mistress was delighted to see her so I took myself back to my closet.

“Another victory,” I said to the picture of my wife. Twenty years ago she had vanished from this very train. I never found her. I’m still looking, but some things can’t be found.

I turned and watched the darkness pass outside.

Holy Bolts

I can’t remember the nature of this contest, but it must have been a strange one. The combination of Religion and Engineering will produce interesting offspring.


Engineer Third Class Jones looked at the access panel and said a few words that would have earned him penance from the Most Reverend Captain, assuming that said Most Reverend Captain could fit his fat behind through the engineering hatch. Jones gave himself a penance for the disrespectful thinking and looked at the panel again.

No matter how many Notre Maters he said, the bolts were still .675 Specials. As an Engineer Third Class, Jones didn′t have access to the Specials. He looked through his tool pouch anyway in case the Lord Mother had seen fit to put one in his kit. No such luck. Jones wasn′t nearly pious enough to rate the attention of the Lord Mother herself. He glared at the panel and wished it to a bright and fiery place. Since it was only a inanimate panel he didn′t feel guilty about his thoughts. Much

Time was wasting and Deacon Engineer First Class Apollos was expecting him to check the filters on the waste scrubbers before shift end. Those filters stubbornly remained on the other side of the panel. If they weren′t going to come to him; he would have to get to them.

Jones when through his kit again, still no .675 Special, but there was a possibility. It was almost blasphemous, but didn′t Deacon Engineer always say that the Lord Mother helps those who help themselves?

He pulled out the .675 Normal and fit it over the bolt. His needle nosed pliers, opened as far as they would go and one point just fit in the hole in the centre of the bolt.

″If you′re going to strike me dead, Lord Mother″ he said, ″Make a quick job of it. I don′t want to have to listen to Deacon Engineer′s lecture before I die. That and hell would be just too much.″

He twisted the bolt one way while he turned the pliers the other. It always looked so slick when Deacon Engineer used his Special with the gears that formed the words of the Notre Mater so he knew when to stop. Jones just muttered under his breath and guessed. The bolt loosened as easily as a Normal and soon dropped on the floor.

He picked up the bolt and examined it curiously. Other than the hole in the centre there was nothing special about it. He tried the next bolt with just his Normal. The shock ran up his arm and left him lying on the floor twitching. By all Maxwell′s little demons that hurt!

He put the pliers in the hole and once again removed the bolt easily. He didn′t play with the other bolts but quickly took them out and lifted the panel free. He carefully set it to the side and laid the bolts in order beside it. First off, last on; that was first catechism, he followed it religiously.

The light on the other side of the access panel glowed dim and red. He double checked his flash as he put his tools back in his kit. He would only use it in an emergency. It was scripture that things were the way they were for a reason. Introducing a white light into this hellish red glow might have catastrophic consequences. Jones ran through the fourth catechism and decided that he was still safe, but he

wouldn′t waste anytime exploring this new territory.

Jones followed Deacon Engineer′s instructions carefully. Forward six lengths then left two. Pause for two Notre Maters, then forward again to a panel which all glory to the Lord Mother had Normal bolts. He had this panel off in seconds and peered at the filter covers. They were held on by .675 Specials.  The filter cover was directly over a grate on the floor. He cursed a bit, then said his penance. He said a bit extra for later; he was sure he was going to use them up. The first bolt wasn′t too bad or the second. For the third bolt he had to lie on the floor and somehow fit both arms through the small access hatch. The last bolt was impossible. He just couldn′t reach it with both hands. Somehow he would have to hold the pliers and wrench in the same hand and twist them in opposite directions. He lay on his back and looked at the situation. He practised the necessary motion. He might be able to do this.

″Once again, Dear Lord Mother,″ he breathed, ″Instantaneous death is much preferable.″

He was astonished when everything went well; until the bolt almost fell through the grate. Unfortunately in his wildly fortunate catch of the bolt he dropped his pliers. They bounced on the grate  then slipped through the spaces. He heard them clattering down into the Engineering level below him.

He spent several minutes running up his need for penance. He should have known. It was the sixth catechism.. He was a fool, a charlatan. He didn′t have the faith or the knowledge for this job.

Jones calmed himself down enough to pull the panel off and checked the filter. It looked like it needed cleaning. He pried it out and prayerfully fit in the replacement.

System flush of replacement filter in three minutes.

Jones moaned. This was beyond cursing. He had to get that panel back on. Without a Special, without his pliers. He picked up a bolt and looked at it more closely. He fit his wrench on it and gave it a tentative turn. The shock was milder, but it still made him swear. But he learned something. The head of the bolt moved; not much, but enough. He fit his Normal wrench over the bolt, then pushed down with his thumb and turned. No shock.


″Great glorious Lord Mother!″ he shouted. ″I can do this!″

He fit the panel in place and hand tightened the first bolt carefully keeping pressure on the head of the bolt. The other three went on just as easily.

System flush of replacement filter in one minute.


The .675 Normal went over the first bolt with his thumb pushing firmly down. He said a Hail Joseph as he tightened it down. Second one.


System flush of replacement filter in thirty seconds.

Third bolt, then last one. He slapped the access panel on and had the bolts on and tightened in seconds

Stand by for system flush.

A gale rushed by on the other side of the panel, but he didn′t hear any bolts coming loose. He followed the path back to the first access. The white light looked garishly bright. He quickly fit the panel in place and started the bolts.


″It might be easier with this.″  Jones jumped and almost cursed as Deacon Engineer passed him a .675 Special. ″And Engineer Second Class Jones.″ Jones was sure he saw a smile. ″You will need them to recover those pliers you dropped.

First Boy

This story was a response to a challenge to write about a first pet. I took a little different slant on the idea and come up with this.


 

The place smelled like a dozen dogs had peed in the corners; about right for a dog pound. Nicer than some places I’ve stayed. When you’re a pit bull you see a lot bad spots. The yard had real grass even. I was alone when they brought in a litter from a puppy mill. Sad cases every one of them. Breaks my heart how people abuse us in the name of having a pet.

One pup broke loose from the squirming mound drinking from their mom, and staggered over to the cage that divided us.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hey,” I said and eyeballed him from where I lay on my mat. The rest of the pups were black, but this one had black blotches on grey fur. Reminded me of this Aussie I once met. The kid had these crazy blue eyes. All pups have blue eyes, but I wondered if his wouldn’t glow a little when the humans turned off the lights.

“What are you doing?” He tried pushing his nose through the mesh, but the humans were onto that and it was too small for even his nose. I crawled over to put my nose against the mesh and we breathed each other in.

“Sleeping, kid.” I said after we’d done sniffing each other.

“Where are we?” He shook himself and peed on the floor.

“This is the pound,” I said, “The beginning for some, end for others. You might want to pee over on the paper there,” I pointed with my nose. “Humans are funny that way.”

“So what about the humans?” he said. “I don’t need ’em”

“Yeah, kid,” I said, “you do. I was only a little older than you when I got my first human. Boy came in and didn’t know a pit bull from a poodle, He wanted me on account of the black patch on my eye. It reminded him of some movie he’d just seen. I was going to be his very first pet.”

“What’s a movie?”

“Beats me, kid. Never seen one. Anyway they put a collar on me and he led me away on a leash. He named me Patch; proudest day of my life. I had no clue. The boy put out some of that paper in a box and a bowl of food and left me there. All night I howled in terror. I had no idea where I was or what was going on, and I missed my mom and my litter mates. The mom came and shushed me, then the dad came and yelled at me. The boy came after them and carried me up to his room. Don’t tell Mom. He whispered to me. I slept on his pillow. He took me outside in the morning to do my business on the grass.”

“I thought you said to do it on the paper?”

“On the paper when you’re inside and a pup, but outside the rest of the time. Nothing makes a human happier than a dog peeing on the grass.”

“Oh.”

I could see the wheels turning in the kid’s head. This pup was a smart one. He stumbled back to the pile and attached himself to his mother. She hardly had the energy to look at me. Poor girl was worn out, but then I was pretty worn out myself.

Woke up next morning to the sound of pee on paper and opened my eye to see the kid whizzing like a pro on the paper. He pranced over to me.

“Tell me more about humans, Patch.”

“Sure, kid.” I got up and stretched, then shook the cobwebs out of my head. Enough exercise for the day. I lay down on my mat. “Well, soon as I learned to pee on the grass, the boy started teaching me tricks.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s when a human tells you to do something silly, then gives you a treat, food usually, but I’d do tricks just to get him to scratch behind my ears. The boy, his name was Sam, taught me to sit, and stay, and rollover, simple stuff really. When I got good at those he started teaching me to shake a paw or play dead. We had this game where he’d put a biscuit on my nose and I’d balance it until he said Go then I’d throw it in the air and catch it. That game was my favourite thing in the world. Most of the time we just ran around and wrestled.”

“Wow,” The kid panted at me, a natural. “So, then what happened?”

“Sam went back to school. That’s some place all humans have to go. It’s like peeing on the grass. Doesn’t make sense, but they do it anyway. I waited by the door for him to come home and we’d go play in the yard or he’d take me for a walk. Every night I slept on his bed.”

Thinking about those days made me want to howl like a puppy. You can’t go back, you just can’t go back. The kid wandered off and piled into his litter mates, and left me with my thoughts. If I could only do that one thing over again. I closed my eye and snoozed a while. To be honest, just watching that much energy made me tired. Hadn’t thought about Sam in ages. Even if humans didn’t grow as fast as us, he’d be a lot older; maybe even finished with that school thing.

The door opened, and some humans came in. A little girl ran over to the cage with the puppies.

Look, aren’t they cute?

The kid pulled himself out of the pile and wobbled over to her.

He’s an unusual colour, looks like a seal.

He’s a catahoula.

Well, wouldn’t you know, the kid’s something more than an odd looking mutt.

Can I pick him up? Please?

The pound human opened the door of the cage and put the pup in the girl’s arms.

“Remember, pee only on the paper!” I said to him. I know what pups are like when their excited. Sure enough he wriggled away from her and went to pee on the paper like a champ. She picked him up again when he came back.

“Lick her face, kid,” I said. “They can’t resist that.”

He did what I said, and the girl laughed. Sam used to laugh like that. I put my head on my paws and watched them.

I want this one, Mom.

Are you sure? We haven’t looked anywhere else.

Please, Mom? I want this one. I’ll call him Patches.

Ok, Sue, if you want.

You’ll have to wait a week for him to be weaned and get his first shots…

The adult humans walked away while the girl cuddled the pup. A little while later they came back. They put a collar on the Patches, then left. The girl walked backwards out the door waving at him.

The pup came running over to me.

“Did you see that?” he said. “This thing feels funny.” He scratched at the collar.

“Wear it with pride, Patches,” I said. “The collar tells the humans that you belong.”

“Wow.”

“Listen, Patches,” I said. “I have to tell you something, so you don’t make the mistake I did.”

He sat down and wagged his tail at me.

“Sam took me for a walk one day. I was grown by then. Humans grow slower than we do, so Sam wasn’t much bigger. We met another kid. He was bigger than Sam. I could tell Sam was afraid of him. The other kid came over with his friends. They yelled at Sam and pushed him around. I growled at the kids. Sam told me to stop. One kid laughed at Sam and punched him in the face. I bit the kid.”

“That’s brave,” Patches said.

“No,” I said, “it was bad. We mustn’t bite a human. We can growl or bark, but we can never, never bite, especially a young human.

“The kids ran away screaming and Sam took me home. Later that night a human came and took me away from Sam. They brought me to a place like this one. I went off with another human. He liked me cause I was a pit bull. He tied me on a chain and left me in his yard. I think I went a little crazy. Another human bought me and put in a worse place. I don’t want to tell you, or I’ll give you nightmares.”

“Is that when you lost your eye?”

“Yeah,” I said, “my eye and more than a little of my soul.”

“So pee on the grass and don’t bite,’ Patches said and panted happily.

“That about sums it up,” I said. “Just make your human happy.”

The week went by in a flash. Patches went off with his girl and the rest of the pups went too. Even the old girl went to a new home. I ate my meals, did my business on the grass though the humans had to help me out there. The place stank of pee, but I didn’t care. There were worse places. I’d been to most of them.

I dreamed Sam put a biscuit on my nose. We stared at each other. All the horrible things melted away. Every part of me waited for that magic word. The one that would make everything right.

Go!


 

The Midnight Clock

“Wake up Maddie, we’re making relish today.”

Maddie groaned and glared at her stepmother. She dragged herself out of bed to begin a long day of chopping, grinding, and stirring, then pouring the mixtures into hot jars. How much relish do we need?  Maddie pushed her long, damp hair out of her face.

Before the relish had been pickles; before that had been jams. Since my father vanished, I’ve become a slave to the mad queen of preserves.

“I think we are done for the day,” her stepmother said, “I would like….” but Maddie had grabbed her cloak; one of the the last things she had of her mother and run from the house before her stepmother could ask yet more work of her.

The sun was out, but the air was cool enough to make her glad of the cloak. She wandered down to the market. She had no money, but liked the busy atmosphere. Then there were the young men standing around as well. She’d got to know them a little. Jonas, a muscular blond, was the obvious leader. He smiled and flattered her. He even bought her a treat when her stomach growled. Over the last few weeks whenever she could escape she had run to the market and to walk with Jonas and the others, wishing she had her own money to spend..

If Mom were alive, if Father hadn’t married a stranger, then left; if life was fair… But life wasn’t fair, She understood that now; life was sharing home and anger with her stepmother, but no understanding

Maddie decided to go to the Midnight Clock with her aching heart. She would wish for Jonas to carry her away from her miserable life. She lit the match with the first strike. The warm glow of her lamp showed the clock peeking through the vines on the wall. It was one minute to midnight on the full moon – magic time. The minute hand moved and she touched the face of the clock to make her wish. But all the carefully prepared words deserted her, leaving an inchoate longing in their place. The hand moved again. It was done. She climbed down the ladder and walked home.

The next day she went to the market and laughed and talked with Jonas. Something was different, she thought, he was paying much more attention to her. She flirted with him, laughing and teasing. They would fall in love, get married and live in a house with no jars to fill. At noon they walked over to the food side of the market to buy a snack. Maddie’s stepmother was there in a tiny booth with jars lining the walls.

“No,” Maddie whispered, “You’re selling them? All that work just so you could make money?”

“Maddie, wait,” her stepmother called, but Maddie had already fled, running through the streets until she was completely lost.

Evening came and the streets had emptied. Tired and hungry, Maddie tried to find her way home. Jonas and his friends leaned against a wall. He’ll save me. Jonas smiled at her and her heart thumped. Not until he pulled her into an alley did she recognize it as fear. The other boys followed licking their lips.

“Just a poor market brat,” Jonas sneered. “There’s only one thing you’re good for. If you behave I may even pay you for it.”

Maddie twisted and pulled, but the heavy cloth of her cloak had become a trap. He pushed her against the wall and fumbled at her dress. In rage and panic Maddie stomped on the top of his foot. Jonas yelled and let go of her to strike her. Maddie stepped close and kneed him. His yell became a gurgle as he fell to the ground.

She glared at the others until they hung their heads and melted into the shadows. Maddie walked out of the alley. She knew  where she was now. Time to visit her mother. The almost full moon lit the graveyard, but Maddie borrowed a small lantern to read the letter that was the only other thing her mother had given her. She read it through as she had so many times – her mother’s promise that all would be well, that her mother would always look after her, that she would always love Maddie.

“You lied to me,” Maddie cried as the clock struck twelve, “There is no love, no hope.”

“She didn’t lie, Maddie.” Her stepmother walked across the grass to kneel beside Maddie.

Maddie turned to look at her stepmother ready to scream her anger, but tears flowed down the woman’s face.

“But promises are like wishes, they change shape as we hold them.” Her step-mother sighed and put her arm around Maddie. “I thought I would find you here.”

“What do you know about it?”

“I married your father so I would have someone to take care of me. Instead I’m alone trying to be a mother to a girl who hates me.”

“I’m scared,”  Maddie admitted as much to herself as her step-mother.

“So am I.”

“What do we do now?”

“I don’t know. We will have to find out together,” her stepmother handed her some coins. “Your share of the sales today.”

“People liked our relish?”

Her stepmother smiled, “It was the best seller.”

Maddie handed the coins back to her stepmother, “Maybe you could hold on to these for me.” She picked up her mother’s letter. “I’ll help you at the booth tomorrow.”

“Let’s go home.” They stood, and Maddie touched her mother’s tombstone.

“She isn’t you,” Maddie said to her mother. “But I think she will be a good friend.”

Short Shorts

There was a song some time back extolling the virtues of short shorts. These aren’t that kind of shorts. These are stories, most of them under a thousand words. I have a rather extreme number of them. So I decided I would post one of them occasionally.

This is from way back and was one of the first winning entries on the now defunct Worth1000.com


“I’m the King of the Castle, you’re the dirty rascal!”

The ancient challenge rang out across the schoolyard. The hill was the result of last week’s snowfall, gathered and piled at the edge of the parking lot. The crier of the challenge was, as always, Michael, named appropriately after the archangel of war.

With a howl the challengers scrambled up the hill only to be tumbled again to the bottom. One would think that twenty challengers would easily topple the King from his Castle, but Michael was impossibly agile, and massively built. No one could move him. I dodged feet and hands and bodies as I scrambled to the top, only to be caught by an avalanche of childhood and dragged again to the ground. All through recess the battle raged.

Recess was all but over and even Michael’s immense strength was fading. The only thing that kept him on that hill was that we were fading faster. From twenty we were down to ten, then five, then it was just Michael and me, just like every battle this week. I wasn’t strong, or quick, or smart, but I was stubborn. Michael grinned at me, sure in his victory. He was, like Achilles, invincible.

Invincible except for his heel. It was my last wild charge to the top. Gasping painfully, I slipped. Instead of landing a clean shove to my chest Michael missed completely. Of course, he recovered instantly and jumped back, but his left foot landed on my hand. I pulled at my hand and overbalanced the hero just enough to send him tumbling down the hill. I had won. Climbing to the top I screamed my victory song.

“I’m the King of the Castle, you’re the dirty rascal.”

I had done the impossible. I had tumbled the hero King. I, Felix Abercrombie, was the King of the Castle. I was…..flying. Michael had hit me with everything he had left. The bell rang as I sailed through the air. I saw Michael’s face at first delighted, then terrified. I landed in the drifted snow accompanied by awful silence. Then the screams of my classmates brought the teachers. Covered in blood and snow I smiled and the world went dark. It would be spring before I returned to class.

We never again played King of the Castle. But Michael and I, we were legends.

Vision of the Griffin’s Heart Blog Tour

7bcfc1_8e02b2c450564fbe8c6d2d2c3e279e68JUST RELEASED! Vision of the Griffin’s Heart, Andy Smithson, Book 5

Four years ago, Andy Smithson discovered he is the Chosen one to break a 500-yr-old curse plaguing the land of Oomaldee when he unexpectedly and mysteriously found himself there. To do so, he must collect ingredients for a magical potion. Thus far he has gathered the scale of a red dragon, venom from a giant serpent, a unicorn’s horn, and the tail feather of a phoenix. Now he must ask a griffin for one of its talons. There’s just one problem…humans have poached griffin treasure, causing these mythical creatures to attack on sight. Complicating matters, the evil Abaddon, sovereign of Oomaldee’s northern neighbor, is turning more and more citizens into zolt in his ongoing campaign of terror as he sets in motion the final steps of his plan to conquer the land. Things really start to heat up in book five! If you loved Harry Potter, you’ll love the Andy Smithson series chalk full of mythical creatures, newly invented animals like zolt, herewolves, and therewolves, a complex plot with evolving characters, and positive themes including responsibility, diligence, dignity, friendship and more

 

 

7bcfc1_8a24bc7f0b474b758ec4a0ea0e375d1a (1)L. R. W. Lee credits her love of fantasy with her introduction to C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Later on, she enjoyed the complex world of Middle Earth brought to life by J. R. R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The multiple dimensions of the worlds mixed with a layer of meaning, captivated her and made her desire to invent Young Adult Fantasy and Epic Fantasy worlds others could get lost in, but also take meaning away from. More recently, L. R. W. Lee has found inspiration from J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series as well as Brandon Mull and his best selling Fablehaven, Beyonders and Five Kingdoms series. L. R. W. Lee writes to teach her readers principles that can transform their lives – overcoming frustration, impatience, fear and more. She also shows why responsibility, diligence and dignity are the keys to true success in life. She lives in scenic Austin, TX with her husband. Their daughter is a Computer Engineer for Microsoft and their son serves in the Air Force.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Email

 

7bcfc1_9b703397b828493f95af0b1e9326dfdf

L.R.W. LEE INTERVIEW

1. How did you come up with your main character, Andy Smithson? Did he just pop into your imagination or did you specifically develop him? Andy is patterned after my son. After our first child who was what I would call compliant and seemed to need little to no correction, our son arrived on the scene. As with most 2nd children, he was polar opposite and provided much fodder for an engaging main character.

2. How did your experience with building a business help with your writing? It has been invaluable for I understand that writing is only 50% of the writer’s success equation. Unlike Field of Dreams, with so many good books available today, just launching it, even on a well trafficked platform like Amazon, does not get recognition. Because of my corporate background, from day one I began working to build a platform – Twitter and Facebook primarily and now also Book Nerd Paradise. As well, I understand the importance of the author community, for no author can succeed these days without the support of fellow authors. My background has also helped in understanding the need to optimize my books to rank well on the variety of sites they are listed on. There’s much more, but those are the biggest helps I would say.

3. Was there any particular book or author whom you feel had the most influence on your work? I have to say JK Rowling. The imagination she revealed, the strength of her characters, the world building, the depth of plot over multiple books…she definitely shaped how I think about writing.

4. What do you love the most about writing for young people? Young people are moldable. My passion for writing is to share with readers principles that from my experience can help them live more peaceful lives. A few of these principles include overcoming fear, frustration and impatience as well as understanding that true success in life is not from riches, fame or power, but rather responsibility, diligence and dignity. If they can finish any of my books closer to understanding these principles, I feel very fulfilled.

5. Which part of the creative process is your favorite? Least favorite? Designing the story arc is my favorite part of the creative process for you can take a story anywhere your imagination can go. My least favorite part is editing/revising. Even though I know the narrative gets much stronger as a result, it’s still my least favorite part.

6. How long does it usually take you to write one of your stories from when you get the idea to when it’s finished? Usually about 6 months.

7. I know that most authors love all their characters but which of your many “children” is your favorite (besides Andy) and why? I have to say Mermin, the kindly old wizard who speaks with a lisp. I love him most after Andy because he’s so warm, humble and approachable. He’s fallible and he knows it, which is why he doesn’t apologize for his mistakes, rather he is comfortable in his own skin.

8. Do you ever plan to branch out into other genres besides middle grade/young adult fantasy? Funny you should ask. Yes, I’m actually noodling with a story arc of a YA Sci Fi story.

9. How do you feel your writing has evolved since your first novel? I can see how much I’ve changed and improved in showing rather than telling my readers what’s happening. I want them to engage and to show – providing sight, sounds, touch, smell, and taste cues is a big part of that. I was particularly thrilled when my editor came back a full week sooner than expected with this current book because I had improved so much between book three and four. My pocketbook also appreciated that.

 

 

Against the Oaks of Bashan – Guest post by Julia Starling

Against the Oaks of Bashan cover

The best way to rule a populace is from behind the scenes. Let people think they control their opinions and actions, and you can lead them anywhere.

So believes Professor Litvac, who dreams of engineering the “perfect consumer”, creating a populace living a life of mediocrity, anxiety, and malleable opinions. And in the turbulent political climate of 1970s Buenos Aires, he’s got plenty of opportunity to experiment. Any young adults who disappear are assumed to be the victims of ongoing political unrest.

Trapped in one of Litvac’s torture camps are Lucas and Vera Freund. Brilliant scientists, the Freunds hold the key to Litvac’s success, but they’re not talking. With the backing of a powerful Catholic sect, Litvac puts a plan in motion that will transcend generations. He’ll have what he wants–no matter the cost.


 

Who are you and how did you start writing?

I am a medical doctor and psychotherapist, born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I started my career as a med student in Buenos Aires, and then moved to England to complete my studies. After acing the US Medical Licensing Exams (99th percentile in all of them), I interviewed for Psychiatry programs in the US and decided that the field was not for me—not here in the US. So I went back to school, after moving to California, and completed another degree to become a licensed psychotherapist in the States.

After a forced sabbatical (for health reasons), I began to write more intensely. ‘Against the Oaks of Bashan’ came after a year of soul searching.

How did you come up with the concept of your story? 

People are living a fast-paced life nowadays, a life that does not let them stop to think what they truly want to do with their lives, to ponder over existential issues, to chose their own path rather than following what everybody else is doing.

It looks like the norm is to go for as much distraction as possible, blindly following collective opinions, with no time to think for our selves—until one day we just die.

How did you come up with the title?

It is an Old Testament allusion about the idea of God severely punishing all that is extraordinary and “lifted up”. The Oaks of Bashan, mentioned in the sermon in the first chapter of the book, were the most beautiful oaks of the ancient world of the Old Testament. The Christian church and all Abrahamic traditions routinely emphasize the need to be cautious of anything extraordinary and keep our heads low, promoting mediocrity and punishing independence, freedom of thought and those who are brave enough to stand up and shine, be their own person.

A mediocre herd that is suspicious of intelligence and anything extraordinary is a perfect malleable group, ready to absorb the values and ideas that the elites in power want them to profess and live by.

Please provide some insight into or a secret or two about your story.

Why is it that the door of a secret vault in a New Mexico scientific institute can only be opened by Frances Fons, a young Argentine scientist born 9 months after the vault was last opened?

If you reflect on this question while you read the novel, you’ll be ahead in understanding the clues that lead to the shocking and juicy end.

What was the most surprising part of writing this book?

My natural literary style drifted seamlessly toward a psychological thriller that has elements of science fiction. I always assumed that my first novel would be a heady soliloquy of memoirs and reflections—but, instead, I created an exciting, thrilling, rather dark story packed with action scenes and suspense. I surprised myself along the way.

What was the hardest part of writing your book, and how did you overcome it?

The editing process: chopping the manuscript from almost 80,000 words to the current 68,000. I just spent seven consecutive days, from morning to night, focused and slashing. It was sad to see some great literary elements and poetical excerpts go…but very necessary to keep the plot focused, smooth and moving along.

 

Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment? 

Exactly where I am right now: a north-facing studio with huge windows and direct views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, with only a typewriter and my painting materials around. I paint as a way of inspiration. The cover art in my book is my artwork.

When I am done with the first draft, I move to an office with a computer and do the rest. It’s a great balance.

Name one entity that you feel supported your writing, outside of family members. 

Nobody. But then again, I did not look for help outside family and friends. My husband, an artist, has been an incredible source of support. And many friends have provided me with feedback and encouragement.

What is your advice to writers?

Base your stories and character development on what you know. And don’t get too distracted with what others are doing. This is your voice and your creation—don’t let anyone bully you into conforming to their norms. Protect your uniqueness.

If you met Stephen King on an elevator, how would pitch your book to him?

In all honesty, in that situation I would keep quiet and not approach him. I am not good at soliciting contacts because of my personality. I don’t like depending on favors to achieve my goals. I like my work to speak for itself. It’s a harder, lonelier, and sometimes gruesome path. But I’d rather walk it alone than grovel over any famous person that I meet in order to get something out of it.

 

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Julia Starling is a medical doctor and psychotherapist. Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she spent five years in the UK finishing her clinical studies and then moved to California to complete her psychotherapy training. She currently lives in northern New Mexico with her husband Alex.

The Heron Master and other stories is live!

I’ve released my sixth book, The Heronmaster and other stories with an amazing cover by Wil Oberdier. Check out samples of a couple of the stories on the page link above. If you sign up for my Newsletter, the first twenty people will get a free ebook of the Heronmaster in the format of their choice. The Newsletter will contain a story, a book review and some writing tips and some other goodies. All of this will be exclusive first release to the members of my newsletter list. Sign up by clicking the Newsletter link above.

 

Cover Reveal for The Heronmaster

leaperalex2015leaperstale10My newest book is a collection of stories. The title story follows the life of a frog who must do the impossible to protect his pond. We also follow the adventure of a wolf who is forced to play detective to learn the fate of a bull moose. Two other stories round out the book bringing meteors and red balloons into character’s lives with unexpected results. Look for it Novemember 10th on Amazon and other ebook sellers. The hard copy version will be available by the end of November through Lulu.

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