Links, publication, Writing

A Little Late, but Better Than Never…

Monday was Tell A Fairy Tale Day, and I meant to post this here then…but, ya know, life, yadda yadda. Anyhow, I’m here and posting now, so that’s going to have to work for this year.

Here’s a little story I wrote a few years back. I hope you like this darkly funny tale, and can find the various stories and nursery rhymes it references.

 

Jack Spratt: The Real Story

by M. E. Garber

 

Jack Spratt could eat no fat,

His wife could eat no lean.

Betwixt the two, 

They licked the platter clean.

***

Jack leaned back from the evening meal, a dark-furred hand going up to pick at his large teeth.

“Mr. Spratt, if you please! Do not pick your teeth at the table!” His wife’s deep voice so close behind him made him jump like a nervous hare. He was glad, therefore, that she had just eaten her fill of the roasted goat. He, meanwhile, had made short work of the salad and carrots. It was a stem of said salad that was stuck between his teeth just now, but he ignored it due to the racing of his heart.

“Sorry, dearest. But I do wish you’d quit sneaking up behind me. It’s not good for my nerves.”

Elsa, his wife, came beside him and cleared away the plate, smiling wolfishly. She liked displaying her large, yellowed canines prominently; he knew she liked the way it made him squirm. Normally he had little qualms over his wife’s peccadillos, but in two nights the moon would be full, and Elsa was growing restless earlier with each moon that passed. It leached away her good sense, and he grew more and more fearful of her during the fullness of the moons.

He retreated to the hearth and poked at the fire, trying to calm his breathing and flatten his gooseflesh. Letting her scent his fear would be bad. In as calm a tone as he could muster, Jack spoke over the sounds of her washing up.

“I thought I might go to the village tomorrow. Leave in the morning, do some trading. Stay a couple nights. Maybe visit my friend Hamm.” He kept his eyes on the snapping fire, but he felt her glowing eyes caressing the back of his head.

“Ohhh, why, Mr. Spratt. I don’t think that’s such a good idea. You know I can use you here during the full moon. To keep things … settled … during my time of the month.”

That’s what she called it, now. Her ‘time of the month,’ as if a werewolf’s curse was something entirely normal. She’d rampage over the countryside for a night and a half, maybe two depending on the moon-cycle, then come straggling back home, naked and bedraggled, flushed with a shameful joy. Lately she’d been staying closer to home during her change. He’d heard her snuffling outside the door, howling in the forest behind the barn.

Jack shook his head. Ever since they’d refused to help the old witch of the wood the year before, when she wanted to lure children, Jack’s ears had grown, and a fine hair grew over his arms and hands, then his whole body. His eyes got sharper, and while living with a woman cursed with lycanthropy never made a man calm, Jack had gotten more high-strung than ever. He refused to admit it for the longest time, but there was no denying it any longer: he was turning into a rabbit. He knew that his wife knew, and found him … interesting.

“Besides,” Elsa murmured, turning her gold-flecked eyes back to her dishes, “you were just to the village two weeks ago, so I can’t imagine you need to visit again so soon.”

Jack froze. His heart hammered once more, and his ears heard the low, throaty laugh his wife gave. He scented his own panic, and knew mortal fear.

#

Jack shut the door to the chicken coop behind him. He’d barricaded the henhouse doors from the inside. Now he prepared to nail boards across the doorframe to secure it — he hoped — from entry. He lifted the hammer, set the nail and swung.

Hot breath on his neck made him leap and twirl, but the hammer landed on his thumb anyway. He hopped a few steps, sucking his thumb, as he took in his wife’s narrowed, gleaming eyes and hungry smile. He noticed the way she tensed at his hopping, and he immediately froze.

“What are you doing, Mr. Spratt?”

“Just protecting the chickens, Mrs. Spratt.” His heart hammered at his throat and made his voice come out as a squeak. Her smile widened.

“Good instincts, but somehow I think the hens will be safe. There are better things on the menu tonight, I do believe.” With a last wolfish grin, she turned and loped back to the house.

#

The moon rose early that evening. His wife never left the house, but sat watching Jack, pinning him to the dark corner of the room with her intense eyes. As soon as the change rendered her immobile, he raced out the door, zigging and zagging in a panic. All too soon, he heard the howl of pursuit, and in a burst of speed, Jack zipped up to Hamm’s dilapidated, straw-mortared hovel. At his panicked knocking, his short, fat friend opened the door. Jack burst inside, slamming the door behind him.

“Why, Jack. Whatever is the matter? Onk.” Hamm always caught his breath after each utterance, sounding like a goose. Or a pig.

Before Jack could explain, Elsa was upon the house, howling for Jack’s blood. The two friends cowered in the center of the room as the wolf shouted, “Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in!”

“Go away! Onk. Onk.”

Elsa rammed the door, and it gave way in a shower of wood and straw. Jack and Hamm sprinted out, to Hamm’s brother’s house nearby.

At Pudge’s wooden house, the scene repeated itself, and Jack and the two little pigs squealed in terror as they zipped to the eldest brother’s home. Porky’s home was stout brick, and when the wolf arrived hot on their heels, Porky laughed at the wolf’s foolishness. Jack cowered by Porky’s feet, panting, as his friend’s brother told off the wolf.

The door shuddered once, twice, three times, but held. Elsa snarled and snapped on the other side, cursing Jack, cursing bricks, and doubly-cursing Porky. Jack looked up, his pulse slowing as hope bloomed in his heart.

There was a long silence, then the sound of footsteps on the roof.

“The chimney!” Jack shouted. But Porky was already stoking the fire higher. He placed a large soup pot in the hearth. The wolf popped out the chimney and fell into the pot, and Porky threw the heavy lid onto it. Jack and the others raced to hold the lid in place as the wolf who’d been his wife struggled to escape.

As the bangs and knocks came to an end, Jack grinned at his friend.

“Looks like you’ll have soup tonight, my friends. Thanks!”

“No thanks needed. But you know, there’s one thing that goes perfect with soup.”

“Oh?” Jack looked back towards the kettle, sniffing appreciatively as Porky lifted the lid. “What?”

“Roast rabbit.”

As the lid hit his skull, Jack heard the pigs cheer, and he saw only dark.

###

(This story was first published in Short Sips; Coffee House Flash Fiction Collection 2)

If you liked this short tale, here are links to a few other people who played along this year–and they actually got their stories posted on time, unlike me. (Drat them! Um, I mean, good for them!)

Cecile Cristofari

Melissa Mead

Karlo Yeager Rodriguez

 

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life

Solstice 2017

Today is the winter solstice here in the northern hemisphere, and the longest night/shortest day of the year. I’d been hoping to have a bonfire tonight, to light a very real blaze of bright against the encroaching darkness, but heavy rain in the wee hours have put an end to that idea; the wood, waiting patiently in the fire pit, is now soaked.

Instead, I’ll be lighting candles throughout the house. If not one big blaze, then two dozen smaller ones. Maybe more. I’ll still make my attempt to shove back the dark and the dreary depression that often comes with it. The light in my heart burns, sometimes bright, sometimes dim, but always there. And when I light my candles, my heart will rejoice.

The build-up to the holidays and the end-rush into the new year always sneak up on me with more force than expected, and this year is no exception. I’ve been “slaving away” on the novel (well, I am enjoying it, but it’s taking far longer than expected–as usual!), and trying to sneak in short stories (mostly unsuccessfully) around the corners and in free moments. In addition, it’s cool enough to do gardening, so the garden has been plumped and preened a bit, and the holidays demand cooking and baking, and the dog is full of ball-playing enthusiasm with the cooler temps, and…

…and back to that darkness. Sometimes you want to shove back the dark; other times you embrace it and simply take a nap. Yesterday, and tomorrow, I did and shall nap. It does the soul a world of good, too, being a gift to yourself.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, I wish you a happy one. And a good winter’s nap, afterwards. Today, I wish you a flame–even if it’s a candle in your heart–against the dark.

research, Writing

Novel Thoughts

I’ve begun work on another novel, working titled Unspoken. This is a secondary world fantasy novel that has involved a fair share of behind-the-scenes world building, which I’ve enjoyed a lot. It also gave me an opportunity to create two entirely new species, one predator and one prey, which, OMG is just fascinating. Talk about your research rabbit holes! I could research critters’ biology and habits until the cows come home, until the power grid goes down, until…well, you get the point. I kinda likes that sort of thing. 😉

My process for this novel has changed from the previous ones, and those changed from the process I used before that. Basically, I’m moving from “pure pantster” to “whole lotta plotter.” This is not something I’d anticipated doing when I started writing seriously. It’s happened organically, and I’m happy with the changes so far, so… *shrugs.* Live and let live, right? Which also means to be willing to try something new if your old way just isn’t working for you anymore.

Unspoken has gone through three full levels of outlining–or outline editing, as I prefer to think of it. I’m thinking of each like a mini-draft of the novel itself, which let me get over the “just outlining” negativity. The first pass was simply taking the bits and bobs of story and imposing an order on them, then filling in the blanks. This was comparatively easy, as it’s how I started adding structure when I found pantsing wasn’t doing it for me. It’s fun. I saw the shape taking form, and it was thrilling (this was the only step I took for book one of Jess, btw).

The second editing level came next. I let the ideas simmer a week, then went back to the rough outline with a “Yes, But/No, And” checklist. The idea here is that every scene should have a protagonist with a goal, and for every scene I should ask “Did the goal get met?” The answer, of course, should never be “Yes” until the very end. It could be, “Yes, BUT…” and then something worse than the present situation came about. The answer could be “No, AND…” so that something worse came about. But always, things get worse, get more complicated, etc–even when some small victory is achieved, there is a setback.

That process drew my attention to where the story was fuzzy in my mind. Where the protagonist wasn’t fully on my mind, just the “really cool world building” or “here I’ll show how tough the desert is” and that kind of thing. Then came another cooling off period, a plot-breaking with others to see what was/wasn’t working, and my final round of editing: the scene/sequel process.

I found this bit at the old Jim Butcher LJ (scene bit here, and sequel bit here), and he’s carried the links to his new site, so honest, go read them! His “Scene” reiterates the “Yes, But/No, And” process, so for me, “Sequel” held the gold. I’ve always muddied my reactions, dallying too long around the emotions, etc. And even after the second edit of the outline, going through Unspoken scene by scene really let me zero in on the places where I was still dallying too long, or too unsure of what I was saying, or why. It was a frustrating process, but one that showed me–quite clearly and plainly–my own writing weaknesses.

And now I can’t imagine having written off that first draft of the outline! Nor do I want to imagine the process of trial and error to get three full written drafts to structural state this first draft will be–my mind simply boggles at the thought! That said, there are as many ways to write as there are writers who write. Do whatever works for you to get words on the page, and to feel good about them.

As for me and my writing style? I’m still a work in progress. My next novel will probably see yet another change in process. But that means I gotta get back to writing this one. So…*waves and disappears*

food, plain silliness, publication

Pi Day Publication News!

So yes, it’s Pi Day–you know, March 14? 3.14…

Okay, yes, I’m making pie to celebrate. Key lime is about right this year. Something tart and sweet and refreshing. Yum.

Oh, it’s also publication day for my story over on the Colored Lens website! If you haven’t purchased the entire issue, you can read my story “Sanachi’s Escape” on the website now. Unlike key lime pie, this story is a grim little thing. More than a bit depressing. It’s a speculative fiction story set on another world that takes a look at the children who grow up amid violence and war. So brace yourself, then click the link.

I hope you enjoy it. And happy Pi to you!

goals, publication

“Sanachi’s Escape” Now Available!

ColoredLensWinter17I have good news, and I have better news!

The Good News: My short story, “Sanachi’s Escape,” is in the current issue of The Colored Lens, now available at Amazon. It’s the story of a boy growing up in a very different world, making very difficult choices, just to survive. It’s just that sometimes, plans have to change.

The Better News: Starting January 31st, The Colored Lens is going to put the electronic version on sale. The entire issue will cost just 99¢! They’ll be announcing this shortly on social media, so get ready. The price will slowly rise, regaining full price on February 3. So get your copy on January 31st for the best pricing!

Now, did you see that picture up there? Let me point out that I’m the first author listed. That’s right, my story opens the issue! (insert squee here!) This is a first for me–being the lead story–and I’m thrilled that “Sanachi’s Escape” has garnered that faith from the editors.

Ready for a little bit more about the story? Well, the idea for “Sanachi’s Escape” came from my thinking about the children born into war-torn, strife-laden countries, and how that affects their lives, and the lives of all born there for generations. Naturally, it changed as I wrote it, but you can see that start if you’re looking for it, I think. Also, an early version of this story was my first submission to Writers of the Future, garnering an Honorable Mention.

I’m so pleased it found such a wonderful home, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

goals, Paradise Lost, Writing, Year in Review

Annual Statement of Goals, 2017 Edition

Ah, here we are sliding into the new year with nary a mistake dating a check or letter so far! This must be a good omen, right? That or my brain is setting me up for a massive fail later…which I wouldn’t bet against, but also which I won’t be thinking about just now.

It looks like last year worked out pretty well for me. My short story sales and submissions went down, because early on I focused on the novel(s), letting short fiction slide. It distressed me quite a bit–still does, in fact–because I’ve become used to the “instant gratification” of short story sales instead of the “delayed gratification” of novel writing. For the longest time, it seemed to me that I just wasn’t getting anywhere. It took my husband commenting that “you know, you didn’t get as many submissions or acceptances as you’d hoped, but look, you wrote two novels last year” before my brain realized that, duh, yeah, I hadn’t been lazy or non-productive. Just “differently productive.” And this year, last year’s productivity will come to fruition.

2016: Highlights in review

  • Submitted Book 1’s opening for Taos Toolbox
  • Accepted to & attended Taos Toolbox
  • Edited Book 1 prior to workshop
  • Edited Book 1 after workshop!
  • Revisited overall trilogy plot
  • Wrote Book 2
  • Wrote at least 8 new short stories (Gah! I never tallied those figures so I can’t tell you–or myself–exactly how many!), 6 of them in Codex contests.
  • Became a Writers of the Future Quarter 2 Finalist (!!!!!)
  • One new story sale, one story “near-sale” [market went on hiatus 😦  ]
  • 6 stories still on submission at the turn of the year.

So, here are my writing goals for 2017

  • Start Book 3 of my Jess Stow trilogy
  • Finish Book 3 of Jess Stow
  • Edit ALL BOOKS of Jess Stow, and send to editor
  • Final edits of entire trilogy
  • Get covers created (OMG–so exciting!!!!)
  • Publish Jess Stow books
  • Finish planning and plot-breaking Unspoken, my next, stand-alone fantasy novel
  • Start writing Unspoken
  • Participate in Codex short story writing contests for at least 5 new stories
  • attend Paradise Lost Writers Retreat

In fact, my advanced plan is to have Book 3 finished before Paradise Lost (end of April), which I can do if I average 5000 words a week on that novel. The Weekend Warrior contest is going on now, which takes a lot of my time over the next 5 weeks–but I’m still committed to this insanity plan. So you might not see me here or on any social media much until after Paradise Lost.

In other words, it’s going to be a busy year. I hope I come out at the end of 2017 as pleasantly surprised by my writing productivity as I was last year. And to you all, I hope the same. Happy reading, and happy writing!

 

goals, Paradise Lost, Writing Workshops, Year in Review

Welcome, 2017

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you had a lovely, peaceful holiday season, and are ready for the challenges and hopes of the coming year. Husband and I celebrated quietly, at home together–the first time we’ve done so in our adult lives. It was a marked change, and honestly, this year was a welcome one, as well.

In addition to celebrating the holidays, I kept writing, and I am pleased to announce that I met my goal of finishing Book Two of my YA urban fantasy trilogy on December 30th! Hurray! We celebrated by eating dinner out that night (more hurray!). Since then, I’ve taken a “vacation” from writing, simply enjoying long naps and late mornings, walking the dog and conversations with friends and family. Very nice. Even the weather has cooperated, staying partly sunny and above-average in warmth, so sitting outside feels perfect.

Later today, I start on Book Three, which is outlined and ready to go. And so am I! I’m excited to get on with Jess’s adventures, seeing and living the world through her eyes. She’s a witch, and one of my favorite parts is exploring her magic–how it works, what it does, how it feels. So much fun!

Once Book Three’s first draft is done, I get edit them all (as soon as I typed the final words on book two, my mind started thinking, “hmm, you know, I should really punch that up back there, and maybe over there, too. And if I only tweaked that, then this will really shine…”). And then, lo and behold…I’ll get to send them off to my editor, after which, I’ll edit again! 🙂 Eventually, though, they will be available–my goal is by the end of the year, but I’ll be sure to update you here before that point.

In addition to all this fun, I’ve started playing around with an idea for my next novel, a stand-alone secondary-world fantasy, currently using the working title of “Unspoken.” AND, I’ve registered for the Paradise Lost Writing Workshop, where I’ll not only see lots of writers I know from Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox, but get to meet other writers while we all work on our books and stories. I get a lot of “creative energy” out of these things, and really hope that Paradise Lost will help me plot-break “Unspoken,” so it’s ready to begin once the Jessamin Stow books are finished.

I’ll make my annual year’s end summary and new-year’s goals posting soon–probably later this week. But for now, I’m easing back into a normal working life again. Which means I need to get writing.

But first, for the coming year I wish all of you comfort in your souls, strength in your wills, and health. Blessings on us all.

Magic of the Everyday, Personal Life

Thanksgiving 2016

So, it’s Thanksgiving again. Despite much having gone wrong this year (see 2 posts previous, for starters), there is so much that I’m thankful for. Besides the obvious things, like husband, and dog–both of whom rank tops on my “grateful for” list! Here’s some more:

I live in a wonderful place. Here, I’ve gotten to experience new plants, both to visually enjoy, and to grow and cook with: pineapples, Meyer lemons, pindo palm fruit, various other types of palm trees, persimmons, and a wide variety of ornamental gingers are just a small sampling. Sometimes the gardens here overwhelm me, without a “down” season to forget them, but mostly, nurturing the earth and plants is a great way for me to nurture myself and my soul. And this time of year, as the weather cools off and the humidity declines, I really enjoy time spent outdoors again.

I’ve also gotten to experience new wildlife: alligators and water moccasins, sure, but also black racers and ring-necked snakes, red-belly cooters, Sandhill cranes, ibis, and zebra butterflies are all common here, and it’s been interesting to experience “taking them for granted.” Eventually, when you live with something long enough, the novelty wears off. And yet, deep down these creatures still delight me, even while I shrug a bit at their everyday commonness.

I attended Taos Toolbox over the summer. I met a bunch of new people, made some new friends, and got reacquainted with a writer I’d met before. It was a blast! And it was in a beautiful location. But it was also deeply educational, and I am starting to see now just how much that experienced helped me to “level up” in my writing. This is something I’m very thankful for, indeed!

Time slips by, one slow day at a time, until it piles up into years. Yes, it’s been just over 3 years since I attended Viable Paradise, way back in October of 2013. It was my first workshop experience, and I was terrified, going in. But thanks to fortune and co-attendee Paul Tuttle Starr, our little VP 17 cohort is still hanging out together (on a Slack channel) and keeping one another honest as writers, sane humans(well, more or less–we are writers, after all), and well-critted. This is honestly one of the best groups of folk I’ve had the opportunity to meet and hang out with, and their encouragement and honest delight at one another’s good fortune is balm to a wounded soul.

Writing, in general, is something I’m very grateful for, both my own and that I’ve read by others. Books and stories see me through so much, and I’ve loved them ever since I learned to read and disappear into a new world, a new point of view. Now that I’m writing, I still love falling into new worlds, and new mind-sets, and I love watching my writing slowly (very slowly!) improve. I love getting to geek out with other writers over stories, ideas, technique, books we love–all of it. This whole big literary life–I love it, and so glad to be a tiny, tiny part of it.

Family and friends are always there, but it’s good to take time to remember that, and recognize what a good thing this is, when you’ve got good ones. I do, and I am grateful.

There is more. Much, much more. But I’m not going to bore you with my gratitude for the dark skies that show the millions of stars each night, or the loud hooting of owls when I awake at 3 a.m., or the sweet, beguiling scent of the tea olive tree outside my bedroom window, or the taste of homemade chai on a cold night, or the hundreds of other small things that delight me. It’s enough to know they’re there. That I’m grateful for all this life is offering me. And that I’m hoping to pay it back by paying it forward.

Happy Thanksgiving.