The Month Ahead – June 2017

May has been a little bit hit and miss as far as getting the things done that I wanted to get done.

I’m actually OK with that. I’ve had a lot of months that were all miss and no hit, so this is actually an improvement.

What I did

I’ve been pretty faithful about keeping up with the reading for the 1000 Day MFA. I’ve taken a day off, here and there. Mostly, like, weekends–though I haven’t even taken every weekend off. I’m at the very beginning of this intentional plan to read more across more genres so I still have lots of time to fall off the wagon, but for now things are looking pretty good.

I haven’t kept up as well with the short story writing. I’ve written one story, and it’s one I need for a collection.

I really want to get back to that and use those stories to restart the weekly fiction posting I was doing on the blog for a while. Stories for the blog will always come second to stories that I intend for publication. But if I can get the juices flowing by writing and posting short pieces here, I believe it will help with my overall word output.

What’s on deck

June is going to get busy for me.

Here’s what I have planned (keeping in mind that by “planned” I mean “I intend to do these things but haven’t created any kind of firm schedule to actually get them done.”)

  • The Water Collection (these are the stories I wrote for AtoZ in April)
    • Write a few “bonus” stories (2 replacement stories–1 of which is done, plus 3-5 originals that have never been seen before)
    • Polishing, editing, and proofreading
    • Cover design and back cover/marketing copy
    • Formatting and publication
  • Advance planning and simple outlining for my July Camp NaNoWriMo project.
  • Return to and complete the revision analysis of my Android story and decide if I’m going to try to revise or if I’d be better off completely redrafting the thing

That doesn’t look like much. On the other hand, it looks overwhelming. Gah!

Even though it looks like a lot of steps, I don’t think I’ll have any problem knocking out the Water collection–it’s the other stuff that has me worried. My biggest issues have always been with outlining and completing longer-format stories. Here I have one that’s begging to be completed, and another one waiting to be told.

I believe I can do it, but it’s going to take a lot of focus. Maybe I need to get brain glasses.

Booky Little Lies

Pardon me while I rant for a minute.

I keep seeing articles claiming that eBook sales are down, that print sales are up, and that the trends apparent over the last several years in the publishing industry are reversing.

Frankly, I don’t believe it.

Articles that say things like Real Books Have Trumped Ebooks, or Ebook Sales Plunge. Even those news outlets that aren’t crying doom for eBooks aren’t exactly being positive about the changes in the publishing industry.

All these articles have one thing in common. They’re claiming a decline of eBook sales by something between 17% and 21%.

It sounds bad. Really bad.

But it’s not true.

If you look closely, you’ll see that these numbers come from the same source: The Publishers’ Association.

Here’s the thing about that. They track book sales by publishers. We’re talking the big boys who have dominated the industry for decades, as well as smaller presses that follow established industry standards.

What don’t they track? Independent author sales and sales by non-conforming small presses.

They say right on their website that they’re tracking “publisher revenue.” That’s a different thing than actual book sales.

I can’t swear to exactly which sales they are or aren’t tracking. I don’t have the nitty gritty details. But I’d virtually guarantee this: it absolutely doesn’t take into account books that are independently published by authors who choose not to use ISBNs for their ebooks.

By their standards, these people aren’t publishers. Those sales don’t count.

And even when you look at the sales that do count, they aren’t telling the whole story.

Like, a bunch of traditional publisher have pushed their eBook prices up to $12 or $13, while their mass-market paperbacks are still well under $10. So, yeah, their print books are selling better than their eBooks. Because of price.

But not one of those publishers is talking about revenue per sale. They don’t talk about how much money they’re making when an individual book is purchased  by an individual consumer.

Why? Because that $12 eBook that has virtually no overhead associated with it is actually supporting their print sales.

There are certain costs associated with all books. Cover design. Editing. Formatting. Marketing.

For an indie, those costs will run anywhere from $0 up to several thousand dollars, depending how they’re sourcing things and how much advertising they’re doing.

For a traditional publisher, those costs will be more predictable. They’ll contract with an artist and a cover designer. They have to edit, typeset, and format for publication. Those costs are basically the same for both print and digital books. I can’t tell you exactly what traditional publishers budget for those costs, especially since, except for original cover art, most of those services will be handled entirely in-house by people who are drawing salaries rather than getting paid for working on specific projects. But let’s be really generous and say that they’re budgeting roughly $5000 per book for those things to happen. Some of the best original art may actually cost more. But overall, I’d guess that the actual cost of these services isn’t more than the top-end of what an indie would pay, so maybe a couple thousand dollars.

Also, with the exception of a few top-tier authors, there is very little budget being spent on marketing for most traditionally published books. The books get listed in distribution catalogs. Maybe a few ARCs get sent out. That’s probably mostly it.

But print books have some extra costs involved. Like, you know, printing. And warehousing. And shipping those physical books from place to place. And, while the cover price of a book will probably be anywhere from about $5.99 for a slim mass market paperback, to maybe $29.99 for a hefty hardcover, those books are all sold to retailers at a discount which allows the retailer, the distributor, the trucking company, the sales clerk, etc. to get paid their share as those books get shuffled from place to place.

Take into account discounts, remainders, and shrinkage, and the actual income a publisher can expect from a print book is pretty nebulous.

Ebooks, on the other hand, have a guaranteed return. Yes, there are digital hosting costs and a cut of sales is taken by the distributor (Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, etc.). But if you list a book for $9.99, you have a pretty good guarantee that you’re going to get $6.99 in revenue. Every time. Every copy. There are no remainders. There are no additional shipping costs. There might be occasional discounts to the buyer that will affect the income, but that would be a marketing decision that the publisher can control.

So, chances are the publisher is getting more for each eBook they sell, with less that they owe in real expenses.

Including the fact that traditional publishers often pay the author lower royalties for eBooks than they do for print.

So, yeah. I call BS on the ongoing insistence that eBooks are in trouble.

And even the statistics that say e-reader sales are down? So what? An e-reader is not the kind of thing most users will replace on a yearly basis. Plus, ownership of smartphones and tablets is way, way up, and all the major eBook platforms have apps that run on iOS, Android, and Windows. Lots of consumers will opt to use a device they already own rather than purchasing a dedicated e-reader. Especially if they are only occasional readers (say 1 book or less per month) rather than avid readers (say 1 book or more per week).

So, yeah. I’m not panicking over the alleged drop in eBook sales. And as an indie, I’m not worried about the future. Not even a little bit.

And as a reader and lover of books and stories? I do still love actual, physical books. I still buy some, especially when something I want is not available digitally, or if I’m collecting the works of a particular author. But more and more often I’m downloading eBooks or audio books. And I have them available on my Kindle Fire. And my iPhone. And my iPad. I could even have them on my desktop computer if I wanted to, but I don’t.

Remember when you see these stories popping up all over the place, you’re probably not really hearing the whole story. Not even close.

I’ll end my rant here.

A to Z is over… now what?

Hello, sports fans!

Welcome to May.

Yes, I know May has been going for more than a week now, but April was pretty busy and I took a few extra days to recover.

For those who were playing along, you are already aware that my A to Z challenge was completed with relative success.

I didn’t adore ever single story, but I got them all written, mostly on time. And I’m happy enough with the overall quality that I’m going to publish a collection!

What that means for you is that if you want to reread any of my stories you should do it sooner rather than later. I expect to leave everything up at least through the end of May, but once the collection is ready I’ll be taking down most of the stories here. My Blog Hop story (V is for Vortex) will stay put indefinitely, and I may pick one or two more to remain. I also need to do some rewrite on a couple of them, and I always like to include some bonus material so I need to write a few extra stories too. But I’m hoping to have the collection ready by mid-June at the latest. Watch this space.

Writing Stuff

In other writing news, I’m getting back to work on the revision that fell fallow over the last several weeks. As I think I’ve mentioned before, it is almost certainly going to end up as a complete rewrite. But I’m still taking the whole thing through a complete HTRYN-style revision process to get there. Partly because I want/need to fully understand that process. Partly because what I’ve done of that process so far has really helped me focus on what I think the story will end up being. I want to create a clear enough target that I know for certain that I’ll hit it the second time around. 🙂

I also have another idea percolating in the back of my head. It’s a young-adult-space-opera kind of thing that I worked on for a while and abandoned because I didn’t know what to do with it. But recently I’ve had some new ideas for the story so I want to take another stab and it. I think it will be 3 novella-length shorts, but it may decide to end up as a single, full-length novel. I’ll play that by ear as I’m working on it.

I’d really like to get both those ideas completed and published before the end of the year. It should be more than doable, but will require the kind of focus I employed during the A to Z. Sustained effort! Yikes!

If anyone wants to help, send chocolate! 😉

Moving Forward

In other news (that’s really related, but on a slightly different trajectory), another author has put a challenge out there to do what she is calling the 1000 Day MFA. Basically, it’s a process of intentionally self-educating by consuming lots of content and producing stories on a regular basis. Without the high price tag of a traditional education. Yeah – that’s a plus.

I’m at least tentatively committed to her plan which includes:

  • 1 short story, 1 poem, and 1 essay every day
  • watching 3 movies every week
  • reading 1 novel every week
  • reading 1 craft book (writing craft, duh–not arts-and-crafts) every month
  • (my own, personal addition) regularly listening to writing-related podcasts as a means of keeping up with author/writing/publishing news. I regularly listen to:
    • Writing Excuses
    • The Every Day Novelist
    • The Creative Penn Podcast
    • The Self Publishing Podcast
    • The Rocking Self Publishing Podcast
  • write 1 short story (or flash fiction story) every week
  • write 1 novel every year

My personal goals are actually a bit higher, but I don’t have the best track record of meeting my self-imposed goals, so going with these reasonable, doable plans is a good starting point.

Really, the overall goal is to get story and form and language and ideas percolating in my brain. That way, when sitting down to write, interesting things will end up on my page. I was already doing some of this. Joining this public-ish challenge seemed like a reasonable extension of my own personal commitment.

I haven’t quite “officially” started yet. I need to figure out a regular source for poems and essays since those have not been part of my usual intake up to now. This might be as simple as a visit to the library, but I also want to look into online resources. Additionally, I need to set up a tracking system both for what I’m consuming and for what I’m writing. That shouldn’t be too hard, especially since I have a husband who is the king of spreadsheets. But I need to figure out exactly what I intend to track and what I want that to look like.

The other bit I am adding that isn’t part of the “official” process–sharing things here. I want to start posting a weekly review of some kind. I want at least some of my short fiction to be practice in genres that are not my usual fare. And I want to get back in the habit posting weekly fiction or snippets here so y’all can follow along with what I’m doing. I probably also need to improve my blog organization so it’s easier to just get to what you want here. Right now it’s a bit of a mess, as per usual. * insert eye roll here *

Again–none of what I’m proposing should actually be that hard. The tough thing for me is going to be creating the habit.

Wish me luck!

And, like I said, send chocolate!

A to Z 2017–Z is for Zamboni

In just barely under the wire. This was a fun month and I even like most of the stories I got. Woot! I hope you enjoy this final installment in the 2017 A to Z Blogging Challenge.

Z is for Zamboni

Clean smooth ice is a thing of beauty. Nothing finer in all the world.

And there was no finer machine to properly groom a sheet of ice than a Zamboni Ice Resurfacer.

That’s what Frank knew. His daddy not only passed down the family trade of Professional Zamboni Ice Technician, he also named his only son after the man who invented the machine that bore his name—Frank J. Zamboni.

The world never knew a prouder Professional Zamboni Ice Technician than Frank Zamboni Ignazio.

Frank arrived well in advance of the day’s activities at the Smith Valley Ice Rink. There was no finer time to resurface ice than at the crack of dawn. No finer place than Smith Valley.

Well, maybe the Johnsonville Ice Arena. Calvin Bigalow did not deserve such a prestigious ice grooming position. The man didn’t understand the true beauty and importance of the job.

Frank shook off the thought. He didn’t need to get himself upset over things he couldn’t control. Today marked his 3rd year as the sole Ice Technician for Smith Valley, and he planned to celebrate with an extra lap around the rink and maybe a Slurpee later in the afternoon.

A few minutes before 5:30 AM, Frank let himself in through the back entrance of the rink. After switching on the overhead lighting he opened the storage room that held his beloved Zamboni.

After filling the ice making tank with clean water, he started the machine and headed toward the main ice.

Normally, he would have started an immediate counter-clockwise circuit of ice resurfacing. This morning, however, he found his way blocked. A small man in a red suit with a black vest and red bowler hat was standing on the ice in black and white wing-tipped shoes.

“Excuse me,” Frank said. “Sir? You can’t be in here. The rink doesn’t open until Nine. And you can’t be on the ice with street shoes. Only proper ice skates are allowed.”

“Son of fire,” the man in red intoned. “You have violated your calling.”

Frank huffed. The man wasn’t moving off his ice. “Sir? I really need you to step aside.”

The man didn’t move. “Frank Ignazio,” he said, “crystalline water maker. Your true identity lies elsewhere.”

Frank started to get irritated. Checking that his Zamboni was properly braked, he climbed down to confront the man directly. “Mr. Uh… do you have a name?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “You have to go. I have a job to do and you are in my way.”

“Frank Zamboni Ignazio.”

It finally dawned on Frank that this guy knew his name. “Do I know you?” he asked.

“You are the chosen. The son of fire.” The man’s voice seemed to resonate over the ice. “Come with me and meet your destiny.”

“My destiny? I’m living that already,” Frank said, his voice emphatic. “Since I was six-years-old I never wanted nothing but to drive this here rig and make the ice as smooth as glass. Now, step aside before I decide to call law enforcement.”

Frank swung his arm towards the man in a dismissive fashion. He was shocked and dismayed when the man in the red suit seemed to flare into flame before melting into the ice, leaving a deep, uneven hole in the rink’s otherwise uniform surface.

“Well, damn,” he said, staring at the hole. “Now I’m gonna have to patch that.” He shook his head. “You’d think those demons would learn to leave me alone by now. I can’t think of one single thing that would make me want to go somewhere as hot as they want to take me.”

Frank Zamboni Ignazio, the Son of Fire, climbed onto his Zamboni and set to grooming his ice.


Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–Y is for YOLO

This story isn’t my usual fare, but I like how it came out.

Y is for YOLO

“You only live once,” they said. “You’re thirteen… you can do this! It’s just like going off the high dive at the pool.”

I really didn’t want to do it, but I let them talk me into it. That was my first mistake.

I climbed the cliff with my sister and her boyfriend. Del. What kind of a stupid name is Del? Frances Arthur Delacroix. Ha. I guess if that was my name, I’d go by Del too.

Anyway, so Del and Barbara showed me the path. It took about 15 minutes, and I was hot and sweaty by the time we got up there. My legs were covered with nasty yellow-brown dirt.

I stood there breathing hard at the top of the hill overlooking the lake. I could see Trev and Sandy and the whole group down there swimming.

I wished I’d stayed down there swimming, too.

Instead, I was up there with Barb and the goon. And they wanted me to jump off a freakin’ cliff. Great.

The water looks greener from above than it does when you’re in it. Somebody told me once it’s because there’s a lot of copper in the dirt. So my sister’s creton was really kind of egging me on to jump into a pool of pennies from up high.

I kind of thought I could do it. Just get it over with. But once I was up there my heart started racing. Not just from climbing the hill, either. I was shaking all over. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My knees locked up.

Overwhelming terror. That’s what it was.

“I changed my mind,” I told Barb. “I don’t want to do this.”

It was the muscle-bound maniac who answered me. “Don’t be a baby,” he said. “Nothing bad can happen. I’ve done this a thousand times.” He turned to Barbara. “Is she always so chicken-shit?”

“Shut up, Del.” At least she had my back. For a minute. Sort of. “Listen, Teena, if you don’t want to, fine. But if you don’t, you’re just going to beat yourself up over it. Once you do it, you’ll wonder what you were even afraid of. Seriously.”

I don’t know if I thought she was right. I don’t know if I could think at all right then, I was that scared. But I also didn’t want my sister to think I was a wuss. My friends either. They’d apparently noticed that we were up there, now, and they were all staring up at us.

Waiting for a show.

I took half a step closer to the edge, then another half a step. I got close enough that I could look straight down at the water. It really didn’t look as far as I thought.

The green was darkest right below the cliff. Deeper water there. Deep enough that you couldn’t hit bottom by accident when you jumped. That was good.

I edged a little closer again. My heart was still pounding, but my breathing wasn’t so bad now. I thought maybe I really could do it.

As I stood there, right on the edge of everything, Del started to say something. I don’t know what. He stepped closer to me and something shifted. Loose dirt. I took a half step backwards, but my feet were slipping.

Then there I was, out in the middle of the air.

I think I yelled. Not sure. I couldn’t hear anything over the pounding in my ears.

I couldn’t see anything, either, except the blue sky above me.

I hit the water, back first. All the wind rushed out of me.

The heat from the sun gave way to the icy fingers of the cold water as it wrapped around me.

And now I’m here, watching my friends pulling me out of the water. Barb and Del are running back down the hill.

You only live once, they’d said.

I need to decide whether to prove them wrong.


Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–X is for Xeric

The less-popular letters of the alphabet always provide interesting challenges. For my personal theme of water, X can only stand for xeric.

adjective: xeric

  1. (of an environment or habitat) containing little moisture; very dry.

X is for Xeric

Doctor Jefferson Molesworth frowned at the intern he had been delivered. He had little use for wet-behind-the-ears college students with near zero experience. “Just don’t touch anything,” he said. “The artificial biome has to be maintained at optimal conditions.”

“It’s so hot,” complained Shaun. “I feel like I’m already shriveling up.” Although they were walking outside a glass wall over 4 inches thick, heat radiated at them like a furnace.

“Of course it’s hot. We’re looking at replicating the conditions near Dallol, Ethiopia. It’s one of the hottest, driest places on this whole damn planet.”

“Like Death Valley…”

“Sure. If Death Valley had sulfuric pools of boiling volcanic gasses. Hot both above and below.”

Shaun continued to shadow the scientist he’d been assigned to for several more minutes. Finally he asked, “Why did you request a biology intern? My specialty isn’t microorganisms or hostile environments. I’m not sure how I can help you here?”

Jefferson stopped and turned on the trainee. “I’m not the one who requested you.” He harrumphed and resumed going over the checklist on his board.

Just when Shaun was about to ask another question, Jefferson continued. “We have been asked by a government agency to do some testing on a possible life form that they can’t identify.”

“Insects? In the thermal pools?”

“Not insects. And they weren’t found in Dallol.”

“But then, why…”

“It is believed to be an exo organism. Xeric in nature.”

“Off world? Cool! But still, why an intern? Usually they don’t let us within a mile of the really ground breaking stuff.”

Jefferson shook his head without looking at the younger man. “Like I said, I didn’t pick you.”

They continued to skirt the outer rim of the artificial environment until Dr. Molesworth stopped suddenly and pointed. Shaun followed his gesture and had to resist the urge to press in nose to the glass to try to see better. “I don’t see anything,” he said.

“Just wait.”

“But I… Oh!” He still managed not to press his face to the glass, but he did lay his hand on it as he saw a thing—the thing—move. “What in the world?”

“Not our world,” Jefferson reminded him.

Shaun nodded and continued to stare. “If I didn’t see it move…”

“Exactly. It looks like a hundred other rocks. But it isn’t. Not even close.”

Shaun sucked in air as if a realization had suddenly dawned on him. “And I’m going to study it?”

Jefferson didn’t respond. Instead he asked, “Do you think you can handle 114 degrees for a few minutes?”

“You mean, I get to go in there?”

The excitement in the intern’s voice made Jefferson realize exactly why this particular intern had been sent. He guided the student to the hatch, a sealed airlock that would prevent contamination of the habitat.

After Shaun changed into specialized, biodegradable, paper-like clothing, he walked into the hatch, waited for the outer door to seal, and entered the biome. He carried nothing with him but a stainless steel tank of purified water.

“Don’t worry,” Jefferson said into a microphone. “It doesn’t move fast at all.”

Shaun made his way back to the rock-like creature and began speaking his observations. “It’s slightly smaller than my hand. Maybe 5 inches long. The surface appears almost porous—similar to coral.”

He unscrewed the cap from the water tank and gently poured its contents—roughly 4 cups of water—in a circle around the creature, just as he had been instructed.

Without warning, tendrils shot out from beneath the creature into the water, drying the ground almost instantaneously.

“The creature is highly sensitized to the presence of water,” Shaun said, his voice wavering. “It’s … oh my god! It’s growing! Only… NO!”

The creature, still expanding in size, sent out tendrils that sank into Shaun, drying him to dust just as rapidly as they had dried out the sand.

Dr. Molesworth instinctively stepped backwards, throwing his arms up as the thing suddenly exploded into hundreds of duplicates, each piece roughly the size of the first. Each one moved slowly, perhaps, Molesworth speculated, searching for water in this Xeric biome.

“Interesting.” He spoke into the microphone so the computer would record his observation. “We may have discovered the means of reproduction.”


Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–W is for Well Water

W is for Well Water

It had always been William’s job. He was the one who got the water. It was Aurinda’s job, now. Two buckets after breakfast, two more after supper. Extra on wash days or anytime mama said.

She shuffled her feet as she walked, creating a cloud of dust that she could taste. Aurinda didn’t want to fetch the water, but somebody had to. It wouldn’t be William. Not anymore.

Since she was only nine, plus a girl, mama said she didn’t have to carry two buckets at once. That was good. She didn’t think she could even lift two buckets, leastwise not without spilling. One would be hard enough. She knew it would take longer to do one at a time. Didn’t matter. You do what you got to do.

As she walked toward the well in the town square, she hesitated. This was her first time here without her big brother, but you do what you got to do.

With her bucket hooked on the rope, she realized she couldn’t reach the crank to unwind it. She tugged down on the bucket and found the rope uncoiled easily, causing the crank handle to spin.

A splash told her she’d hit the water, but then a howling started up and made her scream. Was it coming from the well? It surely sound like it was. Tingles ran up her spine and she nearly felt like crying.

She realized what it must be, then, and fear turned to anger. “Jace McCall,” she shouted down the well. “You stop this instant. That ain’t a bit funny.”

“Aurinda May?” She spun at the voice. “Aurinda, who you shouting at?” Her eyes grew wide as Jace and his brother Thomas crossed the square from their father’s shop.

Her eyes fell back on the well and she backed away. If that wasn’t Jace…

“Auri? What’s the matter?”

The moan sounded again, louder and more distinct.

Thomas, who wouldn’t be nine until the end of summer, ran away shrieking. “It’s a ghost! A ghost down the well!” The shop door jangled as he hurried inside.

Jace moved more slowly, but also backed away from the well. “Auri, I think we need to go.”

“I told my mama I’d fetch the water,” she said. “I’m big enough. I gotta fetch the water.”

“But William….” His words trailed off as he stared at the well.

A thought suddenly occurred to Aurinda. She took a deep breath, straightened her back, and walked toward the watering place.

“No, Auri! Don’t” Jace sputtered as she climbed to the edge of the well wall and took hold of the crank. He moved toward her. She thought he’d try to pull her down. She was afraid he’d accidentally push her in.

“I gotta get the water!” she screamed, tears now pouring down her cheeks. The call from the well seemed quieter now. More distant.

Turning the crank was easier than she expected, especially from her perch on the wall. But for some reason she wasn’t surprised.

When the bucket was pulled all the way up, she secured the crank while Jace unhooked the pail for her. He placed it on the cobbles and stared at her.

“Why’d you do that, Auri? Scared me near to death.” He kicked at the stones beneath his feet. “I thought that was William—that he would pull you right down where he’d gone.”

Aurinda smiled then—first time since her brother fell down the well. “I think it really was him,” she said. “But he’d never hurt me, so I knew he must be here to help.” She picked up the bucket and started back toward her house. “Mama needs this water. You to what you got to do.”



Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–V is for Vortex

April is both fun and busy around here. Not only is it the time of the annual A to Z Challenge, it is also the time for a regularly scheduled blog hop that I participate in. Today’s post is doing double duty! So when you’re done reading this story, consider checking out other stories in the StoryTime Blog Hop. Links are included below. I guarantee you’ll find something to love.

V is for Vortex

It isn’t fair, Darya thought. Her Aunt Ebba and Uncle Wade? They never understood, never believed in her dreams. And now? Now they were taking the word of that horrible shark, Ms. Talulah, over their own family.

So she left. Despite the storms brewing. Maybe because of them.

It was simple enough to slip out. Everyone seemed to be burrowing in as everything darkened around them. Nobody paid Darya any attention at all.

Isn’t that the way it always is? She thought. Nobody even notices me except to tell me what to do.

Without thought, Darya first headed back toward the clam bake where she’d been earlier. Perhaps her friends would still be there. Or maybe she’d get a reading from that old stranger— the one telling stories that made the little ones squeal. She noticed him giving fortunes to a few—some who might not have wanted anyone to see.

Her hopes for a sympathetic ear were dashed back at the community’s center. Everyone was gone. Everything had been packed up before the storm. And now, with the storm starting in earnest, she felt pulled and tugged by the swirling around her.

I need to get somewhere safe. I need…

Darya couldn’t finish her thought as, suddenly, she was spun around and sucked straight up off the sand by a powerful vortex.

Pitched and turned by the storm, she found herself tossed into the atmosphere.

In the clouds, she thought. Surely this is a dream.

As if to verify a dream state, she saw the old fortune-teller whirl past, flipping cards and tossing shells. Just her luck.

Then she saw nasty Ms. Talulah, her teeth gleaming through a false smile.

And her own family. Aunt Ebba’s worry was so clear it fairly pulsed across her skin.

It was a mistake. She knew already, she shouldn’t have left. And now she wondered if she’d ever make it home.

Darya wailed and started to weep until, abruptly, the storm stopped.

She looked up to find that she had been deposited, not back at her own home, but on a sandy beach. The ocean water was just out of reach beyond some rocks.

Maybe, if I try…

Before she could move, a gangly-looking surface-dweller approached.

“Hey guys, check it out! This octopus must have gotten thrown up on the beach by that water spout we saw.”

More humans surrounded her. She had no where to go.

“Poor thing,” one of them said. “We should help get her back to the ocean.”

“Yeah,” said the first, scooping her up with gentle hands. “There’s no place like home.”

(With my deepest apologies to Frank Baum and The Wizard of Oz.)

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.



I hope you’ll take the time to read the other stories in this Hop. These are some great writers and wonderful people. And if you like what you read, I hope you’ll consider joining their lists too. The world is a richer place when there are more stories to tell.
* * YOU ARE HERE * * V is for Vortex by Elizabeth McCleary
Deep Dive by Juneta Key
Bugs by Gina Fabio
Secret by J. Q. Rose
Journal of Anah by J Lenni Dorner
The Vineyard at Mar Mozambique by Karen Lynn
Stealing Space by Barbara Lund
The Day I was Clever by Katharina Gerlach
Never kid a kidder by Angela Wooldridge
The Color Of… by Chris Makowski
Nightmare by Erica Damon
Pick Up Lines by Bill Bush
The Scorpius Gate by Sandra Fikes

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A to Z 2017–U is for Uncorked

Another one that’s complete in itself, but which may suggest something longer. I definitely need to keep all these as story starters and prompts!

U is for Uncorked

“Fill the bottles. Hurry!” Haden held a large earthen jar beneath the water. When it was filled, Haden lifted it out and pressed a wide cork into the neck.

“To what end, Haden?” Mendae let her frustration bubble to the surface just as air bubbled out of the wine jug. “All we have is the spring. The Magistrate expects better than water served at his daughter’s joining.” She crossed her arms and glared at her husband. He was a good man, but she had always been the brains of their business.

Haden grinned that grin that Mendae could never resist. “The ceremony isn’t for 3 days yet. Sending bottles of water that look like wine will buy us time to deliver what was promised. Trust me.”

Mendae chuckled and shook her head. “I don’t know where you’ll find the impossible,” she said. “But maybe it will buy us time to get away before the Magistrate has our heads. I hear the South of Endanak is lovely if you can avoid the Gentou.”

“When did you get to be so cute and smart?” Haden leaned in to steal a kiss from his wife.

“Hush, you, and fill the bottles. The courier will be here before sundown.”

* * *

“How could I have known they would make us come with them?” Haden whispered, but his voice held a double-measure of pleading.

Mendae glowered at him as the wagon they were in rolled through the city. At least they were finally off the ill-kept road that led to their haebit. “I don’t know why I let you turn my mind. This time, though…,” she sighed a deep and weary sigh. “I don’t know how we get out of water this deep. We may as well be inside one of those bottles with the cork set tight.”

Haden scooched closer to his wife and dropped his voice even lower. “I have a plan,” he said.

“Oh? And it is…?”

“Remember the cleric that came last month?”

“The one rambling about Ventor the wine god?”

“Exactly!” He had the temerity to look pleased with himself.

“You want to blame water in the wine bottles on the cleric?” Mendae was confused.

“Of course not. I want to plead with Ventor to assist his humble servants!”

Mendae blinked, disbelief causing her eyebrows to climb.

“The cleric did say he was a very good god,” Haden continued. “Surely he will have mercy on those who only want a little of his wares.”

* * *

Mendae still couldn’t believe she’d let Haden talk her into this, but she shrugged off the self reproach. After all, what real choice did she have? They had convinced their escort that the bottles needed to be handled carefully and properly dressed. They were left alone in the storehouse with the alleged wine, but the door had been locked from the outside.

Haden had placed the jugs in a circle on the smooth stone floor. To center the energy of Ventor, he claimed before he started praying.

“Ventor, great one. Have mercy on your servants. Convert this finest spring water into your finest vintage. Your wine will draw the Magistrate and his masses unto you….”

Mendae was praying too, but only that their deaths would be quick and painless.

Both fell silent and stood when the door opened. The Magistrate approached, flanked by his personal escort of guardsmen and servants.

Mendae dropped a curtsey as her husband took one knee. “Your Loftiness,” they muttered together.

He motioned with one gloved hand, and one of his entourage lifted a bottle from the circle. “Open it,” he demanded. “I must ensure that their wares are fit for my daughter.”

Mendae squeezed her eyes shut and waited as Haden resumed muttered, anxious prayers beneath his breath.

At the sound of the poured liquid, the Magistrate sucked in a breath. Now, thought Mendae, the end will surely be quick.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” said the ruler. “I’d been told it would be a pale wine.”

She opened her eyes and stared at the glass of ruby-colored liquid he sipped from. “Outstanding! Best I’ve ever had,” he said. “Thank you.”

The Magistrate turned and strode away as Mendae collapsed in relieved tears on the floor.

“Well, imagine that,” said Haden. “I guess Ventor likes me after all.”


Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–T is for Tempest

This is one I will almost definitely need to revisit later. It hints at something that could easily become a full-length fantasy saga, and I want to know more of the story!

T is for Tempest

Tempest ran through the forest. She was getting soaked, but the storm gave her the opportunity she needed to escape. She just couldn’t stay in that place a minute longer.

In the chaos of the preparations, all the girls had been hurried into basements and lockrooms. They said it was for their protection. But nothing they could ever do would make her feel safe within those walls. She would rather take her chances with the storm itself.

When the wind blew a branch through a window, the guardian had handed her the keys and told her to see that the younger ones were safe. She did as she was told—those children were as safe as she could make them. Then she told them she was going to help the guardians and left.
Left completely. Not just the young ones, but the center itself.

Now she ran with no plan to get away from that prison. She didn’t know how long it would be before her absence was noted. She wanted to be as far gone as she could before that happened.

Branches and other debris blocked her progress as she ducked between trees. Even before the rain started, winds had shaken the normally still forest. Some obstacles she jumped or climbed over. Others forced her off the path and deeper into the woods. Between the storm and the trees, Tempest soon found herself quite lost.

Still, she continued on. She would rather die in the storm than serve the false truths of The Order.


Tempest stopped abruptly, looking around in panic. Had they found her?

Seeing nothing, she started on her way again. Though she preferred the storm to submission, she still wanted to find someplace dry and secure.


She stopped again, listening.


“If I had to,” she said, again searching the trees trying to find the source of the voice. “I would rather die than go back.”


Tempest thought. “They clothed me. Sheltered me. But they teach lies.” She paused. Tempest had long felt a truth within her own heart, but had never spoken it aloud. “Their own doctrine says that lying is wrong. So, no. They are not good.”

The voice, sounding from all directions at once, laughed with surprising levity.


She stopped looking then and stood as if staring down an enemy. “I would rather follow a truth that I feel and later learn that I’m wrong, than follow a lie that feels dead to discover that it is true after all.”


She knew it was true. Felt it in her heart and her bones. And she knew that if she continued this way, she would find a cave—an earthen shrine to the one that spoke her name.

Tempest started walking and knew the owner of that voice was with her. “Who are you?” she asked. “Who calls me?”



Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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