A visit from the bossy muse, a free book, and a couple of awards

The muse’s latest look (pixabay compilation)

Way too early in the morning, my muse drops down beside me on my couch and tosses her hat onto the coffee table. The howler monkey that’s been riding her shoulder for a year leaps onto my kitchen counter, curls back its rubbery lips, and flashes a yellow-toothed grin. The muse hands me a latte. “Nice progress on the draft… finally.”

“Thanks.” I’m still leering at the monkey but manage to sip my latte. Yum. “So, why the visit?  You know I’m under NaNo pressure.” I somehow forget to mention that yesterday I logged zero words.

She arches an eyebrow but for once shrugs off her annoyance. “I’m running a promotion for a couple of days. Catling’s Bane is free today and Wednesday. Your sales blah blah blah…” I’m not listening. The howler’s opened my refrigerator and taken a bite from a head of lettuce. He’s going for the orange juice.

I bolt up. “Hey! Out of there!” The beast roars at me, a sound capable of bursting eardrums. He grabs a tuna sandwich I made for my husband’s lunch, darts across the cabin’s single room, and climbs halfway up the stairs. Suspended from the banister, he gobbles and spills bits of sandwich on the furniture below. UGH. I sink back onto the couch and glower, afraid any further intervention will make it worse.

“What else,” I ask, wanting to get this over with as quickly as I can.

She smiles at me. My muse never smiles. “Two of your books were semi-finalists in the 2019 Kindle Book Awards.”

“What?” I’ve now forgotten all about the howler and the globs of tuna sprinkling my floor. I’d also forgotten that I submitted books. “Both of them?”

Sunweilder and Soul Swallowers.” She tips back her latte, stands, and snaps her fingers at the monkey. Not two seconds later, the creature swings from the banister onto her shoulder. My muse heads for the door, her familiar bossy ill-humor sliding onto her face. “Get to work.”

“I plan on it. After I clean up this mess.” As she walks out the door and into the forest, I call after her, “Hey, if I finish my first draft, can we lose the monkey?”

She glances back and slips me an evil smile.

***

I guess the muse’s visit could have gone a lot worse.

Click on the cover if you’re interested in a free kindle of Catling’s Bane:

 

And here are those semi-finalists:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

The Cowboy in the Bedroom

Can you guess who this is?

I have a framed picture in my bedroom on a small table. It was drawn by a local artist, Kerri Boutwell, and I eagerly bought it several years ago.

Lately, on several occasions, I’ve noticed the portrait turned around and facing the wall. I’d turn it back, only to find it flipped around again several days later.

Finally, last week, I mentioned the odd ritual to my husband. “Have you been turning the picture around?”

“Yeah. I don’t like the cowboy staring at me while I’m in bed.”

“The cowboy?” I laughed. “That’s not a cowboy. It’s Mark Twain!”

Well, apparently it’s okay to have Mark Twain staring at him in bed because the drawing hasn’t moved.

Isn’t it a great picture? I never knew Twain was so handsome, even with the god-awful mustache.

More Indie Reviews (or Part III)

I have so many reviews to share, and I’m reading faster than I can get my reviews posted. Three more 5-star books, all different!

The Gemini Connection

by Teri Polen

Oh, what a fun read. Sci-fi fans will have a blast with this thriller, but readers who love human stories will thoroughly enjoy this book too. Simon and Evan are twins with a unique connection even though they are strikingly different. Simon is cerebral, a scientist and gentle soul. Evan is a jock with a temper and a painful chip on his shoulder—he’s never been able to live up to his parents’ expectations.

Despite their differences, the brothers are fiercely loyal to each other, and when Simon goes missing, Evan makes it his mission to find out what happened and bring him home. He’s a successful bender, capable of entering the dreams of clients to unblock their memories or fight their nightmares. Their connection and his talent lead the way.

The world-building is excellent, and though “bending” is a bit of a scientific stretch, Polen does a credible job making it feel plausible throughout the story. The pace moves along at a speedy clip, and there are plenty of tight spots and danger.

The story is told in the first-person point of view of both brothers. You might have guessed that I just loved the characters, particularly Evan and Simon. Their relationship wasn’t without its bumps and bruises, but the steadfast loyalty they felt toward each other had me rooting for them from the start. Secondary characters were richly drawn and three-dimensional, as were peripheral players. A great read that I highly recommend.

Global Amazon Link

***

The Hat

by Craig Boyack

In this short read, Boyack has teamed up Lizzie, a young woman with two part-time jobs, and a talking hat that she stole/inherited from her grandmother’s estate. Yes, you heard that right—a talking hat. At first, she’s rather suspicious and freaked out by the hat, but when a friend’s newborn is stolen as part of a larger baby-napping ring, Lizzie and the hat set out to rescue the infants.

What ensues is pretty entertaining. The banter between Lizzie and the hat is exceptionally witty, particularly as the hat navigates advances in technology (it’s been in a box for a long time). The duo reminded me of wise-cracking detective team with snappy dialog and lots of attitude on both sides.

This book can be polished off in a couple of hours and is well worth the time. Highly recommended.

Global Amazon Link

***

Amanda in Holland

by Darlene Foster

This book was quite a bit of fun. Foster combines a middle-grade fiction plot with a colorful tour of Holland, including its famous sites, snippets of history, and its wonderful flowers and food. I had the great fortune of visiting my grandparents in Holland when I was Amanda’s age, and her experiences in the book mirror my memories in great detail. It was a blast to traipse along beside Amanda and enjoy the country once again.

The main plot focuses on the recovery of a lost puppy, but secondary plots weave through the story, and all come together nicely at the end. There’s a bit of mystery and some danger to keep the tension up. There are also some very moving scenes when Amanda visits Anne Frank’s home and a war memorial dedicated to the Canadians who helped liberate Holland during WWII. A lovely book for young readers and absolutely perfect for readers who plan to travel the world.

Global Amazon Link

***

 

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Tranquil Cove #Writephoto

photo by Sue Vincent

The beach parking lot was jammed with cars. Outside their blue rental, Samantha stretched her stiff limbs while Jeff rummaged in the back seat for snacks and towels. A tow truck clanked its chains and ground its gears in the midst of hauling away one of several abandoned vehicles, the windshields dusted with a week’s worth of windblown sand.

According to the glossy pamphlet, the rocky headlands and clustered islands sheltered turquoise waves, and the soft sand welcomed blankets and picnics. All inviting. But after days of battling crowds of tourists, the feature that most appealed to Sam was the promised solitude. Unfortunately, Tranquil Cove didn’t look like it would live up to its reputation.

She sighed and read the sign pounded into the sand at the lot’s edge. Someone had hand-scrawled a sloppy “g” on the otherwise formal warning.   “Beware of the grocks. No swimming.” She glanced at her new husband. “What are grocks?”

Jeff smirked and started up the dunes through the quivering beachgrass. “Come on.”

She climbed after him, willing to make the best of it, her toes sinking into the path’s velvet sand. The sound of a gigantic belch reached her ears, and she groaned at the prospect of a mob of drunken rugby players. But when they crested the dunes, an empty beach lay before them. “I can’t believe no one is here.”

“Someone was. Look at all the blankets and towels.”

“And footprints. Where is everyone?”

“Probably exploring the grocks.” He chuckled and headed across the sand to a sweet spot out of the breeze.

Sam helped him spread out their towels. They chowed on granola bars and shared a beer. The beach remained delightfully theirs, and as the sun peeked through the midday clouds, she napped in the rising heat.

Jeff nudged her awake. “Let’s go for a swim. I need to cool off.”

“The sign said ‘no swimming?’”

“Because of dangerous grocks.” He pulled her to her feet. “The sea’s calm, and I can see the bottom. Not a grock in sight.”

She gave in without argument. The water was refreshing, and other than a few rounded rocks, the bottom descended in a gentle slant. She wiped water from her eyes and drifted toward him, pulling herself along the shallow bottom with her hands. He sat on one of the submerged rocks near the shore, staring down at the water.

“What are you looking at?” she asked.

He leaned over for a kiss and then resumed his study. “There are bubbles coming from under this rock. What would cause that?”

She sat next to him. Sure enough, tiny air bubbles leaked up around their hard seat. “I have no idea. Some kind of mollusk?”

~

Eric and Penny unloaded their car in the packed parking lot as a tow truck hauled away a sand-strewn blue rental car. A huge belch split the air and Penny laughed. “You didn’t tell me your brother was here.”

“Ha ha ha.” Eric rolled his eyes. “This place isn’t supposed to be crowded.”

Penny glanced up from reading a sign. “Hey, what’s a grock?”

***

Update:

I’m still on hiatus, but figured I’d post something. And what better than a little story based on Sue Vincent’s Thursday #Writephoto prompt?

I’ll be visiting the blogosphere more often and should be back into a routine by mid-August. I miss you! But I’ve been reading between all the busyness, and that’s been wonderfully relaxing.

My parents are doing a little better after 8 months of health issues. Unfortunately, in a couple of weeks, I have to move them a second time. Their new housing will be more suited to their needs, and we’re all eager to get this last change in place.

Happy Blogging!

Clarifying Shampoo

pixabay image combo

Betsy over at Parenting is Funny was recently musing over a bottle of clarifying shampoo (yes, it’s a real thing). Her blog is a hoot, and I encourage you to visit. Her post popped a story into my head. I hope you enjoy.

Clarifying Shampoo

Clara was born a Libra. Not the normal kind of Libra with a smattering of other signs in her chart to balance her scales. She was an anomaly, an astrological case study, solid Libra from her Sun all the way across the galaxy to Pluto. She vacillated like a seesaw and simple decisions were intolerable with all the second-guessing.

Worst of all, she was the epitome of annoying. Potential friends stopped calling after a week, and romantic relationships unraveled before they had a chance to knit. She frustrated counselors. Even her mother had stopped answering the phone.

Clara had to do something, and the only thing she hadn’t tried was consulting a psychic.

Madam Bea’s Fabulous Fortunes occupied the basement below a hair salon. She specialized in Tarot, but the handmade poster on her sandwich-board advertised results, and that was exactly what Clara needed. Results.

At the bottom of the concrete steps, a peeling door led into a tight space cordoned off by red sheets tacked to the ceiling. A disorienting combination of odors—garlic, mildew, and sandalwood—assaulted Clara’s nose. A card table separated two folding chairs, complete with a sparkly glass ball on a plastic stand.

Madam Bea, a beak-nosed woman with painted eyebrows, sat at the table finishing off a pizza. She waved to the unoccupied chair while munching on the crust, and then tossed the pizza box behind the makeshift curtains.

Clearly, Clara had made another mistake, but she accepted the seat and laid out the saga of her peculiar horoscope complete with runny mascara—another miscalculation. She should have applied the waterproof variety.

The fortune teller listened intently while picking her teeth with a ruby fingernail. “I have joost the thing,” she said and disappeared behind the sheets. When she returned, she placed a half-empty bottle of shampoo on the table.

“Shampoo?” Clara frowned.

“Clarifying champoo.” Madam Bea’s eyebrows arched higher than already arched. “Trust me. I give you discount. That be fifty dollars.”

Clara forked over the cash with a sigh and drove home. Before dropping into bed, she washed her hair.

In the morning, she shuffled to her closet and ruminated over what to wear. Slacks or a skirt? Maybe a dress. Or slacks in case the office is cold. But what if it’s warm? A dress with a sweater? Although a skirt…

The lavender suit.

Clara froze. The whispered voice seemed to originate from somewhere above her head. She glanced up and then peeked over her shoulder. Alone. Was the voice real? Inside her head? She backed up and sat on the edge of her bed. Should she make another counseling appointment?

Ivory blouse and low pumps. Pearl studs but skip the necklace.

Clara jolted up with a yelp. She rifled through her closet and wriggled into the lavender suit. Studs in her ears, she dashed from her apartment to the sidewalk, the low heels a wise choice with all the running.

She inhaled a lungful of sunshine to calm her racing heart, shoved the morning’s weirdness from her thoughts, and wavered over whether to walk to work or take the bus. Or drive. Or walk. What if she got blisters? And then there was city parking…

Walk. It’s a nice day. You need the exercise.

Clara frowned and casually swept a hand over the top of her head. Was her hair giving her instructions?

I’m clarifying.

“Clarifying?” She wrinkled her nose. “Why? But what if—”

Clarity never hurt anyone. Now, no time for waffling or you’ll be late.

Still suspicious of her hair, Clara set off for work, and for the first time in three years, she arrived on time, a fact noticed by Harry, the tall, dark, and hunky cubical-occupant across the aisle. Her hair urged her to have tea instead of coffee and to check her emails before returning calls, decisions that would have taken an hour.

By the time the clock struck noon, her lips curved into a relaxed smile, the day’s decision-making handled entirely by her hair.

Harry cleared his throat. “Clara, would you like to join me for a quick lunch?”

“Oh, er, hm.” Clara didn’t know. Should she? What would she order? Maybe she shouldn’t. But then he might not ask again. So, she should. But what if she did, and he ended up being a creep, and then he’d ask her every day? She might have to quit her job. Or he could be nice. “Um, I…”

Gah! Just say yes!

“Yes,” she blurted.

Eighteen years later, while Clara unpacked her shopping bags, her daughter, Elizabeth, sauntered into the kitchen, phone in hand. “Mom, there’s a bonfire at the park tonight. Chantelle and I were planning to go, but her mom needs their car. Can I take ours? I’ll be home by nine.”

Clara wanted to say yes, but driving after dark… And what if there was beer? And boys? There would be boys. Was Elizabeth old enough? Should she say no? Eventually, she’d have to trust her daughter’s choices. She could drive the two of them. But that might be humiliating. Was it worth a fight?

She’s a responsible kid. She said she’ll be home by nine.

Clara sighed. “All right, you can go. I trust you to make good choices.”

“Awesome, mom. I have to hurry and hop in the shower.”

“Oh!” Clara perked up and searched through her bags. “I bought you some shampoo.”

Sign #writephoto

Image: Sue Vincent

Belladonna Shadowbend climbed the creaky stairs of her dead aunt’s ancient Victorian home. Gossamer cobwebs draped the corners like grayed wedding veils. The eyeballs in the portraits tracked her progress, and a transparent child hissed from the next landing. Belladonna rolled her eyes and blew out a sigh. Honestly, so cliched.

Witchcraft had become so trendy among modern teenagers that Belladonna considered it passé. Gone were the glorious days when witches drowned tied to chairs or sizzled at the stake.

Was she feeling sorry for herself? Probably. Her dreams of building an online clearinghouse for magical accessories had shattered. She’d believed people wanted quality over crap and would pay for it, but Amazon was a start-up’s nightmare. Cheap magic wands, love potions, and cursed amulets were as popular as iphones. Everyone owned at least one, and the local bodegas sold them beside the tabloids and gum.

Her options were limited. No one was making any money in fortune telling, casting hexes, or selling souls. The white witches complained about global warming and saving the bees, but few listened to them. They needed a little help from the devil if they wanted someone to pay serious attention. She chuckled at the thought. An unexpected visit to hell would do wonders in Washington.

No, selling the old place with it’s slamming doors and undulating curtains would buy her some time while she figured out her next venture.

Another staircase led to the attic, a rat’s nest of iron-strapped trunks, twig brooms, and garment bags stuffed with black capes. Shelves along one wall held dozens of peaked hats. She picked one up, brushed off the brim, and coughed in the cloud of dust. The stuff appeared authentic, but what the heck? How many hats did one old witch need? She half expected a stash of pointy shoes and blurted a laugh when she flipped the lid on a trunk and found them. Cleaning the place out would take a year. Generations of witches in her family and her legacy amounted to a house full of vintage… oh… oh my…

Belladonna smiled. All she needed was a sign.

**

Written for Sue Vincent’s magical #writephoto prompt.

 

Diana’s February Story: The Elephant Child

Pixabay image by Marianne Sopala

I actually recorded this if you want to listen along.

The Elephant Child

by D. Wallace Peach

An elephant child, carefree and wild
Walked into the wintry woods
He followed fox tails and jackrabbit trails
Ignoring his mother’s “shoulds”

Of course, he got lost and chilled by the frost
As night began to fall
To his rump he sunk and tooted his trunk
But no one answered his call

Oh, that cold night, to the elephant fright
The clouds began to snow
He sniffled and shivered, shook and quivered
His nose he needed to blow

The blizzard swirled and snowflakes twirled
He plodded on wobbly knees
His head grew stuffy, the snow so fluffy
He blew out a honking sneeze

Losing hope, he started to mope
When in an evergreen tree
He spied a house, just right for a mouse
And he let go a trumpet of glee

Alas the place hadn’t the space
To fit an elephant’s bulk
The lost little guy plunked down for a cry
His head hung low in a sulk

The house was quite nice, chock full of mice
Who whispered quiet and low
What was that? Did you hear a cat?
Lurking out in the snow?

Across the wood floor, they dashed to the door
Flicked on the outside light
In a rodent flurry, they squeaked and scurried
An elephant! What a sight!

Let’s offer a seat for a tea and a treat
Said a mouse who felt overly bold
I think he is lost so covered in frost
And surely his ears are cold.

Full of care and courage to spare
They crawled out on a limb
They slipped on the ice those brave little mice
And their mission turned quite grim

But they held on tight with all their might
And called to the elephant
Come in from the storm, come in and get warm
But the elephant said I can’t!

Though I’m only four, I’ll bust the door
I’ll break the branch from the tree
I’ll crack your stairs and squash your chairs
I’m far too heavy, you see.

You have to try, hurry in and dry
Get up! Please give it a go!
The elephant groaned, he mumbled and moaned
Though he longed to get out of the snow.

With strength galore, he pushed on the door
The tree branch started to bend
The home nearly fell, and the mice had to yell
Please stop, or we’re end-over-end!

The elephant frowned as the flakes tumbled down
His trunk a bright shade of blue
Oh, what a glitch, mice-whiskers did twitch.
What were the rodents to do?

Now, due to their size, mice aren’t very wise
Their brains are as tiny as seeds
They may not be smart, but they have lots of heart
And sometimes that’s all that you need.

They sketched out a plan as only mice can
And piled his back with sweaters
And blankets and sheets, and curtains with pleats
Tiny coats of wool and black leather

With the elephant warm, and safe from all harm
They dialed their old-fashioned phone
We’re seeking his mother, a father or brother!
This elephant’s all alone!

Well what do you know, because of the snow
His parents were suffering fits
They dashed to him fast and hugged him at last
And stayed for some tea and biscuits.

Thus ends the plight of the elephant’s night
Be careful when out in the woods
You might meet some mice who are caring and nice
But just in case…
Remember your mother’s shoulds.