THURSDAY PHOTO PROMPT: SPAN #WRITEPHOTO

The Promise

I walked alone through a forest of maples, birches, oaks, and pines, happy to listen to birds chirping, as they called to one another hoping for a mate. I marveled at the beauty of this spring day. Beneath my feet I felt the soft spongy layers of leaves becoming one with the earth. It was this fresh feeling of renewal after a long cold winter that was so invigorating, and it lifted my spirits, ferreting away my winter doldrums.

I was so deep in thought that I walked without seeing where I was going. I just blindly put one foot in front of the another. I don’t remember how long I was walking or where I was going when I came across an enchanting burn, that flowed with such energy. The waters were crystal clear, flowing from the melting snow drifts of winter, and mixed with spring water from deep within the earth.

Above the burn was a span, an ancient walkway, now covered with many years of moss and grass. I marveled at the construction of the span, and its ability to survive for how long I didn’t know, but perhaps a few hundred years or more. I imagined how life must have been so long ago. How many young lovers must have made promises to each other as they gazed into the waters, promises that wouldn’t or couldn’t be kept. No different than the raging burn as it too would soon cease to keep its passion.

I let my eyes wander, once more, as I stood at the edge of the rapid flow of the burn. The sound it made was eerie yet enticing as it raged through the burn. Life is so similar, I mused, its passion rages only to burnout more quickly than one would think. Yet, like the winter that has come and gone, the spring of life continues to renew all hope, love, care, and we, like springtime, will once again be filled with the passion to live our best lives.

 

 

The Heart Stone Chronicles: The Swamp Fairy, by Author Colleen M. Chesebro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This mystical story is bound to capture your heart. Abigale Forester is only fourteen years old, recently orphaned, and has been sent to live with her Aunt Magnolia Forester, a woman she has never met, and is now her legal Guardian. Abigale was born with mystical gifts, inherited from her mother, along with a few hundred acres of swamp land that has been handed down for generations in her family.

This is no ordinary swamp. It is a place where mystical things happens, another realm, that is critical for the safety of mankind. Abigale has no idea what this has to do with her, but she will soon find out. In the meantime, a corrupt, greedy, and wealthy man as plans of his own to destroy the swamp and possibly Abigale and her aunt, as a form of revenge.

Danger is everywhere for Abigale as she tries to adjust to her new life. When the truth about the swamp legacy is revealed to her, Abigale is forced to make a decision about the swamp legacy and her choice is a dangerous one.

I highly recommend this mystical mystery that is so well written, by author Colleen M. Chesebro, that the story itself almost leaps off of the pages, right into your reality. It is that good. 5 Stars!

 

Steve the Crossing Guard

Steve the Crossing Guard, a teacher-at-large, and his amazing gift to children.

A Teacher's Reflections

There are teachers, and there are remarkable teachers.  Steve the Crossing Guard is one of the remarkable teachers, and he doesn’t teach in a classroom. He teaches on the street at a school crossing.  The children at his crossing will often learn far more than they learn in the classroom.

I got an email from Steve the Crossing Guard at 6:39 AM.  It was titled,
“Boston Massacre 3/5/1770”.

The text simply said:

Yes, you bet we’ll discuss it, within the hour…

Have a great day!
Steve

WOW!

This is exactly what Steve the Crossing Guard does.  He is so excited for what’s to come, because he has planned questions and challenges for the students. The anticipation of knowing and then wanting to pass it on is the greatest feeling. Really.

At 8:01 PM that night, he emailed:

Jennie,

So much history tomorrow: Michelangelo’s bday; fall of the Alamo; Dred Scott…

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The Ghost in the Standing Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I walked through the abandoned centuries old churchyard, in a neglected area of the Yorkshire countryside of England, I shivered in the cold, damp, morning air. I was feeling melancholy, no doubt enhanced by the gray skies that seem to want to stay indefinitely, hovering over this landscape.

As I continued walking, mindlessly, through this abandoned field, I found myself wondering about the lives that once walked through this field, that are now dust. I couldn’t help wondering when it would be my turn—to turn to dust.

In my field of vision, I noticed an odd-looking standing stone that stood at the very edge of the long field. It was all alone, as if abandoned through the ages. From a distance, I could see, no, I  could feel it’s presence. How does one feel a standing stone’s presence?

I don’t know, yet, I felt it pulling me toward it or was it my imagination?  With each step toward the standing stone, the feeling grew stronger, my steps more sure of where they were going.

As I continued walking toward the standing stone, I began to hear a whispering of words. Was the stone whispering to me? I felt compelled to keep walking toward the speaking stone, and do what? Start speaking to it? Engaging it in titillating conversation? Really? Have I totally lost my mind?

As I approached the standing stone, the whisper grew louder and then I knew that this standing stone was inhabited by a ghost! This was no trick or a twist of my imagination; I could not help but feel its pain, its loneliness. I wondered how long it, the ghost, had been alone, abandoned, forced to haunt this abandoned place.

How many centuries did this poor soul live a life in stone? It was too horrible to even a imagine. And then I knew what I had to do. I had to help this lost soul, somehow. I felt it wanted me to.

He, yes, it was a male, I somehow knew that. He had been turned to stone, this poor soul, this young man, had, no doubt, been hexed, cursed as it were, by some warlock or wicked witch. How I knew this, I don’t know. But, why was he hexed and turned to stone? I had to find out!

I felt my hand go up to touch him, this standing human stone, so lost and alone. I felt his warmth, his heart beating, his lungs breathing. How can that be? I wondered.  In shock, I realized he was alive, not dead!

“May I have…your name?” I asked him. He then spoke. His voice was rich and deep, almost soothing.

“Aye, ye may,” he said. “Christian ‘tis mah name, Christian McEwen. May I be so bold Milady, tae ask yer name?”

“My…my name? Huh…yes…my name is Lexi, short for Alexandra McCoy.”

“Aye, ye hae a bonny name, Lexi, and ye art bonny, as weel.”

“Christian, how long have you…been in stone,like this…and who did this to you?”

“Aye…’twas a Witch, ye ken. A shrew! A bonny she-devil—a vixen.”

As I listened to him tell the story of how he happened to be turned into a standing stone, I could see him as he was before he was captured in the stone. His visage, pale as it was through the stone…was a handsome, tall, blond headed young man.  I guessed him to be about twenty-five years of age. He wore the clothes of centuries past. I guessed he once lived sometime in the 15th century. Scottish Gaelic.

“Christian,” I said, “I can’t stay much longer. It looks like a storm is brewing, so please tell me how I can help you?”

“Aye, I ken ye dae. I wish ye could stay with me, Lexi.”

“I wish I could too, Christian, but I must go now. I can comeback, you know.”

“Nay, Lexi, ye only hae one chance, ye cannae return to me. ‘Tis part of the wicked Witch’s curse, ye ken. Dinnae fash, Lexi.”

“How I wish I could stay, Christian. I am so sorry. I will miss you and I am sorry I couldn’t help you somehow.”

Suddenly the sky darkened, the wind blew like the devil himself wished me gone. The earth shook beneath me. Like magic, looming up in front of me was a figure of a woman, dressed in a centuries old costume. Her laughter rang out with glee and spite. She looked at me, with narrowed eyes of the darkest black I had ever seen.

“Run Lexi, ‘tis the Witch! Run as fast as ye can, Milady! Away with ye—now!”

I couldn’t move, the Witch had me in her grip; she said something in a language I didn’t understand. I felt myself vanishing, fading away, but I was not gone, not really. I found myself inside the standing stone with Christian. Fear raced through my being. “Oh my god, what have I done? Christian, what has happened to me?”

“Lexi, ye art with me. ‘Tis her curse…I didae ken. But, ye dae so on ye own. Aye, ye hae helped me, dinnae ye. I am nay alone now Lexi. Ye art with me.”

 

An Interview With Judy Rumsey Bullard, Book Cover Designer, This Saturday, October 20th!

 

 

 

 

 

As writers and authors, we know or should know, the importance of creating a book cover that shines. The cover should also represent as much as possible what the novel is all about. On October 20th, 2018, I will be interviewing Judy Rumsey Bullard, a very talented Book Cover Designer, who will talk to us about Book Cover Designing. She will be displaying 6 more of her great designs, and will talk to us about what it takes to be a successful Book Cover Designer! Here are three Book Cover designs that she designed for three of my novels and I love each one!

 

Critical Thinking: The 5 Factors that Earn 5 Star Reviews!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An excerpt from: Paul Goat Allen | March 12, 2018, Writer’s Digest. Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

Novelists live and die by reviews yet uncovering what garners a gushing ovation or blistering takedown is often a mystery. A professional critic lays out what it takes to earn five-star book reviews. For two decades I’d been working as a freelance genre fiction book critic for outlets such as BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the Chicago Tribune. After sharing my credentials with the group, some of the writers began telling stories about mediocre or bad reviews they’d received at different points in their careers from one or more of the companies I’d listed.

As a reviewer, not much has changed since then. I enjoy all genres and have reviewed thousands of titles in hundreds of sub-genres ranging from apocalyptic fiction to zombie erotica. (Yes, there’s such thing as zombie erotica.) In the end, genre categorization matters little to me—it’s all about the story. With that in mind, I decided to formalize a universal framework through which I process and analyze my various reading experiences. While there are undoubtedly specific narrative elements I look for in-particular-genres (pacing and tension level in thrillers, for example), there’s a pyramid of qualities—a Hierarchy of Needs, if you will—that I seek in every story. While highly simplified, it’s this structure that dictates whether I give a book a positive or negative review.

These five criteria will not only provide a glimpse into how a veteran book reviewer dissects and evaluates a novel but, hopefully, make you look at your writing in a different light. See for yourself: Does your work-in-progress have what it takes to earn a positive review?

The Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs: How to Earn Five-Star Book Reviews

  1. Readability

A book’s degree of readability is the base layer of my reviewer’s pyramid, and the foundation for any good story. The quality of a novel—narrative clarity, narrative fluidity, having a coherent storyline—is directly related to the number of times I put that book down. Some are so bad, so poorly written, that I struggle to get through a single paragraph without wanting to walk away. Others have such a fl uid plot that I find it virtually impossible to stop reading—Tad Williams’ The Witchwood Crown and Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass being two such examples of utterly readable, page-turning novels.

I’ve read a lot of “unputdownable” books over the last few decades, and the vast majority of these all have something in common beyond a clear and fluid narrative: The stories have noticeably strong chapter beginnings and endings. It’s a small thing, but a great way to compel readers to keep reading. How can you put a book down when every chapter begins and ends with a cliffhanger sequence, bombshell plot twist or powerful statement? When I consistently find these elements in a novel, I know the author fully understands the significance of readability.

Conversely, novels that aren’t as readable—that are poorly written with awkward sentence structure, a confusing storyline, weak chapter beginnings and endings—are almost asking to be tossed aside. This may sound obvious, but if you can’t compel a reader to read your story, then you need to focus more on your craft before penning another book.

  1. Immersion

I define immersion as the ability for me, the reader, to not only lose myself in a novel (I call these “stay-up-all-night-till-your-eyes-bleed” reads) but to experience the story intimately, living vicariously through the characters. This trick is accomplished through a continued focus on setting, rich description and atmospherics. I don’t want to experience the story as a detached viewer looking down at what’s happening—I want to feel like I’m in the story.

The litmus test for this is easy. If I become so engaged with a book that I lose track of time—if I glance at the clock and hours have passed by—you’ve succeeded in drawing me fully into your read. Writers who are absolute immersion masters (think Cherie Priest, Justin Cronin, Charlaine Harris) are so good at captivating description that weeks, months and oftentimes years after reading their novels I can still vividly recall specific scenes.

This layer is where many writers stumble, and here’s why: While they may excel at world-building and meticulous description at the beginning of a novel, once the action and adventure ramps up, they not only lose focus but completely ignore description altogether. I’ve seen this happen countless times in every genre: rich description for the first 100 pages or so, then almost nothing in the final 200. It’s called literary escapism for a reason. If I can’t lose myself in a read—from beginning to end—then I haven’t fully escaped. Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View

  1. Character Depth and/or Plot Intricacy

Three-dimensional, interesting and identifiable characters bring emotional connectivity and intensity to the read. If your readers aren’t emotionally invested in your characters, then the narrative impact of your story is inevitably going to be negatively impacted. Emotions wield power. If you can bring your readers to tears, make them laugh out loud or scare them to the point of checking under the bed, then you’ve succeeded on some level.

Creating authentic characters to whom readers can relate is a solid achievement—but an obvious word of warning: Stay clear of clichés and stereotypes. Overused conventions—like the Chosen One in fantasy who is consistently a white male, or the emotionally damaged billionaire entrepreneur in erotic fiction who needs to sexually dominate his love interest—even if brilliantly rendered, will underwhelm and disappoint more than a few readers (and reviewers).

Now, the reason I include an “and/or” between character development and plot intricacy is because, in some rare cases (particularly in mainstream thrillers), a novel with an impressively knotty storyline can still succeed with relatively cardboard characters.

Which is why plot intricacy is key: Why read a novel where you can accurately predict what’s going to happen after a few chapters? (I do that quite often. After reading the first chapter or two, I’ll jot down a prediction in my notes. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve guessed the ending correctly.) I just finished reviewing a brilliant historical mystery for Publishers Weekly that was filled with so many plot twists I was left guessing until the last few pages. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a fantasy or a thriller or a romance—the plot has to be intricate enough to keep your reader simultaneously engaged and a bit off balance.

  1. Originality and Innovation

This one ties in with embracing originality, be it atypical characters or unconventional story structure. So many books out there today are built upon unoriginal, rehashed, derivative storylines. I read a lot. And I get bored easily, especially when reading the same basic story arc again and again. My advice? Don’t play it safe. Write a story that you’ve never read before. In a 2016 Goodreads interview I conducted with fantasy novelist Michael J. Sullivan, author of Age of Myth, he said,

“It doesn’t matter if it’s been done before. It just matters if it’s being done well now.”

I love that quote. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be re-envisioned or reimagined but be innovative—put a new twist on an old mythos, turn a stereotype on its head. Have the courage to be creative!

  1. Thematic Profundity

In the introduction to the 2006 reissue of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s 1960 Hugo Award–winning classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mary Doria Russell writes, “You’ll be different when you finish it.” That’s my hope for every novel I pick up—that within the story there will be a kind of spiritual and/or existential wisdom, a kind of revelation or insight that will change the way I look at myself and the world around me.

A novel that holds this kind of thematic power—as well as the other elements in the Hierarchy of Needs—will get a starred review from me every time. Stories, no matter the genre, have the power to change lives. Novels like Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We have irrevocably changed who I am. After all, that’s the ultimate goal, right? To write a commercially successful and critically acclaimed novel that is both entertaining and enlightening.

Evaluating a novel is a cumulative process. Those with masterful character development but zero immersion will still receive a poor review, for example, while a thematically profound read with excruciatingly bad readability will receive a terrible review.

May this Hierarchy of Needs not only make you more aware of how your writing is experienced by readers—and jaded book reviewers like myself—but also offer up a few invaluable insights that can be used to improve your craft. Who knows, maybe my next starred review will be yours.

Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

 

 

The Boy With The Indigo Eyes – A Short Story by K. D. Dowdall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jenna Sweet was taking a walk back in time. It was now mid-afternoon, sunny and warm. A slight breeze rustled through the trees. A dog barked in the distance. She walked along the side walk, not really aware of where she was headed. Jenna guessed it was by instinct alone, a path she could not forgot. A narrow bridge was ahead of her and Jenna knew it was the bridge that crossed over Stoney Brook.

It was a place where she swam and frolicked as a kid. It was where her mother and her aunt would bring lunch for Jenna and her cousins. Her mom and Aunt would sit around the picnic table talking, laughing, and smoking cigarettes. Both of them have been gone for a very long time now. It was a terrible accident. It changed all of their lives forever.

Jenna stood looking over the bridge, looking down into the rippling water feeling pensive and sad. She listened to the flow of the brook over the rocks and stones as the afternoon sunlight glittered on the water like sparklers on the fourth of July.  She breathed in the sweet smell of the glacier-fed brook and the musky scent of wet moss along its banks. A long kept memory of a young stranger came flooding back into her consciousness from the past.

Jenna was once again walking through the forest and it was cool and shadowy. She remembered how the sunlight coming through the tree tops dappled the forest floor with shades of sun-kissed yellow.  The forest, thought Jenna, was a masterpiece of infinite color, with shimmering emerald leaves, azure sky above, and chestnut brown earth below.  The pungent memory scent of evergreens enveloped Jenna’s senses. She remembered the feel of the waxy substance of the fallen leaves beneath her bare feet as she padded through the dense forest and listened for the sound of water against rock. She would follow the sound to discover the hidden part of the Brook that few had ever ventured to see.

Beneath the forest canopy she heard a slight rustle and then she saw the boy. His long slender legs moved with an effortless grace like a white-tailed deer through the brambles and bushes. He leaped dancer-like over decaying logs and skipped stone by stone over mossy growths, wet with dew.

The tall, dark-haired boy stopped now and again to smell the air as he made his way through the forest. Jenna, Indian-like, followed the boy through the brambles and bushes. She was almost close enough now to see his nostrils flare. In the distance, Jenna heard the flow of water over pebbles and stones as she followed the stranger who followed the sound of the brook.

Ahead of them were large granite boulders and the sound of rippling waters. She watched the boy as he skillfully scampered over the huge glacier boulders and disappeared from view. Jenna followed suit and climbed over the boulders to reach the rocky banks of the brook, but when she looked around, the boy was nowhere to be seen. She sat down for a moment and sighed as she wondered who he was and why she had never seen him before. After all, reasoned Jenna, this was a small farming community with only one middle school.

Jenna dangled her feet above the crystal clear water as she looked at her reflection that was gazing back at her. Her long golden brown braids framed a face that was tanned from the summer sun, hazel eyes now as deeply green as the moss beneath her feet.

She then slipped her slender pubescent body into the cool waters of the brook and was suddenly struck by an incredible sense of freedom within her being that was exhilarating and daunting at the same time. She was growing up and her life and all of life was before her.

Jenna looked down and saw that the wet cloth of her blouse had fallen away, revealing how her body was changing. Suddenly, she was aware of someone looking at her from above. It was the tall dark-haired boy. He was looking down at her. She was sure he had been watching her and then he smiled. Jenna blushed crimson. The boy’s broad shoulders and long muscular legs glistened in the warm sunlight as he stood high on the rocky over-hang above her.

Without acknowledging it, both Jenna and the boy were awakening to their bodies as they grew and changed. Soon, thought Jenna, they would no longer be the carefree children who swam with abandon and ran like deer through the ancient forest. Jenna turned away from the boy, but secretly smiled at this sweet flirtation as the sunlight sparkled like diamonds on the rocks, the trees, and the water’s surface.

The boy, not unlike an Indian brave stalking his prey, suddenly appeared near Jenna, having silently slipped into the water. It was his indigo blue eyes that startled her. The depth of emotion that emanated from his eyes, she didn’t understand. The boy smiled knowingly at Jenna. He could read her thoughts, she knew.

“Listen, he whispered to Jenna as he placed his hand near to his ear. “The water is whispering – do you know what it is saying?”

Jenna leaned into the water to hear the voice of the brook. The brook murmured as it gently flowed over the rocks.  Puzzled, Jenna could only shrug her shoulders.

The boy leaned closer to Jenna—his face just inches from her up-turned nose. His indigo blue eyes, now glittering in the sunlight, looked into Jenna’s eyes, willing her to somehow absorb the mystical knowledge of the brook that he so easily understood.

“You must hear it for yourself” he replied gently, in a voice that was softly mesmerizing. Jenna felt spellbound by his presence and she opened her mouth to speak, but she could only shake her head.

Suddenly, a flock of Canadian Geese flew over their heads and broke the spell. Both of them she remembered, had looked up together to see the geese majestically crossing the azure blue of the endless sky. So close to them, she thought, that she could feel the air move around them. A single feather swirled downward to the water’s edge and the boy gently cupped it in his hands. He then placed the feather in her hand. She brought it to her lips to touch and smell the still warm and fragrant odor of wheatgrass, marsh, and meadow. The white quill was downy soft and still warm. She would always keep it.

When Jenna turned to thank the boy, he had already climbed back up to the rocky ledge and was staring at her.

“Wait”, she cried out. “Who are you?”

“Someday you will know, Jenna.” And then he was gone.

Jenna stood on the bridge over-looking the brook remembering those moments long ago. She was now twenty-four years old and her life had taken many twists and turns since the day that seemed a lifetime ago. It surprised her how constant the memory of the boy stayed with her. How many years, she thought, have I returned to this town, to stand on this bridge, wondering whatever happened to the boy.  Jenna took the single white quill feather from her pocket and brought it to her lips. It still held the scent of wheatgrass, marsh, and meadow.

Jenna suddenly became aware that someone was watching her. She then turned to see a tall, dark-haired young man. He was staring at her. His long slender legs moved with an effortless grace as he walked toward her. She was stunned. There was something about him, she thought. Her mind raced with speculation.

The young man came to stand in front of her. He leaned in, closer to Jenna—his face just inches away from her up-turned nose. His indigo blue eyes, now resplendent in the afternoon sunlight, looked into Jenna’s, willing her to remember. “The water is whispering,” he said with a grin. “Do you know what it is saying?”

Jenna’s eyes opened wide. She nodded to the tall, dark-haired young man with the indigo blue eyes and smiled. “We are like the brook–a constant thing, she told him. “Nothing is ever truly lost, if one seeks to remember.

“Yes,” he said, “that is the secret of the brook.” The young man took her hand in his and together they walked down memories road, into the future.

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