SEVENTH SON by Author A. M. Offenwanger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A. M. Offenwanger has written a magical fantasy that is a delight to read. I know when a book is really good and that is when I can remember with clarity the characters and the story weeks later. This tells me that the characters were memorable, likable, and the story interesting. Offenwanger’s writing is memorable, delightful and magical. The story involves a former Librarian, Cat, who is not happy with her life and decides to do some traveling with the money she has saved. She has been “dumped” by her boyfriend and life seems to be going nowhere for her. A lover of museums, Cat visits a museum of antiquities and admires several beautiful and strange appearing turquoise bowls, that apparently have a magical quality about them. Little did Cat know that these bowls would change her life beyond anything she could imagine.The world building is simple, but effective. I highly recommend Seventh Son, as a delightful summer read. It is uplifting, with a love story that will make your heart melt.

 

Anwen and Aodhan, A Celtic Short Story by K. D. Dowdall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(this is a previous post I did from 3 years ago)

The year is 500 A.D. in the wilds of Ireland where Druid kings rule and the Gods and Goddesses speak to the high priests in each tribe throughout the land. It is a time when lives depended on the spirits in Oak trees, Standing Stones, and nature’s creatures to guide with wisdom, each of the lives of every member of each tribe. Through the magic of Runes, each inscribed with ancient symbols, the future is foretold.

Anwen, a Celtic maiden, named for her beauty, as custom demands, is assigned at birth to marry a local Chieftain. She grew up to become a beautiful and desirable maiden. Anwen did not wish to marry the much older Chieftain of her tribe, Cathal, a powerful warrior. This was not because she was childish or selfish. It was in a dream she was told of her true love that existed somewhere in the land of her ancestors.

Her years went by and still she dreamed, although by now, she had married the older chieftain and bore him a son and a daughter. Anwen, now the healer of the tribe with powers given to her by the Goddesses dutifully went about her healing with love and care, yet inside, her deep loneliness cried out to the Goddesses to grant her the power to see her true love that she had dreamed of all of her life.

On a star-filled Beltane evening, with all the neighboring tribes celebrating together the rituals of fertility and renewal, they gathered around the high priest and the great wooden tower of fire to give prayers to the Gods and Goddesses for a bountiful year. Suddenly, as Anwen watched the Beltane fire as though the flames would reach the stars and out shine them, she felt a knowing, a certainty. Her true love was near, and her heart fluttered with joy.

Aodhan, a Chieftain from the farthest reaches of the land, arrived with his fellow tribesmen and women to Celebrate Beltane and unity with all the other tribes. Aodhan, a widower with no children, was father to all, in his small tribe in the far away mountains by the northern sea.

For Aodhan, named for Ireland’s ancient spirits of fire and light had the power of knowing, this, his gift from the Gods. He watched the other tribal revelers be enraptured by the tower of fire, as the flames roared and filled the night sky, Aodhan felt the terrible power of this omen, of things to come. Aodhan, looked at the moon, as a flicker of blood red crossed its path, foretelling brutal future. It bodes ill for the coming times.

Aodhan turned his back to the celebration and saw the most beautiful maiden that made his heart beat wildly. She was smiling at him as though she knew him, had known him and he felt this longing, a life time of longing and knew she was that need in him, his true love.

Aodhan approached her as though he had known her since the heavens formed the sky and starlight was born. He held out his hand and she hers. They held each other knowing without saying a word that they had at last found each other. The Goddesses had answered Anwen’s prayers.

As they held each other and gazed deeply into each other’s soul, memories long forgotten of centuries passed filled their being, knowing they had lived and loved before and that they would again one day, in another life. Their lips touched, but once, and their souls embraced and for that moment, they were one, Anwen the beautiful and Aodhan of fire and light.

The night hurried by as they sat on a hillside, looking at the stars until the morning sun crested the Celtic hills with colors of lavender, pink, and gold that bloomed across the sky. Anwen and Aodhan’s fingertips parted with the dawn light and both slowly turned away from each other, knowing their time would come in whatever future the Gods and Goddesses deemed for them. It was enough, this gift of knowledge, knowing that a future life would bring to them, an eternal embrace until the end of time.

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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How to Write Better Stories

How to Write Better Stories

better stories

A few insights to help you write better stories.

You know that feeling you get when you read a novel and become completely lost in it? You can’t put it down, so you lose track of time. When you finally finish, you wish it would just keep going.

Isn’t that the kind of story you want to write?

Over the past year, I’ve read only a few books that I couldn’t put down. Unfortunately, several of the books I started to read didn’t keep my interest past the first few chapters. There was a time when I forced myself to finish every book I started, no matter how boring it was. But I don’t have time for that anymore. My book pile is big and my reading list is long, so if I’m not compelled by the time the second act gets underway, I move on and find something more intriguing.

As a reader, I’m on a perpetual quest for better stories. What does that mean for writers? 

1. The Best Fiction Sticks

I’ve been thinking about what makes some books so easy to put down and what makes others impossible to let go of. After reading The Catcher in the Rye, for example, I had the strangest feeling that Holden Caulfield was a real person. I expected him to come walking around some corner and start mumbling about the lousy week he was having. This sensation lingered for a few days, both times I read the book.

But let’s go back further. I read Charlotte’s Web when I was about six years old. Then I read it again. And again, and again. I watched the animated film over and over. No matter how many times I read the book or watched the movie, I always cried at the end. To this day, quotes from the book and scenes from the film get me choked up. It’s a story that sticks.

A few years ago, I couldn’t put down The Hunger Games. I’m a science-fiction fan, so the dystopian world intrigued me, but what really kept me glued to the page was the heroine, Katniss Everdeen. She wasn’t fearless, but she was brave, strong, and honorable.

Stories like these haunt readers, lingering in hearts and minds. These are the best kinds of stories.

2.  Writing Better Stories

If we want to write better stories, we need to read the best fiction and figure out what makes it so excellent. When I’m absorbed in a book, I always try to keep one corner of my mind focused on what the writer is doing so brilliantly to keep my full attention on the story. Some things are obvious: compelling characters, an interesting plot, realistic dialogue. Other elements of the best fiction are more elusive. Here are some observations I’ve made about how to write better stories:

3.  Give People a Reason to Read

If I get to the third chapter of a book and still don’t care about it, I’ll probably put it in the donation pile. The characters have to want something badly enough to go out there and try to get it. They must have purpose, an objective if you will. The characters’ purpose gives me a reason to read their stories. Intriguing mysteries and unanswered questions are also good reasons to keep turning pages.

4.  Don’t Bore Your Readers

Pages of description, minute details that are neither interesting nor relevant to the plot and dull scenes that have no essential function to the story will bore readers. Keep the conflicts coming and the action moving, and your readers will stay up to read your book rather than reading it to help them fall asleep.

5.  It’s the Little Things

Too much detail and description gets boring, but the right details can make an otherwise average scene extraordinary. One liners that make readers laugh, subtle (or overt) pop culture references, and symbolism that has deeper meaning keep readers stimulated.

6.  Stimulate Imagination, Provoke Thought, and Pull Heartstrings

Speaking of stimulation, it’s one of the main reasons people enjoy reading so much. Sure, lots of readers are just looking for escape and entertainment, but plenty of us want to engage our imaginations and have our intellects challenged. Get readers emotionally involved, and not only will they enjoy your book; they’ll also become loyal fans of your work.

7.  Do Something Different

Forget about trying to be completely original. I doubt that’s possible anymore. Every story is the result of stories that have come before. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your unique stamp on the canon. Give old story premises new twists and your stories will feel fresh and invigorating.

7.  Write Smooth Sentences That Make Sense

This one is last on the list for a reason. One of the best novels I recently read did not have the best sentence structures. In fact, some paragraphs were fragmented and disjointed — not so much that I couldn’t understand what was going on, but it was jarring at times. The story was strong enough that I didn’t care that much, but this type of oversight can mean the difference between a four-star and a five-star review.

8.  How Do You Write Better Stories?

When you’re reading and writing fiction, do you think about the little things that make the difference between a mediocre story and a mesmerizing story? What was the last book you read that you couldn’t put down? What was it about that book that made it so potent? How do you apply what you’ve learned as a reader to your own fiction? How can authors learn to write better stories? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

My brief thoughts about this article.

I found that number 4 Suggestion really stood out regarding my own writing. I really write way too much description about scenery, weather, scent, and backstory.  I started out in my life drawing scenes of people, nature, landscapes of all kinds and then as a clinical researcher, detail was everything. So, now that I have found a pertinent excuse, I can excuse my excesses, however, it is a lesson now learned.  Karen

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.

 

 

Delphi Altair Strange Beginnings Book 1

CHAPTER 1
THE MYSTERIOUS JOURNAL

On the day of her mother’s funeral, Megan Donnelly found a mysterious package, wrapped in faded brown paper and twine, on her dresser. She had no idea where it came from or how it got there. Somehow, despite her grief, the bundle of faded brown paper and twine seemed to have a strange power over her, as if she were spellbound. Megan was about to reach for it when her cell phone rang, startling her. She reached over to her bedside table and saw it was the geeky boy who lived in the house next door.

“Hello, Jake,” answered Megan. Megan was willing to talk to anybody, even Jake Peterson.

“I’m sorry about your mom, Megan. I really am. Is there anything I can do – like help you with your homework or something? Anyway, I was just wondering if you wanted to catch-up on what’s goin’on at school. Or, you know, I just got a brand-new Future Time game and it’s really cool. I thought maybe I could come over. It might help you, you know, take your mind off things.”

“Thanks, Jake,” replied Megan, gulping hard and trying to swallow her pain. “Maybe, but I’m kinda not into it right now. I’ll call you later.” She put her cell phone back on the table. “It isn’t fair”, she murmured. It was the saddest day of Megan Donnelly life.
Megan got up from the edge of her bed and walked over to her dresser. Her ginger-colored bangs fell over her hazel eyes in feathery wisps. She pushed the bangs aside, and as she did she looked down at her black dress shoes. She noticed bits of red dirt still clung to the bottom of her shoes. She inhaled sharply as a wave of grief enveloped her. Exhaling slowly, she picked up the package with her name scrawled on it and sat down on the edge of her bed.

She tore at the brown paper wrapping and stared at the leather-bound journal that included a lock and a silver key on a chain. She looked down at the journal on her lap and ran her fingers over the aged leather binding. It looks really old and it even smells old—like it had been wrapped in mothballs. She considered for a moment something she had not thought of— maybe my mom sent this package! It would be just like her to try and comfort me, but there was no note or card from her or anyone else. Megan slipped the silver chain with the key over her head. It felt warm against her skin. She put the key in the lock and turned it.

Thankful for any distraction from her grief, she shrugged her slender shoulders and flipped it open to the first age-yellowed page. It was written in an old style with ornate flourishes by a skilled hand—like historical letters she had seen in museums. Megan read the title aloud: “The Strange Beginnings of Delphi Altair.”
A strong breeze billowed into her room from the open window. She had not noticed until now that it was a bright sunny afternoon. It was Friday and there would be a football game at school tonight. Everyone would be there. She felt a sudden chill and got up to close the window.

As she turned around to pick up the journal she noticed the book now open to a different page and thought, that’s strange. Oh, well, it must have been the wind, of course, and scooped up the journal into her lap. What she found inserted into the journal was a letter addressed strangely: To Whom the Journal Has Found. Megan, perplexed as to who could have sent her the journal, began to read it in the hopes that it might reveal the sender.

TO WHOM THE JOURNAL HAS FOUND
AUGUST 1950

I found this journal by accident (or perhaps it found me). My mother and I had come to live with my grandmother after the untimely death of my father. The house we came to live in was a very old Sea Captain’s Manor situated on a bluff, overlooking the sea, in a time forgotten town.

One day, a very wet and windy day, I found myself with nothing to do. I was feeling sad and lonely, missing my home in New England, and my friends. In my room there was only a small bed and a very old sea chest. The house was very old and the mist of sea sprays had crept through the windows and doors over the years and I remember still the scent of sea spray on the weathered wooden walls.

Underneath the window sat the old sea chest. “The key to the chest”, my grandmother told me, “was lost long ago”. My very superstitious grandmother saw this as a sign to let it remain unopened and that was that.

Never one to let well enough of alone, I decided to see if by chance a key might have been placed on top of the wooden window frame. People did that sometimes I had been told. To reach the top of the window frame I had to stand on top of the old chest. I carefully climbed up and searched for it. To my disappointment there was no key to be found. As I gingerly stepped down off the sea chest the lid popped open, as if by magic.

I can’t say I wasn’t frightened, but then my curiosity was stronger than my fear. After all, it was just an old trunk with a rusty old lock that broke free, being so old, no magic needed. I slowly walked up to the old sea chest to see what treasure it might hold.
As I began looking through the numerous folded blankets and clothes, I saw a package wrapped in plain cloth. I opened the package to find inside a leather-bound journal. I opened the journal to the first page and on it was written, the Strange Beginnings of Delphi Altair. It was hand written in an old style with ornate flourishes. I felt oddly compelled to read this mysterious journal. Soon, I found myself being taken to a magical and dangerous place and time. I cannot say more. I daresay, to whom the journal has found, keep it safe, whatever you do. So much depends on it.

Megan sat dumbfounded. There was no signature on the written letter and not a single clue as to the author of the journal. Curious, she turned the page and began to read.

THE OLD SEA CAPTAIN’S MANOR

Beside a narrow strip of oyster shell road is an old Victorian Manor sitting high on an ancient bluff over-looking the sea. The manor was built long ago by a wealthy Sea Captain. As time went by, the Sea Captain grew older and bequeathed the manor to his sons who, in turn, bequeathed the manor to their sons.
The Old Sea Captain’s Manor had survived countless storms, gales, and violent hurricanes for more than hundred and twenty years. But oddly enough, when Eastern gale winds blow, the Old Sea Captain’s Manor begins to shake violently on its foundations.

The Tuttle family that came to live in the Old Sea Captain’s Manor was not put off by the manor’s mysterious quirks. A poor family, the Tuttles felt fortunate to live in such a grand place bequeathed to them by a far removed, extremely distant relative.
The gossiping town folk reckoned the Tuttles were strange enough, but the young girl who lived with them was more than strange. Delphi Altair had unusually bright violet eyes and a firestorm of shimmering dark red hair that almost looked purple in bright sunlight. But it wasn’t her looks, specifically, that cast Delphi in a suspicious light in the community. It was her very unusual way of being. The town folks would often say, “There is something peculiar about that girl.” Yet, no one could say exactly why.

Fortunately, the Tuttles did not care what the town’s people thought about Delphi. The Tuttles loved the strange girl that was not their own. Delphi was a foundling. They found her in an old shipman’s basket one cold morning, wrapped in a blanket. Clutched in the infant’s tiny fist was a small star-shaped pendant with a blue stone inset in the middle. A weathered parchment was pinned to the infant’s clothes. The only words written on the parchment were these: Delphinus Decima East of Altair. The Tuttles had never heard of such a place called Delphinus Decima that was East of Altair. So, they shorten the words to make her a name: Delphi Altair. The Tuttles believed it would be best to keep the infant as their own until someone came to claim the child. But no one ever came.

As time went by, the Tuttles had two children born to them, Scout and Scooter, known about town as the “scalawag” twins. By the age of eight, the mischievous and rambunctious boys, tall for their age, were without mercy to little Delphi, teasing and taunting her daily.

Most people in the old seaside town made their living in some way connected to the sea. It was a booming industry and the people in the town did fairly well by it. It was booming, that is, until the blight came to the sea and in turn to the people of this seaside town. In a small town suffering great hardship everything is suspect and nothing is ever forgotten. Someone had to be blamed for the town’s misfortune.

Delphi became the focus of all the town’s troubles. From the very beginning of the town’s decline, there was the question of Delphi’s mysterious discovery by the Tuttles on that cold winter morning. This was the mindset that kept the townspeople eyeing Delphi suspiciously (besides the fact they found her mysteriously strange anyway). Like an unchecked simmering pot, things were bound to reach a boiling point.

EVIL SPEAKS – An Interview With Author S. Woffington

evil-speaks-34403446INTERVIEW WITH SANDRA WOFFINGTON, author of Evil Speaks, book #1 in the Warriors and Watchers Saga, an epic mythological fantasy series released February 2017

Early reviews:

“Be prepared to be engrossed! Between the awesome fight scenes, in-depth characters, and all the creatures, your son or daughter won’t want to put this book down! . . .remarkable job entwining Greek Mythology, Greek History, and these modern-day teenage misfits. . .the author incorporates characters with different abilities. She helps break down stereotypes that often plague special children.”

Courtney Barnum, Kelly’s Thoughts on Things blog

“In my last years at Harcourt, I can’t remember reading one single fantasy MG or YA that was half as interesting as the world you have created…. So brilliant! Between the fight scenes and the stories and people and creatures…, it was truly a roller-coaster adventure.”

Editor, Evil Speaks

What is Evil Speaks about?

The lords of the underworld have joined forces to open the ancient gates of evil. Seven teens must stop the gates from opening: Kami is deaf, Amir is blind, Zuma is overweight, Layla is gorgeous but lazy, Chaz is in a wheelchair, Benny is a loner, and Raj is as angry as the purple dagger-shaped birthmark running down the side of her face. They are quirky teens who must become warriors. But they can barely save themselves.

What made you put special needs characters in this series?

It wasn’t intentional so much as these characters appeared to me from all of my interactions with special needs individuals over the years—they inspire me. My website has stories of RL Warriors (Real Life). I wrote these characters into a screenplay around 2002, but I set that aside to work on my novel Unveiling. When I went back to it, the story had evolved into an epic mythological fantasy. I always wanted these characters to be superheroes. Clark Kent has flaws; he’s a bit of a bumbler, but as Superman, he is confident, can fly and has superpowers. In Evil Speaks, Amir is blind and vain about his looks but in the underworld, he has super vision; Kami is deaf but she gains super hearing, and Chaz is in a wheelchair but he can walk in the underworld. If regular people like Clark Kent can become superheroes, so can children with challenges. As in life, each character must also grapple with his or her personal problems. Layla, for instance, is gorgeous but insecure. She has low self-esteem; she feels her beauty is her only asset and she didn’t work for that.

How long did it take you to write Evil Speaks?

I will answer that by saying my first novel Unveiling took years. It was historical and multicultural and required massive research. I also gutted it twice to change directions. In hindsight, this seemed like a waste of time. With Evil Speaks, I sat down and came up with a repeatable plan, using the 8-essential plot points and 3-act structure. I worked on character development before anything else. Then I filled in my plot-planner scene by scene. It was a lot like writing the bones of a screenplay. I like to write full days, not piecemeal. I set a goal to crank out the first draft over summer vacation. When I sat down to write, it flowed easily from scene to scene, changed at times, bust stayed on course. I knocked it out in ten weeks. The revisions took months longer, and I ultimately added a chapter. You can find a section titled “Writing Lessons” on my editor’s website at SWoffington.com, where I lay out the system point by point for others. Start with “Writing Lessons: Introduction” under Recent Posts or pick a topic from the list.

What do you like best about the fantasy genre?

You can go anywhere, do anything! You can create entire universes (or underworlds) full of crazy characters and locations. History (or mythology) always comes into play for me. It’s clearly just part of who I am as a writer, as are international settings. Evil Speaks is an international quest.

You work as a developmental editor as well. What mistakes do you see most often?

I love helping authors hone their fiction or improve their techniques. Every author I’ve worked with has strengths and weaknesses: maybe the dialogue is strong but the descriptions and details are weak; or the descriptions are amazing but the dialogue is stilted or it does not fit the character or all characters sound alike. Two basic concepts are critical to every manuscript: 1) avoid passive verbs (every page must have strong active verbs), and  2) “show” don’t tell, meaning write a scene and let me see the glistening sweat dripping down the side of someone’s face, plopping onto the contract and wicking the freshly penned signature into a  fuzzy black Rorschach image; don’t say “He was sweating as he signed the contract” (this is also passive).

You advocate inclusion on the WarriorsandWatchersSaga.com website—can you tell me about that?

Since writing Evil Speaks, I’ve learned that special needs children are bullied five times more often than other children. I’m shocked by this. I put tips for education, intervention and inclusion on my site for parents and educators. I’m using Deer Valley’s “Disability Awareness Activity Packet” in the classroom. Prevention starts with education. Along with that, every parent, educator or librarian should ensure our children read literature with special needs characters. Books create closeness to characters, and that creates empathy in the reader. Empathy can enable children and adults to leap past the page to make friends with special needs individuals and include them in society.

You’re working with a publicity company for the launch of Evil Speaks. What has been your experience with this?

I love it! I interviewed many companies. One company would have worked to increase my on-line presence alone for $500/month, but I wanted more. I chose Smith Publicity, because they have a long track record of working with authors. They helped me design a campaign to fit my budget. I decided to make the investment, because I’m writing a 7-novel series. It seemed prudent to get the word out on book one. The publicist sends review requests to book bloggers, sends out requests for author interviews for radio or television, sends out press releases, lines up book signings, and more. I wanted a team approach, and that’s what I received. I’m very happy with my publicist Katie. She works as hard for me as I do for myself. The Smith Publicity website is packed with media tips for authors, such as “101 Book Marketing Ideas to Promote Your Book.” In short, do your homework, have realistic expectations, and stick to your budget.

Brief Bio:

  1. Woffington is a California native, whose thirst for adventure began when reading1001 Arabian Nightstales as a child. In her twenties, she lived in Saudi Arabia and England, spent months in Italy, and traveled extensively. After completing UC Irvine’s Humanities Honors Program, she earned dual Master’s in English and Creative Writing from Chapman University. Her stay in Saudi Arabia inspired her debut novel Unveiling, which won Honorable Mention from Writer’s Digest SP e-book awards. Woffington teaches middle grade students at a Montessori school. During Summers, off, she writes fiction and works as a freelance developmental editor.