Changes Fall

Autumn

 

Today when the piano alarm on my phone crescendoed until I obediently rolled out of bed, something felt different. Through my slitted eyes, dawn’s light through our open windows remained black. Birds chirping outside startled me, and I realized my husband had turned off our room air conditioner sometime during the night. A strange impulse coursed through my body, traveling through me like a crowd doing the wave at a baseball stadium. My throat scratched when I asked my husband if he wanted a banana packed in his lunch, so I took a drink from the water bottle on my night stand. The water was still cold!

Then I realized the source of strangeness—the air inside my room was cool. For the first time in three months, I wanted to put on a sweater. Usually I would wake up soaked with sweat, barely rested due to constant demand for cold water during the night. My body had no idea how to adjust to more moderate temperatures. In dim light, I searched through my closet, digging deep before feeling the zipper of my hoodie. Gratefully, I pulled it on and zipped it up to my neck. My shaking ceased.

The aroma of coffee dripping into the pot in the kitchen combined with crisp coolness and whispered promises. The summer sluggishness I had strained beneath disappeared, and my steps became light. Ambition kindled in the cool morning. Suddenly hope swelled in my chest, and I began to believe again that my life would change. That my fourth graders this year would love to write. That my book might be picked up by an agent. That I would find the perfect writing critique group. That I would lose those last five pounds.

Officially fall begins on September 22nd, but in my bedroom, on this day, the changes of fall began.

Dragon Rider Part Four: Ferrytown

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A sudden cross wind ripped Emeri’s gloved hand from the saddle horn and shoved her back against the high rim of her saddle. She gasped and set her feet so that she wouldn’t tumble off her dragon and fall like a huge rain drop to the far away ground. Then the young princess ducked her head, gripped the blankets with her knees, and placed more weight in her stirrups. The constant roar of the wind buffeting her leather helmet had lulled her into a sleep-like trance. Even though the Dragon Owners Group had been riding for hours, any gust of wind could cause disaster.

Ahead of her the group spread out toward the horizon in staggered two by two formation. The sun was far behind them now, as they rode eastward toward the Crystal Mountains. As the sweep, she was responsible for making sure that none of the others were left behind. During the long day, the cloud of dragons flew as one with no incident. Soon they would reach Ferrytown and set down for the night.

The growing dusk revealed glimmering lights below them, reflected into the dark still lake that bordered the town. The tiny lit boxes that would be houses and buildings once they landed were arranged in a horseshoe, the open end meeting a large dock at the waterfront.

Suddenly the dragons in front of her dove straight down. Emeri and Petal followed into the twilight chill, joining the large group of dragons that had landed in a meadow outside of town. The princess quickly unbuckled her straps, and threw down the rope ladder she kept for group rides. Her sore muscles protesting, she climbed down the ladder to the welcome ground.

“Hey, Sweep,” Twinkle greeted her, already with her tack and bag in hand. “Great ride today. We all stayed together.”

“Not much for me to do,” Emeri replied. “Great dragons and great riding. My throat’s parched from that wind though.” She hopped back up the ladder a little to release her saddle and blanket. The heavy pile of leather and wool landed with a whoosh on the cool grass.

“Time for supper,” Twinkle said, “See you there.” Their leader hoisted up her load and headed to the inn.

A while later Emeri stumbled downstairs after a long bath, clean and stomach rumbling. The common room had a low ceiling with a roaring fireplace at one end, and was stuffed with long wood tables. Travelers laughed over tales as they converged upon Ferrytown before they set out for faraway destinations in the surrounding mountains.

“Emeri! Over here!” Worley shouted over the din, and she could barely glimpse his familiar face in the smoky room. Large women in tight-fitting dresses wove their way in between the tables with large tankards of ale that sloshed over the side on unsuspecting patrons. The princess carefully made her way to her friends, thinking that she might have waiting on the bath until after supper.

Anzel, Worley, Twinkle, and four other riders were crammed into table, jealously guarding their bowls of savory stew. She squeezed in next to Worley, and as if on cue one of the bar maids slapped a tankard and bowl in front of her.

Gratefully, Emeri raised the bowl to her mouth and delicately sipped the hot soup. Chunks of tender meat, savory but of unknown origin, tasting better than any royal feast after a long day riding. She took a swig of her icy, bitter ale, and sighed with contentment.

Several bowls and tankards later, when their ferocious appetites had been appeased, the riders sat back, loosened their trousers and talked about their day. The surrounding chatter provided the illusion of privacy.

“What a great ride today,” Twinkle said, lifting her mug. “All our riders did a great job staying in formation.”

“That wind was fierce,” Worley said. “I felt like my head got whipped all the way around!”

“It could be worse,” his brother encouraged. “The further we get into the mountains, the more the wind shoots through the passes. Need to keep your head down.” Although his tone was light, concern glowed in his eyes. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Emeri almost get swept out of her saddle.”

“It wasn’t as bad as that,” the princess corrected. “I was being lulled to sleep by Petal’s smooth ride. It’s hard to stay awake when you’re riding the strongest dragon in the group.”

“Hold your tongue!” Twinkle said with a grin. “The ride’s more set by the rider than the dragon. Don’t you remember what I taught you?” She tipped back the dregs of her mug and motioned with it to a passing bar maid.

“I remember everything you told me,” Emeri said. She looked at the circle of friends around her and wondered if these would be the memories she would take out, like old love letters, when her life had been diminished into her royal duties.

“It was so clear today, I could see all the way to edge of Tessar,” Anzel said. “But not as clear as the day we flew over Razor Ridge.” He gave a conspiring nod toward Twinkle.

“How could I forget?” Twinkle added. “The air was so clear it hurt to look too long. We could see caterpillars crawling on the leaves of Razor Forest.” She gratefully accepted a full tankard from the bar maid.

“Razor Ridge?” Worley gasped. “Isn’t that where the Bearded Ones live? Did you see any of them?”

Emeri hid her smirk behind her tankard. This was the same story that she had been told on her first dragon riding trip.

“Oh, there were hundreds of them running around,” Anzel continued in a deadly serious voice. “They had carts pulled by oxen. Carts full of gold, rubies, and diamonds from their mines deep in the heart of the mountains.”

“And even with clear skies, they weren’t able to see us,” Twinkle added. “Their eyes couldn’t see in the bright sunshine after all the time they spend inside the mountain.”

“That’s when Tonlon came up with a great idea,” Anzel said with a nod to an older rider with a long grey braid that sat with them at their table. “Tonlon, do you want to tell my brother what your idea was?”
The man took a long drink, and answered. “We wanted a remembrance, a token of that day. So that when we sat around and talked about seeing the Bearded Ones, people would believe us.” He narrowed his eyes at Worley, who hung on his every word. “You do believe us, right?”

“Of course,” Worley said. “We’re all dragon riders here.”

Emeri choked back a laugh.

“Were you there, Emeri?” Worley asked.

“No,no,” Emeri managed to answer. “That was before my time as a rider.”

“Well, you see, as that day was so clear, we could fly next to each other and make up a plan,” the man continued.

“So Tonlon and Anzel followed the Bearded Ones’ caravan that wound its way through the mountains,” Twinkle added to the tale. “Anzel took the lead, and told Blade to set some trees on fire in the canyon, right after the other wagons passed, separating the last wagon from the group.”

“Tonlon came from behind and his Beauty stole one of the chests right off the wagon, in a flash, before anyone could do anything,” Anzel said.

“What did the Bearded Ones do?” Worley asked.

“Not a lot they could do, I guess,” Tonlon said. “The dragon riders were gone in an instant, and they had to rescue their wagon from the fire. What an adventure!”

“But what was in the chest?” Worley wondered.

“That’s the funny thing,” Twinkle said. “When we finally got to our stop for the night, we decided to open it up. It was so heavy; we were sure it was filled with gold.”

“What was in it?” Worley said, his ale forgotten.

“Biscuits,” Tonlon said with a sigh.

“Heaviest biscuits I’ve ever seen,” Anzel said, shaking his head.

“Hard as rocks,” Twinkle said.

Then the entire table erupted in laughter. Worley looked around in puzzlement, until Emeri couldn’t bear it any longer.

“They’re yanking on your saddle strap, Worley!” the princess confessed. “They told the same story to me on my first trip. It never happened.”

The young man’s face turned from confusion to anger to realization. “This is part of my initiation, isn’t it? I’m really a dragon rider now!”

“If your sore bottom doesn’t do it, Anzel’s stories will guarantee it,” she said, giving him a quick hug.

The fire finally burned low, and it was time for sleep before the long ride tomorrow. Twinkle settled their account with the bar maid. Emeri eased her sore legs up the stairs behind the rest of the riders, again swept with grief for the life she would leave behind.

Dragon Rider- Part Three

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The pale dawn’s light drew a sigh from Emeri as she watched Lacey jerk open the curtains in her bedchamber. Her bleach white room was bathed in pink, like the shimmering scales of her dragon. Lately, everything around her reminded her that her time with Petal was coming to an end.

“Good dawn, my Lady,” her maid greeted her mistress with red eyes. Both of them had sat up and talked away the night. They knew that after Silverpointe, nothing would be the same. Emeri’s carefree days spent riding the wind would be replaced by fittings, meetings, and party arrangements. Although her maid lacked the courage to ride with Emeri on Petal, nonetheless she enjoyed the contagious excitement of the dragon riders, and felt her mistress’ approaching loss.

“Everything is packed?” Emeri said as she struggled out of her bedcovers.

“The saddlebags are down at the stables, along with your riding costume,” Lacey confirmed, as she opened the heavy armoire and pulled out a black tunic and trousers, Emeri’s favorite outfit. Definitely not something First Mistress would choose for her. But delicate silk had no place on top of a rough dragon’s back.

After she was dressed and devoured her tea and toast, Emeri rushed down to the stables. Anzel and Worley, as well as the rest of the dragon riders would meet her there. The open field near the stables provided a good place to stage the dragons. Outside the main castle gate, the vendors for the Flower Festival were setting up their stalls. Farmers came from distant lands to compete in contests for the finest roses, creating an overwhelming perfume that blanketed the estate for days.

As she drew near, Emeri smelled her favorite fragrance—the sulfurous smoke of dragons. The soft meadow grass was beaten down by trampling dragon feet, and a grey cloud clung to the morning mist. Row after row of bobbing heads and flapping wings waiting with nervous excitement for the ride to begin. Stable hands ran back and forth between them with buckets of water and freshly killed rabbits.

“Well, now that you’ve finally gotten out of your big, puffy princess bed, I guess we can leave,” a voice said behind her. She whirled around and gave a huge hug to a large woman with two long silver braids.

“Good dawn, Twinkle,” Emeri said. “I’m glad you’re leading the ride.” Her eyes seemed a little blurry, so she dabbed them with her hankie, for what she knew would not be the last time.

“Well, of course I wouldn’t miss Silverpointe,” Twinkle replied, her wrinkled face arranged into a big smile. “No yellow fever can keep me down!” The ride captain had recently recovered from a long bout with the dread disease that had ravaged the queendom last winter.

“I don’t think death would keep you from a ride,” the princess agreed. It was fitting that her first dragon riding instructor would lead her last ride. Many hours of flying lessons had convinced her that the older woman was the tougher than an old goat, as well as the finest dragon rider in the land.

“Gather round, everyone!” Anzel shouted from the main stable door. Riders popped out from the rows of dragons and spilled out from the stable, crowding close. Twinkle stood up on a box on the front steps, and addressed the group.

“On our first day, we’re going as far as Ferrytown,” Twinkle said, and a rumbling started through the crowd. “I know some of you think that’s too far to push our dragons, but the court druids predict a storm by the end of our second day, and I’d like to get as far into the mountains as we can, in case we have to wait it out at the lodge.”

Emeri nodded her approval and caught a wink from her instructor. Some of the riders were more interested in the food and drink than the actual riding. She had complete confidence in Petal’s endurance. Also she knew Twinkle would allow the dragons rest stops.

“After we make the lodge,” the ride captain continued, “we’ll cross over the mountains at Crystal Bowl, and drop down into Silverpointe. The innkeeper is expecting us, so he has hired out the rest of the village to provide enough beds. You’ll be ready for the hot springs and mountain brandy by that time.”
“Are we heading back on weeksend?” Worley asked with a flushed face. This was his first overnight ride, and he had been insufferable for weeks.

“Of course, weather permitting,” Twinkle replied. “But we’re not gathered here to talk. Dragon riders, let’s ride!” At her cry, the group dispersed to their mounts, donning helmets and jackets as they went.

“Emeri, we’re with you,” Anzel said as he passed her by, loaded down with bulging saddlebags. She closed her leather jacket with its silver fasteners and grabbed her helmet and gloves. Her saddlebags were already loaded onto Petal, thanks to Lacey. As she walked through the downy grass, her eyes savored the commotion surrounding her. These were people who loved adventure, not politics. Her kind of people.

Petal waited expectantly for her, standing still in the sea of multicolored dragons. She was the only pink one there, as her breed was rare to be tamed. Emeri remembered the first time she had seen her dragon, when the royal family had taken a holiday at the lodge in the Crystal Mountains. She was only a child of eight seasons, full of curiosity and devoid of fear. While her nurse was settling the other royal children down after the evening meal, Emeri had snuck out to see the famous sunset over the shimmering mountains. When she heard honking, she had to investigate, expecting a wayward goose. But instead, a cat-sized pink lizard belched tiny puffs of smoke and scurried over to jump in her arms.

So her dragon had found her, and they were inseparable ever since. Since it was rare that a dragon chose to be gentled, First Mistress could not forbid Emeri to keep Petal. When the First Mistress showed only a cold disapproval to any of Emeri’s accomplishments, her dragon always showered her with affection. If being wrapped with prickly scales and hot breath could be called affection.

“It’s going to be alright,” Emeri said, as she climbed up the ladder to her saddle. “You’ll love the Crystal Mountains. We’ll find more of your kind so you won’t be alone.” She tried to keep her voice strong and confident.

She waited silently as the rows of dragons formed into pairs. Since she rode sweep, she had to wait for everyone else to take off. It was her job to make sure no rider was left behind on their journey. Worley turned back and waved, and then followed his brother up into the sky. Emeri clicked her tongue and powerful wings lifted them both up to join the other riders. The roaring wind, the woolly blanket of clouds and the morning sun’s sudden brilliance were captured in her heart where she would treasure them, even when her future kept her caged on the cold ground.

Finding Gold in My Story

snow

 

 

A weekend in the mountains sounds restful, but for the twenty five writers that attended the Southern California Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Spring Retreat in Idyllwild, it turned out to be three days of hard work. The focus was on middle grade and young adult works in progress, which placed me in the company of my genre peers, rather than in the mixed company of most critique groups I had attended.

For me it was the last effort I was willing to extend toward a project I had been writing for three years. A book that I had thought I had finished, but had been quietly rejected by agents for the past two years. The College of the Crones had sat unloved in my document files, while my creative nonfiction articles were getting snapped up by travel journals. The first time I’d thought the book was finished, I spent worthwhile money on professional editing. I had even pitched my book to an agent at a writing conference, and took her advice to heart, getting rid of one of my main characters. But I was tired of working without result. The title of the retreat was “Finding Gold,” but I wasn’t sure that my book had anything valuable left.

The dream team of masterminds behind the weekend included Heather Buchta, who organized a group of writers who mostly had never met each other into focused critique groups. A few weeks before I headed up the mountain, Heather emailed our group with a request to share our photo and synopsis of the work we were planning to share. This proved to be brilliant, as we knew who to look for when we arrived. Also we didn’t have to spend a lot of time getting our group up to speed on our stories.

Although I had attended previous writing conferences, this one proved to be the most productive. We had four sessions of critiques with our small group of six and our leader. In addition, an agent, editor, or published author would also sit in with us. Each writer had fifteen minutes during each session to use as they wished, timed by our leader. Some writers read different chapters each session, while others took the feedback and revised the same passage, printing out copies for the group on the printers that some of the leaders brought with them.

Between critique sessions, Kate Sullivan, senior editor at Delacorte Press, and Erin Young, agent at Dystel, Goderich and Bourret, gave brief, useful presentations on theme, query letters, and pitches. Estelle Laure and Steve Bramucci, published authors, told their tales about being in the trenches as writers. These session drew laughs as well as tears, and plenty of “ah-ha!” moments.

But I will always treasure Kate and Estelle contributing to my critique group. They set a high bar for courtesy and professionalism. And I will never forget the passion and meticulous attention they showed toward my manuscript. Priceless.

Hikes and writing time were built into our schedule, which provided additional time to share with other writers. Wine and appetizers in front of a roaring fire at a nearby restaurant made us feel like we were in a story. The weather became a main character over the weekend, as we changed from sunny spring weather on Friday to a Sunday morning blanket of snow.

All weekend long, I cherished each stolen moment to revise a few more chapters. With the help of one of the leaders, I reprinted two chapters that I reworked after the first two critique sessions. I worked with a feverish zeal that reminded me of my rough draft days. It was hard to put my computer away.

Suddenly, it was Sunday morning and time for awards. If we chose, we could have submitted our first ten pages for a contest a month before the retreat. A team of published writers and editors judged the manuscripts in a blind contest. The two categories of middle grade and young adult were judged separately, with first place and honorable mention in each. As the leaders announced the young adult winners, I hoped that someone from my critique group would win since the quality of the work shared had been excellent. What I wasn’t prepared for was when they called my name for honorable mention.

As I stood up to receive my certificate in a daze, I realized that my book, almost abandoned for the immediate gratification of shorter articles, deserved to live. The College of the Crones would be finished, but with new direction and inspiration.

After lunch, I headed down the mountain through a snowstorm, eager to get home and continue revisions on my book. Instead of rocks, I had found the gold hidden in my story. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a writing retreat for works in progress, don’t hesitate to sign up. It turned out to be a weekend I will always treasure.

 

 

 

The Dragon Rider

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            The cool night air swirled as her dragon swooped down to land in the clearing. With a whoosh the heavy beast settled into the soft meadow. Emeri released her breath, and gratefully unfastened her leather helmet, pried it off her head, and shook out her chin length black hair.

“Perfect landing, as usual, Lady Emeri,” a soft voice called below her as a ladder was gently set up against Petal’s side. One hand took her helmet and the other assisted her down to the ground, not needed but appreciated just the same. Her house servant handed her master a crystal goblet of apple wine. The rider downed it in one long draw, while the servant sighed her disapproval.

The dragon turned her serpentine neck around to sniff her passenger, who chuckled as the young woman pulled a slice of sausage out of her trouser pocket. Petal extended her long tongue to retrieve the treat.

“Good girl, Petal,” her rider crooned, patting her gloved hands against the dragon’s rough scales. “The credit for our landing should go to you.”

“Glad to have you back, my Lady,” the servant said. “By your leave, I will take Petal back to her stable.” She reached out to take back the goblet.

“Go on, now. Make sure she has plenty to eat,” Emeri reminded her servant. The young woman acknowledged with a quick bow and reached up to take Petal’s harness. She led the dragon away, fading as ghosts in the twilight, Lacey with her pale braid hair and white dress, and the huge metallic pink dragon. She stopped, and turned back.

“Forgive me, my lady. I almost forgot —The First Mistress wants to see you upon your return.”

Emeri’s twinkling green eyes suddenly turned stormy, and she stomped off to her rooms.

A few hours later, she emerged, hair brushed, face scrubbed, and cinched into her dress and girdle, Emeri descended the worn stone stairs to the library, where she knew The First Mistress would be sitting in front of a roaring fire, keeping the still cool nights at bay. At the door, she knocked lightly, and prepared her best obedient face. The door opened a crack, revealing a middle-aged blonde woman in a white dress.

Upon recognizing her face, the woman frowned as if her presence was disturbing the peace. “Good evening, Lady Emeri. The First Mistress will see you now.” She opened the door, and Emeri straightened up, lifted her chin, and walked in.

The walls were covered in bookcases that stretched up three levels, with a tall ladder on wheels in the corner. The two tall narrow windows on the opposite wall were swathed in heavy red silk, keeping out chill. Three chandeliers stretched down from the ceiling, covered in glowing lamps safely enclosed in glass. As massive and imposing as the scale of the library, an equally imposing small ancient white haired woman with white hair sat wrapped in grey down-stuffed coverings by the fire. Her shadow seemed to fill the room, and her wrinkles rearranged into a questioning stare as Emeri approached. A slight nod toward a chair was command enough for Emeri as she took her seat facing the older woman. The servant exited the room quietly and closed the door.

Emeri knew she should not speak first, but she couldn’t help herself. She was sixteen seasons old now, a full grown adult, not a mere timid child. “Blessed First Mistress, I pray that your days have been full of grace, and your evenings full of peace.” It sounded like an appropriate greeting toward an elder.

The old woman closed her eyes and sighed. “Just when I’m certain you’ve come into maturity, you have to jump right in and make a mess of things. You can’t even wait a moment for us to address you.”

“But First Mistress, by law I am your daughter. Aren’t there some privileges that I’m due?” Emeri just managed to keep the whining tone out of her voice.

“The law does not do away with courtesy. Remember your lessons, and they will serve you well.” The older woman paused to take a cautious sip of her steaming tea. “Thimble poured you some tea. Drink some to calm yourself.” She nodded toward a side table that featured a silver tea service.

Emeri pulled herself out of the overstuffed chair and retrieved her cup. Then she sat down, and obediently sipped her tea, hoping that the steam would cover the reddening of her face. Moments hung in the air between them until the First Mistress decided to talk.

“Now that you’ve reached your sixteenth season, it is time for us to plan your marriage. Even though you are an awkward tiny little thing, you manage to clean up well, and of course you have the finest clothes and hairdressers. My steward, Nathaniel, will create a list of potential suitors, and we will entertain them for the Flower Festival coming up. We should have just enough time to get everything together by then.” She fixed Emeri with a stern gaze that invited no criticism.

“But First Mistress,” Emeri said through clenched teeth, “The dragon ride to Silverpoint always takes place during the Flower Festival. The DOGs need me to ride sweep. There’s going to be at least fifty riders from our kingdom going. I can’t miss it.” Her stomach curdled, and she hastily set down her teacup and saucer before she threw it into the fire.

“That brings us to the next subject,” The First Mistress continued, a tiny smirk appearing in her wrinkles. “Your inappropriate obsession with dragon riding will stop. It was suitable as a hobby when you were a child, but now you are too valuable to risk yourself up in the skies, holding onto a beast!”

“A beast?” Emeri barely kept her voice to a ladylike volume. “Petal is not a beast! She’s my best friend!”

The older woman sighed again and shook her head. “That proves our point, Lady Emeri. Now that you are a woman, you will find friendship other places. Perhaps if you are blessed by the Moon Mother, you will find it with your husband. This dragon nonsense ceases at once.”

Emeri knew that arguing with her foster mother would do no good, but her heart was breaking, and tears threatened her composure. She had known that The First Mistress did not approve of her dragon riding, but she never thought she would forbid it. There was no recourse. At least openly.

“Blessed First Mother,” she said instead. “I know that my life is to serve the Woodland queendom. My fate is in your hands, to do with as Sun Father and Moon Mother would reveal to you. I also know that a marriage alliance will strengthen our land. With such a destiny before me, could you fault me for seeking what pleasures I can find before I must play my role? Such a small thing, like the Silverpoint ride, would make it easier for me to attend to my courtship.” She held her breath and waited, her face controlled in respect.

The First Mistress lifted her eyebrow as if she didn’t expect this answer from the most difficult of her children. She drained the rest of her cup, and set it delicately back in its saucer, and placed it on her side table before answering.

“We are encouraged that you are ready to accept the responsibilities of your position. Perhaps a small indulgence like a last dragon ride would not be too much to ask. You may join the Silverpoint ride, and during it find a buyer for your dragon. You will have no further need of it when you return.” She gestured slightly with her hand, which Emeri knew was her dismissal. She tried not to fall on her face as she hastened out the door in her satin slippers.

After climbing up the stairs, unlacing her corset as she went, Emeri collapsed in her velvet dressing chair near the window. The full moon bathed the room in shades of blue that turned to purple as they mixed with the pink hues of her fireplace. She finally lost all control, and collapsed into sobs. A door opened, and Lacey came quickly to see what was wrong.

“Oh, Lacey!” she sobbed. “First Mistress is going to send Petal away. I have to stop riding! What am I going to do?”

Her servant wiggled into the chair next to her and put her arms around her. “Don’t cry, my Lady. She’ll know you cried if your eyes are puffy.” She pulled out a scented linen handkerchief. “Take this. You’ll think of something. You always do.”

The dejected young woman wiped her eyes, and looked out the window, looking for an answer somewhere. Her eyes glowed in the moonlight, and her face settled to stone. Emeri had always tried to be a mostly obedient daughter, at least as far as anyone knew. But now she was an adult, and needed to think for herself. She couldn’t live without Petal and dragon riding. She would have to think like a dragon rider and come up with a solution.

 

 

 

On being published, and how it changed my life

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Two years ago, I got sick and tired of my pathetic longing to publish my novel. My book project was only one year into the revised drafts, and I felt like time was running out. Let’s face it –I’m not getting any younger, and if I want to be a best-selling author I need to get my first one on the New York Times bestseller list. So I sent out an army of queries to any agent that represented my genre. My submission spreadsheet grew into several pages with polite rejection notes. The agent I met at a very expensive writer’s conference never responded to my query. I was desperate for a new approach.

My critique group was supportive and gave great feedback, but they were not professionals in the writing industry. I wasn’t going to improve my writing without higher standards. Should I go back to school? Seeking to improve my craft, I enrolled in a local university’s online creative writing program. What I expected was that my writing would be pulled apart, equipped with upgrades, and become the shiny sports car I needed to catch a literary agent’s eye. What I experienced was a barrage of articles about writing that I could have Google searched myself. The students provided feedback on each other’s assignments, although most were not qualified or bold enough to give more than vague compliments. Curiously absent were concrete suggestions from the teacher. Although it was great to have structure and deadlines for creating short pieces, I didn’t really learn anything new.

However I did enjoy discussing the art of writing with other people interested in pursuing a writer’s life. There had to be other writers out there like me that wanted to be taken seriously. So I searched the internet and found the California Writers Club. It was a state club with local branches, so I checked out the Inland Empire Branch. What an exciting moment when I walked into a room with thirty other writers, most full time professional ones, and listened to a presentation about marketing books on social media. These people were living the life I dreamed about! I joined the group, and the members have become some of my dearest encouragers.

One of the club’s suggestions was to set smaller goals along the way to my big goal of publishing my novel. For my WordPress blog, I include articles about riding with my husband in the HOGs (Harley Owners Group). I found a database called Duotrope where you can find submission information for all varieties of print and online magazines and contests. A new submission spreadsheet was begun, and within two months one of my articles, “Backroads to Pioneertown” was accepted into an international travel journal called Coldnoon Travel Diaries. There was no money award, but my work was validated. Buoyed with my success, I continued to submit articles and last month “The Almost Grand Canyon Trip” was published in the literary journal The Courtship of Winds.

            My blog caught the attention of our HOG chapter and I was asked to become the editor of their newsletter The Handlebar Star. My responsibilities include collecting and editing articles written by the club officers and adding my own touches.

Success with my nonfiction writing sparked my creativity toward my novel project. Instead of giving up, I asked for help from my social media audience. One of my Twitter followers agreed to become a beta reader for me, and sent me seven pages of notes and revision suggestions. I was surprised to discover that the roots of my story were still alive, and I am weeding out unneeded sentences and watering my characters. I am learning to persevere in editing, long past the point where I’m in love with any of my sentences.

What began two years ago as a desperate search for help has shown some small victories. I’m not giving up on writing courses yet, although I will do more research on the best programs. Joining a professional writers group has given me a supportive family that helped me discover opportunities I never would have found on my own. And becoming an editor has reinforced the basics that I need to practice.

And so I start this year as a published writer. Did it change my life as I thought it would? Absolutely. Criticism and encouragement have sharpened my writing sensibility and I’m ready to do the work necessary to perfect my writing style. Today I’m even more dedicated to improving my writing and finding new ways to get my stories out to readers.

The Day I Became a Writer

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I became a writer one day in Ireland, standing on slime covered rocks squinting over at France. Actually I had written many stories during the course of my forty years, but that windy beach changed me.

My daughter, Kristin, and I were five days into an eleven day quest through Scotland and Ireland. I was collecting research on castles for a book, and I liked seeing them in person more than looking at pictures on the internet. Earlier that week, we had toured Edinburgh Castle, and were now driving through the back roads of Ireland on our way to Blarney Castle.

I had rented a car in Dublin with the encouragement of our travel agent who assured me I would quickly learn how to drive a left handed stick shift on the opposite side of the road. How lost could you really get on an island? The day I picked up the car, Kristin and I learned the answer for over two hours before accidently passing our hotel, thanks to the one way streets and tiny street signs that were tacked to the sixth floor of the brick buildings at every major intersection. After a moment’s embarrassment at the front desk when I learned they were about reading to send out the Gardai to find us, I consoled myself that driving in the country would be much easier.

With the July sun shining in our faces, we headed down the east coast toward Rosslare Harbor, where we had plans to stay at a dairy farm that was also a bed and breakfast inn.  Still feeling the sting of yesterday’s mistake, I made Kristin official navigator. She carefully studied the map, which was twice as interesting since the town names were both in Gaelic and in English. We managed well until we reached the roundabout outside of town. Turning right into the circle of cars, it was the merry-go-round on the playground all over again. I merged into the spinning swirl of cars until we jumped out onto the road I thought would lead us to the dairy farm.

The other difficulty about driving in Ireland is that once you are on a road there are no road signs to reassure you that you are indeed on the correct road. Only when you arrive, an hour later, at the next medieval town do you realize that you should have stayed on the roundabout one spoke farther to the right. Since this was before phone navigation, we stopped at the only place you could ask directions – the pub.

Forty five minutes later, after we had shared stories with the old men who seemed to live at the pub, we were headed in the right direction. When we finally passed the old oak tree, turned right at the corner where the white cows stand, and turned left at the golf course, we ended up at our destination. A two story brick and wood house with a tall chimney, surrounded by barns and other buildings popped up between the hills.

After sipping tea with our hostess, Kristin and I decided to stretch our legs by walking to the beach. We followed the low stone wall all the way to the end, as instructed, passing black and white cows and sheep with pink spray painted on their rear legs. A narrow dirt path led us through waving tall grass, between randomly tossed chunks of rock, until we came out to a deserted beach.

Waves crashed over slippery black rocks, creating fountains of spray. We climbed out on the rocks as far as we dared, braving the icy spray carried in the breeze. Looking out to sea, we could see the outlines of cruise ships and cargo ships on their way to Europe.

“Ireland!” Kristin yelled over the crashing surf. Here we were, around the world from California, standing on the beach of the land that birthed many writers. They were my ancestors, and I had come home.

At this point in my life, my identity had been shaken. I was no longer a wife. My husband’s relatives and friends had faded away in grief. My career in retail buying had been swept away, and replaced by a career in teaching. My children were growing up and independent, leaving me with empty time. Time to write.

Standing there on that slippery rock, in the land of my ancestors, I suddenly knew that I was a writer.

 

College of the Crones- Chp.3 Part Three

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The prince calmed himself as he composed his reply. Everything inside him wanted to scream in this insignificant worm’s face. He called upon his magic to quiet the storm, difficult as it was to do so in this iron-filled land. His face relaxed, and he released his grip on the arms of his chair. The silence was as weighty as the pause before a judge’s verdict.

“I…understand… your… concern,” replied the prince. He took a deep breath, letting it out completely before he continued. “I know that the men of Beautiful work hard for the glory of my land. I sincerely wish that I could give my beauty tonic freely to all who ask.” He chuckled a bit under his breath, its sound causing the dancers near him to stop in mid twirl. “But its ingredients are rare and growing more scarce by the year. And my men already travel long distances through dangerous lands to obtain what is needed. As the risk to my men increases, so must the price of the tonic.” He paused, the corners of his mouth twitching.  “If men don’t wish to pay the price, they can simply choose not to buy it.” His jewel-like eyes glittered behind his feathered mask. The eavesdropping dancers hurried away to another part of the hall.

“Of course, Your Highness,” the scarecrow said. His face turned paler than his makeup as he considered the possible future with men married to ugly crones. No man would choose that. He shuddered at the thought. “Your generosity is well known in Beautiful. I am certain you are doing everything you can. I will disturb you no longer. Good evening, my prince.” He made a hasty bow and darted back into the noisy crowd. The guards and ladies nearest to him relaxed as the tension dissipated.

The prince exhaled and drained his cup with a shaking hand.  How ungrateful these humans are! I give them perfect beauty to gaze upon for their entire lives, and they grumble about a little labor. Subjects. How they tried his patience! How they interrupted his pleasures! If he didn’t do something, they might become difficult to control. Back in Faerie, a mere gesture alone would accomplish his desires. But his power was weakened here, away from his magical homeland. If not for my potion-making talents, I might have had to actually work for a living.

Shaking his head free of unwanted thoughts, the prince beckoned to the guard nearby. The masked soldier hastened to his master’s side. The prince whispered into his ear, “Make sure that the mayor has a fatal carriage accident on his way home.” The soldier nodded his understanding and left the hall. With a contented sigh, the prince turned back to the festivities. Learning to delegate is not so difficult after all.

College of the Crones- Chp.3 Part Two

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“Of course, I would be pleased to have a word with the mayor,” the prince answered instead.  He had to continue the charade if he was going to achieve his goals. Still, maybe he could appoint a royal advisor to address these trivial matters in the future. This interacting with the local simpletons is a waste of my abilities.

At the wave of the mouse, a tall scarecrow approached the prince’s table. His face was covered with white paint, his lips and eyes traced in black. He was wearing a rough burlap shirt, well-worn and patched pants, and a large straw hat. Straw was falling out of his hat, sleeves, and neckline. In spite of the playful disguise, his eyes looked worried. As he bowed low before the prince, a pile of straw formed on the floor.

“You may address me,” the prince said without enthusiasm.

“Your Highness,” he began as he stood up. “You look splendid this evening. May you live forever! Your masquerade is breathtaking. My wife and I are having a marvelous time.” The scarecrow took a breath. He seemed to consider his words. “However, there is a small matter that prevents my complete enjoyment. Earlier this week, some of the other mayors visited me, and we have discovered a common concern. I urgently bring that concern to Your Highness.” The scarecrow paused, waiting for his ruler’s acknowledgement. The prince graced him with a thin smile and nodded.

“The tonic price has gone up three times already this year, and your representatives have informed us that it will go up again before Yuletide. The price is already quite high. The men are working diligently from dawn to sunset every day. They can barely afford to buy bread. How much more can they work before they collapse? Of course, the potion is worth the price, but if the men’s strength fails, who will tend the fields and sell goods? Your Highness knows the crones and wives can’t do it.” The scarecrow reddened, shocked at frankness of the words that rushed out of his mouth. He waited tensely for the prince’s answer.

 

 

College of the Crones- Chp 3 Part One

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Interruption

As he descended the spiral staircase into the great hall, the prince was pleased to see his servants, dressed as mice, standing quietly at their posts, ready to receive guests. Masked musicians had begun to play, filling the hall with feet-stirring melodies. Long linen draped tables ran the length of the far wall, piled high with every delicacy a royal or commoner could imagine. Roasted ducks, pheasants, and chickens were kept warm under silver covers. A large tree made of pears, apples, and plums decorated one of the tables as if in bloom. Huge bowls of potatoes, puddings, gravies, and stuffing sat hot and overflowing on some tables, while cakes, pies, and pastries were stacked sweet and high on others. Servants stood by with goblets of wine and beer, their jobs to ensure no one could walk a straight line home at the end of the night. The prince surveyed it with satisfaction. No lord in all the lands provided a feast this grand.

Guests began pouring through the main entrance, and the dance floor quickly filled up. A kaleidoscope of brilliant costumes, feathered masks, dramatic capes, and silk sashes spun in obedience to magical music. The prince sat down at his head table surrounded by his court ladies, who dressed as rabbits, complete with long fur ears. They filled his goblet, loaded his plate, and competed for his glance. He would smile at one lady, admire the face of another, and then turn back to survey the dancers. Those he addressed sighed with pleasure, under the glare of the slighted. When their attentions failed to distract the prince from studying the other party goers, they turned their attention there also, watching from their luxurious perch.

The prince entertained himself by evaluating the swirling women as they passed him. I certainly don’t want that swan woman with all the droopy feathers.  She’s excessively tall, and her neck is too short. A red and yellow clown caught his eye. Maybe that one. I love fair hair, and hers is like spun gold. There is always room for another beautiful face in my court.

“Your Highness,” squeaked one of the prince’s mice. “If it pleases you, Sire, the Mayor of Oakbottom would like to have a word with you.” The twitchy mouse awaited his reply. Now what? The prince barely muffled a yawn. Not another problem with wolves? It took so much of his energy to feign compassion for any extended length of time. He needed to enjoy this ball. Didn’t these rude villagers realize it was after official business hours? I should have this annoyance thrown into the dungeon.