I hope you've been enjoying meeting the main characters for my Camp NaNoWriMo project, To Keep a Star. Today I'm going to introduce you to one final character and fair warning, this is going to get soap-boxy.
Every hero needs some to lean on, someone who supports and uplifts them when they're down and keeps them grounded when they're over the moon. In short, every hero needs a hero. And really, don't we all need that person? Laria's hero is Antares who most often goes by his middle name, James. Why James? Because James is my hero.
Normally, I don't plan a character based around a single person. I prefer to take snippets of several personalities and mash them into one character. It's a lot of fun. But when I started planning out To Keep a Star I knew my normal formula just wouldn't work. Antares needed to be real and he needed to be different from your average hero. I'm not talking being stronger, smarter or anything like that. In fact, I wanted him to appear weaker, and perhaps less intelligent. Not because he actually is, but because that's how he's perceived. And that's why Antares is based solely on one person. Before I could start though, I had to call my brother and get his okay and thankfully, James agreed to my project with the condition that in the end, Antares has to get a hot babe. Believe me, James, I'll be working on that.
Now let me tell you about the real Antares, my brother James. James is a genius, and I'm not just saying that because I love him and I want his continued blessing on this project. He literally has a genius IQ. He's exceptionally bright, but people often discredit him because instead of going into something intellectual like research or mathematics or engineering or what-have-you (and just so you know, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those fields), he's chosen to follow his passion and go into art. All too often the only thing people hear when he says he's an art major is, "I'm throwing my future down the drain and have no real plans on supporting myself or a family." Okay people, seriously? I mean it. Are you seriously going to say that following a passion is throwing the future away? Just because a person is intellectually brilliant, doesn't mean that's where their passion lies. And just because a person is in the art field, doesn't mean they're dumb. Take Leonardo DaVinci. The man was a genius. He invented amazing things well before a time technology could make them reality. He added to our knowledge of the human body as well as animal anatomy with his studies. But most people only remember that he painted the Mona Lisa. Why? Because Leonardo followed his passions, all of them, and in doing so created something lasting and beautiful. It's not wrong to believe he was an incredible artist, because he was. But it would be wrong to believe him to be less intelligent because he chose art.
Physically James fits my unusual hero too. He's tall, just a hair above 6 foot, and very skinny. We're talking he was super excited because he finally weighs more than me (and not by much) skinny. And just to add to that, he weighs more than me now mostly because of weight I've lost rather than weight he's gained (sorry, bro, it's the truth). James, like many tall and skinny guys, struggles with his body image. A struggle which will show up in To Keep a Star. We often talk about the damage various media have done to girls' sense of worth and body image. But what about the guys? When was the last time you saw a hero in a show, advertisement, or movie who was tall and skinny? Not well-muscled and slender, but just plain skinny. Can't think of one? Neither can I. I can think of instances where a male character started out as skinny and then through some (usually unnatural) way bulks up and is suddenly the guy everyone is dreaming over. Ladies, are we really that superficial? And if we are, do we really have any room to complain when guys do the same thing to us? Really, think about it.
Our society hasn't just set impossible ideals for women, though there are plenty of groups and organizations working to fight that. We've also set impossible ideals for men. And any man who doesn't fit into that ideal gets labeled as geek, dork, slob, wimp, pansy, or gay (no matter what his actual sexuality). If a man doesn't go nuts over a football game, he's suddenly not as masculine as the raging fan next to him. If a man doesn't have obvious, well-defined muscles, he's suddenly weak and probably gay. I could keep going, but I'm not going to. Instead I'll just say this:
Stop forcing unfair and unrealistic expectations on men and boys. A boy who prefers to paint landscapes and take hikes in the woods should not be seen as less masculine than the boy playing football at the park with his friends. The tall, skinny man should not be seen as less masculine than the man who looks like he could wrestle a bear and win. Similarly, the short man should not immediately be considered weak or automatically labeled as having short-man syndrome. Believe me, not every short man does. I married into a whole family of them and not a single one of them fits that description.
As a society in general, we have set a lot of stereotypes that are not only damaging our relationships with each other, they're damaging the people who don't fit into the "right" ones. We have to stop. We have to be the ones to tell the media, "No!" Not every skinny guy is gay. Not every artist is a dumb druggy. Not every hero looks like a line-backer. Until we do, body image and stereotypes will just continue to be problems. Let's all start looking for heroes in the unlikely places, rather than the stereotype.
Bet you were starting to think I'd forgotten, huh? I didn't though, just been busy. So now it's time to introduce the bad guys, or at least one of them. Every story needs a villain and some take more than one. In To Keep a Star you will meet a few different bad guys all part of the same organization: the Skotathi.
Skotathi is a Greek word meaning darkness. That is the goal of this group. They steal the light from stars as this will then gain them control over any planets orbiting that star. It's the classic take over the world scheme, but a little darker (pardon the pun). They're not happy with one world or simply making things hard for a certain group. Life on these planets becomes exceedingly difficult and, in some cases, impossible. And as soon as they have the light of one star in their grasp, they are immediately looking for the next star to capture.
Unlike a select few of the Keepers, such as Electra, the Skotathi do not have immortality. Perhaps that's part of why they're so interested in the stars in the first place. There will be a few members of the Skotathi in the book, but the one who is perhaps the most chilling is their leader, Dr. Thaddeus Craven III. Okay, yes, I'm playing to the naming cliche among bad guys. Why? Because sometimes you need a bad guy who is obvious from the beginning. Think of Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent. Dr. Craven is that kind of obvious, just plain evil, bad guy. From the very first moment you meet him, you just know something is off.
And, he's good at what he does. Dr. Craven is the master of false sympathy. He knows exactly how to play your weaknesses or your vanities against you. He is suave and debonair, immaculately dressed and perfectly groomed. While aging, probably in his late forties/early fifties (and no, to my dear friends in this age group, I do not think you are old), he is still very handsome, though his features lack any warmth. He has spent his life pursuing the Keepers, making his "day job" as a professor of astronomy with his personal expertise lying in the phenomena around star death.
There will be other villains along the way, but to reveal them all would definitely take away from the story. So, this is your next little tidbit. Tomorrow I'll introduce you to one more hero and then it will be Camp NaNoWriMo!
Yesterday I told you about my Camp NaNoWriMo project, To Keep a Star and promised to introduce you to each of my characters one by one up until Camp starts. So today, let me introduce you to my star, literally.
There are a lot of myths (even just in Greek myth) around the constellation the Pleiades, and some of it is conflicting. As an author, I actually love that because it gives me a little more creative room to wiggle around with. But the most consistent part of the story is that there were seven sisters being chased around by an unwanted suitor and the gods, in mercy (?), placed the sisters in the sky. Who was chasing them and which sister did what is in the gray area, but that's the general idea. The other consistent part is that one of the seven turned away her light from earth. The version I remember reading is that Electra, mother of Troy's founder (which is also in the gray), could not bear to watch the destruction of the city and left her place in the heavens. The other sisters being so grieved by the event were forever dimmed. Other versions say it was a different sister who left. There are some astronomers who wonder if at one time there were seven visible stars because many cultures have the same kind of story where there were once seven and explaining why there are now six. Who knows, maybe at some point there were?
In any case, I'm working with the version I read (which you can find in Thomas Bulfinch's Age of Fable). So obviously Electra is going to play a major role in my story. In the beginning, you will see how her star's light was lost (not going to tell you just how yet, but you'll learn soon enough). As the Keeper of her star, she vows to do whatever it takes to return the light to its place.
Electra fits well in the classical definition of beauty: curly, strawberry-blond hair, large toffee-colored eyes, and well-proportioned. She is immortal and while she tries to blend in with the people around her, she is most comfortable in loose, flowing clothes. When she speaks, you hear her accent and there's a sense of timelessness about her. She appears to be in her mid-twenties, though she's obviously much older, and will occasionally fill the role of wise-council-giver. Because let's be real, we all need one of those sometimes!
Just three more days until Camp NaNoWriMo starts. Will you be writing this April? Tell me about your project!
P.S. Hopefully tomorrow I'll have some character sketches for you to look at. :)
April is almost upon us and that means it's time for Camp NaNoWriMo and yes, I'm participating. I've changed my mind a couple times on what I'm going to be doing, but now I've finally got my mind made up. At first I was going to start a new project, Horses of Fire. But between research that needs done first and the desire to get A House for Charity finished, I changed my mind to continuing that WIP (work in progress). But for the last week or so I've just been stuck with where to take it. And then something awesome happened. A writing friend of mine is starting to do ebook cover design and she shared a picture on Facebook that I absolutely fell in love with. Knowing that I wouldn't get very far with Charity with as stuck as I've been, I changed my mind again for a new project. (By the way, for those of you who saw A House for Charity would be coming in late spring, this will change the release date for that story. Sorry!)
So, what will my camp novel be?
To Keep a Star, a fantasy novel combining elements of two of my favorite things: stars and Greek mythology. I've always been fascinated by the stars and love that in my very small town, I can see them every night (unless it's cloudy out). As a girl, I often went star-gazing with my daddy and he showed me how to find several constellations, some of which are favorites to this day. I always search for Cassiopeia, the Big and Little Dippers, I trace out Draco and Orion. I just love the night sky. And I love the myths and stories surrounding the various constellations.
This novel takes some of its inspiration from the story of the Pleiades. Most of us remember the story of seven sisters being chased by an unwanted suitor and pleading to the gods for help. They were changed to sparrows before then being placed in the heavens. But there's another part of the story that is lesser known. For they could only see six of the stars (though we now know that the Pleiades is in reality a large cluster of several stars and heavenly bodies) and explained this by saying that Electra, one of the sisters, left her place when Troy was destroyed and because of the sisters' grief, the constellation has been dim since.
But, what if Electra didn't just choose to turn away? What if the star's light was taken?
I don't want to give away too much today, but that's where the idea started to take shape for To Keep a Star. Each day leading up to Camp NaNoWriMo, I will write a blog post introducing one of the characters to you. Today, I'm going to tell you a little about Laria.
Some of you might remember that name from the Charming Academy series. If you don't, she's the hot pink fairy who delivers mail to the school. But, this is not the same Laria. I had the inklings of an idea for this story many years ago and immediately decided the main character would be a girl named Laria, as the name means star in Latin according to one of my many baby name sources. But since the idea wasn't going anywhere, I abandoned it in favor of other projects that were showing more promise. When the idea came more forcefully this time, I decided to keep the name rather than changing it. There's nothing wrong with having two.
Laria in this story is an avid star-gazer. She loves it so much that she's decided to study astronomy in school and make a career of it. I was going to share a character sketch with you, but my precious one-year-old gave the sketch some interesting tattoos. So I'll just have to describe her myself. She's pretty average in height and build with very long, pale blond hair (except for a streak of bright blue) and gray eyes. She's a jeans-and-tee kind of girl, loves the outdoors and especially camping. She is always wearing a silver star pendant which was a gift from her grandmother. Laria likes for things to be simple and while she has a great imagination, prefers to keep her feet firmly on the ground. While doing her homework one night, she discovers a luminescent glass spere which will turn her whole world upside down.
So that's your first glimpse into this fun adventure. Do you have a favorite star, constellation, or myth? Tell me about it!
P.S. My Facebook fan page is almost at 300 likes! Do me a favor and share with your friends so I can make that goal. There will probably be a small, celebratory giveaway in the near future if I get there. :)
First off, thank you everyone for all the input for this chapter. It gave me lots of great ideas and I hope you'll enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. And for the first time in a long while, I actually have the video ready on time! Huzzah! So be sure to check the end of the chapter for the video and you can listen to me read. It was actually surprisingly hard to do because I had to keep a straight face while reading the...well, you'll see for yourself. Be sure to vote in the poll and let me know what you think of this chapter. Here's another peek at the official cover. Not going to reveal it all just yet. But soon...
“If you used more mistletoe, your daughter wouldn’t be single,” I heard Grandma say as Scarlett and I came in from the barn. Scarlett immediately retreated back outside, slamming the door behind her.
“Mom, please, give it a rest. There is enough stress and tension around here without you adding to it,” Mom replied. She saw me and smiled, “Everything okay?”
“Yep, Josiah’s horses are fed and watered as are ours.” Mom had offered to let the surviving horses stay with us until Teddy and Josiah could rebuild. Josiah would be staying with us too, at least through the holidays. Teddy was in a hospice care center and would remain there indefinitely. “Do you want me to hang some of those garlands for you?”
“Yes, please,” Mom said, handing me an armful.
Grandma wasn’t going to be so easily deterred. “Well, don’t come crying to me if you never get to hold your grandchildren.”
“Mom, I’m warning you…”
“Geeze, Grandma, do you honestly think Scarlett and I are both going to stay single forever?” I interrupted, trying to lighten the situation.
“No of course not! But…”
“There’s plenty of time for Mom to hold grandbabies. I plan on giving her a house-full.”
“Besides, Mom, I seem to recall you telling your own mother to let me alone when I was young and single.”
“That was different, you at least had young men around to date. If you ask me…”
“She didn’t,” Scarlett interrupted. None of us had heard her come back in from the barn and now she was standing in the doorway, her eyes going tornado green. “When and where and to whom I get married is none of your business and if I hear so much as one more word on the subject…”
“I’ll leave,” she finished, ignoring Mom’s warning. “I’m sick of you hounding me about it. I’m sick of feeling like I have to justify my decisions. I’m sick of you reminding me that I’m not getting any younger. This isn’t the middle ages. I’m not an old maid, or stuck on the shelf, or a spinster or any of those other stupid phrases out of your idiotic romance novels. And before you think that I’m just perfectly happy in all my single glory, understand that no one in this room is more acutely aware of how lonely my life is than I am. Just leave me alone.” Without giving Grandma a chance to respond, Scarlett turned on her heel and stormed out of the room, running into Josiah on her way out.
He looked around the room and seeing my grandmother’s eyes fill with tears asked slowly, “Did I screw something up again?”
“No, you’re not at fault this time,” I said. “Here, help me with these garlands, would you?” While I felt bad leaving Mom to deal with Grandma’s meltdown by herself, the last thing Scarlett needed was for Josiah to weigh in on the problem.
“Is she always like this?” he asked as we took the garlands outside.
“Scarlett or Grandma?”
“I already know Scarlett,” Josiah pointed out. “Your grandma.”
“Yeah, pretty much. In high school it’s all about having perfect grades and making a future for yourself. Then somehow at eighteen the gears in her head shift to matrimony. Scarlett has been disappointing her for years.”
Josiah nodded as he plugged the garland in. “I’d help her out, but she doesn’t seem to want my help in that department.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure, but do not tell her I said that.”
He gave me one of his heart-melting, mischievous smiles. “Not a word.”
When we’d finished, we went back in the house. Scarlett was still nowhere to be seen and I decided to go up and check on her. I knocked on the door. “Scarlett? Can I come in?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
I opened the door and watched her turn from her desk, her laptop closed but blinking. She had been using it recently.
“I suppose Mom sent you to make me apologize.”
“Good, because I’m not going to.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to,” I replied, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of her.
She slid out of her seat and joined me with a hug. “I know.”
“Would you really leave?”
For a moment she didn’t respond, which was answer enough by itself. “No, Blizz,” she said after a long while. “I don’t exactly have anywhere to go. I was just mad, that’s all.”
“You know we need you, right?”
She smiled and ruffled my hair. “Don’t worry, sis. I’m not planning on just running out on you.”
Somehow I didn’t feel totally reassured, but I let the subject drop. “It’s gonna be a crazy day.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. I guess we ought to go help Mom finish decorating. The Lesters will be here before we know it.”
The Lesters were a family from church we knew. I often babysat the five boys, especially in recent weeks as their parents were going through an unpleasant divorce. Mom had invited them over for a Christmas Eve party.
Promptly that afternoon, the doorbell rang. Five exuberant boys between the ages of five and nine came barreling into the house. Grandma fussed over all of them as Mom hugged her friend. “It’s so good to see you, Leslie.”
“Thanks for inviting us over. The boys have talked about nothing else for a week!” Leslie said with a laugh. She then turned to her boys, “Remember the rules.”
“Yes, Mom,” they said in unison.
“Who wants to decorate cookies?” I asked. Soon I was leading the giggling group into the kitchen.
The day grew wilder as the hours went by. Hyper with excitement and sugar, the boys were soon playing a rough and tumble game of tag throughout the house. I was glad I’d closed my door, but soon heard the unmistakable sound of discordant notes. I ran upstairs to find the five boys had invaded my room. The twins were jumping on the bed throwing my stuffed animals around while two other boys were playing the guitar (or attempting anyway) and the other had pulled out my neon pink sports bra and was wearing it like a crown on his head. “Get out of my room!” I shrieked and the boys went scrambling out, laughter ringing through the stairway. “Don’t you dare come back or you’ll be sorry,” I warned. An idea came to mind and I went into the kitchen. Finding Mom’s biggest leftover container I filled it with ice before then adding enough water to cover it. Then I went back up and got it situated on the door frame. “That should deter anyone from coming back in.” But as it turned out, they never did and I soon forgot about it.
After dinner, we went into the living room for caroling. I asked Scarlett to get my guitar for me. Soon a crash and blood-curdling scream filled the air. Everyone ran to the stairs. Scarlett, dripping and obviously cold handed me my guitar. “Think you’re funny, huh?” She shivered as the boys howled with laughter.
“Scarlett, I am so sorry. I totally forgot. I put that there for the boys…”
“Do I look like a boy?”
“Nope, definitely not a boy,” Josiah replied, staring at her soaked shirt for which he got slapped.
“Excuse me while I change,” Scarlett hissed.
The rest of us went downstairs and began caroling. Scarlett joined us and Josiah wrapped his arms around her. She said something to him and looked mad, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying and I noted that she didn’t move away from him. Then Josiah disappeared. Within moments, Santa Claus came into the room carrying a large sack over his shoulder to the astonished joy of our guests. Leslie’s eyes filled with tears as Josiah, I mean Santa, picked each boy up in turn and set him on his lap while Grandma snapped dozens of pictures. He emptied his sack, giving each child the carefully selected presents. Mom passed out steaming mugs of hot cocoa as Santa instructed everyone to have a seat. Then he began reading reverently from Luke the story of Christ’s birth. Sleepy little boys dozed and I have to admit I started feeling a bit drowsy myself.
I started awake when Mom said, “Let’s thank our visitor and get your treats before you go home.”
The boys hugged their Santa before skipping after Mom to the kitchen. I followed them and helped get everything packed away and ready as Leslie expressed her thanks over and over.
Mom hugged her around the sleeping boy on Leslie’s shoulder and said, “I remember that first Christmas as a single mom and while my children were older, it didn’t make it easy. You keep doing what you’re doing and keep your chin up.”
We heard hushed giggles and looked to see the boys pointing into the living room, shaking with laughter. Josiah had gotten Scarlett under the one bit of mistletoe and they were now locked in a passionate embrace. But unlike make-out sessions I’d witnessed in high school, there was real tenderness in the way they held each other. I tried valiantly not to giggle as the boys commented on the scene.
“What’s he doing to her face?”
“He’s kissing her, I think.”
“That doesn’t look like a kiss.”
“I thought the song said Mama was kissing Santa Claus, not Scarlett.”
“I don’t think that’s actually Santa. His beard’s half-off.”
It probably would have continued if Grandma hadn’t arrived at that moment and clutched her heart with a loud gasp. “Merciful heavens! I hope you have a shotgun handy because that’s the type of wedding you’ll be planning if this keeps up.”
Scarlett jumped away from Josiah like she’d been burned while he replied nonchalantly, “Well, Mrs. Samuels, you are the one who advocated mistletoe. I’m just putting it to good use.”
The noise had wakened the sleeping child in Leslie’s arms and one of the brothers said, “You missed the grossest kiss ever, Timmy!”
“Aw, I always miss the good stuff,” he whined as tears welled in his eyes.
Grandma marched up to Josiah and demanded he announce his intentions and Leslie turned to Mom. “I think I’d better take my hooligans home. Looks like you’ve got enough on your plate for tonight.”
Mom rubbed her temple and replied, “Normal for me. Have a merry Christmas.”
Once Leslie and her boys were gone, Mom practically dragged Grandma from the living room begging her to leave Josiah and Scarlett alone.
The next morning I woke earlier than normal. It was Christmas at last! I couldn’t wait to see Mom’s face when she opened my present for her. She was going to be so excited. And yeah, I was excited to see what I got too. I went down to the kitchen on quiet feet. I could smell Scarlett’s cocoa before I even arrived. Scarlett drinks cocoa like other people drink coffee. We never had coffee in the house, but one year Scarlett just fell in love with cocoa. I’m not talking about the stuff out of a packet. Mom taught her how to make real, old-fashioned hot chocolate and Scarlett got hooked. She started experimenting with flavors and it was always a treat to taste her latest combination. I could smell citrus and something a little spicy though I couldn’t place what it was. I saw Scarlett sitting with her back to me and could hear the tapping of her keyboard. I silently walked in, hoping for a peek at what she was being so secretive about. On the screen, I saw the words, School of Business Work Study Opportunities, just before the mystery spice registered in my head. “Cloves!” I said aloud.
Scarlett jumped and snapped the laptop shut. “Hey, Blizz, merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas to you.” I walked to the pot of cocoa sitting on the stovetop. “May I?”
“Of course. Tell me what you think. I added a few different things this time.”
I ladled the steaming beverage into a mug and took a slow mouthful. “Mmm, orange, cloves and cinnamon?”
“Mmm-hmmm, do you like it?”
Nodding I said, “It’s very festive. I like it a lot. How did you get the orange flavor? I thought we’d run out.”
“We did. I melted a couple slices from a chocolate orange.”
“That’s why it’s so creamy today. It’s delicious though. Maybe you should open a specialty shop in town.” I winked.
Scarlett beamed at me. “Maybe someday.” A wistful look crossed her face followed by a frown. “It would be a lot of hard work, though. Besides, there’s too much to do here.”
“Hey, a girl’s gotta have a dream, right?”
She smiled at the words she had told me months before. “Right.”
Almost at the same time, Josiah and Teddy came in from the kitchen patio door and Mom walked in. “Good morning and merry Christmas,” she said, hugging each of us.
“Mornin’, Mama,” Scarlett replied.
Mom turned to Teddy and Josiah, “Merry Christmas.”
“And to you,” Teddy replied, accepting her hug. “Thanks for inviting us over.”
It wasn’t long before Grandma joined us and soon we all went out to the barn. I’m not sure exactly when opening presents in the barn became the thing to do in the Jannsen house. It may have stemmed from the year Daddy gave Scarlett her first pony. Or it may have been done to prevent a very curious, and very sneaky, Scarlett from discovering all her stocking stuffers early. In any case, we always opened our presents out there. Soon stockings were emptied and we were opening presents. I was purposely waiting to give Mom my gift until last. But then I watched Mom open a plain box from Teddy and stared in disbelief. The most perfectly adorable German shepherd puppy barked and wagged his little tail. “Awe, Teddy, he’s adorable!”
“Check his collar for his name,” he said gleefully.
Mom managed to get a hold on the wiggling puppy’s tag and read, “Mclintock.” She laughed, “That’s so perfect, Teddy. Thank you.”
“You’ve been saying you wanted a dog. I thought he would be a good help to you on the ranch as he gets bigger.”
Scarlett noticed my dismayed expression and said, “Blizz, what’s wrong? You like dogs.”
“Yeah, I do, and Mclintock is cute but…” There was only one thing to do. I went into the empty stall I’d been storing my presents in and carried out a large, plain box with a green bow. Mom didn’t even have a chance to open it before the occupants pushed their way out. Two wheaten Scottish terrier pups began prancing about Mom’s feet. “A friend of mine from 4-H breeds Scotties and I remembered you saying you’d always wanted one…”
“But Daddy said only work dogs were allowed on a ranch,” Scarlett finished for me. “House dogs are too much of a hassle.”
I nodded. “She had these two left from her litter that hadn’t been sold yet. Everyone wanted the females.”
Mom laughed through tears as she said, “Oh, Blizzard, you sweetheart! I don’t know what I’ll do with three puppies to train, but we’ll make do. Do they have names?”
Shaking my head I replied, “No, I thought I’d give you the honor.”
“I suppose we better keep with our theme. Any suggestions?”
“Look at that one strut about,” Grandma giggled.
Grinning, Mom watched the pup walk with his chest puffed out before picking him up. “We’ll call you Rooster and your brother Cogburn.”
There was one last package under the tree to Scarlett from Josiah. Grandma started to get that matrimonial gleam in her eye, but Mom squashed it with a look. Scarlett opened the small box to find a palomino stallion with a jewelry box tucked under his belly. Her cheeks turned as red as her Christmas sweater as she picked up a small card. “Hello Lettie,” she read aloud, her voice quivering slightly, “my name is Promise.” She opened the jewelry box and pulled out a delicate locket with an intricate, braided design around the edges. “Is that…”
“Horsehair?” Josiah finished for her. “Yep, the braid is from strands of Goliath’s tail. I hoped it would help you feel close to his memory.”
“What about you?”
“I guess I’ll just have to see you wear it.”
“A horsehair locket?” Grandma burst, ruining the moment. “In my day, a young man gave you a diamond ring with his promise, not horsehair.”
Scarlett snapped the box closed with a glare. “I guess in your day people were less appreciative of heart-felt gifts too, weren’t they Grandma? This isn’t the kind of promise you’re thinking.” She then left the barn. Josiah soon followed after, looking strangely disappointed. I had the feeling Grandma was closer in her assessment than Scarlett realized.
“Mother,” Mom sighed. “We talked about this.”
“Well, really. Horsehair.”
“Goliath was born here and was Josiah’s horse project when he and Scarlett were in school,” Mom said. “He died a couple months ago and this was Josiah’s way of mending some broken fences and giving Scarlett something to cherish that had meaning for both of them. Much better than diamonds. Come on, Teddy, let’s get you back inside so you don’t relapse. Your nurses would never forgive me if I sent you home sick.”
I watched the adults walk away as the three puppies played in the hay. Taking them outside for a potty break, I then walked inside with them. I couldn’t help but think that this had been one of the most up and down Christmases we’d ever faced. And I wasn’t all that sure how merry it had actually been.
I'm going to need some extra help for this next chapter. Christmas is coming and there are going to be some humorous mishaps. So, enjoy this chapter and then comment below with your memories of Christmas traditions gone wrong. Did you burn a turkey? Did someone discover all the presents early? Did one of your carolers forget to mention they couldn't sing? Let me know and you just might see your memory immortalized in Scarlett and Blizzard Chapter 8 - An Unmerry Christmas. And enjoy this sneak peek at the beautiful cover Charlene Raddon made for Scarlett and Blizzard. If you're a writer in need of a beautiful cover, be sure to check Charlene's work out.
In the weeks following the break-in, nothing happened. The sheriff didn’t see anyone unusual and no one was ever caught. The few suspects Josiah and Teddy had been able to think of turned out to have solid alibis and after a while, everyone in town just sort of forgot about it. Mom brought Jake back to our ranch for the fall harvest and winter preparations. But even with everyone believing that things had returned to normal and this was probably just some weird fluke, Mom still wouldn’t let me drive myself to the diner or school. She insisted I ride the school bus, which was more practical since she and Scarlett needed the truck at home for work. But I was starting to get tired of getting a ride into town for my job. Scarlett was usually the one to take me and while she never complained about it, I knew she would have been much happier staying at home. Word had somehow gotten out that she and Josiah were seeing one another, of course after their explosive break-up, and no one believed her when she said otherwise. I was surprised one evening when she brought her laptop with her to the truck as we were getting ready for the drive to town. “What’s that for?” I asked.
“Work,” she replied. Her tone was hesitant and I had the feeling she was trying to keep something from me.
“What kind of work?”
“Just stuff, Blizz. It’s nothing important.”
“Then why bring it along?”
“Because sitting by myself for three hours gets boring,” she snapped.
I stared at her for a minute, trying not to let her words hurt. But they did. A lot. “I can go on my own, if that would be better.”
Scarlett glared at me and then her expression softened. “Oh, Blizz honey, I didn’t mean to make it sound like I think you’re boring, because you’re certainly not. I love being there to hear you sing. You’ve got real talent and I’m sure you’ll be famous someday.”
“More famous than the Bear?” I asked with a small smile.
For a moment, I saw something dark in Scarlett’s eyes. Something between anger and pain. “Infinitely more famous than him. Look, I just have some things I need to work on, okay? And since I’ve got a few hours relatively distraction free, I may as well use them. All right?”
Scarlett took my arm before I could move away from her. “I really do love coming with you, Blizz. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”
I smiled. “It’s okay.”
We finished loading the truck and drove into town. When we arrived at the diner I followed Scarlett to our usual booth. There was a box sitting on the table. “Hmmm, someone must be sitting here already,” Scarlett mused.
“No, that was left for you, sugar,” Tammy said as she went around us to serve a nearby table. “Someone knew you’d be here.”
Scarlett’s eyes narrowed as she looked at the box.
“We may as well sit down, Scarlett. People are starting to stare.”
She took a seat before scrutinizing the box. We both knew who it was from and I could tell Scarlett was battling the impulse to throw it out and the desire to open it just to see what was inside. She slid it down the table before taking out her laptop and setting it in front of her.
“Are you going to open that?” I asked.
“No.” She hesitated a second too long. “I’m not interested in it.”
I knew it would be opened by the end of the evening as I said, “Okay, well, wish me luck.”
Scarlett smiled. “I always do. Break a leg, just not literally.”
Winking, I grabbed my guitar and went up to the stage. As I started my performance, I glanced around the room. I saw Scarlett start working on her computer. It struck me as odd that she was so careful to keep the screen out of view from anyone else. Anytime Tammy stopped by her table to refresh her drink or bring something to her, Scarlett kept the screen turned toward the wall. While I knew she wouldn’t be involved in anything overly suspicious, I was curious what was so important she had to keep it hidden. I watched Josiah walk into the diner just before my first break for the evening. He smiled and held a finger to his mouth. I smiled in return. I had no reason to be unpleasant and honestly, I was beginning to see why Mom and Teddy were so eager to see Scarlett forgive him. Josiah was a pretty good guy. When the song was finished, I took a bow and went to the table Scarlett was sitting at.
She closed the laptop with a snap before I could even attempt to see what she’d been working on. “You sounded great, Blizz,” she said with a smile. “Is that last song a new one?”
“Yeah, just finished it about a week ago.”
“It’s great, I really loved it.”
“So, what have you been up to?”
I noticed the box was opened. “Mind if I see what your admirer left?”
Scarlett’s cheeks reddened, but she shrugged. “Go ahead.”
I pulled the box closer to me as Tammy put a glass of water down for me. Inside was a lovely model of a dainty gray Arabian. I read the card.
Dear Lettie, My name is Misty Oasis. I’m from a far away place that no man has ever seen. I am quiet and shy, but loyal to the end. Because of my gentle nature, I am often used to deliver messages. Someone would like to know if you’ve forgiven him yet. I think you know who sent me. A response would be appreciated.
“Someone seems to be working awful hard to get your attention, Scarlett,” I said. “Maybe you should…”
“Maybe I should what?” she asked, her tone dangerous.
“Nothin’.” It wasn’t worth getting on her bad side again. I glanced at the clock. I still had a couple minutes before my break would be over. “I’m going to walk around for a bit.”
I left the table and watched as she pulled the box back towards her. Her fingers brushed the Arabian’s smooth neck. Then she opened the laptop again. I turned my attention to the table I’d seen Josiah sit at. “Hey,” I said as I came closer.
“Hey, Blizz. Wanna seat?”
“Nah, I’ve only got a couple minutes. Just thought I’d see how you’re doing.”
“I’m over here and your sister is over there. I think that’s a pretty good sum-up.” I’d never seen him look so dejected. His hair was in need of a trim and it was obvious he hadn’t shaved in a couple days, though that wasn’t too surprising. A lot of ranchers tended to let their facial hair grow out during the winter months. But the sparkle was gone from his eyes. I was pretty sure my sister had no clue just how much she meant to Josiah.
“Did she open the box?”
Nodding again, I said, “Yeah, she opened it. Don’t know what to tell you though about a response.”
Josiah muttered something under his breath that would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap. “What does she expect me to do?”
Just two weeks before Christmas things started to go downhill again. First, my grandmother showed up and before you get mad at me for thinking that’s a bad thing, let me explain a little better. Grandma coming isn’t bad in and of itself, and she always comes to spend Christmas with us. The problem was more in the fact that she arrived a week and a half early with the announcement that she wasn’t sure when, if ever, she would return home. While we all love her to pieces, her spontaneity is sometimes jarring. And she has a bad habit of dragging out sensitive topics. I’m sure she never means to cause any harm, but she manages to hit the spot with alarming regularity. Scarlett and I spent a rushed four hours getting her room set up at the ranch and making sure that everything was as tidy as could be while Mom drove to the airport to pick her up. Her unexpected arrival threw everything off kilter and we weren’t prepared when Josiah called two days later to let us know that Teddy was back in the hospital. Mom immediately drove out to see him and spend some time with him. Scarlett and I were then left to entertain Grandma. Between my less-than-perfect grades and Scarlett’s lack of wedding ring, we weren’t doing too great. Mom called to tell us she was going to stay in Jackson for a few days to help keep Teddy comfortable so Josiah could return to the ranch. It was probably a good thing Scarlett had taken the call, because all I heard was, “Sure, Mom, you take care of Teddy. If you need anything call.” She then came to the living room where Grandma was busily telling me about the latest tutoring program she’d heard about to help me with my math.
“Grandma, I’m doing fine.”
“Bad news,” Scarlett interrupted. “Mom’s going to stay up in Jackson for a few days. Josiah’s got some things to take care of t the ranch and won’t be able to travel back and forth to see Teddy in the meantime. So, Mom offered to stay and it’s just going to be the three of us for a while.”
“Oh my, does she need help?”
“No, Grandma, I’m sure everything will be fine. She and Josiah just don’t want Teddy left completely alone. His health is in really bad shape and Josiah wants to know there’s someone there for him.”
“Our neighbor. He runs the Double Rocking B with his father,” I replied.
“Is he single?”
Scarlett just barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes. “Yes, and no there’s nothing there, Grandma.”
“If you weren’t so picky, you’d be married by now,” Grandma retorted.
“Would you like some cocoa, Grandma?” Scarlett asked through clenched teeth.
“Oh, no, darling I’m fine right now. Now, Blizzard, I really think you ought to consider some of these online tutoring sites. I’ve heard from several of my friends that their grandchildren have seen vast improvement.”
Scarlett and I glanced at each other. It was going to be a long winter. I heard Grandma’s voice in the back of my mind whisper, “Trials always come in threes.” At that point, I did not want to know what the third trial would be. Unfortunately, I didn’t have long to wait.
The next afternoon, exactly one week before Christmas, Scarlett and I left the ranch to do some grocery shopping while Grandma had her pre-dinner nap. And mostly we just wanted to escape. We vented our frustrations the entire drive to town and anytime we weren’t in a checkout line. As we were driving home I said, “I just don’t think I can take her suggesting one more tutoring site. For heaven’s sake, my lowest grade is a B minus!”
“Believe me, I know how you feel. I…” Scarlett’s eyes suddenly widened. “Oh no.”
“Scarlett, what’s wrong?” Without answering, Scarlett jammed her foot on the gas and the truck lurched forward. “What the heck, Scarlett, what…” Then I looked out the windshield.
Black smoke billowed up from a fire in the distance. “Quick, call 911,” Scarlett ordered as we sped down the road.
“What about Grandma? If she’s still asleep, there’s no way we’ll get to her in time.”
“Fine, call her first and then call 911.”
I dialed the house and prayed my grandmother would pick up while I heard Scarlett muttering a prayer next to me. “Grandma, there’s a fire, get out of the house!” I said as soon as she picked up.
“Fire? Nonsense, Blizzard, there isn’t any fire. Are you feeling all right? Maybe I should have some tea for you when you get back…”
“Grandma there is a fire! We can see the smoke.”
“Well, I’ve got a fire in the fireplace, but really, dear, I doubt you can see the smoke from where you are.”
“Blizzard, it’s not Starwood,” Scarlett said as we neared our driveway. “It’s the B. Josiah’s alone, tell Grandma to…”
“Grandma, call 911 and tell them there’s a fire at the Double Rocking B,” I interrupted. I could feel the car accelerate as we passed our home.
“Are you sure…”
“Dang it, Grandma, I don’t have time to argue. Just do it. Double Rocking B, end of Rural Route 5.”
Scarlett slammed on the brakes as we stopped in front of the ranch. The house was engulfed while flames licked the sides of the barn. Horses screamed in terror. I started toward the barn, but Scarlett grabbed my arm. “No, Blizzard, it’s too dangerous.”
“But we can’t just leave them there to die.”
Tears were in her eyes as she said firmly, “We have to find Josiah. The animals are beyond our help. Even if we just tried to open the barn doors, we could make things worse.”
“But the doors are already open,” I pointed out. “Josiah probably went in there to save the horses. Scarlett, we have to try.”
There was a split second of indecision before she said, “Okay, but if I say go, you go without question. Got it?” I nodded and watched as Scarlett ripped the bottom from her tee-shirt. “Blindfold the horses, or they won’t follow you.” She grabbed a bandana from her back pocket and said, “I’m going to look for Josiah. You try to get as many horses out as you can. The barn fire seems recently started, so be careful.”
I nodded numbly as we went toward the open doors. The fire was towards the back of the barn and spreading. I took out my own bandana and tied it around my mouth and nose.
Scarlett noticed a full water barrel and pushed the side of it until it tipped over, sending water sloshing down the floor and extinguishing some of the flames. “That should buy us a little time,” she shouted. “Josiah! Josiah, are you in here?”
I listened for Scarlett’s voice as I tried to help the horses out. Some were so terrified I couldn’t get near enough to blindfold them. After I took the fourth horse out of the barn, I heard Scarlett calling me.
“Blizz, I need help, now!”
I ran to her and saw her hovering over Josiah’s body. “Help me get him out of here.”
“Can he be moved?” An awful groan rang through the barn.
“We’ll worry about that later, this barn is about to collapse.”
Helping her to get him up and linking our arms under him, we carried Josiah out of the barn. We could hear the distant wail of a fire truck as the barn timbers gave way. We carried Josiah to our truck. “Get a blanket out of the back,” Scarlett directed, holding Josiah in the truck bed. As I moved I heard her say, “Come on, Joe, answer me.”
“Here,” I said.
“Wrap him up.” She tore another strip from her tee-shirt and began bandaging a gash on his head I hadn’t noticed before.
I could see the fire engines coming as Scarlett took another strip from her shirt. A tiny smile crossed my face and I teased, “Josiah’s going to be disappointed he missed the view.”
“Who says I did?” he croaked.
“Josiah Meddleton, if I wasn’t so happy to hear your voice I’d slap you for that,” Scarlett breathed.
We sobered as the firefighters got busy putting out the flames. Paramedics took over bandaging Josiah’s wounds and checking Scarlett and me. Sheriff Henley took our statements. “It’s a real lucky thing you girls got here when you did,” he told me. “Josiah prob’ly wouldn’t be able to make a statement otherwise.”
When we were finally cleared to go, it was late. Josiah was taken to the hospital for an overnight stay, just to be safe. Grandma was beside herself with worry as we came into the house, smoky and with Scarlett’s shirt torn to shreds. “Gracious, what happened to you? Are you all right? Did that man ravage you?”
“Grandma, Josiah wouldn’t do that. We just got back from a fire. You wouldn’t look impeccable either,” Scarlett retorted.
For a moment, Grandma just stared at us. “Well, you two march yourselves to the shower and get cleaned up. Dinner is probably stone cold by now, but I suppose I could warm it up for you.”
“Actually, I’m not particularly hungry,” I said. My ears still rang with the terrified screams in the ruined barn.
“Me neither,” Scarlett admitted. “Right now I just want to get cleaned up and sleep for a week.”
Grandma came and hugged both of us close. “My dears, I know you’re scared and hurting. I can see it in your eyes. But starving yourselves won’t change what happened back there. Take a shower, get in pajamas, and come have a little cocoa at least. Then you can go to bed and sleep your troubles away.”
I think all of you know that this weekend I was in Indianapolis for the CIR Author Fair. It was amazing and now I want to share with you all the fun I had!
This is my table. It's funny how quickly you can fill up 4 feet of space. I was able to have just enough space to display all my books and have some space for visual representations of a couple of my WIP's. I could even fit all my horses, which with the available space was pretty impressive.
So, speaking of WIP's, Saturday I revealed my secret
project: Leaving Shenivarthol. It is scheduled for release this summer. The painting is going to be the cover. Yes, that's a little dragon in the corner and yes, that is a unicorn front and center. For those of you who attended the Winter Escape Fantasy party, you might remember the Unicorn vs. Dragon debate and someone pointed out that there aren't a lot of unicorn stories out there. Celesta, from Prince Charming's Quest, took the opportunity to inform me that she has a story to be told. I didn't realize at the time I wrote the Charming Academy series, just how much of Sanalbereth I had missed. Celesta is queen of Shenivarthol Wood (and yes, I've realized I am definitely going to need to make a map of Sanalbereth soon!), an enchanted forest with opal-lined trees, pixies, beautiful flowers, and unicorns. Part of what has always kept Shenivarthol safe is the presence of its queen. But now, Celesta must venture away from her home, leaving it in the hands of someone she doesn't fully trust, on a quest that may claim more than just time. Celesta knows the longer she is away from her beloved Shenivarthol, the less enchanted it becomes; leaving it defenseless to the dangers outside the wood and within.
The fair was well attended and I was able to meet some wonderful authors. I even bought a few books myself because seriously, I can't help myself in a room that smells that richly of story. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet new readers, to laugh and have fun, and to just envelope myself in the joy of being a writer. I kept meaning to go talk to the other authors, but it seemed every time things got a little slow someone else showed up at my table to talk about my books! Hopefully some of you reading this post saw me there. It was great meeting you and talking with you. I enjoyed every minute of the fair; even if it was a little warm in there. It seemed the time just flew by and before I knew it, it was time to pack up my table and head home. Below is a slideshow of more pictures, though admittedly not all of them. My husband took well over a hundred, so these are some of my favorites. When you look at the picture of our group, be sure to search these authors on Amazon. They are amazing people and I'm sure you'll find a book that's right up your alley. Be sure to check out Laura's Facebook page and tell her thank you for putting together such a wonderful event!
And for my wonderful readers who were not able to make it to the fair in person, I'm holding a special sale on my website of signed books, just for you! The sale starts tomorrow (don't worry, I'll remind you) and will go through the end of next week. So, for those who like dates, that is March 8 through March 20. All books will be 10% off and with your books you'll get a free bookmark (because I have lots left over and they are stunningly gorgeous)!
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius