I have always loved fairy tales. Some of my favorite authors are ones who re-spin fairy tales into novels–Robin McKinley is one, and now Melanie Dickerson is another. Unlike Robin McKinley, who places her characters in fantasy worlds with magic, Melanie Dickerson places her characters in the past and uses everyday objects and situations. One of the reasons I love reading her books is because I’m always curious to see how she going to explain the fairy tale magic as an ordinary circumstance.
Description: “Swan Lake” meets Robin Hood when the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant by day becomes the region’s most notorious poacher by night, and falls in love with the forester. You can read more on Goodreads, except I think the long description gives way too much of the plot away. So if you are spoiler sensitive (like me), avoid the extra descriptions and just enjoy the book.
Thoughts: For me, the story started out slow and I wondered whether I would enjoy it as much as Melanie’s other novels. By the time I was finished, I found I had enjoyed it more. She did an incredible job of weaving the same theme into different story lines. A careful reader will be able to predict the plot twist, but even if you see it coming, you still don’t know exactly how the story will unfold. Best yet, the characters must rely on God’s instead of their own efforts to resolve their issues.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for historical fiction lovers, romance lovers, fairy tale enthusiasts, and Melanie Dickerson fans.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Bonus: If you have never read Melanie Dickerson but enjoy re-imagined fairy tales, you can get the first 5 of her books right now as a set for $9.99. Hurry, because I think the offer expires soon!
LET ME HEAR FROM YOU: Are you a Melanie Dickerson fan? If so, what has been your favorite book so far? Or tell me your favorite fairy tale?
I contribute to a site for tween girls called Samie Sisters. In addition to dealing with girl drama, family issues, and just learning to be a better Christian, we field questions the girls have about God and life. It dawned on me that others out there might be interested in answers to these questions as well. Here’s the first one:
If you lived in some jungle and believed in God but had never heard of Jesus, would you go to hell when you die?
A while back in my church, the pastor showed us a video of people living in a remote area in Siberia (or someplace like that) that were saved. I tried to find the video because it’s an amazing story, but I couldn’t locate it. From what I remember, there was a missionary who happened to be traveling and stopped at this hut in the frozen north middle of nowhere. The man who owned the hut just happened to have a visitor there who spoke the missionary’s language. Because this man lived so remotely, he hardly ever had visitors, much less two in one day! Because the visitor was able to translate for the missionary, both men were saved. That is one way God works – through coincidence.
I read a memoir last year called I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman’s Encounter with God. And it was amazing. Jesus spoke to her in a dream, although she didn’t realize it was him at first, and it prompted her to go and speak with missionaries in her village. She eventually became a Christian even though it put her life in danger.
There was another book I read about a shaman (medicine man) for a tribe in a very remote part of the Amazon. These people communed with (evil) spirits, although the people didn’t realize they were evil. There was a great white spirit who stronger than all of their spirits combined (guess who that is?), but their spirits warned them away from Him. Eventually, missionaries came and one by one the people gave up their warring ways and accepted the Holy Spirit. A thought provoking read for someone in our culture who doesn’t really believe in the supernatural realm.
From these examples, you can see that God can reach people, and he often uses missionaries to do so. But none of this really answers the question – what if there are no missionaries?
The answer can be found in two passages in the Bible, these are both from the NLT version:
Psalm 19: 1-4
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. 2 Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. 3 They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. 4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.
18 But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. 19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
Yes, Jesus is the only name by which we are saved (Acts 4:12), but James 4:7-8a also tells us “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you.”
If you were living alone in the jungle and you recognized that there was an amazing Creator God that had made the heavens and the earth and all that is in it, and you desired to know that Creator, He would make Himself know to you.
Hello, friends. I’ve been silent far too long, but I decided not to write until I had something worth saying.
It occurred to me that you might like to know what I’ve been up to. So here’s a list:
I’m still writing about Laurel, Alexa, Flapjack and the others. My goal is to have the story finished by the end of July. I’d like to shop it around at the Realm Makers Conference to gauge interest.
2. Map Making
To keep going forward, I needed a picture in my head of where the characters are headed, so I stopped and made a map. What do you think?
It also occurred to me that the title of the story might not capture its essence. I’ve been playing around with names. I’d love to hear which one(s) you like:
Not people, stories! :) And by invitation. I’ve spent some time reading other people’s work and weighing in on what is good and what can be improved. If you’re a writer and you’ve never been on the other side of a writing contest, it’s eye-opening. You really can tell a lot about a story by the first page or two.
I’ve submitted a couple of short stories to contests, and I’m also helping to coordinate a couple of short story contests. I’ll be writing a blog post soon on why I think short stories contests are so important – so stay tuned!
That’s what’s been going on with me. Now, what have you been up to while I’ve been gone?
He banked, enjoying the lift of the wind and the sun’s rays on his back. What was it that had woken him, again? A nagging, the itch of a memory, tugged at him. He was searching for something…
A loud growl interrupted his train of thought. He peered toward the sound and came eye-to-proverbial-eye with his gold-scaled belly. He was hungry. No, not hungry—starving. Plum ravenous is what he was.
When was the last time he’d eaten anything? Probably that horse he’d taken the last time he was in the human realm. And that had been—grrrowwwl—too long ago.
Two large flaps of his leathery wings increased his altitude enough for a good view of the land. He gazed ahead, eyes unfocused. Waiting, waiting….and then, movement down and to the right. He zeroed in on a creature, not much larger than snack-size, with two horns on top of its head. A goat.
The animal must have sensed his presence because as soon as he angled toward it, it bolted. Startled by its movement, the rest of its herd did as well.
The dragon puffed a smoke ring of mirth. What had looked like a small snack had just turned into a nice lunch.
As a cactus cat, Hero’s den was less homey than Flapjack’s jackalope burrow. It wasn’t that it was filthy or scary or anything like that. The dirt floor was cool under Laurel’s bare feet—they’d left their boots and socks in the “mud room”—and there was no clutter. There was hardly anything at all. No windows or furniture besides a cushioned bed, and no decorations. Cool moist air carried the scent of cat like an earthy perfume. Light trickled in through cracks where the boulders met overhead, casting odd patterns on the walls and floor. The slivers of light reminded Laurel of lazy ripples in a pool of water—relaxing and mesmerizing.
Flapjack filled in the feline on the girls’ adventures. The cat listened as he cleaned between the quills on his front legs. When he moved onto other areas of his anatomy—eww—Laurel focused on Flapjack’s long ears. They moved as he spoke like most people gestured with their hands. As he finished explaining, his ears stilled.
“Let me see the scale, kitten.”
Laurel pulled the gem stone out of her pocket and held it out to the large cat. Thankfully, he’d stopped his tongue bath.
The quilled cougar inched forward on all fours and extended his neck. He sniffed the scale a few times, going so far as to put his nose on it, and then batted it out of her palm with one of his front paws. He caught it in his other and lifted it to one of the light beams shining in from the ceiling. The stone gleamed a deep indigo and in the sun, it seemed to contain flecks of gold. The cougar held as still as a statue, only the very end of his long tail flicking back and forth. Slowly, the gem in his paw changed color moving backwards through the rainbow—indigo to blue to green to yellow to orange—until it settled on a rich red, then it gained intensity until it shone like fire. Hero flipped the scale in the air and it landed on his paw, bottom up.
Alexa gasped and leaned closer obscuring Laurel’s view. Laurel shifted and saw what had caught her sister’s attention. The bottom of the scale was crusted in gold as if someone had slathered it with metallic paint.
The cactus cat grunted. “Didn’t know he was still alive.”
“Who?” Excitement caused the question to squeak out of Laurel.
“Is it Fafnir’s, yer reckon?” Flapjack’s face glowed pinkish in the red light making him look like a giant Easter bunny.
Hero nodded and a low rumble emanated from his throat; the cat equivalent of a grunt, Laurel supposed.
“What’s a Fafnir?” Alexa asked, taking the scale from Hero’s paw and scrutinizing it. “And what made the scale change color?”
“Fafnir is a who, not a what, girlie,” Flapjack said. “He’s one of the oldest dragons, maybe even the grandpappy of them all.”
The red light flickered and waned, and the scale went back through rainbow hues before resting again at deep indigo. Alexa handed the scale back to her sister with a sad frown.
“This is one of his scales?” To Laurel, it looked the same as the first time she’d seen it. Amazing to think it was from a real dragon. She placed the gem back into her pocket and leaned into her big sister.
Flapjack stared pointedly at Hero. The great cat gazed back at him, unblinking. Laurel held still and next to her, Alexa tensed. The girls waited for the staring match between the two creatures to end.
Finally, the cougar blinked and the standoff was somehow resolved. “When a detached scale is close to its owner, it glows,” Hero explained in a bored monotone.
Laurel popped to her feet. “You mean he’s close by? Why didn’t you say so?” She headed toward the exit, but didn’t get farther than two steps before her shirt snagged on something. As she turned to free herself, she realized she was caught on Flapjack’s antlers.
“Hold on there, girlie. The scale’s not glowing any longer, so he’s not close by.” Flapjack twisted his head to the side and unhooked her. “There are plenty of fearsome critters out there. You’ll get yourself into trouble running off half-cocked by yourself.”
“More trouble, you mean,” Alexa murmured.
Laurel shot her sister a glance, the visual equivalent of a stuck-out tongue.
Alexa ignored her and addressed Flapjack. “I thought we needed to find the dragon to get back home. If he was close by, why didn’t we go flag him down?”
The jackalope’s ears drooped and he cast a sideways glance at the cat. “I don’t know much about dragons, missy. I didn’t know the glowing meant he was close by.”
Alexa rounded on the cougar. “But you did.”
Hero’s tail whipped back and forth. “What of it?”
The more time they spent with the quilled cougar, the less sure Laurel was of Flapjack’s choice of guides. What was it that made him choose this creature? “Flapjack said you’d help us find the dragon so we could get home.” Laurel voice sounded small even to her own ears.
“You’re supposed to be our guide.” Alexa’s statement sounded more like an accusation.
The cat settled back on the ground in a sphinx-like position. “Why should I agree to be your guide? What’s in it for me?”
“I-I don’t understand,” Alexa said.
Laurel’s tummy felt funny, like it was Valentine’s Day and she’d eaten way too many message hearts.
“Hero—” Flapjack began.
“Don’t ‘Hero’ me, Flap. You want me to guide them, then they can pay my fee.”
“But we don’t have any money!” Tears glinted in Alexa’s eyes. One hard blink and they’d overflow her rims and roll down her cheeks and Laurel knew just how she felt.
“I don’t want money, kitten.” The cat stared, his unblinking gaze fixed on them.
Laurel swallowed the lump forming in the back of her throat. “What do you want, then?”
“Your assistance in getting rid of some vermin.”
Laurel shivered. All kinds of vermin showed up in their back yard at home—snakes, rats, mice, spiders, and once a sick raccoon. Usually her dad took care of them. And usually her sister hid in her room with her nose buried in a book. “I’m not sure we’ll be much help in getting rid of vermin for you, Mr. Hero,” she said.
The cougar licked his lips and chuckled. “Oh, I’ll get rid of them. I just need your help to catch them.”
“What kind of vermin?” Alexa asked, one eyebrow raised.
The cactus cat told them, but all Laurel could hear was the way the college-guy in the white lacrosse t-shirt had said it when they were talking with the storyteller: chup-a-cabbbbb-bra.
This is the 6th installment in a story I’m writing called Flash Flood: In Search of Dragons. If you want to read from the beginning, you can access the rest of the chapters here.
I’m trying to decide whether I should continue to post the story as I write it. While the first installment showed promise, interest has waned down to a dismal few views per post. I plan to finish the story, but I think it might be better to post on other topics.
WEIGH IN: Keep posting or move on to something else? If you like these posts and are interested in continuing, let me know. If you’re just as happy to read it when it’s finished, let me know that too. I appreciate your input!
Hello, writer friends. I wanted to make sure that you were aware of two contests that are currently ongoing. These are both fantastic because they not only hone story writing skills, but part of the prize is publication. If you haven’t already done so, give these some consideration. And, if you would, get the word out to all your friends as well.
The Realm Makers Conference is hosting a short story contest (500-5,000 words) to raise money for their scholarship fund. Stories can be any type of speculative fiction but must include the theme “Escape.”
The top stories will be published into an anthology by Brimstone Fiction. And the winning stories will receive free tuition to the 2016 (or later) Realm Makers Conference.
Splickety’s Havoc magazine is hosting a contest to determine which is better – Sci-Fi or Fantasy. If you’ve never tried your hand at writing flash fiction (a full fledged story under 1000 words), you should give it a shot. I plan to enter. Why not? It’s only 1000 (or less) words!
There are an assortment of prizes including money, publication, and other fun gifts.
The month of March came in like a lion around my house.
First, came the deadline to submit a manuscript to my agent. Furious revision and editing ensued but we met the deadline.
Then, we came home to hot water pouring out of our attic from a busted hot water heater. (Don’t ask why they put them in the attic in Houston. It’s stupid, I know). So after 4 loads of towels and 4 days of loud fans and dehumidifiers, the house is dry. As a bonus, we also have nice views into the walls and ceilings, and sections of exposed floorboard. And for any rodents who might be looking for a place to live, there are precut holes along the base of many walls.
In the middle of the flood, we adopted two cats for my girls (scheduled). There’s nothing like kittens, huge noisy fans, and demoltion. But it turned out to be a good thing because it’s Spring Break and every day has been spent waiting for water remediation, adjusters, and home warranty folks to show up. So the cats and the girls have been hanging out in the laundry room. The dog, however, has been hanging out in front of the laundry room. :)
But God is good all the time, and I’m back to working on my own stories now, including Flash Flood: In Search of Dragons.
If this is your first introduction to the story, let me summarize where we are:
Laurel and Alexa are on vacation with their parents at a dude ranch. Laurel is convinced dragons exist and sets out at night because she thinks she sees one outside the window of her cabin. Her big sister, Alexa, follows to keep her out of trouble. While they are out, the dude ranch disappears. They’re not sure what to do until a talking jackalope named Flapjack shows up to offer them help. They follow Flapjack to his burrow where he tells them that the only way home is to find the dragon whose scale Laurel is carrying. He offers to take them to a guide who can help them on their quest…
Scrub brush crowded the trail on both sides and scratched at the girls’ arms as they walked. Flapjack led them up an incline to the top of a ridge. From it, the entire area where the dude ranch should have been was visible. They followed the ridge line for a time, Laurel using the view to scope the scenery for dragons. Before long, they came to a flat rock overhanging the ridge. A dirt-colored animal lay in the center in a large patch of sunshine.
“Be quiet now, girlies.” Flapjack put his paw to his hare-lip as if to shush them. “Sometimes he gets a bit miffed when you wake him during the day.”
“Then maybe we should let him sleep.” That was Alexa—always considerate of others’ feelings. And probably a bit scared to wake up the large beast.
“I thought you were in a hurry to get home?” The unflappable Flapjack replied.
Laurel peered around the jackalope to get a better view of the slumberer. The beast’s tail moved up and down like a languid whip, and his ears twitched like miniature satellite dishes. “Are you sure he’s asleep?”
Flapjack followed her gaze. “Mostly. Can’t be out in the open like that and be completely asleep. Wouldn’t live very long.”
Laurel wasn’t sure, but she thought Alexa squeaked.
Flapjack lifted his back right foot and thumped it against the ground a few times. The animal on the ledge sprang to its feet and bared its long canines at them with a hiss. He had the features of a mountain lion but his fur was too long and coarse, almost like a porcupine’s quills. The large feline hunkered down ready to spring.
Flapjack dropped to all fours and Laurel felt a twinge of apprehension for her friend. Would he bolt? Weren’t rabbits supposed to be afraid of cats, especially large ones? But he lowered his head as if aiming his antlers at the cat and Laurel’s fear fled. Rabbits might be afraid of cats, but jackalopes weren’t.
Then the cat charged.
Alexa screamed. Laurel shuffled backward as the cat grabbed Flapjack by the end of one of his antlers and lifted him in the air with his mouth.
Feet off the ground, the jackalope hung in the air scowling. “Put me down, you big rat catcher. You’re scaring the girls.”
The cat’s eyes rounded as he caught sight of them, the pupils in his eyes narrowing to slits in the bright morning sunlight. He opened his mouth and Flapjack tumbled to the ground. “You know better than to wake me in the morning, Flap. And you know how I feel about humans.”
“Late night, Hero?” Flapjack dusted off his overalls and then sat on his back legs, crossing his arms in front of him. “Drink from one too many barrel cacti?”
“What do you want, rabbit? Spit it out so I can say ‘no’ and go back to my nap.” The cat’s long tail slapped the ground from side to side like an angry metronome.
“These girls are on a quest, and every quest needs a guide and a hero. You can be both.”
“Just because my name is Hero doesn’t mean I am one. And I’m not going to guide two lily-livered human kittens around on some stinking quest. Find yourself another sucker.” The cat began cleaning himself with one paw as if they weren’t watching.
“Interesting you should say that.”
The cat stilled, one paw aloft on his way to cleaning behind an ear. “Say what?”
“Because a peculiar breed of sucker followed their trail to my house last night…” Flapjack’s voice sounded funny, like when Laurel’s parents talked about something but there was more behind their words than what she was hearing. “One that likes goats.”
The cat hissed and his tail puffed. The hair on the cat wasn’t just coarse like quills, it really was quills.
“Are you a cactus cat?” Laurel asked.
“Of course not. There’s no such thing as…” Alexa swallowed what she had been about to say, and her face turned a warm shade of pink.
“The correct term is Quilled Cougar.” Hero’s quills settled back into place as if he were trying to look as regal as he sounded. He raised an eyebrow at Flapjack. “So a goat sucker’s after these two girls?”
Flapjack eyed Laurel and Alexa, ears twitching. “More than one, I think.”
A cool breeze blew against Laurel’s neck and down her spine, chilling her despite the heat. Whatever they were talking about didn’t sound like a good thing.
“Is this about the strange howling I heard last night?” Alexa asked, piecing the clues together quicker than Laurel. “Why would those creatures be after us?”
“I don’t know, girlie.” The jackalope scuffed one toe in the dirt, his whiskers drooping.
The cat didn’t blink as his golden gaze fixed on Alexa and then Laurel. “I guess you’d better tell me about this quest of yours.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea, Flapjack?” Alexa whispered as they followed the cactus cat to his home. “He doesn’t even like humans.”
“Yes, girlie, I’m sure.” The jackalope hopped along between the girls. “He can protect you better than I can. No one would ever mistake a rabbit-deer hybrid for being anything but prey.”
Being capable of protecting them and being willing were two different things. As much as Laurel trusted Flapjack, she could understand her sister’s concern. Cats were finicky—they played by their own rules. Laurel had petted purring cats only to have them turn and nip at her. Would this giant quilled version be any less mercurial? “Are you sure you can’t you come with us?”
Flapjack turned to Laurel and wiggled his nose. “You don’t need me, lass. Don’t start to doubt yourself now.”
Is that what she was doing?
The cactus cat disappeared in a crevice between two large rocks. Flapjack hopped in after him, but Alexa and Laurel slowed.
Laurel’s gaze met Alexa’s wide-eyed intelligent stare. Were they really going to follow a huge cat and a rabbit with antlers into a cleft in a rock?
“We’re in this together, right?” Alexa asked.
Laurel wiped her sweaty palm on her jeans and clasped her sister’s hand. “Sisters forever.”
If you want to catch up, you can read the earlier parts of the storyhere.
And because I’ve been asking for sketches and no one has provided, I am proving to you that I can’t draw above a 3rd grade level. Here is my best attempt at Flapjack. So won’t someone please take pity on me and draw a picture of a cactus cat? Excuse me, I mean “quilled cougar.”
The reason I am not an illustrator
INPUT NEEDED: Give me some reasons a goat-sucking chupacabra would be after our girls.
If you’ve been around this blog any length of time, you’ll know what a fan I am of Jill Williamson. I am super excited about this new project she’s doing with her family (part of the inspiration for the story I’m writing here on Thursdays). I also love the fact she’s targeting books for some of the most reluctant readers – middle grade boys. I hope you’ll join the bandwagon and help support this awesome project! And now, here’s Jill!
Jill & Luke
My son, Luke, and I came up with the idea of writing a science fiction fairytale series, which we called RoboTales. In each story, Robo the robot dog befriends a child who helps him gather a clue to the mystery of who built him and why. This is a children’s chapter book series for readers ages 7-13.
In the first book, we meet a twelve-year old mechanic named Tinker. He is scavenging for parts outside the city when he finds a broken robot dog with the letters R.O.B.O. on his side. This is no ordinary robot assistant. Its hull is made from thick alloy. Robo can not only fly. He can fly in outer space. But Robo is broken, so Tinker takes him home to see if he can fix him.
Luke & Robo
Tinker lives with his uncle and cousins. He works in his uncle’s repair shop and scavenges parts from the local Hunk and Junk. Tinker’s motto is “recycle and create,” and he hopes to someday invent something that will make a difference in his planet’s pollution levels.
When the Invention Institute holds a Recycle Race contest for young inventors, Tinker wants to enter. His uncle gives him permission—if he can find his own parts. Tinker finds an old airbike at the Hunk and Junk and hauls it home, but the night before the contest, his cousins destroy the airbike. That’s when Robo steps in to help.
Each book in the RoboTales series follows Robo to a different planet where he meets a new boy and they help one another. In the later books, some of the early characters will return as they all work together to solve the mystery of Robo’s past.
With children’s books, the illustrations matter just as much—and sometimes more than—the story. We went hunting for the perfect artist and found her! Kirbi Fagan, a Michigan-based graphic artist, has a gift for illustrating these types of books. And she loves dogs too.
But we couldn’t afford her. Not up front, anyway. Which was why we decided to try a Kickstarter campaign. This would help us gather book buyers in advance. In backing our campaign, you are really pre-ordering these books. That way we can use the money to pay the illustrator now, and you’ll get the books once they release in October 2015.
Kickstarter is an all or nothing program, though. If we reach our goal within the allotted time period, those who backed us will be asked to pay the amount they pledged. If we fail to gather enough supporters by the end date, no one is charged and we get no money to pay our illustrator.
Click here to visit our Kickstarter page and read more about this project, including our budget and a full list of backer rewards. Please help us spread the word about RoboTales. We can’t wait to get these books into the hands of young readers everywhere!
To thank you for taking the time to learn about our project, here is the unedited first chapter of Tinker (book one in the RoboTales series).
Tinker couldn’t see.
Dust covered the glass of his helmet screen. He wiped it away and looked at the nearest street sign. Gibbos Street and Taden Avenue. Almost home.
In the mornings, Tinker had a clear view of the glass dome of the Invention Institute. Now it was late afternoon. School was out and people were heading home from work. The movement of so many vehicles stirred up the dust to a dangerous level.
At this time of day in the city of Tharsis, Tinker couldn’t go outdoors without a helmet or he’d be blind.
He also wouldn’t be able to breathe.
Tinker pulled his wagon across Taden Avenue. His cousins would be home soon. He needed to hurry back to the shop and hide Robo.
A horn blared. Tinker ran the rest of the way across the street. Behind him, a crawler bus rumbled to a stop. An ad for the Invention Institute covered the side
Tinker’s father had been a student there. And later he had worked as a part-time teacher on the weekends when his repair shop was closed. That was back before he had died. Back before Uncle Noctis had taken over the shop.
If Tinker could go to school, he would go to the Invention Institute.
But school cost money. And Uncle Noctis said there wasn’t enough to send Tinker. There was never enough of anything for Tinker.
He sighed. At least he had Robo, his first friend.
His only friend.
Tinker looked at Robo. The robot dog was sitting in his wagon. A plastic cover hid the contents of the wagon from the dust.
His only friend was a robot dog.
Better than no friend at all, though. Right?
The crawler bus started moving again. It filled the street with a cloud of dust that blinded Tinker. He waited for the dust to settle and wiped his helmet screen again. Through the cloud of swirling sand, Tinker caught sight of the sign to his uncle’s shop.
Sark & Sons Service and Repair
You break it, we fix it
Or Tinker fixed it, anyway.
A narrow alley ran between the repair shop and Monn’s Eatery. Tinker pulled his wagon between the two buildings. The smell of greasy baji slices made his stomach growl. Maybe he and Robo would visit Mr. Monn later and beg a snack. Mr. Monn loved Robo and often tried to feed him baji slices. Tinker always ate them instead. Robot dogs didn’t need food.
Tinker opened the airlock door. He pulled his wagon into the dust cleaning chamber. The door closed behind him, and he flipped the vacuum switch. The vents on the ceiling and floor sucked the dust off Tinker and his wagon.
Once everything was clean, Tinker turned off the vacuum. He opened the cargo doors and pulled his wagon into the workshop. He unzipped the wagon’s dust cover so he could see Robo.
The robot dog was silver with black accents. One of his eyes was a camera lens. The other was a light bulb that lit up green or red. This was Robo’s quick way of saying “yes” or “no.” He also had a black monitor screen for a face. He used this to talk with green text. His tail was an antenna. His legs rotated so he could stand or lie flat on his stomach. And he had the letters R-O-B-O on the bottom of his belly.
That was how Tinker had learned his name.
But that wasn’t the most interesting thing about Robo. His body—or his hull—was made from thick alloy. He could not only fly. He could fly in outer space.
Except he was broken. So he couldn’t fly at all.
Tinker heaved Robo into his arms. “Let’s get you upstairs before Grezzer and Ratch get home.”
Robo beeped. Words scrolled across his face screen. Engine malfunction.
“Yes, I know your engine is broken. But I don’t have time to look at it now.” Tinker crept up the stairs to his loft above the workshop. He set Robo on the floor. When Robo stood on all four legs, he came up to Tinker’s knees.
Tinker shifted Robo’s legs so that the dog lay flat on his belly. Then he slid Robo under his bed where he would be safe.
Tinker ran back down to his wagon to sort his finds. If the customers knew most of the parts used to fix their gadgets came from the Hunk & Junk, they might complain. But Tinker’s rebuilt parts were better quality than the cheap parts his uncle bought from offworld salesmen.
Recycle and create. That was Tinker’s motto. Kitz was the most polluted planet in the Upeero system. Someday Tinker would find a way to create clean energy.
“What are you doing, Stinker?”
Tinker stiffened at the muffled voice of his cousin, Grezzer. He glanced up. Both Grezzer and Ratch were standing just inside the airlock doors. Grezzer was tall and thick with skinny legs. He reminded Tinker of a screwdriver. He was the older of the two. Ratch had the same thick build but was shorter. Tinker thought he looked like a drickle from planet Zigmar.
Ratch had removed his helmet. Grezzer still had his on. No wonder his voice had sounded strange.
Grezzer removed his helmet and tucked it under his arm. “Maybe you wouldn’t stink if you stayed away from the Hunk & Junk.”
“We saw you from the school crawler,” Ratch said. “Dragging that wagon of trash.”
“Where’s your trash dog, Stinker?” Grezzer asked, his tiny eyes darting around the shop.
Tinker didn’t answer. His cousins acted like Robo was a hunk of junk, but Tinker knew better. They wanted him. He sorted the last two items into the part bins and moved his wagon to its spot in the corner.
The door to the front of the shop burst open. Uncle Noctis peeked inside. “Tinker! Where have you been? There’s a line of customers out the door.”
“He’s been to the Hunk & Junk again, Father,” Grezzer said.
“That’s why he stinks,” Ratch added.
“I don’t care if he stinks,” Uncle Noctis said. “I need someone in the front. Grezzer? Ratch? Do you boys want to help in the shop today?”
“I’ve got homework,” Grezzer said.
“I’m hungry,” Ratch said.
“That’s what I thought.” Uncle Noctis held the door open. “Tinker, get in here. Now!”
End Chapter One
I guess I’m just a big kid, because these stories sound like a lot of fun to me too, and I can’t wait to share them with my girls. Join with me and let’s support this fantastic project!
WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS PROJECT?
It’s always a pleasure to introduce a friend with a great book. Kathrese is a member of a local writing group, and I got to know her before I ever read her book. Being a fellow Speculative writer, we hit it off and I was happy to read Mardan’s Mark pre-release. When she told me she changed some things before publishing, I was happy to go back and reread it again.
Mardan’s Mark is a great story with wonderful characters. Like Harry Potter, these characters stick with you and become your family. When you put the book down at the end, you miss them. For that reason, and because I’m curious to see what happens next, I can’t wait for the next installment!
Please welcome Kathrese!
The first question is the toughest (not) – do you have any pets? If so, how many and what kinds?
I have a dog named Tiggr (no e, just like the character from Winnie the Pooh.) He’s a Plott Hound with tan and black brindle fur and a black mask. We rescued Tiggr from the pound, and we love him to death. As I write this, he’s sleeping in the chair next to mine.
A writer with a plot hound? You’ve got to be kidding me. ;) But seriously, that’s a new breed to me.
Telll us – what is your favorite Bible story and why?
I have to go with the story of Deborah. She stepped up when no man was willing. It’s funny because that story includes another woman, Jael, who took out the enemy commander. I love strong female characters. Apparently, God does too.
That story was a bait and switch for me. I always assumed it would be Deborah that got the glory for the defeat, but it was another woman entirely. A plot twist I didn’t see coming. But God is like that. ;)
Which part of your book was the most difficult to write – the beginning, middle, or end? Is that always the case, or only for this book or story?
As I get closer to the showdown, I slow down. I don’t know whether it’s dread that the story won’t be good enough or that the story is about to be over. It’s probably a little of both. But once that climactic scene is over, then the writing speeds up.
Showdown…slow down. Funny.
Which comes first for you, the characters, the story, or something else?
The characters are the thing. The plot reveals the characters’ motivations and hang-ups. Sometimes, the characters and the plot come to me at the same time because I wonder how a certain kind of person would react to a particular situation or dilemma. Either way, I have to have a kernel that includes both character and plot before I can begin writing.
Can you tell us something about your book that you know but isn’t in the book? Perhaps share some back-story on a character?
Samazor, who goes by Sam, was born in Pt. Azor. His mother died when he was a toddler, and his ne’er do well father, who lived by his wits and gambling, taught Sam little besides basic math. Sam pretty much raised himself on the seamy streets and wharves of Norland’s capital city, home to pirates and other disreputable sorts.
Sam’s father lost when he gambled with Captain Rozar, commander of the Cathartid, the most successful pirate ship on the Great Gulf. It’s never safe to owe a pirate money, so Sam’s father gave his son to Rozar to make good on his bet. Sam became Rozar’s slave and never saw his father again. I think Sam’s history explains so many things about his attitudes and beliefs.
If you could tie your book to a modern issue, what would it be?
Mardan’s Mark touches on the issue of slavery, and I would like to raise awareness of modern-day slavery. Sadly, there are more slaves today than at any time in the history of the world, and people need to learn the signs that someone is a victim of human trafficking. Awareness can lead to rescue and prevention of this terrible injustice.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novella called Healer’s Curse, about what’s going on back home during Mardan’s Mark. It centers on a young woman, Lady Elilan, the granddaughter of the king’s counselor. She has the gift of healing, but she’s afraid to use her gift because her past efforts have ended in tragedy. Elilan must risk failing once again or lose her gift and the stranger she’s learned to love.
And before you go, what is one thing you’d like your readers to know?
The print version of Mardan’s Mark will be available on Amazon by March 10th, so mark your calendars.
And now for an excerpt from the wonderful Mardan’s Mark…
A firm knock broke the silence in the cabin, and Mirza woke from her doze with a start.
“Come,” the witch said in a shrill tone.
The slave, the one Rozar had called Aldan, pushed open the door. He carried a heavy tray laden with food and water. He carefully set it down.
Mirza’s face turned purple with pent-up rage. “You locked me in, you bilge rat! You’ll pay for that. Serve me first, you son of a sea serpent.” Her insulting harangue continued but Aldan, who looked like he might be twenty or twenty-one years old, paid no attention to her vitriol.
His appearance had suffered terribly during his absence. A long smear of drying blood ran down one side of his tattered trousers, and he wore a makeshift bandage tied around his upper arm. His cheek sported a deep purple bruise. Large patches of sweat stained his tunic.
Aldan ladled soup into a bowl without haste and handed the bowl to Mirza.
Her wrinkled lips latched onto the bowl’s rim, and she slurped noisily. She emptied the bowl in seconds and held it out for more. “What happened?”
“The Falcon attacked,” Aldan said. “They came aboard and we fought.” He handed a cup of cool water to Srilani and another to René.
“Their captain’s dead.”
“Ha!” Mirza smirked. “Thought he’d steal our prizes, no doubt.”
Srilani studied the young man between sips of water. Aldan’s clothes fit poorly over his tall, wiry frame. His trousers were too short and so were his shirtsleeves. Fetter marks ringed his ankles, ridges of scar tissue, lighter than the deeply tanned skin beyond.
Aldan handed Srilani a steaming bowl of soup, took her cup, and refilled it with water. His dark brown eyes met hers and held.
“Thank you.” She spoke in Marstan.
“You are welcome.”
His Marstan was far better than Mirza’s and lacked the Norlan accent of the captain’s.
Curious. He’d probably been taken from Southern Marst, going by his speech and his name. There was something about his name. Her eyes dropped to his wrists. They, too, bore manacle marks. Would she have scars like that?
GIVEAWAY: Kathrese is giving an ebook of Mardan’s Mark to one lucky commentor.
TELL US, which do you prefer – pirate or princess stories?
There’s nothing better than having your kids get excited about a story you’re writing. We read each new installment over dinner, and my girls asked tonight if I’d written anymore. I was happy to say that I had.
Special thanks to Sparks of Ember for her contribution to this week’s installment.
Laurel carefully clutched the tin cup by the handle, the steaming cocoa too hot to drink just yet. Next to her on the settee, Alexa held an identical cup. The two of them gazed around the room. They’d never been in a dugout before but both girls had a feeling this one would have surprised them anyway.
The walls were covered in intricate mosaics made mostly out of turquoise & silver with bits of amber. The furniture was carved, polished and draped with plush cushions. Even the floor was covered with the lushest, softest grass Laurel had ever encountered. The entire room was beautiful, from the desk in the corner to the bookshelves lining the back wall. The kitchen was to her left by the steps from the entryway and she could just glimpse the one bedroom through the not-quite-closed door across the room. The only thing in the room that didn’t quite fit was a huge round tunnel in the wall between the bookcases. A curtain made of colorful strips of fabric tied in knots along the rod covered most of the hole. It was pretty – for a tunnel. From a rack on the side of one of the adjacent bookcases hung a shovel and rock-pick along with a bucket and some other tools.
Laurel wiggled her bare toes on the grass. Her & Alexa’s soggy boots and socks hung from little hooks by the door, dripping onto a patch of cactus that grew alongside the steps. But her eyes kept returning to that big circle in the wall. Well, that and the rather large jackalope that was just now hopping back from the kitchen.
“Okay then, now that we’re settled, how ’bout we introduce ourselves, hmm?” The rabbit grasped his own cup of cocoa that amazingly didn’t spill a drop as he crossed the room. Setting it on the short coffee table, he hitched up his colorful patchwork overalls, his fluffy tail protruding from a hole in the back, and plopped himself onto a rocking chair.
“Name’s Flapjack. And I’m sentry for The Crossing. And you are?” He waggled his paw between the two girls and then leaned forward to grab his cocoa and took a rather noisy sip.
Laurel caught Alexa’s stare. Her rule-following big sis was already in a tizzy about not only talking to a stranger, but going into his house. The way Laurel figured it, Mom and Dad would be okay with them seeking help from a big talking bunny. How were they going to figure out what was going on and get back home if they didn’t get some help?
“I’m Laurel Goodfriday, and this is my big sister is Alexa.” Laurel blew across the top of her hot chocolate before taking her own small sip. The melted chocolate warmed her throat and made her smile on the inside and the outside. “Yummy hot cocoa, Mr. Jack.”
The jackalope’s ears twitched with pleasure at the compliment. “Just Flapjack, dearie. One word, mind you. No need to be formal ‘round here.”
Alexa sat ramrod straight in her chair, her hot cocoa untouched, although Laurel noticed she held both hands on the cup as if warming them. “Please, sir, what is The Crossing?”
Flapjack made a big show of searching the room before returning his attention to Alexa and raising one bunny brow. Laurel snickered.
Alexa heaved a big sigh and tried again. “Please, Flapjack, what is The Crossing?”
“I figured you two’d know.” Flapjack scratched behind one long ear with his paw. “Yer humans, ain’t ye?”
“Yes, but—” Alexa began.
“Yep. Said to myself, ‘Flapjack, them two girls are here for a quest. I’d bet me whiskers on it.’ And I ain’t lost me whiskers yet.” Flapjack slapped his knee with his paw and laughed. At least, Laurel assumed the nasal chirping was a laugh.
“I’m sorry,” Alexa raised her voice over Flapjack’s guffaws, “did you say a quest?”
The hot chocolate had cooled enough that Laurel was able to take reasonable sized drinks. Maybe Alexa would let her drink her cup after she was finished asking Flapjack questions.
Flapjack sobered. “Is there somethin’ wrong with your hearing, girlie?” The jackalope enunciated each word loudly. “Yes, I said quest. You know, an expedition to search for something.”
Alexa slammed her mug on the coffee table and stood to her feet with her hands on her hips. “I know what a quest is! And I can hear just fine. What we don’t know is why we’re here or how to get back home.”
Flapjack’s whiskers quivered. “Are you sure you know what a quest is?”
Laurel set her empty mug on the table and grabbed Alexa’s full one, enjoying the show.
Alexa flailed her arms in frustration before plopping back in her chair, all the while making a sound like a hundred bees forced through a pipe.
The unflappable Flapjack turned to Laurel. “What about you, youngster?”
Laurel shrugged. “I’m searching for a dragon.”
Flapjack nodded his head sagely. “A noble quest, indeed.”
Alexa groaned and reached for her mug. She sipped, raising her cup further and further up before pulling it away in confusion. A frown crossed her face as she stared into the empty cup. “Laurel!”
More snuffling chirps chorused from Flapjack as he hopped to the kitchen to refill Alexa’s mug. On his return, he gave Laurel a sly wink. “Dragons, eh?”
Laurel explained to their new friend all about the dude ranch, the story teller, the glowing scale, and what she had seen outside the cabin window. She told him all about their trip outside, the ground shakes, the disappearing bits of moon, and their search for the lost buildings. Laurel finished with, “If jackalopes are real, then dragons must be real too. Right, Flapjack?”
“Oh, dragons are real, all right.” Flapjack’s voice was soft as if he weren’t paying full attention to what he was saying.
Laurel stuck her tongue out at Alexa who rolled her eyes in return.
“Right, then.” Flapjack nodded once—a decisive gesture. “May I see the scale, girlie?”
Laurel pulled the deep indigo gem from her pocket and offered it to the Jackalope. Instead of taking it, he peered at it closely, snuffling. His whiskers tickled her hand, and Laurel had to fight a giggle.
“Hmmm,” Flapjack hmmed. “Interesting indeed.”
Alexa, having finally finished her mug, returned the cup to the table and wiped away her chocolaty mustache. “Does this Crossing of yours have anything to do with how we got here?”
“Yes and no, missy.” Flapjack returned to his chair and Laurel placed the gem back in her pocket.
“Do you know how we can get home?” Alexa tried again.
Flapjack favored her with a wink. “Aye, ‘course I do.”
Alexa’s body quivered somewhere between excitement and frustration. Laurel couldn’t tell which side of the scale was tipping. To her, it was enough that Flapjack knew how to get them home. Plenty of time to return after she’d found a dragon, or two, or three, and not before. Definitely not before.
“Will you tell us how?” Alexa asked, her right eye twitching.
“Simple, dearie. The being that brought you here can return you home the same way. In your case, that’d be the dragon belonging to that scale in your sister’s pocket.”
Laurel cheered inside. No matter what her sister argued, they wouldn’t be able to leave here without meeting a dragon.
Resigned, Alexa slumped into her chair. “Where can we find this dragon?”
“No idea. I haven’t seen him in a thousand years.” Flapjack bounded to his feet, slapping his paws together. “Time for bed. Long day tomorrow.”
It didn’t take them as long to fall asleep as Laurel expected. She and Alexa lay side-by-side in what their host referred to as the guest room, while Flapjack hopped into the round tunnel to go sleep in his burrow. Tired from walking, and emotionally drained from her roller coaster day, dreams claimed her as soon as her head rested against the lavender scented pillow.
Warmth and a buttery aroma woke her. Laurel stretched, careful not to punch her sleeping sister in the face. She bounced out of bed, eliciting a groan from Alexa, and bounded into the kitchen.
“Something smells delicious.” She took a place at the kitchen table and watched Flapjack make their breakfast.
“Thank ye, youngster.” The Jackalope waved his griddle over the heat and then flipped a pancake high into the air, catching it on an antler then slipping it onto a plate. In the meantime, he poured more batter into the sizzling skillet.
Alexa trudged to the table and sat down. Her eyes were partly closed and her hair was wild from sleeping. She smacked her lips and rested her chin on her hand as if it were too heavy for her neck to hold up on its own.
“Sleep well, missy?” Flapback asked her.
“Not really.” She rubbed her face. “Something was howling outside and it kept waking me up. One time, it was so loud I thought it was right outside your door.”
“Howling, you say?” He turned from the stove and eyed her. “What did it sound like?”
Alexa blinked and looked to Lauren for help.
Lauren shrugged. “I didn’t hear anything last night.”
“Figures,” Alexa muttered, grumbling something about snoring and sister. Finally, Alexa titled her head back and howled, sounding something like a coyote with a sore throat.
Flapjack’s eyes rounded and his back right foot tapped. Laurel wasn’t sure because it’s hard to tell with a rabbit, but she thought he frowned.
The smell of something burning snapped Flapjack’s attention back to his work. After tossing the burnt pancakes and making replacements, he brought their dishes to the table along with a set of mugs.
Laurel’s sniffed the warm beverage and stuffed her disappointment inside. She’d hoped they might have hot cocoa with their breakfast, but instead, he’d given them something that smelled a lot like coffee, the most disgusting drink in the world. The pancakes, moist and delicious, made up for the drink. She shoveled bite after bite of pancake until she was so thirsty she couldn’t eat another bite. Taking the smallest sip possible, she let the warm brown liquid trickle down her dry throat. She followed the sip but a swallow and then a few gulps. The drink wasn’t coffee, after all, but a spiced honey drink.
The corner of Flapjack’s eyes crinkled as he watched her. “It’s the bees’ knees, ain’t it?”
Laurel gasped, and the swallow in her mouth chocked her. Coughing, she managed to ask, “It’s made of bees’ knees? I thought it was honey!”
Alexa giggled, her eyes dancing with merriment. “No, silly. That’s just an expression meaning that it tastes really good.”
Heat tinged Laurel’s cheeks as she took another sip of the tasty beverage. “Oh.”
They finished breakfast and then the girls washed the dishes as Flapjack hopped around his house collecting supplies in a worn canvas backpack.
“Are you going to take us to find the dragon today?” Laurel asked Flapjack as she and Alexa tugged on their socks and boots.
“No, youngster. Sentries can’t be galavantin’ off on quests.”
“You’re not going with us?” The disappointment in Alexa’s voice mirrored Laurel’s.
Flapjack sighed. “I can’t, girlie. But take heart, I’m gonna introduce you to a guide even better than me.”
FOR MY READERS: Flapjack is taking the girls to find a guide/protector for their quest. Here are some creatures who might be good guides and/or protectors. Vote in the poll to tell us which you prefer!
Cactus cat – a cross between a bobcat and a porcupine. Instead of fur, he has spine-like bristles. Some people say he uses those spines to slash open barrel cacti at night to drink.
Hoop snake – can grasp its tail in its jaws and roll after its prey like a wheel
Wereoyte – Instead of a werewolf, this is a man who turns into a coyote.
Texas horned toad – when threatened, a horned lizard will puff up and become very fat, which causes its body scales to protrude, making it difficult to swallow. The Texas horned lizard can squirt an aimed stream of blood from the corners of the eyes and sometimes from its mouth for a distance of up to 5 ft. This not only confuses would-be predators, but also the blood is mixed with a chemical that is foul-tasting to predators.
FOR OUR ARTISTS: Can you draw/sketch/paint? I’m still looking for artwork for any of the creatures in the story. Be creative!
FOR OUR WRITERS: It’s fun to think about where the story should go. If you’re up to it, write the next scene – Flapjack taking the girls to meet their guide.
Are you more like Laurel (who is more interested in adventure than she is worried about danger), or Alexa (who wants to stay safe and follow the rules)?
If you were Laurel and Alexa, would you have gone with the Jackalope to his house
What do you think will happen next in the story?
What do you do when you’re frustrated? Who do you go to for help?
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