Writing now

Flash Flood: In Search of Dragons, part 3

I hope you’re enjoying reading this story as much as I’m enjoying writing it. It dawned on me belatedly that my home-school friends might enjoy incorporating this story as a writing exercise, so I’ve put some discussion questions and writing exercises at the end of this segment, along with the regular ‘where should we go next?’ type questions. I’d love for you to participate!

If you’re new, the story starts here: Flash Flood: In Search of Dragons, part 1

Enjoy!

FF DRAGONS LONG

“Did something take a bite out of the moon?” Laurel asked, eyes locked on the night sky.

Alexa pushed to her feet and brushed the dirt off her jeans. “What do you mean?” She peered over her shoulder then rotated her full body to face the used-to-be-full moon. “Weird. Maybe there’s a lunar eclipse tonight. It’s not like anything can bite the moon.”

“You know what I meant.” Laurel chewed on her lip as she teeter-tottered between wanting to continue her search for the dragon and heading back to the safety of the cabin and her parents.

In the end, the cabin won. The sliver of moon didn’t provide enough light to follow the tracks in the dirt. Plus, they could always come back after breakfast with Dad, as Alexa had suggested.

Laurel stuffed her fists in her pockets and shuffled on the heels of her sister’s boots toward their beds. Hopefully, Mom and Dad were still asleep and hadn’t noticed their escape. Explaining what she was doing out of bed in the middle of the night would only result in a long list of penalty chores once they reached home. Unless they told Dad about the eclipse—that might distract him enough to make him forget to punish them. It would never work with Mom, but she was such a heavy sleeper there’d be no way she’d wake up.

Lost in her thoughts, Laurel didn’t realize her sister had stopped walking until she smacked into her back and nearly knocked them both over.

“What…” Laurel’s question died on her lips as she looked past her sister to their cabin.

It wasn’t there. Neither was the fence, the gate, or their parents’ SUV.

Were they lost? Laurel looked back the way they had come. She could barely make out the line of scrub brush in the darkness, but it was still there. “Alexa?”

Her big sister crossed her arms across her stomach the way she did when she’d eaten way too much ice cream.

“I don’t know, Laurel.” Alexa’s voice was soft and quivery. “Let’s go up to the main lodge. Maybe someone there can tell us what happened to the cabin.”

Hand in hand, Laurel and Alexa headed up the limestone and dirt incline toward the main complex. Their cabin was closest of any of the guest cabins to the barn and stables, which stood between their cabin and the lodge. With its hayloft, the barn was the tallest building on the dude ranch, and should have been clearly visible from their cabin.

It wasn’t.

They stumbled in circles, fumbling around the location where the main lodge, cabins, swimming pool, parking lot, and fire pit should be, until they convinced themselves that the dude ranch was really, truly gone—just like the cabin.

“I think I should have stayed in bed.” Laurel’s voice sounded small and pitiful even to her own ears. “Now, what do we do?”

Alexa put her arm around her sister’s shoulders. “We get comfortable and wait for daylight. And I think maybe…we should pray.”

“Okay.”

The two girls held hands and whispered pleas for help. As they finished, Laurel felt a drop of molten peace warm her from inside, growing and spreading throughout her, until three things happened: a coyote howled in the distance, large drops of water began to fall from the sky, and a snuffly voice spoke from behind them.

“What are you waiting for? C’mon. It’s about to start pouring field mice and lizards out here.”

Laurel turned toward the voice. With the clouds drifting across the sliver of moon it was hard to be certain, but it looked like the creature speaking was a rabbit. A large one with antlers.

Dragon

FOR MY READERS: So, the girls have met a jackalope. The two things I need from you are (1) his name, and (2) where he lives (tree, burrow, cabin, etc.). 

FOR OUR ARTISTS: Can you draw/sketch/paint? If so, I’d love for you to send me a picture of our Jackalope! I can draw a stick-figure one, but it would only make you laugh.

FOR OUR WRITERS: It’s fun to think about where the story should go. If you’re up to it, you could write one of the following and email it to me or put it in the comments:

  • A scene that shows what happens when Laurel and Alexa’s parents wake up the next morning.
  • A scene that shows us what the dragon is doing now. Where did he go?
  • A scene with Laurel, Alexa, and the jackalope.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  1. Which of the characters in the story do you like best? Why?
  2. If you were Laurel and Alexa what would you do?
  3. What do you think will happen next in the story?
  4. What do you do when you’re afraid? Who do you go to for help?

LOOKING FOR THE COMMENT BOX? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. If you’re on main page at lisagodfrees.com, there is a comment link below the post title. If you’re on a specific post page, keep scrolling down…

In which I interview one of my favorite fantasy authors, Donita K Paul

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The Dragon Lady, Donita K Paul

I grew up loving fantasy books. I used to feel guilty about reading them at church though, as if I should be ashamed of loving dragons and wizards and unicorns. I remember a few years ago when I walked into a LifeWay Bookstore and actually found fantasy books on the shelf of a Christian bookstore! And so it was that I fell in love with The Dragon Keeper Chronicles and their lovely author.

Track forward several years, and now I find myself writing Christian fantasy and sci-fi. Not only has God answered the dream of my heart, he led me to a place where I met (online) Donita, and if all goes well I might get to meet her in person in August! :D

If you don’t know her, please allow me to introduce a wonderful author whose story worlds are unbelievably imaginable and whose quirky characters you will love.

Thank you so much for taking time out from your busy writing schedule to be interviewed! In addition to all your dragons, do you have any pets? If so, how many and what kinds?

I have a Dwarf Netherland lop-eared bunny. His ears did not lop so he was due to be eliminated from the gene pool. I rescued him from a fatal bop on the head.HipHoptummyUp

LOL. Bunny Foo-foo was always such a bully. What is your favorite Bible story and why?

One? Whichever one I was teaching to the three year olds was my favorite.

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?

The whole thing! This was written right after my stroke, and I couldn’t remember what happened in the first book. Honestly, I couldn’t remember what I’d written one day previously.

Oh no! That sounds horrible, and yet the stories mirror each other perfectly. I hope you’re doing much better now.

Which one comes first for you– the characters, the story, or something else?

The characters. In this case, it was Bridger, a shape-shifting dragon who has a pet cat.

I love Bridger. <3 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?

Bridger once wanted to be a renowned chef.

What are you working on now?

The third book in the trilogy, Prophecy of Three.

I figured it would have “three” and “realm” in the title. Looks like I was only half right. ;)

What is one thing you’d like your readers to know?

None of the writing is worthwhile without the readers. I love your comments on the website, or one of the social medias. Sometimes a word from you is like a drop of rain in my dry plot of earth.

And before you go, what is the best thing your readers can do for you? Besides words of encouragement?

Word of mouth publicity. If you like a book (any book), tell a friend. That is far better advertising than any ad can do.

Thank you, Ms. Donita! And now an excerpt form Two Renegade Realms (#2 in The Realm Walkers series).

2renegaderealms

Bixby hurried to her patient’s side. “You’re awake. Let me give you a drink.”

“There was one brew you gave me last night that tasted like it’d been dipped from a frog pond. The other one was all right.”

Bixby wrinkled her nose. “I’m afraid it’s the frog pond for now. It eases your pain and allows you to think clearly.”

“What does the other one do?”

“Allows you to rest and keeps you from vomiting.”

“Well, I’ve got something to tell you, so I guess I’ll swallow the pond water.”

Bixby hesitated. “You do know that it isn’t really pond water?”

“I know. It would help if I could hold my nose.”

“Your nose is broken.”

“I know.”

Cantor heard the humor in the wounded man’s voice. He stepped closer and caught him winking at Bixby.

“I’ll help hold him up so he can drink.” Cantor positioned himself at the head of the bed. He could brace against the frame and keep it from swaying. He could also redirect any inappropriate conversation should the man feel like one last flirt with a pretty girl.

Bixby squinted her eyes at him. Cantor, he’s dying. 

These guards can be rough individuals. I just don’t want him talking to you like you were a bar room floozy.

She giggled. Bar room floozy?

Cantor did not want to be diverted. Doesn’t this man need a drink? His medicine?

She went away to fix the potion. When she came back, Cantor held the guard, gently lifting him by the shoulders and supporting his head against his chest. Jesha moved aside, hopping off the bed and exiting the cabin.

The guard drank the smelly brew all at once.

Bixby smiled at him. “I put spoonfuls of Old Trout’s honey in it. Was it any better?”

Cantor lowered him carefully before the patient answered. “It was sweeter . . . but still pond water.”

Bixby heaved a big sigh. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I figure you won’t be able―” He grunted. “―to pour many more of those down me before I die.”

Bixby remained silent for a moment. Cantor thought the sorrow on her face would tear a hole in his heart.

The series starts with One Realm Beyond…

1realmbeyond

GIVEAWAY: Ms. Paul is giving away a signed copy of Two Renegade Realms to someone living in the US. I know this is a great prize, because I’d like to keep it for my bookshelf. :)

TO ENTER, COMMENT below (keep scrolling) or look for the comment link under the title (above) and TELL ME, what is your favorite book or movie that contains dragons?

Winner will be announced next Monday.

Gillian Bronte Adams is the winner of last week’s drawing – a copy of Blood for Blood by Ben Wolf. Congrats, Gillian! B4B

Writing now

Flash Flood: In Search of Dragons, part 2

Thank you coming along on this blog adventure! I was pleased to receive feedback after the first portion of the story posted (you can read it here). Not only did you provide feedback, but Audie wrote a portion of this part of the story!

Nothing keeps an author going like knowing she has readers who are enjoying the story. Please continue to read, and if you feel like it, comment or contribute.

Without further ado, our continuing saga…

FF DRAGONS LONG

He knew patience, as only a creature whose life had spanned the rise and fall of empires could know patience.

He lay in darkness, in no hurry to stay, in no hurry to move. He was not waiting for anything, but he was still waiting for something.

Then, he felt it. A prickle. Something like an itch on his front left leg at the spot where he had been injured some time ago.

How long had it been? A few months? Years? Maybe a century or two? It was difficult to keep track of time napping in total darkness.

He reached across his body to rub at the itchy spot, and heaved a long and heavy sigh.

“Dag nab it. Who’s calling me?” He stretched his muscles, moving vigor–a dragon’s vital fluid–through his limbs and to the tips of his wings.

“Bet I’m gonna have to go out and deal with some other of them dang-blasted Dragon Shooters again. They can be more of a bother than a hat full of head lice on a hibernatin’ bear. Bad enough way back when all they had was magic lances and swords. I could just fly up in the sky right over them, and laugh while they had conniptions down on the ground. Then they went up and learned to make project…produc…confound it, what is that word? Ah, projectiles, that’s right. Projectile weapons. That was just fighting dirty, it was.”

He belched, and a plume of smoke released from his nostrils. The vernacular from the last time he visited the human realm was his favorite from any of the ages. Better by far than all the thees and thous and -ests.

“Can’t be helped, I guess. Them’s the rules. Gotta go see what’s up with that scale of mine, what went missing all that time ago. Now, where is that confounded exit? Ain’t been out in so long, I plumb forgot how I got here.”

Dragon

Laurel woke in a warm violet haze to heat against her face and a question lodged in her brain.

Are you ready for the good to be real, as well as the bad?

As she moved away from the heat, the violet light became brighter. At its center, almost too bright for her eyes, pulsed the indigo gem. Laurel shifted her gaze away, dark spots floating in her vision. Movement out the window caught her attention. She leaned over the edge of the top bunk and caught a glimpse of a large shape slither behind some brush. To big to be a snake, yet serpentine in its movement—it had to be a dragon.

The gem’s glow waned then went dark.

“Coincidence? I think not,” Laurel whispered to herself.

She shimmied down the bunk bed’s ladder and exchanged her PJs for yesterday’s clothes, still conveniently located on the floor near the bed. She stuffed the gem into her jean pocket and tugged on her cowboy boots.

“What are you doing?” Her sister’s groggy voice prodded her heart to race.

Hopefully Alexa was just talking in her sleep again. “Going to the restroom. Go back to sleep.”

Alexa’s voice was more alert this time. “Dressed and wearing boots?”

Not sleeptalking then. “I saw something outside. I’m gonna go peek and see what it is.”

Alexa sat up, smacking her head against the upper bunk in the process. She groaned and rubbed at her head.

Laurel winced. “Ouch. You okay?”

“Yeah, but I don’t think you should go outside. We can go in the morning after Mom and Dad wake up. You know Dad, he’ll want to go hiking anyway.”

Laurel eased open the door to the outside, glad their quirky cabin had separate doors to the outside in each of the main rooms. “Whatever I saw will be long gone by then. I’m going now, but I won’t be gone long.” 

She tiptoed across the worn wooden porch and jumped off onto the dirt path leading from the cabin. The full moon cast a white glow over everything as if God had left a nightlight on for her use.

In no time, Laurel sped across the yard and over the swing gate that protected the cabin from wandering horses. Cicadas’ trills camouflaged the sound of her movements. Laurel never thought she’d be glad of the noise the annoying insects made.

Dashing to the scrub brush where the serpentine form disappeared, she peered around the bush.

Nothing.

Moonlight pooled over soft indentations and wide swept areas of sand. Dragon tracks? It was hard to tell with her boot prints everywhere.

“Laurel, wait!” Alexa’s cry carried over the cicada chorus, but Laurel wasn’t about to listen to her big sister try to talk her into going back to the cabin. Not yet.

She followed the sweeping tracks through the maze of scrub brush, eyes scanning the ground and ahead of her for any sign of the creature. Something snagged her elbow and she let out a yelp of surprise. Laurel turned to see Alexa, her sister’s round eyes as large as the moon.

The stone in Laurel’s pocket flared a bright, hot indigo and the ground shifted beneath them with a large pop. Laurel hit the ground on her rump as her sister tumbled on top of her. Frustrated, she pushed Alexa off, finding it difficult to read the expression on her sister’s face in the dark. What had happened to the moon?

Laurel searched the sky, expecting to find clouds rolling across the face of the moon. What she saw made her stomach fall like a sickening roller coaster ride. The moon was no longer full; instead, it hung in the sky like the Cheshire Cat’s grin from Alice in Wonderland.

FF Dragon scale

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

Laurel and Alexa don’t realize it yet, but they’ve been transported to an alternate dimension–the place the dragon usually lives. Obviously, part of the story is going to deal with how they get home. Here’s the question for you:

Do they need to find the dragon to get home or does the dragon help them find the way home? 

Comment with your ideas, questions, or contributions. Who knows, your idea and/or contribution might end up in next week’s post!

In which Ben Wolf tells all

…about life and his new book, Blood for Blood

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Ben Wolf, Flash Fiction King

If you’ve been around Christian speculative fiction for any length of time, then you know Ben Wolf. He’s a man on a mission to promote Christian flash fiction and Christian Spec fic. I’d call him an aficionado of both.

When Ben recently released his first full-length fiction novel–ugh, another vampire novel!–I was interested to read it to see if he could really tell a story. I figured if Tosca Lee endorsed it, Blood for Blood was worth a shot.

I was pleasantly surprised and then delighted. Here was a vampire novel in the historic tradition – crosses, stakes, garlic, and all – that asked a very important question: is any one so far gone that Christ cannot redeem them? I think we all know the answer to the question, but what would it look like in a vampire’s life? And what would that look like today in the life of a ________? As Christians do we really believed everyone is redeemable? That Christ’s blood is sufficient for everyone?

It is with great fanfare that I invite Ben to share with us today. Keep reading to the end for a chance to read a copy of this fine ebook from the author himself.

Hi, Ben! Let’s get the tough questions out of the way first: Do you have any pets? If so, how many and what kinds?
BW: No pets, but a friend of mine has a cat named Marco and he really likes me, so I sometimes claim him as mine.

I’m sorry to hear you are petless, but think of all the money you’re saving on food and vet bills. :)

Tell us, what is your favorite Bible story and why?
I’m a big fan of Samson’s story because despite having the Holy Spirit’s anointing, he made a lot of bad choices and got what he deserved. I don’t find joy in that, but it’s a reminder that no one is safe from falling into sin. We all fall short of God’s standards, and we get to determine how we respond when we fail. Samson usually responded poorly.

I always liked the story of Samson growing up. But you’re right – Samson was a bad judge. He had a temper and a weakness for women. Ultimately, he did the right thing in the end.

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?
It’s almost always the middle for me. The beginning is loaded with big, awesome ideas, and by the time I reach the end I usually have momentum to carry me through to completion. The middle is usually a struggle because I want to get to the end, but I can’t until I’ve been patient and set things up so the end really delivers a nice punch.

So far this year, the vote is 2/2 for middles. :)

Which comes first for you, the characters, the story, or something else?
This varies, but usually the story comes to me first and I have to create the characters to fit the story, but once the characters are in the story, they really do a bang-up job of affecting where it goes.

Can you tell us something about your book that you know but isn’t in the book? Perhaps share some backstory on a character?
Two things: 1. Sign up for my newsletter (lower right-hand corner of my website, benwolf.com) and you’ll get six free stories, one of which (in Havok Magazine) is a bonus scene not included in the book.
2. Friedrich, one of the Deputies in the story, makes a brief appearance in one of my other unpublished books titled “Unlucky,” which takes place in 1850s Arizona. He’s not specifically named, but he’s in there.

I didn’t know about the newsletter. I’ll be signing up after I click publish on this post! :D

What are you working on now?
Novel-wise I’m editing my YA fantasy series. I have to smooth out book one, make minor adjustments to book two, and then finish writing book three (I’m about 30k words in).

And before you go, what is one thing you’d like your readers to know?
Stick with me. I intend to thrill you more and more with each successive book. And by all means, tell your friends. I’ll thrill them too.

Bonus question: I’d love to hear about your experience writing full-length fiction versus flash fiction.
Writing flash fiction is always a lot of fun for me, but it can be challenging as well. I appreciate writing flash fiction because I can finish it sooner and it makes me feel good to have accomplished something. When writing a novel, it feels amazing to finish the novel too, just on a bigger scale.

I value the simplicity that flash fiction can bring to my writing, but I also enjoy the complexity of what I can do in novel-length work. The real value of flash fiction for me has been to teach me how to be careful with every single one of my words and to really make them count. That applies to all of my writing these days, and I’m better for it.

That’s what I value about flash fiction as well. That, and being forced to write a whole story – beginning, middle, end.

Thanks so much for being with us today, Ben!

You can connect with Ben at his website (sign up for that newsletter!), and on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Ben left us with an excerpt from Blood for Blood:

B4B

Hunger drove Raven Worth to the big tent revival that night, but it wasn’t what made him stay. Usually in such a public gathering he’d have lurked just beyond the edge of the crowd to scan the fringes for stragglers. In other settings he’d often harvest the ones who looked the most destitute or lonely. He could relate to them. He knew their pain.

But not that night. The crowd seemed devoid of the transients and homeless nobodies Raven preferred. Everyone beamed with happiness—they enjoyed the service, the evangelist’s booming voice, and even each other in a form of unity Raven hadn’t seen since before he turned. Then again, that was almost a hundred years ago. Sometimes it felt more like a thousand.

A few children wandered along the crowd’s outer ring, not engaged by the service in the least. One of them, a small girl with hair so blonde that it seemed to glow under the moonlight, sat alone on the ground and played with a rag doll. Raven couldn’t help but stare at her.

Who would leave such a beautiful child unattended? Raven clenched his fists. Didn’t her parents know what kinds of horrors roamed the night in search of weak, vulnerable prey exactly like her? Perhaps she was an orphan, with no one to look out for her wellbeing.

A rumble in Raven’s stomach and a brief spell of lightheadedness reminded him of why he’d come tonight. He shook off the weakness and resigned himself to his task.

To feed.

- Excerpted from Chapter 1 of Blood for Blood, by Ben Wolf

GIVEAWAY: Comment below for a chance to win a Blood for Blood ebook! Tell me your favorite vampire book or movie. We’ll announce the winner here next Monday.

(Tip: if you’re on the main blog page, click the Comment link under the title. If you’re on this post’s page, keep scrolling down…)

FirstPrinciplecover

Congratulations to Beth Steury, winner of last week’s giveaway of The First Principle by Marissa Shrock!

In which we write a story together

Something I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while on the blog is to create a serial story. Not only would it force me to create something each week (as opposed to revise something), but it seems like it would be a lot of fun.

Here’s how I envision it…

I’ll post a few paragraphs of a story, and you will choose where the story goes next, either by

  • placing a suggestion in the comments
  • voting for your favorite option in a poll
  • or writing some (or all) of the next installment yourself

Obviously, the more people who participate, the more fun this will be. 

Here’s the opening to an urban fantasy I began last year and didn’t finish called Flash Flood:

Flash Flood logo

Tomorrow would be their last day at the dude ranch and Laurel still had not seen a single dragon. Mounted on the back of her favorite horse, a creamy stallion named Custer, the wind blew into Laurel’s face and brought with it the promise of rain. Up ahead, dark clouds dropped lower and raced them to the corral. Laurel smashed her new cowboy hat down on her brow to keep the wind from whisking it away.

“Hope we make it back before the rain starts,” said Rango from behind her. The ranch hand with the bushy mustache brought up the rear of the party on his beautiful paint horse. “The horses don’t like ridin’ into the wind. They’ll turn around and you won’t be able to budge ‘em if the storm hits. There’ll be nothing left for us to do but to walk back and leave ‘em here.”

“I think we’ll make it,” said Laurel’s dad from the back of Socks, a brown horse named after his white legs. “You can see the buildings from here.”

The horses, as if sensing the end of the ride, picked up their pace. Laurel didn’t even have to dig her heels into Custer to get him to catch up with the line.

Back in the corral, the group dismounted as large drops of rain plopped into the dust and washed away Laurel’s chance to go exploring before dinner. She gritted her teeth and followed her family to the main lodge. They played forty-two, her parents’ favorite domino game, while the rain fell in gray sheets and the aroma of wet dirt saturated the air each time the lodge door swung opened. By the time they moved onto Clue at her older sister’s request, patches of sunlight peeked through patchwork clouds as the downpour turned to a drizzle and tap-danced on the lodge’s long wooden porch.

“It’s your turn,” Alexa poked Laurel’s shoulder. “The game would finish faster if you’d pay attention.”

Laurel turned her gaze back to Clue. Who cared if it was Ms. Scarlet in the kitchen with the rope? “It looks like the rain has stopped. Can I go outside and walk around until it’s time to eat?”

The dinner bell answered the question for her.

Laurel paused with a forkful of mashed potatoes on its way to her mouth as Mr. Clay, the owner of the dude ranch, cleared his throat. “We have a special treat for tonight’s entertainment,” he said.

Mr. Clay was a nice man—funny, with a spark of mischievousness behind his gray eyes. He’d never removed his buff-colored cowboy hat in her presence so Laurel had no clue if he was bald or had a head-full of silver hair to match his mustache.

“A good friend of mine, a storyteller, is coming tonight to share some legends of the Old West. Meet out at the back patio at seven o’clock and then join us afterward for a bonfire and s’mores.”

A chorus of cat calls and yee-haw’s broke out from the younger patrons in the dining room. International travelers from France and Norway mouthed the word s’mores at one another and shrugged their shoulders.

“Can we go and listen to the story-teller?” Laurel asked her parents practically vibrating in her chair with excitement.

“And have s’mores afterward?” added Alexa.

“Of course, girls.” Mom smiled. “And if we’re lucky, maybe the storyteller will even talk about dragons.”

Mom, Dad, and Big Sis all broke into crooked grins. Laurel did her best to smile back even though she was the butt of their family joke. So what if no one else believed that dragons existed? She believed, and maybe this story-teller would too. And maybe he’d have new information, something that could help her locate them.

Laurel and her family settled at a worn, wooden picnic table near the center of the patio as the man set up for his show. His golden chaps flapped over faded jeans as he stepped side-to-side laying out assorted objects on an adjacent table. For all that he dressed like a cowboy, right down to the biggest belt buckle in the state of Texas, he reminded Laurel of a character from one of her favorite books come to life. Silver hair, gray beard, lanky frame, and wire-rimmed spectacles. With a wardrobe change, he would be a shoe-in for Gandalf or Dumbledore.

“My name is Jacy Black. I’m a retired history teacher who amuses himself sharing stories of the Old West. Tonight, I thought we could talk about some fearsome critters. Not the normal ones you can find in zoos, like snakes and bobcats, but the mythical ones. The rumors you’ve heard. The stories people tell around campfires. Who’s heard of one?” Jacy’s gray eyes flitted around searching for a response.

A boy’s hand shot up in the air. Jacy nodded at him. “The rabbit with antlers?”

“Ah, my young sir, young mean the infamous jackalope.” The story-teller turned back to his table and picked up a small skull with antlers. “Legend has it that this critter came from a pygmy deer crossed with a killer rabbit. The jackalope is said to be able to mimic human voices just like a parrot can. When he’s chased, he’ll call out, ‘There he goes’ or ‘Look, he’s over there!’ to divert people from his trail.”

He handed the skull off to a little blond boy to pass around the group. “What else?”

“Cactus cat,” a man called from the back of the group.

The story-teller smiled. “So, you’ve heard of the cactus cat, have you? Not many people have. He’s 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.” He held up a soft object from his table of props. “Here’s the pelt from a cactus cat. Watch how you rub it or it might poke you.”

“You mean zey are real?” A dark-haired French girl shuddered. She’d refused to touch the jackalope skull or the pelt as they were passed around.

Laurel smiled at the older girl’s squeamishness. It’s not like the skull and pelt had cooties or anything.

“The cactus cat’s as real as the jackalope, ma’am.” The story-teller winked at her. “Anyone else?”

A college-age guy in a white lacrosse t-shirt spoke like he was doing a voice-over for a Halloween TV special.“The chup-a-cabbbbb-bra.”

To his credit, Jacy Black only nodded. No eye rolling whatsoever. “A new critter that come on the scene in the last thirty years or so. Chupacabra means goat sucker. May be a cross between a coyote and a Mexican wolf. Some people say it’s just a coyote or raccoon with mange. But some of us think it’s a blood sucking creature of the night. A vampire with a goat fetish.”

The adults in the group chuckled, but Lauren cringed. Vampires? She’d need to sleep with her blankets covering her neck tonight, just in case the chupacabra couldn’t find any goats.

Jacy Black grabbed another pelt and passed it around. Long and roughly rectangular in shape, it was thick and gray with sparse hair like an elephant skin might be. The French woman caught one whiff of the smelly hide and crossed herself. Maybe she had a point about this pelt.

“This group really knows their Southwest critters. What else’ve you got?” Jacy Black looped his thumbs in his waist band and waited. Cicadas chirped from the oak and tallow branches surrounding the patio, but the group stayed silent.

After a few moments, Laurel raised her hand. “What about the dragons?”

Jacy Black’s eyes flashed in the dimming light, his expression solemn. He took a seat on a stump in the middle of the patio and shifted from side to side like he was trying to get comfortable. “Ahhh – the most majestic of all the fearsome creatures. People have seen dragons in the Old West since Indian times. The Indians called them ‘thunderbirds.’ In the 1800’s, newspapers from all over the West reported sightings of flying dragons. Some said they looked like pterodactyls. Others said they were eighteen foot crocodiles, with six wings and twelve legs. The last dragon sighting was in Utah in 1903. That time one carried off a horse.”

Laurel held her breath waiting for the story-teller to pick up a scale, or dragon claw. Something. Anything. When he didn’t, she asked, “Do you have anything on your table from a dragon?”

“Nah, missy. The dragons don’t leave anything behind like these other critters. Even the photograph of the legendary Tombstone Thunderbird disappeared after it was developed.” Jacy shook his head and clicked his tongue. “It’s a shame.”

“That’s because none of those creatures are real.” The lacrosse guy smiled and elbowed his neighbor. “The photograph was a hoax. Those dragon stories were made up by horse thieves trying to cover for themselves. And some taxidermist created the jackalope from a rabbit skull and antlers to make a quick buck.”

“Yeah,” added on one of his cronies. “The cactus cat and chupacabra are nothing but diseased animals that scared some poor country idiots. Funny stories and all, but none of it’s true.”

The last light from the setting sun flickered across the story-teller’s face and then disappeared, leaving the group in the gray haze of twilight. “How do you know for sure these creatures don’t exist?”

“If they really existed, there’d be proof. More than a pieced-together skull, porcupine pelt, and elephant skin. There’d be something you could see, or something you could touch.” Lacrosse shirt shrugged.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Jacy Black’s voice echoed in her mind, but his lips did not move. Had she imagined it? It had been a full day with two trail rides, swimming, and a long afternoon of board games. Maybe she was imagining things.

The story-teller entertained the group with tales of hoop snakes, joint snakes, and wereoytes but Laurel’s mind wouldn’t focus. When Jacy finished, he invited the group to look over his collection of artifacts. Laurel and her family examined the items on the table. Aside from a few Indian artifacts and some Old West gadgets, they had already seen most everything during the show. One piece caught Laurel’s eye—a hexagon shaped object about the same size as her palm. It reminded her of a turtle’s carapace, hard and slightly ridged, but smooth. In the dark it glowed a deep indigo. She flipped it over; the other side felt rough like a dried orange peel against her fingertips.

“What is this?” She asked, but no one as much as gazed in her direction. She tried again louder, but still couldn’t get her parents’ or the story-teller’s attention. Frustrated, she gave up and headed off to the bonfire and the promise of s’mores.

They passed back through the patio area following dessert and a Marty Robbins sing-a-long. The patio was clear and all evidence of the story-teller was gone. The night had been fun, but an aching sadness filled Laurel as if something were wrong or missing.

Back at their cabin, Laurel readied herself for bed, and climbed to the top bunk in the room she was sharing with her sister. A metallic blue object glimmered in the light from the next room. The story-teller’s indigo scale sat propped against her pillow.

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SO READERS – WHERE DO WE GO NEXT? Give me an idea of whether this sounds like something fun to you, and tell me what you’d like to see happen in the next scene.

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In which Marissa Shrock tells all

Marissa Shrock Headshot

Okay, she doesn’t really tell *all* but she does tell us some–about herself, her writing, and her life.

It is a pleasure to welcome Marissa today to talk about her debut novel, The First Principle, which is dystopian fiction at its finest. If you know me at all, you know I’m a dystopian junkie. I jumped at the chance to read The First Principle as an early reviewer based on the premise of the book. From Goodreads:

In the not-too-distant future, the United Regions of America has formed. Governors hold territories instead of states, and while Washington, DC, is gone, the government has more control than ever before. For fifteen-year-old Vivica Wilkins, the daughter of a governor, this is life as usual. High school seems pretty much the same–until one day, that controlling power steps right through the door during study hall.

When Vivica speaks out to defend her pregnant friend against the harsh treatment of Population Management Officer Marina Ward, she has no idea she’s sowing the seeds of a revolution in her own life. But it isn’t long before she discovers her own illegal pregnancy. Now she has to decide whether to get the mandatory abortion–or follow her heart, try to keep the baby, and possibly ruin her mother’s chances at becoming president.

A rebel group called the Emancipation Warriors, who are fighting to restore freedoms once held unalienable, offer her asylum. Can Vivica trust these rebels to help her or will they bring everything crashing down around her? Accepting their help may come with consequences she isn’t ready to face.

Marissa Shrock’s debut novel crafts a chilling story of what may be to come if we allow the economic and moral crises currently facing our country to change the foundations on which we built our independence–and of the difference one person can make when they choose to trust God’s lead.

Interested? Come and meet Marissa, read an excerpt from her book, and enter to win a free copy from the author (details below).

Hi, Marissa! It’s the beginning of a new year so I’m changing up my interview questions. Let’s start with pets. Do you have any? If so, how many and what kinds?

I don’t currently have pets. My family had a chocolate lab named Cocoa for fifteen years. I still miss her!

Aww. We lost our Rhodesian Ridgeback (14) over the summer, but we still have another (6).

What is your favorite Bible story and why?

I like the story of Rahab (Joshua 2) because she demonstrated great courage and faith. This story shows God can work in the heart of any person no matter what they do or where they live. She was a prostitute in a city slated for destruction, but she’d heard what God had done through the Israelites, made a profession of faith (Joshua 2:11), and acted on her faith by hiding the spies and helping them escape. As a result, God spared her life and the lives of her family members (Joshua 6:25).

That’s always been one of my favorite stories too. And I love the way you summarize it.

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?

The middle was the most difficult to write because I had to find a way to maintain tension. I don’t think struggling with the middle is unusual, and that’s been the case for the other two novels I’ve written.

Sagging middles–it’s not just our waistlines. ;)

Which comes first for you, the characters, the story, or something else?

Usually a concept for the story comes first. For The First Principle I had the idea, What if there was a society that forced teenage girls to have abortions? Would all of them willingly comply with the law? What would happen if they didn’t?  From there I developed a character who would question the law and created a society that would make such a law.

So you started with the story question! That’s a fantastic place to start, because a story that asks a good question captivates me from the beginning, just like your book did. Great work!

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?

Vivica is multilingual. She can speak Spanish that she learned from her nanny. Vivica’s mother also made her take lessons to learn Mandarin. She can even speak a smattering of French from helping her best friend Tindra study for tests.

I’m horrible at languages, although I was a French major with a German minor for a while in college. I ended up changing my major to science because it was something I was actually good at. LOL But I’d love to be able to speak multiple languages.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a sequel to The First Principle. I hope to finish and get a proposal to my publisher soon.

I hope you do too because I can’t wait to read it!

Before you go, what is one thing you’d like your readers to know?

I like hearing from readers, so feel free to contact me at marissa@marissashrock.com.

Thanks Marissa! You can keep in touch with Marissa at her website and on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Click on the link below to read an excerpt from the book!

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GIVEAWAY TIME…If you’d like to be entered for a chance to win a copy of The First Principle, tell us in the comments below. We’ll select one winner at random and post the results in next Monday’s blog.

TALK TO US: Abortion is such a sticky issue, and a fringe one for Christian content. I like books that tackle gritty issues. What about you? How clean do you like your fiction?

In which I get interviewed…by myself

Do you remember book where the chapters were titled things like “In Which Pooh Get Stuck in a Hole” or some such? Every once in a while, I think all chapters and blog posts should be titled similarly. Maybe that could be my resolution for the new year?

Really, I’m writing to say that author friend and collaborator Grace Yee has interviewed my on her site. If you’re interested in finding out my favorite caffeinated beverage, please stop by.

On Grace Yee’s blog

And because it would be useful for me to keep a list of these things, here are the other interviews I’ve done. (Short list because there aren’t many).

On Sara Ella’s blog

On Angie Brashear’s blog

And here is one I wrote when my first short story that was published. The website is no longer active, so I’m posting it here for fun and posterity. :)

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Will the real Lisa Godfrees please step forward?

Hi, it’s nice to meet you! My name is Lisa Godfrees, and I’d like to take a moment to do something I rarely do…talk about myself.

It’s awkward, isn’t it? Or at least it seems like it should be. If all I did everywhere I went was talk about me, I would have very few friends. But since I’m trying to make new ones today, I’m going to attempt to make myself sound fascinating and likeable. At the end, you’ll have a chance to let me know how I did. :D

Oh, and one more thing before we start…everything I tell you is going to be the honest  truth except ONE thing. Your job: guess which one. Ready?

  1. The first thing you should know about me is that my absolute favorite Christmas album is A Christmas Together by John Denver and the Muppets. It’s just not Christmas until Miss Piggy sings “5 golden rings” and Animal plays the drums.
  2. My bucket list is short. In fact, it has only one thing on it. Before I die, I’d like to see a blue whale.
  3. Godfrees isn’t my real name. It’s my pen name. My real name is actually an anagram of Godfrees (change the ‘o’ to an ‘i’ and rearrange the letters if you like word puzzles). I wanted something that would remind me Who should receive the glory for any of my successes. Besides, no one can pronounce my real last name anyway. ;)
  4. I had five different majors in college (7 if you include grad school) and none of them were English, literature, or writing related.
  5. I don’t drink coffee and I detest peanut butter, although frozen Reece’s are yummy.
  6. I’ve testified in court as an expert witness in the area of Forensic DNA and worked for more than ten years in a county crime lab.
  7. My father was 53 when I was born, and his father was 51 when he was born, so my paternal grandfather was born in 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War.
  8. I’ve had the opportunity to travel outside the USA. I’ve been to France, Germany, Greece, Turkey, and Mexico, but not Canada.
  9. Of all the states I’ve visited, my favorite is New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. Give me desert, mountains, and cactus and I’m a happy girl.
  10. I come from a large family. I have two sisters and five brothers, but I’m the baby.

OK, now it’s your turn. Guess which one of the ten facts above is NOT true. And, if you want to play, tell me three things about you (2 true, 1 false) and I’ll guess which one isn’t true.

My top 10 posts from 2014 might surprise you

Godfrees New Year

WordPress gifted me with a stat report for 2014, which I posted a couple of days ago. It’s fun to look at. They do a pretty good job of translating statistics into common terms, although why a girl from Texas would need to know about how many subway trains it would take…especially a girl who lives in Houston, the anti-mass transit capital of America. LOL

But I find it useful to review statistics from time to time. You have to know where you’ve been as a blogger to know where you’re going. And what I’ve found out is interesting…

3 of the top 4 posts viewed in 2014, weren’t published in 2014.

The most popular post written in 2014, ranked #2:

If you’re like me, I’m seeing a trend in the most popular posts. They all center around controversial topics. Well, controversial to some, anyway. 3/4 deal with apologetics – defending orthodox Christian thinking. Part of the reason these posts are so popular are groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians that will argue with what you post, and others, some who have escaped from these pseudo-Christian groups, will chime in as well.

Rounding out the top 10 are all book reviews/interviews:

These lead me to believe that my readers like books as much as I do. ;) And that’s the point. Me sharing with you what I’m reading, because all bibliophiles love a good book recommendation. :D

My forensic science post experiment met with mediocre success. One post, why convicts LOVE DNA testing and hate eye-witness testimony, topped at #13. The second highest at #18, and the rest fell from there. 

So what can I conclude from looking back on 2014? That I will keep on reading, writing, and posting on books, God, and life. And hopefully, you’ll continue to check out what I have to say.

NOW YOU: Did you learn anything in 2014 that you plan to put into practice in 2015? Did you have a particular post from this blog that you liked or found helpful?

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