Writing now

Dens & Dragons

FF DRAGONS LONG

Dragon

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.

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sketch-of-curious-little-cat-looking-at-something-on-the-ground-vector-illu_fJGZGMdu

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?”FF Dragon scale

“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.Jacklope Jumping Side Cartoon

“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!

2 writing contests you don’t want to miss

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.

RM Short Story promoShort Story contest: Speculative Fiction

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.

Entry fee $25. Deadline is April 30.

Havok-Logo-300x124

Flash Fiction: Science Fiction vs. Fantasy

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.

Entry fee is $10. Deadline is May 8.

TELL ME: HAVE YOU EVER ENTERED A WRITING CONTEST? 

Writing now

The Quilled Cougar

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…

FF DRAGONS LONG

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.”sketch-of-curious-little-cat-looking-at-something-on-the-ground-vector-illu_fJGZGMdu

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?”

“Sucker.”

“Why?”

“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.”

Jacklope Jumping Side Cartoon

“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.”

Dragon

If you want to catch up, you can read the earlier parts of the story here.

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

The reason I am not an illustrator

INPUT NEEDED: Give me some reasons a goat-sucking chupacabra would be after our girls.

WillYouHelpUsMeme

An incredible opportunity and a RoboTales sneak peek!

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

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

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.

Upeero-System-Map-1009x1024Each 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.

Meet-Robo

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).

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Chapter 1

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

WillYouHelpUsMemeI 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?

Mardan-Mark-Sml

In which Kathrese McKee gets into character

Kathrese McKee, author of Mardan's Mark

Kathrese McKee, author of Mardan’s Mark

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.

Thank you, Kathrese!

You can connect with Kathrese on her website, and on Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

And now for an excerpt from the wonderful Mardan’s Mark…

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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.

“And?”

“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?

Kathrese full

Writing now

Flash Flood: In Search of Dragons, part 4

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.

If you’re new, the story starts here: Flash Flood: In Search of Dragons, part 1 or click on the link in the sidebar.

Enjoy!

FF DRAGONS LONG

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?”FF Dragon scale

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.”

Jacklope Jumping Side Cartoon

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.”

Dragon

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.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  1. 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)?
  2. If you were Laurel and Alexa, would you have gone with the Jackalope to his house
  3. What do you think will happen next in the story?
  4. What do you do when you’re frustrated? 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…

Writing now
Aside

Does the Bible ever make you laugh?

Open book against grunge backgroundSome parts of the Bible are funny. Truly. The Bible reflects all parts of life, so why not comedy? Must we always approach the text with the utmost reverence, even when parts we read have comedic value? [Balaam’s donkey – hello!!!] Would anyone deny that God has a sense of humor?

I was reading 1 Corinthians 14 today, and it painted an image on my mind that made me chuckle. Have you ever stopped to think what a church service in Corinth might have looked like?

Maybe someone is reading a letter from Paul but someone else starts speaking in tongues. Unfortunately, no one is there to interpret so no one, not even the person speaking in tongues, can tell what is being said (v9,14). It just so happens that day you decided to bring a friend with you, someone who has never been to church before, and now they think your church is nothing but a bunch of people speaking crazy gibberish (v23). Then, someone else begins to prophesy aloud, but you can’t hear what they are saying because two other people start prophesying too (v31)! And if that wasn’t enough, the woman behind you stands up and yells a question at the pastor while her husband hangs his head in embarrassment (v34).

Now, I’m not saying this is what happened in Corinth, but we can imply from the text that the Corinthian church had all of these problems, because Paul was addressing them. He needed to bring clarification on how God expected members in the church to act. So while we can learn a lot about what God expects from this passage, I think it’s okay to laugh at what might have precipitated it. :)

Have any parts of the Bible made YOU chuckle?

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What do Steampunk and chickens have in common?

The answer: Shelley Adina, author of the Magnificent Devices steampunk series

Shelley_Bates_0143_hen_lores

More and more Steampunk novels have been cropping up recently. It seems to be the hip new trend in science fiction. I picked up a copy of Lady of Devices for free for my kindle a couple of years ago and enjoyed it so much I purchased several of the sequels (I think I read the next four, though there are more in the series now).

Later, I realized Shelley and I were in one of the same Facebook groups, so I had to interview her because I had to find out more about her chickens! Her novels are fun and filled with great characters – some historical and some not – but my favorite, by far, is the chicken. What can I say? ;)

Hi, Shelley! So glad to have you on the blog today! So, tell us about your love affair with chickens.

About fifteen years ago, a little red hen walked into our garden and began to lay her eggs in a clump of periwinkle against the fence. So my husband built a coop, and then we rescued a chick from the animal shelter to keep her company, and then people started stopping us in the street to ask us to take their birds, and one day I came out on the porch to find a cardboard box containing a black hen … in short, I rescue chickens. We have 11 at the moment—2 Buff Orpingtons (Dinah and Tera), 1 Golden Laced Wyandotte (Peggy Sue), 2 Rhode Island Reds (Rhoda and Ruby), 2 Silkies (Mosa and Tetra), a Barred Rock (Dottie, the boss of everybody), a Serama (Alma), a Black Sex-Link (Sirius Black, who’s a girl), and an Easter Egger (Carmen, who lays green eggs).

They all know their names—and what’s more, they know each other’s names. They’re voice trained, too, because chickens have the intellectual capacity of an 18-month-old child, so they understand the relationship between sounds and action—in short, language.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most in reading your novels is finding out how fun chickens can be. I would never have thought they could fun personable pets!

What is your favorite Bible story and why?

I love the story of Ruth, not only because of the love that developed between her and Boaz, but also because of the love she had for her mother-in-law, Naomi. Female friendships and bonds are a common theme in my books, and my female friendships are incredibly valuable to me, so it’s not surprising that this story stands out for me. In the Magnificent Devices books, Lady Claire develops strong female friendships that quite literally save her life.

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 not the beginning, middle, or end that is difficult for me, because I’m an outliner. It’s having a huge cast of characters that gets difficult to manage. In A Lady of Integrity, which is book 7 and came out last month, I had three airships, eight main characters, two sets of villains, and three physical locations that were all part of the big climax. It took me three weeks of making diagrams and arrows and circles and maps of Venice on bits of paper before I figured out how it was all going to work. And it all came together in one chapter.

Wow. That sounds like quite a feat. Which comes first for you, the characters, the story, or something else?

The characters. Lady of Devices was born in a kind of “flash” – I saw a young woman in a steam vehicle being set upon by thieves in Whitechapel after dark. Who was she? What was she doing there in that beautiful coat? And they were children—why were they so fierce? That was the beginning of it.

Can you tell us something about your book that you know but isn’t in the book? Perhaps share some backstory on a character?

One of the characters is Weepin’ Willie, a 5-year-old mute boy. In book 2 we find out his true identity, but we never quite find out how he came to be in the street gang. I plan to write a short story rectifying this omission for my newsletter subscribers. I’m doing a challenge with a writer friend to get it done, so look for it soon!

What are you working on now?

I’m outlining the plot for book 8, A Gentleman of Means. This time I’m going to attempt to corral the characters in one location and keep the airships to a minimum. But I likely won’t succeed.

LOL. And before you go, what is one thing you’d like your readers to know?

As Claire might say (and frequently does), “A lady of resources makes her own luck.”

You can connect with Shelley at her website, on Twitter, and on Facebook. And don’t forget to sign up for Shelley’s newsletter, so you can get that free short story about Willie. ;)

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London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world.

At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. When her father gambles the estate on the combustion engine and loses, Claire finds herself down and out on the mean streets of London. But being a young woman of resources and intellect, she turns fortune on its head. It’s not long before a new leader rises in the underworld, known only as the Lady of Devices.

When she meets Andrew Malvern, a member of the Royal Society of Engineers, she realizes her talents may encompass more than the invention of explosive devices. They may help her realize her dreams and his . . . if they can both stay alive long enough to see that sometimes the closest friendships can trigger the greatest betrayals . . .

An excerpt from the book:

Lady of Devices

By Shelley Adina

Chapter One

London, June 1889

To say the explosion rocked the laboratory at St. Cecelia’s Academy for Young Ladies might have overstated the case, but she was still never going to hear the end of it.

Claire Trevelyan closed her eyes as a gobbet of reddish-brown foam dripped off the ceiling and landed squarely on the crown of her head. It dribbled past her ears and onto the pristine sailor collar of her middy blouse, and thence, gravity having its inevitable effect, down the blue seersucker of her uniform’s skirt to the floor.

Shrieking, the other students in the senior Chemistry of the Home class had already flung themselves toward the back of the room and away from the benches directly under the mess. “Ladies!” Professor Grünwald shouted, raising his arms as if to calm the stormy waters, “there is no cause for alarm. Collect yourselves, please.” His gimlet eyes behind their gleaming spectacles pinned Claire in place like a butterfly on a board. “Miss Trevelyan. Did I not, just moments ago, tell you not to add the contents of that dish to your flask?”

“Yes, sir.” She could barely hear herself over the squawking of her classmates.

“Then why did you do it?”

The truth would only net her another grim punishment, but there was no other answer. “To see what would happen, sir.”

“Indeed. I seem to remember you gave Doctor Prescott the same reply after the unfortunate incident with the Tesla coil.” His jaw firmed under its layer of fat. He addressed the back of the room, where the others huddled against the cabinets in which he kept ingredients and equipment. “Ladies, please. Adding peppermint to an infusion of dandelion and burdock will do you no harm. You may adjourn to the powder rooms to rearrange your toilettes if you must.”

Several of the girls stampeded from the room, leaving behind Lady Julia Wellesley, Lady Catherine Montrose, and Miss Gloria Meriwether-Astor, who watched her humiliation with as much wide-eyed delight as if it were the latest flicker at the theater. Claire straightened her spine. She should be used to this. Fortitude was the key.

Another gob of foam landed on her shoulder. Behind her, Lady Catherine stifled a giggle.

“And are you satisfied with your newfound knowledge?” Professor Grünwald was not finished with her yet.

“Yes, sir,” Claire said with complete truth.

“I am delighted to hear it. In future, when I tell you not to do something, I would like the courtesy of obedience. You are here to learn the chemistry of the home, not to engage in silly parlor tricks.”

“But sir, it would be helpful if you had told us why the compounds should not be mixed.”

In the ensuing moment of silence, she heard an indrawn breath of anticipation from the gallery.

“I am sorry to have incommoded you in your quest for information.” His sarcasm dripped as unpleasantly as the substance now forming a sticky mass on her clothes. “By tomorrow morning, you will provide me with one hundred lines stating the following: ‘I will obey instruction and curb my unladylike curiosity.’ Repeat that, please.”

Claire did so in a monotone as faithful as any wax recording.

“Thank you, Miss Trevelyan. You will now go and inform the cleaning staff that their assistance is required here.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you will stay for the remainder of the period and help them.”

Claire clamped her molars down on the urge to further defend herself. “Yes, sir.”

“Ladies, class is dismissed. Thank you for your patience.”

Patience? He was thanking them? Claire kept her face calm above the storm in her heart as she turned toward the door, the heel of her boot slipping several inches in the foam. Lady Catherine giggled again—Claire suspected she couldn’t help herself, being the nervous sort—and the other girls followed her out, careful to keep their clean skirts from touching hers.

“Nicely done, Trevelyan,” Lady Julia Wellesley whispered. “We have a half period free thanks to you.”

“I must say, that brown substance suits you.” Lady Catherine’s overbite became more prominent as she smiled. “It’s the exact color of your hair.”

“Next time, perhaps you’ll be less inclined to show off your superior intellectual powers,” Gloria Meriwether-Astor added, her flat vowels emphasizing a colonial drawl.

Claire tried to keep silent, but this was just too much. She turned to glare at the new heiress from the American Territories, who had fit in with the other girls from the moment of her arrival like an imperious hand in a kid glove. “I don’t show off at all. I—”

“Oh, please,” Lady Julia waved her fingers. “Spare us the false humility. But tell me, how on earth do you expect to attract a husband looking like that?”

“She’s trying to impress old Grünwald.” Lady Catherine giggled. “He’s single.”

He was also forty if he was a day, overweight, and his receding hairline perspired when he was under pressure, which was nearly all the time. Besides which, marrying anyone below the rank of baron was out of the question, never mind a man forced to earn his living by teaching the next generation of society’s glittering lights.

Not that these particular glittering lights wanted to be taught anything but how to embroider a handkerchief or pour a cup of tea. Though if there were a class devoted to the art of landing a titled husband, she had no doubt every one of them would sign up for it and never miss a moment. Of course, Lady Julia could probably teach such a class. Rumor had it that as soon as she descended the platform on graduation day next week, Lord Robert Mount-Batting would go down upon one knee on the lawn and propose. Claire rather doubted that rumor had its facts in order. Lady Julia would never miss her presentation at court in two weeks, nor any of the balls and parties to be held in her honor afterward. If there were to be lawns involved, it would probably be the one at Ascot, or the one at Wellesley House, sometime before the shooting season began in August.

Julia, Catherine, and Claire herself were to be presented to Her Majesty during the same Drawing Room. Claire’s imagination shuddered and refused to venture there. Who knew what fresh humiliation those girls could dream up in that most august company?

Finally ridding herself of the maddening crowd, Claire went to Administration and sent a tube containing Professor Grünwald’s request down to the offices of the staff. No point in cleaning herself up or changing her clothes if she was to be doomed to pushing a mop for the next thirty minutes. This benighted school hadn’t the wit to obtain the services of a mother’s helper to take care of the worst of the mess. Armed with a ladder, mops, and buckets, it took her and the two chars the rest of the period to clean the sticky foam off the ceiling, benches, chairs, and floor of the laboratory.

Thank goodness the professor had retired to his office. She was able to laugh at the chars’ comments on his marital prospects with impunity.

After Claire helped them carry the equipment back to the basement, she changed into her spare uniform in the gymnasium dressing room as fast as she could. Still, she arrived at her French class late with half her blouse’s hem sticking out of the waistband of her skirt, much to the amusement of Lady Julia and Gloria.

“Never mind them,” Emilie Fragonard whispered from the desk behind her as she reached forward and tucked in the offending article. “You’re all right now.”

Dear Emilie. Though her friend’s hair was drawn back in an practical braided bun instead of a flattering pompadour, and her spectacles were, in Claire’s opinion, too heavy for her delicate features and hid her fine eyes, she was the soul of kindness. And kindness, heaven knew, was in short supply at St. Cecelia’s.

After class and before the midday meal, Claire and Emilie took refuge in the dappled shade under a grove of trees on the far side of the lawn. Over the ten-foot granite wall that separated the sheltered young ladies from the bustle of London, the rattle of carriages and jingle of harness could be heard on the road, along with the voices of passers-by and the occasional distinctive chug of a new steam landau. When she heard that sound, Claire could hardly contain the urge to run to the gates and stare. They were such fascinating engines, each one different, yet operating under the same marvelous principles.

“Don’t even think about it.” Emilie’s tone told Claire she’d been caught. “Ladies do not gawk after steam landaus or those who drive them.”

“I don’t care about who drives them. I drive one myself. I just like to look at them.”

“You do not. Drive one, I mean.”

“I do indeed. Gorse is teaching me.”

“Claire Elizabeth Trevelyan!” Emilie put a pale hand against the trunk of the largest of the elms for support. “I thought your escapade with the quadricycle was bad enough. You cannot tell me you are actually piloting one of those dangerous things!”

“They’re not dangerous, if you know their proper operation. Which I do. One’s speed and direction are merely a matter of the correct application of steam. The explosions of the first models are a thing of the past.”

“That’s lucky, knowing how you are about explosions.”

Claire’s good spirits cooled like a fire left too long without fuel. “You heard.”

“The entire school heard. Honestly, dear heart, you’ve got to curb this unhealthy tendency to blow things up.”

“That ridiculous excuse for a professor wouldn’t tell us what would happen. How can I be blamed for the silly man’s stubbornness? If there’s anything I hate, it’s someone telling me ‘don’t’ without saying why.”

“And one must know the reason why for everything.”

“Not everything. But certainly something as simple as why one cannot add a peppermint to dandelion and burdock. One adds peppermint to cookie batter and tea with no harmful effects whatsoever.”

“Thanks to you, everyone in school now knows why. And by breakfast tomorrow, everyone at Heathbourne will, too.”

Heathbourne was the equivalent of St. Cecelia’s on the other side of the square—and where she would have gone had she been born a boy and her father’s heir. “I don’t care about the opinions of schoolboys.”

“You will in a few weeks, when you’re at your come-out ball at Carrick House and none of them ask you to dance.”

“You sound exactly like my mother.” Why had no one told her the bow on the front of her middy blouse was lopsided? She pulled it out and began to retie it.

“In this she’s correct, and you know it. Claire, please consider.” Emilie’s tone became gentle. “It’s a fact universally acknowledged that a young lady of good fortune must make a suitable marriage.”

“Do not quote the mores of our grandmothers’ generation to me. Besides, not every young lady wishes that.” Her own appearance taken care of, she reached over to anchor a celluloid hairpin more securely in Emilie’s bun. If it could not be lovely, at least it should be secure.

“Every one who wishes to be received in good society does. You don’t want to be one of those dreadful Chelsea people, like poor Peony Churchill, do you?”

As a matter of fact, Claire coveted and envied the intellectual explorations found in the salons and lecture halls of the Chelsea set, known in the papers as the Wits. It was led by Mrs. Stanley Churchill, Peony’s mother, and populated by explorers and scientists from the Royal Society of Engineers as well as artists, musicians, and the most independent thinkers of Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s empire. Their philosophy that the intellect trumped the bloodline flew in the face of most of society. But no one could argue that the Prime Minister himself was one of them. The fact that a scientist or explorer could be granted lands and a title when noble bloodlines were getting more inbred and in some cases dying out altogether was an indication which way the wind blew.

And Claire had always loved the wind. Was it mere coincidence that the family estate in Cornwall was called Gwynn Place, from the Cornish plas-an-gwyn, meaning manor of the wind? Perhaps not. Perhaps it was a sign.

A shadow blotted out the sun and she and Emilie looked up to see not a cloud, but an enormous airship passing far overhead. The eleven-thirty packet to Paris had left its mooring mast at Hampstead Heath exactly on time.

Deep in the marble and sandstone halls of the school, a bell rang. “There’s lunch,” she told Emilie, turning from the wonderful sight of the ship and neatly evading the answer to her friend’s question. “Come along or we’ll be late.”

Want to read more? Lady of Devices is FREE at your favorite online bookstore.

READERS: Have you read any Steampunk novels? If so, which ones? If not, do you have your eye on any?2renegaderealms

CONGRATULATIONS to Sparks of Ember for winning last week’s drawing for the signed copy of Donita K. Paul’s Two Renegade Realms!

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…