In Which Wignilian is Heroic

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I must be completely honest with you, dearest of readers, and admit that the old mill down by the pond is not really a part of Bushkyn Hollow. It is, in fact, in a different part of the forest altogether, and one must walk quite ten minutes from one to the other.

But the mill is every bit as dear to my heart as Bushkyn Hollow, and I can’t imagine one without the other. I often bring my notebook and pen to a quiet little nook that I know of, right beneath the mill wheel. The rocks are covered with thick moss, the air is cool and misty, and I can see right across the still pond into the woods on the other side. Occasionally, a deer or a fox will come by for a drink and a pleasant chat, or the frogs that live in the reeds and rushes will swim over to pass the time of day. Frogs are remarkably proud creatures and think very much of themselves, but they can occasionally be pleasant, especially if the day is warm and they have found a good many fat flies to catch.

But perhaps my favorite of all the animals in and around the Old Mill is Wignilian Finch. He is a great friend of mine, and sometimes will consent to ride about in the pocket of my dress while I am out walking. I do enjoy having him with me, but I sometimes suspect that he allows such an indignity simply because he would prefer not to walk himself. As I have said before, he is an exceptionally lazy mouse…

My book, Of Mice and Fairies, is available now Here! I hope you enjoy the rest of this story, and others like it, as much as I have.

For The Writer Who Is In Pain

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Writing is not a particularly hazardous occupation.

I mean, sure, we fight battles on a daily basis, have a suspicious knowledge of poisons and methods for burying bodies, have an exact plan for splinting a shattered shin bone, and occasionally ride dragons, but these tend to be adventures of an . . . imaginative sort.

We don’t generally risk life and limb for our books, although our egos regularly take a good beating.

In the end, writing generally looks like sitting on a couch or at a desk typing away at a computer. With a chocolate bar. And a pixie who steals said chocolate bar. And a gnome who chews on your computer cords and tears pages out of your notebook to make paper hats with.

You get the picture.

Not a particularly hazardous occupation, right? No broken bones imminent, no disasters, no two hundred pound linebacker tackling you from behind. Safe, right?

Except for the fact that you are working a desk job. You are sitting for long periods of time, and if you’re like me, you’re not sitting up perfectly straight with a board strapped to your back at all times.

That would tend to interrupt the creative flow.

From the first day I started writing, I have treated it like a job. I showed up, I sat my butt in that chair, and I got my work done whether I particularly felt like it or not. I spent a lot of time writing, and before too long, it started to take its toll. Because when you’re sitting for long, long stretches of time, it starts to mess with you.

Particularly, in my case, with your back.

I spent several weeks almost constantly in pain. My lower back did not like my latest life decisions, and it was letting me know. About then, I started realizing that one, it’s very hard to be creative while you’re in pain, and two, I was going to have to come up with some way to counter this, or I was going to be in big trouble long term. Because it’s one thing to be stiff and sore for a few months, it’s another to realize later that you’ve done permanent damage.

Not something you ever want to do.

So I changed my lifestyle. I’ve done all these things at one time or another, and I highly recommend trying them out to see if they work for you. It’s way, way better to take care of a problem before it gets serious than to wait and need professional care later. (Note: I am not a doctor. If you live with chronic pain or are recovering from an injury, talk to a professional. Take care of yourself, my dear!)

1) Take Stretch Breaks

When I first started dealing with back pain, this is what helped me the most. Taking the time to learn a few simple yoga poses and stretches was the only relief I could find. It didn’t work right away, but over time, as I began to put more effort into the practice and made it a habit, it made all the difference. Poses like the Cat and Cow, Downward Dog, Thread the Needle, and Sphinx were so, so helpful. Youtube is full of awesome instructors (I recommend Yoga with Adriene), or you can find a few simple stretches on Pinterest as well. It’s worth the effort, I promise.

2) Run

I know. Everyone hates running, right? I definitely hated running when I was younger. I would cry when I was made to participate in fall series runs. I hated the competition, I hated that the people were watching me fail, and I hated that I couldn’t breathe.

Then, I started running alone.

I stuck my headphones in, put my head down, and stopped worrying about anyone else watching me. I ran from all my problems (haha), I listened to upbeat, fast-paced music, and I choreographed fight scenes in my head to get my adrenaline up.

Don’t laugh. It totally worked.

And it kept me active. Which, believe me, helped so much with my pain level.

3) Get a Fitbit

When I’m writing, it’s very easy to get so stuck in a scene that I forget to move. At all. For like three hours. Or longer. Getting a Fitbit helped me track my steps, make sure I was getting enough exercise, and stay active. So, so important while you are working a desk job. It buzzes to remind you if you haven’t gotten enough steps in an hour, and you know what? Jumping up and down or taking a quick two-minute walk to get your steps up can totally revitalize and refresh your writing. It helps. I promise.

4) Take Your Vitamins

This one doesn’t necessarily have to do with pain. But I tell it to everyone. My family, my friends, random people on the street who look at me like I’m crazy. Vitamin B and vitamin D help with depression and lethargy, something I have battled with for many years. Believe me. It makes a difference. Take your vitamins.

5) Take Care of Yourself

As an adult with a busy schedule, it is so easy to forget the most basic needs we have as humans. This week, make a point of doing things to take care of yourself.

Drink water.

Go for a walk outside and enjoy the fresh air.

Sit in the sunshine. Actually, bask like a cat in the sunshine. Because cats know how to love themselves.

Eat healthy foods.

Drink water.

Talk to someone who makes you laugh.

Get enough sleep.

Drink more water.

Smile at yourself in the mirror.

Drink so much water that you are pretty sure you’ve turned into a fish. Your skin, your brain, and basically everything else will thank you.

Take care of yourself, take breaks when you need them, and your stories will show the effects. You have endless potential and an amazing amount of brilliance. Don’t waste it by forgetting that you, too, are important enough to take care of.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

Words that Soothe

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Last week, I went to a job interview.

A very stressful job interview.

A couple of things made it stressful. First of all, the interview was for a position that I’m very excited about. If it works out, it would mean a lot to me as a writer. Second, it was a Skype interview. Third, I’ve been out of work for about a month now, and I’m starting to feel the strain.

And fourth, which I should probably have mentioned first, I had my wisdom teeth removed six days earlier and still looked like a chipmunk that had gotten into an elephant’s secret peanut stash. And, since I was also badly bruised from the experience, it looked like the elephant had then tried to strangle me.

Unsuccessfully.

It was awkward.

But, in the spirit of being an adult and needing this job, I forged ahead. For a solid hour, I sat up straight and attempted to smile while I stumbled over the answers to about a thousand different questions and tried to remember how to say words, not spell them. There is a reason that I am a writer, not a speaker.

Talking is hard.

Has anyone else noticed this, or is it just me?

When I finished, I was worn out. Completely. For an introvert, talking about yourself for an hour under that kind of pressure is more exhausting than a ten-mile run.

Trust me. I run. I know.

The trouble afterward was figuring out how to reenergize myself. I still had plenty of things on my to-do list for that day, and the world does not stop simply because your brain has been fried and you are tired.

Unfortunately.

In my time on this very weird earth, I have come up with lots of ways to cope with this emptied out, exhausted feeling. It’s a regular occurrence for me, as an introvert, and I’ve learned to react accordingly. Music, prayer and meditation, working out, and cooking are all ways to fill myself up again when I have been emptied, and they are all generally successful in their own way.

But, the best way to calm myself down after a stress is with words. Poetry, stories, prose. Words that soothe, words that empower, and words that remind me who I am and where I stand. For me, this is how I de-stress and fill myself up again. Here are a few of the words I run to when I am as stressed as I was last week.

1) Robert Frost: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

2) William Ernest Henley: Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeoning of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate, 

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the Master of my Fate,

I am the Captain of my Soul.

3) Cornelia Funke: Inkdeath

There was only the path, the endless path winding up into the strange mountains, and the desire in his heart that he couldn’t tame, a wish to ride farther and farther on into this bewildering world. What did the castle to which Violante was leading them look like? Were there really giants in the mountains? Where did the path end? Did it ever end at all? Not for the Bluejay, a voice inside him whispered, and for a moment his heart beat like the heart of a ten-year-old boy, as fearless and as fresh.

There you are. Some of my favorite poems and passages, and the words that always soothe my anxious heart when I’ve had a bad day or simply a stressful one. What about you? What are some of your favorite quotes from books, poems, or anything else that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Night Festival

I do not review books by request on this blog.

Ever.

It’s just not something that I do. The books I post about are the ones that belong on my shelves, the ones that broke my heart and soothed my soul. These posts are about chronicling my own journey as a reader, highlighting the books that have moved me and built me, and offering my bookshelves to other readers searching for their own collections.

Not giving two stars to a book I only picked up because someone sent me an email.

dLOao6VAAnd yet, the most amazing books can sometimes drop into your lap in the oddest of ways. An email or a short message can be exactly the relief that is needed in days with too much stress and too many hard things happening. For me, that is exactly what Ms. Simpson’s note was. So this time—this ONE time—I am making an exception to my rule, simply because this book touched my soul, and I wanted to share it with you.

Night Festival is a wordless picture book created by illustrator Michelle Simpson. It has not been released yet, but her Kickstarter for the project is located here, and I would highly, highly recommend going over to check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

I certainly wasn’t.

Ms. Simpson’s simple, yet incredibly creative illustrations are heartwarming and beautifully expressive, telling a story that will speak to the youngest child and the most cynical adult. When I read the book, I had just finished an especially difficult and nerve-wracking job interview and needed, more than anything in the world, an escape. A place to hide, a place to recover, and a place to find myself again.

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Night Festival was that place for me. The magic in this sweet book, the beautiful imagery, and the story that will immediately reach out to anyone who has ever felt lost or displaced in unfamiliar surroundings captivated me, and helped so much to relieve some of the anxiety that comes from new job opportunities, new situations, and working really hard to smile and talk normally whilst still post-surgery swollen.

In other words, this book managed to work a miracle. For that, I am deeply grateful.

Night Festival is not Ms. Simpson’s only book, for those of you disappointed by its absence on the general market. She has another for sale here, called Monsters In My House, and while I have not read it yet (I fully intend to), it looks every bit as charming and sweet as Night Festival. May you enjoy her enchanting work as much as I have!

Filling the Gap in My Shelves

A while back, I wrote a post about the gap in my shelves, the book I’d lost but never quite forgotten.

The book was a favorite of mine when I was in my young teens. I read it over and over again, very nearly memorized my favorite parts, and loved it with all the devotion of an obsessive young reader.

Unfortunately, I loved it to death.

It was already a very old book. My mother bought our books at library sales and thrift stores, and when they came to us they were dog-eared and faded. Covers got torn, end pages disappeared into the trash, and eventually, the books themselves did too. With multiple siblings and quite a few avid readers in the family, it happened fairly often. Books were used, loved dearly, and replaced. New copies appeared to replace the old, and we kept reading them.

Only this one didn’t get replaced.

It simply—disappeared.

I looked for it for months. Scoured the bookshelves from top to bottom. The book had lost its cover quite a long time before it disappeared for good, and—being thirteen—I had never paid a great amount of attention to the title or the author.

I regretted that later.

And so, it faded out of my life. I left a gap in my shelves for it, but never really expected to see it again.

Until a week ago.

On a whim, I typed in a few random keywords into Google and went on a search for my missing book. I had done this before, the only result being an overwhelming realization that there are millions of books in the world. The likelihood of finding one specific book without a title or author name was very impossible. I knew it was about a grizzly, of course, but it had been so long that I couldn’t even remember his name. Ten years is a long time, right?

Or, it was until I saw the name of the grizzly in one of the links.

Then ten years was nothing, and everything about it fit. It was like meeting an old friend. I don’t often cry over books (just kidding, I totally do), but this made me tear up. It was like getting a glimpse of little thirteen-year-old Abigail, with my funny round glasses and chubby cheeks and a library card that never left my side. Despite a total book-buying ban which I wasn’t following anyway, I knew I had to buy it.

Amazon yielded . . . nothing. The book—which I now know is called The Biography of a Grizzly, by Ernest Thompson Seton—was published in 1900, and was so out of print that there were actual self-published copies available, complete with shiny plastic covers and badly photocopied pages.

Not what I wanted.

So I went looking through eBay. Thankfully, eBay almost always yields results, and it did this time too. Most of the copies were wildly expensive, after all, it is out of print, but I managed to find a decent copy for a reasonable price.

I was ecstatic.

When it finally arrived at my house, I read it in one sitting. The illustrations, the story, even the wording was so familiar that it was like stepping back in time. The story of a grizzly named Wahb and his life as an orphaned cub in the Rimrock Mountains was exactly how I remembered it. His wanderings and struggles as he tangled with wildcats, coyotes, and other bears was beautifully interspersed with the pleasures of a bear’s life—whether that be digging roots in the lush meadows or searching for grubs in the shale mountains. Wahb had many enemies, and the story of his lonely, melancholy wanderings struck a chord with me when I was a young teen.

Reading it now felt like a journey back in time. Thank goodness I wasn’t thirteen again, but I am so grateful to have found this treasure from my childhood. At last, the gap in my shelves is filled, and that piece of my reading history isn’t missing anymore.

 

For The Writer Who Is Waiting

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Writers are something of a unique breed.

I’ll be the first to admit to this. We talk to people who don’t exist, obsess ourselves with fictional events, curse plot lines in regular conversation, and create entire worlds with nothing but a pen, a notebook, and the occasional keyboard and cup of strong coffee. We scribble story ideas on our hands to write down later, people-watch in coffee shops and in the line at the grocery store, and troll through endless baby name websites looking for just the right title for our favorite characters.

We’re a little odd.

Of course, no writer is exactly like another. Everyone has their own quirks. Some of us drink tea, some drink coffee. Some of us go for walks to find the inspiration we need, others watch shows or read. Some people plot every detail before they write a word, others dive in and hope for the best.

But I think, despite our differences, all writers have one thing in common.

We spend a lot of time waiting.

Every writer has hit this stage sometime. We wait for that one editor to get back to us about a draft, we wait for our critique partners to respond, we wait for comments and likes on our blogs. We wait to hear back from agents or publishers, we wait for release dates, sometimes we’re honestly just waiting for that one stubborn character to sit down and let us into their brain so we can finish a story.

Waiting is a universal curse for writers.

Or is it?

Sometimes, I am convinced that waiting can be a blessing, if we choose to treat it like one and use the space that we’ve been given. So what do we do while we’re waiting? Check our email accounts twelve times a day, hoping for that one response that will fling our careers into the spot light? Poke at the same story over and over, obsessing over comma placements?

I don’t think so.

Here are a few things that writers who are serious about their careers as artists and craftsmen can pursue while the clock ticks on.

1) Read.

Honestly? Din this one into your brain. Practice it. Read every day, if you can possibly manage it. Install Audible on your phone, get a library card (if you don’t already have one) and use it. Read everything, in every genre, whether it’s well-written or awful. Badly written stories can sometimes teach as much about the craft of storytelling as masterpieces.

2) Write.

This is the obvious one. Keep writing. Don’t stop because your book is with an agent or a publisher. What is another story that’s been itching in the back of your mind? What other characters have you met in your wanderings? If you don’t have a book idea at the moment, write short stories. Daydream. But keep writing. The only way to become an incredible writer is to write, and write obsessively. So find a new story, another world, a new thread of an idea, and begin.

3) Continue your education.

Is writing your chosen career? If so, treat it like one. Sit down and really consider if it’s possible for you to go back to school right now, or sometime in the future. Can you take online classes in your spare time? Or manage one or two classes a semester? Take the time to consider whether you are serious enough about your writing to pursue an English or journalism degree.

4) Build a platform.

Oh, social media. How we all love and hate you at the same time.

Seriously though, the way publishing is now, no author can afford to be secluded. Locking ourselves in a room with only snail-mail letters for communication doesn’t cut it anymore. Publishers want their authors to help with marketing the books they write, and social media is one way to do that. Of course, because writers are all unique, we all have different ways of going about this, but find your tribe. Connect with people via Twitter, start your own blog, or begin making connections on Facebook or Instagram. (Personally, I am not much of a picture person, but if you are, go for it!)

In short, gone are the days when Bill Watterson could send his comic strip in by mail and live without a phone. So get out there and introduce yourself!

5) Don’t get caught up in the waiting.

Often, when we are waiting, it can be easy to sit back and obsess about one thing.

The query to that agent we really, really wanted to notice us. The blog post that should have gotten more notice than it did. The opinion of a single beta reader.

But, dearest writer, please remember this.

Your whole career does not hang on this one query, or that one blog post. You have a whole, enormous scope of possibilities around you. Stories yet to be written, characters waiting to be introduced. Your magic and creativity extend so much further than you are aware, and there is so much yet for you to explore.

You are not washed up.

The world will not end with a rejection.

You have so much to offer if you will just refuse to give up. So keep writing, keep dreaming, and open the door for new possibilities.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

Snake Charmer

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The ghosts come out when the sand grows cold. They gather to the fires at the city gates and warm their pale hands at the flames dancing to the music of the west wind. They come for the warmth, for the gossip of the soldiers, and the dreams of those stupid enough to leave their windows open after the shadows fall.

Dalia told me that. She sits at the doors of the inns and coffee houses, telling strange stories to men who press coins into her wrinkled palm. She tells her stories to me whenever I pass, although I never give her any money. She says I’m a luck-charmer, that I carry spirits in my pockets and know the names of the stars.

I’ve only ever named one star. I named it for my Amma while she was dying, but the gods took her anyway. I don’t believe in naming stars, or carrying spirits in my pockets, but I listen to Dalia’s stories anyway.

Perhaps even a snake-charmer needs a little luck now and again.

The slave market is well-lit. Torches are staked into the sand all around the wooden platform, and a fire burns in the pit behind it. I’m late coming, and it’s so crowded that I can’t find a way through the crowd. I have to be in front, right before the platform if I want to be heard and seen tonight, because who listens to a girl with the tattoos of a slave on her wrists and throat at an auction? Besides, I really do have money. Most slaves don’t carry it, but Emir says I’m not so much his slave as I am his apprentice, so I can carry his money whenever I like.

I try to push my way to the front, but the other buyers are all men and all taller than I am. One of them doesn’t like being shouldered aside by a female slave, and he slaps the back of my head so hard that I taste blood. I’d curse him for it, but I don’t have time.

Savina leaves her pouch when I whistle for her. She slithers up my tunic, coiling around my left arm and my throat, and her smooth scales rasp against the necklace Emir makes me wear for the crowds. The man who slapped me glances my way, and his face loses its color as Savina raises her head, swaying to my almost noiseless humming. He backs away hurriedly, and a path to the front clears as if by magic. I pick my way through slowly, careful not to jostle her against shoulders or hips, and the rich merchants at the platform edge inch away from me, giving me more room than even they allow themselves.

Even wealth bows to a cobra.

The slaves are lined up in a long row on the platform, linked together with a rope around their throats. Most of them are men, a few are women.

And one, one is a child.

I can see every one of his bones, count his ribs. He can’t be more than six or seven, but I can’t find any trace of fear in his face when the trader pulls him to the front and starts the bidding. No, he’s looking at us as if to decide who he would like best to take him—or who would have the most money to steal. He’s a thief, this boy, caught in the markets and sold rather than branded or hung. Emir saw him get taken and knew at once that he wanted to be the one who bought him.

A good thief is notoriously hard to find. And employ.

He doesn’t go for much. Only one other merchant wants him, and he isn’t willing to go as high as I am. Emir was very clear when he sent me. Bring the thief home, or find a grave to sleep on.

I’ve slept on enough graves in my time. Better to spend a little extra money, and lift the difference on the way home.

The boy smiles at me when they bring him out. The artless, innocent smile of a born liar. “Don’t worry, mistress,” he tells me. “I swear, I won’t ever steal again.”

I roll my eyes. “If that’s true, I’ll have to leave you behind. Emir doesn’t keep people who don’t pull their own weight.”