Slowing Down

They’re waking up when I come into town. Shopkeepers, housewives. A few beggars. This town doesn’t have very many—I remember that from the last time I came through. I’m not sure they like that sort.

I probably look like a beggar to most of them. My shoes are getting thin around the soles, and my jacket’s been threadbare for, oh, nearly a hundred years now.

They don’t make things like they used to.

I head for the pastry shop first. This town has an impeccable pastry shop, and if I remember rightly, it’s run by a very sweet young lady with a streak of gray in her hair. I don’t make many friends on my rounds through the country, but I’ve always counted her as one of them.

Her daughter answers my knock. Her daughter with the cold eyes and ash gray hair. Her mouth pinches when I ask about my friend, and she tells me that particular grave is more than a dozen years old.

I’ve been gone longer than I thought.

I mumble apologies—and my condolences—and buy three sweet rolls and a chocolate bun, although the smell in the shop isn’t nearly as heavenly as it was years ago.

The price of time, as they say.

The woman’s sharp gaze fastens on the pennies I’m counting for her, and the silver coins mixed in with the coppers cause her eyes to widen greedily. I want to laugh. I want to tell her that those particular silver coins won’t bring her any luck or happiness. They never have for me.

But I don’t. I pay for my meal and wander on, munching a sweet roll and studying the town. It looks worn thin. The streets are thick with dust, and the buildings slump wearily, although I’m willing to bet they’re not half so tired as I am. Nor half so old. I’ve been charged with bringing the life back into these places—this town and about a hundred others scattered all over the western coastline. I travel to them each in turn, leaving pieces of my soul behind, and they never used to get in such bad shape while I was gone.

I think I’m slowing down. Getting old.

A thousand years as a cursed man will do that to you.

Quite a few of the shops in the main square are empty and boarded up. People left, I guess. They must have gotten tired of waiting for the grass to grow and the flowers to bloom again. The fields around the town are nearly dust themselves, but that will change soon enough.

I sit down by the fountain in the middle of the square and finish my bun. I used to rush through the towns, when all of this first started. When I was a young, newly murdered conquerer, and the gods sentenced me to spend a thousand years undoing the damage I’d done to the western coastlands. I’d rush through the town without stopping, flipping my silver coin into the fountain as I passed by, somehow thinking that if I hurried, I’d get through a thousand years a little quicker.

I’m not in such a hurry these days. I’ve got time to buy a few sweet rolls, talk to a few drifters, maybe make a friend if a shopkeeper doesn’t mind my worn-out coat and whiskers.

They don’t last long, those friends. I learned that the hard way. I miss them when they’re gone, more than I ever missed anyone when I was alive. I don’t think I appreciated life the same way back then, but I’ve grown to treasure the moments a little better now.

A thousand years as a cursed man will do that to you.

I brush the crumbs off my coat and dig a silver coin out of my pouch, dropping it into the fountain before I head off on my way. It’ll be raining soon, probably before I get out of town, and before the week is out the trees will push out new leaves and the flowers will be blooming in the hollows again.

I can’t wait around to see it, of course, but it’s nice to know the trip was worth the effort. Maybe I’ll shuffle a little faster this time around, and get back before the last of the day lilies die out.

I have a friend who might like a few on her grave.

Doubling Down

I took a couple of days off work this week.

So I could . . . work.

Extra.

Because I party hard, y’all.

See, my husband left on Monday to go hunting with some buddies and I had the house to myself. First time overnight separation since the wedding! Woohooo!

I didn’t like it.

But I did figure I should use the extra time to double down on a project I’ve been doing on the side. You know, when I’m not writing for the radio show or managing this blog or doing any of the other million things I’ve been juggling.

Yeah, I needed a couple of completely obligation free days to get some real, solid work done on it. Before it slipped into obscurity.

So I took Monday and Tuesday off. I haven’t done any serious, focused, non-radio-related writing in a while, to be honest. I’ve done five hundred words here and eight hundred there, but most of my days I get between three and four hundred done after I finish at my nine-to-five and before my husband comes home after his nine-to-five.

Thankfully, my nine-to-five is more of a seven-to-three. So I’ve got a gap. Long story.

But what I really needed was a full, uninterrupted day to get a solid chunk of work done. So at 8 AM, I sat down with a cup of tea, my trusty computer, and a few encouraging notes from my writing ladies, and . . . I wrote.

I was kinda shocked. You know how you usually carve out time to do something and then all your inspiration goes out the window and you could care less about whether you get the thing done or not?

That didn’t happen!

I was expecting it to. Just sitting down was nerve-wracking, because I could just feel the words trying to decide whether to show up or flee and leave me to drown my sorrows in tea. But I actually buckled down and—get this—very nearly doubled the size of my project.

Yeah.

I mean, I was pretty close to the beginning still, but four thousand words in one day is nothing to sneeze at. I was pretty excited. I felt like a word ninja. It was awesome.

Then the next day I tried again, and the empty page mocked me and I gave up and had to make dumplings instead, because apparently you can only have one really good writing day at a time. C’est la vie.

What are you working on at the moment? Any special projects? Tell me about them in the comments!

Marshes

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They left her to the marshes.

That’s the rumor, anyway. The women in the kitchens whisper about it when they mop the floors, and the men tell the stories in the stable. I’ve heard it both places.

It’s always the same.

She spurned a lord, and the marshes took her soul.

I’ve spurned my own lord. Time and time again. He’s told no one yet, but stories have a way of slipping out. When it does, they’ll do worse to me.

The marshes are calling, and I’ve decided to answer.

They’ll bring me here anyway, and I’m more afraid of their sharp tongues and hard blows than the brackish water and trailing willows of the marsh. I played in it as a child, always alone, always watched over by friendly eyes, and I feel their gentle watchfulness as I brush aside the willow branches and ease into the marsh.

Mud squelches to my knees, but I know the way through the marsh better than most. Better than any in the lord’s house, thank goodness. They won’t follow me here.

The mermaids hear me coming before I’ve gone two steps. I’m surrounded almost before I realize they’re here, and I trail my fingers in the water and pretend I haven’t seen them. Really, I only catch glimpses anyway. A rippling among the reeds on my left. A flash of silver and pink scales beneath the willows. Black hair trailing among the weeds.

I keep my eyes on the horizon and wait for them to come to me.

They do eventually. When they’re sure it’s safe. Startled mermaids are dangerous friends, but I’ve come to love them like kin, whatever our differences. They stroke my hands with their slimy fingers, tracing the bruises on my wrists and hissing in dismay when they taste the blood from my fingers in the water. I hum soothingly, swallowing the hitch in my throat. I’ve been banished to the marshes, like the woman in the old tales.

She spurned a lord, and the marshes took her soul.

How I wish they would take mine. They could wash it clean, rinse the bruises from my skin and the pain from my mind, and leave me with the kind of peace I’ve been needing.

Their hands tug me along, through thick mud and deep water, until the marshes have swallowed me completely and even the willows have faded into the night behind me. An island of thick moss and white sand rises out of the water, and I rinse the mud from between my toes and kneel on the bank, listening as their songs chase away the darkness in my mind. Their pale faces rise from beneath the surface, their strange eyes faded and dull as they smile at me.

Then the hounds begin the bay, away off at the edge of the marshes, and I know the hunt is underway.

The song of the merfolk changes, and their wide pupils narrow to slits, their gold eyes beginning to glow as they bare their spiky teeth in the direction of the barking and shouts.

The marshes have me now, and they won’t let me go again. Not without a fight.

Snow Days

I’m snowed in.

Again.

Can you tell? This is the view out my front door. By the way, can you spot the deer in this picture? There’s a big old buck sleeping under the trees behind my swing there. You can just make him out if you squint.

Poor thing.

We’ll see if I get to work today. We have about five or six inches of heavy, wet snow, so it’s going to be a toss-up. Maybe my dad and I will risk it. Maybe we won’t. Who knows? Not me.

Is anyone else sick of snow?

Like, I love snow. I love Colorado. I love the wintertime. There’s nothing better than the feeling of watching snow fall next to my wood stove with a cup of tea and a book to read (or to write).

But enough is enough.

Seriously.

My driveway looks like a war zone. First ice, then way too much snow, then mud when it melted, then more ice, then more snow—you get the idea. It may never be the same. I mean, it was a dirt track in the first place. Now it’s a mud slide.

Plus, I have already gotten stuck—like, really, really stuck—once this year, been late to a meeting that was centered around my presentation (boy, that was fun), and had more snow in my boots than I ever care to think about.

It’s cold in Colorado.

Unfortunately, there is no end in sight. We’re at the beginning of March and snow doesn’t usually stop for another two months. Last year we had a major three day blizzard in May, so I’m hunkering down for a long wait.

So, since the snow is pretty deep, I’ll probably end up working from home today. Since I brought my computer home on Friday, that’s fortunately an option, and I’ll go back to my days as a homeschooled child, sit around the kitchen table at the Big House with some of my younger siblings, and work while they do their math. Maybe I can convince my mom and my sister to join us while they do their artwork, and we’ll have a school/work party with hot chocolate while it snows, and I won’t have to brave the rough roads and try to figure out how to get through the drifts in my short boots.

That is, if I can actually get out of my house and down the path to the Big House. That snow looks pretty deep.

What is your favorite way to spend a snow day? Tell me about it in the comments!

Interview With An Artist

Eeek! Guess what?

I got to interview the beautiful woman who did the illustrations for my books: Of Mice and Fairies and Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons. I could talk about her forever, but she talked a lot about herself, so I’ll let you hear it from her. 

What’s it like working for an author? (Specifically . . . me.)

It’s like making Christmas presents for people, but with more serious deadlines. It’s definitely more stressful because you can get it wrong. The lead up to showing them the illustrations is fun and exciting, but then they might not like everything you do. You’re essentially taking the world in their head and putting it onto paper, without being able to see what exactly is in their head in the first place. It’s tricky to capture the magic.

What were you the most nervous about when you started this job?

Probably the deadlines. I had a lot to do in a very short amount of time. Reading the book took a while, then rereading it over and over again to choose which illustrations I wanted to do and where to put them. Finding something in each chapter to represent the feel of it was really tricky because there wasn’t always a physical object that would fit the feel and the style. 

What was the most difficult character to draw in the books?

Probably Lumpkin, because he was one of the ones I did with a full face and figure. I’ve seen so many other illustrations in books where they’ve done too much detail and left no room for imagination. I really tried to avoid that with all of the illustrations I did for these books. I chose to do mostly animals or an indirect view of the characters so as to leave more room for imagination.

Which character do you relate to the most in ‘Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons’?

Oh, that would definitely be Lester Winklestep. Hedgehogs are very homey individuals. They like peace and quiet, and they are very laid-back. But, they are also curious and interested in life, despite doing life in a very relaxed way. Also, I just want to be a hedgehog. They are the cutest.

Which character do you most want as a companion?

Oh, Eve. She’s super spunky and tons of fun and I feel like she would bring a lot of energy to whatever environment she was in. Also, she would fit in my pockets. Which I find enjoyable. She would be quite easy to carry around. And she’s not as sassy and obnoxious as Belinda. (But don’t tell her I said that.)

What other work do you do outside of illustrating my books? Brag on yourself a little.

I am a pyrography artist. For people who don’t know, pyrography is defined as ‘writing with fire’, which I find super cool. I mostly do animal portraits. I’ve been commissioned to do people’s pets before, but my more enjoyable projects are of more exotic animals—tigers and moose and ducks because ducks are the best animals in the world. I am obsessed with detail. I cannot do sketches, because I do it way too detailed and it ends up not being a sketch any longer.

What made you want to be an artist?

I first started liking the idea of doing artwork when I was probably about six. One of my older sisters would draw horses for me to color, and she inspired me to start drawing animals of my own. But my career really began when I started creating board games with my brother. Together, we would draw fantasy animals and name them and create worlds for them. I still have those animals. They had weird names.

Where can people find other drawings you’ve done?

In Wayne Thomas Batson’s book, The Sword in Stars, for one. The design for the Stormgarden coat of arms was done by me. Also, my pyrography work can be found in my Etsy shop, ENoelBurnings. And I have plenty of pictures on my Instagram. I also post progress shots, because I love progress shots.

And, last and more importantly, because I personally want to know . . . if you owned an elephant, where would you keep it?

Probably in my library. Sitting on an elephant while reading would open up a lot of space for imagination. That would be grand. Also, my library is going to be huge, so there will be plenty of room. A library is the most important room in the house, so if you had something as special as an elephant, that would be the place to keep it.

Isn’t she wonderful? I love her so much. Go check out her artwork at ENoelBurnings, and get your copy of Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons on Amazon!

FREE BOOKS!

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It’s MONDAY!

Is anyone else ready for this week? Because I’m totally ready. I spent all last night prepping food for my week, which mostly meant making hummus, frying way more bacon than was strictly necessary, and dancing around my kitchen to celebrate the fact that I finally, finally have an oven again and can actually BAKE things! What an amazing feeling!

But, despite being so ready, I have a killer of a week ahead of me. So, since I won’t be around HALF as much as I would like to, I have a present for you all!

Not a Christmas present, though. Because Christmas is so, so far away.

And I have NOT been listening to Christmas music already. No way. Totally would be so crazy if I was.

Haha.

Ahem.

So! I have THREE FREE BOOKS for you all! Just because I love you!

The Birdwoman, a collection of short stories for all ages, is FREE on AMAZON until TOMORROW NIGHT! Which means if you want a copy, you’d better grab it quick!

Of Mice and Fairies, the first book in my fairytale series, is FREE on AMAZON until TOMORROW NIGHT! Which also means if you want a copy, you’d better hurry!

And finally . . . 

My newest book, Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons, a charming, cozy story of a forest witch and a gnome and the trouble they get into when a snapdragon moves into their hollow, is FREE on AMAZON ALL WEEK! Which means you have until SUNDAY NIGHT to snag a copy!

I hope you love the gifts, reader! Enjoy them, and have a cup of tea for me when you sit down to read!

November 1st!

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“One must always look after one’s acorns, especially in autumn, when all the little creatures are stocking their larders and lining their nests for when Dame Winter comes a’calling.”

I ordered a proof copy of Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons this week!

Which means . . .

*Trumpets sound*

My newest book will hit Amazon on November 1st!

How exciting is that? I can’t begin to tell you how much this book means to me, or how thrilled I am to share it with you all. Frankly, I’m not sure how I managed to find the time to format it, work with the editor and the cover designer, and finish all the thousand and seven small details that have to be done before a book hits the store.

But, besides a few last quality checks, it’s ready!

I am so ready to have this book in my hands. I love fairytales with all of my heart, and these are especially important to me. They are my retreat—the books that I am allowed to love without someone looking over my shoulder and wondering if this detail or that plot point should be done differently. Now that I work full time in a professional environment, it’s hard to sit back and actually enjoy what I write. My scripts/outlines are written with the anxious niggle in the back of my mind that when I finish, someone is going to read through it and come back with pages of notes on how to fix all the problems I somehow didn’t notice. My main book series is a constant progression of editing, revision, and sending out query letters only to be rejected again and again. I always have a new plan for how to increase marketability and get them noticed, and yet—seven years in—they are still waiting for someone to come back with a yes.

And then . . . I have my fairytales.

And they are just for me, and the few of you who find them as soothing as I do.

This book especially was a joy to write. Autumn is and always will be my favorite season, and it was such a treat to linger in it for all twelve chapters, seeing it from the simple perspectives of a gnome, a fairy, and a snapdragon.

Of Mice and Fairies was a series of stories introducing my characters, but Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons will be a little different. It’s an ongoing story with a central plot, characters that continue on from one chapter to the next, and a villain—of sorts. I can’t for you to read it!

What kinds of stories do you reach for when the world feels stressful and you need a break? Tell me about them in the comments!

New BOOK Coming Soon!

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“In the fall of the year, when the leaves were blushing red in the sunshine and the trees were yawning and stretching and shaking loose from the apples and acorns and chestnuts they had been carrying all summer, I left my cottage and walked the seven miles to Witherly, a little village on the edge of the forest . . .”

The last few weeks, I have been scrambling to get the manuscript for ‘Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons’ prepared and the cover finalized for a fall release. Now that I work full-time and have a lot less time on my hands than I used to, it’s a little more difficult. It’s meant emailing my cover artist while I wait on the microwave at lunch hour, and using my Sunday night to flash through the edits from my editor.

But, things are moving along!

The manuscript is ready, I have a COVER (!!!!), and thanks to my wonderful sister, the illustrations are all finished as well.

Things are moving forward!

I’m so excited to share this book with you. Fall is my favorite time of year, and fairytales are some of my absolute favorite writing projects. I love the whimsical quality, I love the imagery, and I love the lightheartedness. The stories are my own personal kind of escape when I’ve got too much work to do and not enough time, and I love that I get to share them with you! I’ve heard so many stories from people who have read them with their kids or enjoyed them for themselves at times when they needed a break from life’s craziness, and I love that we get to connect over these small stories.

The book is due for a fall release sometime in October—or possibly November. I don’t have a date yet, because there’s still a lot of work to be done and I work full-time, ya’ll. Also, I have a super special trip coming up at the end of October, which I can’t tell you about quite yet. But I’ll post pictures when it happens!

I’m so thankful for all of you, and I can’t wait to share this book with you. I’ll let you know dates as soon as I have them!

Herb-Woman

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Rose hips grow by the wooden gate, red fruit already wrinkling in the late-summer sun. I pause with my hand on the latch, gathering a few and storing them away in my apron pockets before I go inside. They smell of hot wind and dust, but brewed into a syrup, they’ll cure cough and treat strep throat.

Inside the sandstone walls, the air is scorched and still. The grass beside the path has withered and turned gold, and the gravel paths are hot beneath my bare feet. The sisters sent for me two days since. They said the dry weather brought a plague with it, driven in the wind with the dust and the pollen of the ash trees.

Plague or not, the disease must be severe. They wouldn’t dare allow me to tread within their sacred walls otherwise.

Abbess Duval comes to meet me across the grounds. Two of the sisters are with her, their gray robes and white headdresses too heavy for such unbearable heat. Her voice is harsher than I remember, more grating, as if age is catching up with her. Or perhaps I’ve been away too long, and I’ve forgotten more than I thought. “Myla. You look well.”

The greeting is formal, painfully so, and I don’t respond to it. My eyes drift around the grounds of the convent, lingering among the trees of the orchard, the well-tended gardens, the bleached linen flapping on the lines. Beneath the rigid discipline of the convent is an air of unkempt neglect that would never have been allowed under normal circumstances.

“How many?”

The abbess’s lips pinch. She’s always hated my impudence. “What?”

I look at her, hearing the steel in my own voice as I say hoarsely, “How many did you bury before they convinced you to send for me?”

Her face whitens, her thin, bony frame taut with rage. She stares at me for a long moment, her nostrils flared and her black eyes scorching me, but it has been a long time since I feared her wrath. At last, she hisses quietly, “Sixteen.”

Her voice is terrible, the number worse. I bite my tongue, resisting the urge to hit her in the face, to slap her as hard as she does the novices that sweep the floors outside her chambers. Instead, I step past her, gathering my ragged skirts in one hand as I cross the lawns to the infirmary doors. “It’s a wonder the lot of you aren’t dead by now,” I say over my shoulder, and the words feel like a curse in my mouth. One of the sisters makes a quick sign to ward off evil, and I laugh.

That’s all I am to them. The witch. The healer they threw out of their home for daring to understand herb and root, seed and bark better than they did themselves. Among the villages to the south I am the herb-woman, in the valleys I am the bone-knitter, loved and sought after and respected.

Only here do I get no respect. Only here do they call me a witch and wipe my dust from the stone floors.

The air is cool inside, protected from the hot sun by the stone tiles on the roof. I lived in this house once. Even loved it. Now the floor is littered with pallets, the sick twisted in their damp sheets as they toss and turn, their faces shiny with sweat. Novices pad quietly from bed to bed, sponging brows, spooning broth into mouths, coaxing a disturbed patient to lie back again. Easing death. Their faces are pale. They are too young for this, and the knot in my breast loosens.

I will not punish children for one woman’s sins.

They draw away from me as I cross the room to the empty fireplace. I can see the fear in their eyes—the hope too—and it makes me smile. “I need fresh water,” I tell them. “Elmwood and as much birch bark as you can gather. Lavender, willow wythes, sweet bindweed, and whiteleaf oil. Mother Abbess will show you where it is.”

Three of the girls scurry off. They are like mice, like shy, timid little mice, and they watch as I build a fire in the hearth and hang an iron kettle over the new flames. The smell of death seeps from the rafters, from the cool floors, but the lavender will sweep it away, and no more will die now.

The witch has come, and hated or not, I bring healing.

Go To Sleep

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I come when the library closes.

The lights are out, except for the lamp Mrs. Wilfe leaves on just for me. The doors are locked, and the windows have been shuttered. Even most of the reading desks are cleared. No one is left.

Only me. Because I have to put the stories to sleep.

I start in the children’s section. I like it back there best, because I can still hear the murmur of little voices reading aloud, and the rustle of turning pages. It’s not so silent, not so lonely.

I switch on a desk lamp as I step inside, and pick up a book lying on the floor. The Biggest Bear. An old, old favorite. The pages are stained with fingerprints, and the cover is a little torn, but it’s happy. Its story has been told today, many times, actually. It’s a little out of breath, a little tired, and I set it back on the shelf where it belongs.

The books in this section are the rowdiest, but they go to sleep fairly easily. Their stories were told, and they’re worn out from being dragged from shelf to table, table to floor, and back again. I stroke their spines, set them back in order on the shelves, and they fall asleep when I turn the lights out and leave them. They don’t have trouble sleeping, not like some do. I’m never sorry to see them awake when I come.

The adult books are harder. I can hear them murmuring when I flick on the light, their voices rustling like burning paper. They sound angry tonight, and I wonder who has been woken this time. It’s hard to tell. The stories are being whispered from shelf to shelf, passed on, overlapping each other, desperate to be heard. Old forgotten voices, caught in the dust between the pages. I can’t tell one from the other, not when they’re all talking at once. Grief and love, war and hate, treachery, betrayal, reunions, mystery, and horror. They all have a story to tell, but for some of them, it’s been a long time since anyone bothered to listen.

I walk through the shelves, running my fingers along the weighty spines. Quite a few are awake today. Awake, stifled, and frustrated. Who woke them up, I wonder? Who yanked them off their shelves, pulling them so unceremoniously from whatever dreams they were having, to page through their chapters and silence them again?

I pick up a heavy volume from a reading desk. Nearly a thousand pages, and whoever woke it up read less than three of them. I pass my hand over the cover, blow some of the dust from the pages, and set it back on the shelf. Another day, I tell it, although I’m not sure if I’m lying. Some of them have only been woken like this, for a page or two and nothing else, for a long time.

Some of them have been silent for so long that I’ve forgotten what they sound like.

I switch the reading lamps off as I go, stroking spine after spine. Go to sleep, I tell them. Forget the stories you tried to tell, the people who woke you up. Rest.

For some of them, it isn’t so easy. They’re angry, and angry books are hard to settle. I spend a long time among these shelves, soothing them, quieting the arguments. I can’t listen to them all at once, and I certainly can’t be the one to read every book, although I try to give the loneliest a chance. They know when I’m humoring them, of course, but most are grateful anyway.

But I can’t read all night. They have to sleep, and so do I. They listen to me at last, and their whispers fade into silence. I flick off the last light and listen to them breathing. Someone will come to read them eventually. Every book has a story that someone needs to hear. Every book has a heart it needs to heal, a mind it needs to open. Someone will come.

Until then, I’ll do my best to coax them back to sleep.