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1. Farel Dalrymple On Crafting ‘The Wrenchies’, Contributing To ‘Prophet’, And His Career Influences


By Harper Harris

Farel Dalrymple, best known for his work on the alternative comics series, Pop Gun War at Dark Horse and his contributions to Brandon Graham and Simon Roy’s Prophet for Image (drawing the “John Prophet with a tail” chapters) has recently received critical raves for his latest original graphic novel: The Wrenchies for First Second.

The Wrenchies centers on ruthless gang of young children in a Post Apocalyptic wasteland who fight against the oppression of “the Shadowmen”. This conflict is somewhat thrown on its head when a young boy from our world named Orson; dressed in superhero regalia, with a ghost pal and a love of comics, finds a way to enter into the future and joins this team of misfits.  From there, an epic quest commences and the lines between reality and fiction blur in one of the most stunning pieces of sequential art I’ve laid eyes on this year.

I sat down this past weekend to chat with Dalrymple about the origins of this new effort, his career path thus far, and just what influences drive him creatively.

Harper: Farel, were you a big comics reader as a kid or when did you come into it and how did that turn into a career at some point?

Farel:  Yeah, I read a lot of comics growing up. I guess it was like the biggest thing that my time was most consumed with. I thought a lot about being a cartoonist like kind of when I was ending high school – I remember actually sending away for information for the Joe Kubert Cartooning School which I didn’t end up going to, but yeah, I had this idea for years.  I was like, “Oh, I’m going to be a cartoonist.”  But I think by the time I started going to junior college, I was in my 20s and that’s when I eventually went to art school.  And even then, I was still making comics the whole time but I wasn’t necessarily thinking like, “Oh, I’m going to do this as a career.”  And then by the time I got out of art school, I knew that’s kind of what I wanted to do.  I just wasn’t extremely sure how to break in or anything like that.  It was just kind of like “oh, I want to make a comic book”, so I just kind of started making my own comic books.  And then I started getting some commercial work, doing that and I don’t know, [illustration] just seems to be the only thing that I’ve kind of been halfway decent at.

Harper:  When you were starting out and now, who and what are kind of your biggest influences when you write and when you draw?

Farel:  Well, I think drawing comics, like the act of like storytelling, that kind of thing, I think that mostly just comes from – like when I went to art school, I didn’t study cartooning, I was studying illustration and painting and stuff like that…but I feel like most of that stuff is just from reading Marvel Comics growing up.  So it’s like not story-wise necessarily but like how I tell a story, I feel like it’s very much out of that school, the 70s and 80s Marvel Comics, John Buscema and guys like that.  Also Heavy Metal type stuff, like Moebius, guys like that.  There’s some European influence and a little bit of manga. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Miyazaki is one of my favorite mangas and Akira. I really like those books a lot.


Harper: Let’s get into The Wrenchies a little bit.  Reading the book, it seems to draw from this like massive array of ideas and philosophies and movies and comics and all sorts of different areas.  What were kind of your sources of inspirations for the story?

Farel:  The Wrenchies is such an amalgam of things for me.  I was kind of trying to include all these things from popular culture that I really liked.  One of the big inspirations for The Wrenchies was – especially the way the kids interacted with each other – was this 1979 film Over the Edge.  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that.

Harper:  Oh, I haven’t.

Farel:  It’s Matt Dillon’s first movie.

Harper:  Ah.

Farel:  It’s about these kids in Colorado or California or something like that, there’s basically nothing in this town for them to do, they’re just sort of bored, and so they party all the time, like drink and do drugs and they end up like rioting at the school and shooting cops and things like that. I just really like the way these kids interacted with each other.  It just seemed realistic.  And so even though my story’s total fantasy, like weird kind of silly stuff, I tried to not just have all these sort of different things that I liked putting them in there but it was – the kind of underlying thing was really personal to me, particularly philosophy.  I’m not a big student of philosophy necessarily but for example, the book The Brothers Karamazov, I really like the way that book made me feel like when I read it, I kept having to put it down and think about it and I guess that’s kind of what I was trying to do with The Wrenchies. I don’t know if I succeeded in that. I might have just ended up confusing a lot of people but it all makes sense to me when I read it and look at it.  But yeah, there is this kind of really personal nature to it that I tried to sort of make fun for people to read. But I don’t know, hopefully it won’t be like too frustrating for anyone like trying to decipher it or figure out what it’s supposed to mean, because it’s ultimately just a fantasy story that hopefully is fun.

Harper:  With so many different characters and all the timelines, where did the story start for you?  Was it with Sherwood and Orson that start the book, the Wrenchies gang that the title comes from, or Hollis?

Farel:  That’s kind of interesting – the story of The Wrenchies actually was inspired from the – the short story that I have in the back of The Wrenchies, “Photogalactica” which was originally in an anthology called Meathaus, it was the last Meathaus anthology we did, Meathaus S.O.S.  It was just a group of people from New York and other places that I was involved with, we put out this anthology and I couldn’t remember exactly why I wrote that particular story, but that was definitely like the springboard for The Wrenchies, and the character Hollis actually, though I used in some other stuff from way before that for an anthology for Chris Pitzer’s book Project: Superior and then a follow up Superior Showcase.  I just wrote a couple stories about this goofy kid and when I was plotting out the whole story of The Wrenchies, I got kind of wrapped up, because I wanted him in the story. I didn’t exactly know where but I kind of got wrapped up in him as a character, I’m really drawn to him. And so he became, I guess, kind of the heart of the story, kind of. The main character, to me, is Sherwood, but Hollis is kind of the hero of the story, so he kind of took on a bigger role as I was writing it and stuff.

Harper: I know The Wrenchies has been something you’ve been working on for a pretty long time. How has the idea changed from when you started on it until the point when it was finished?  Was it totally different by the time you reached completion or is it something that you had a pretty clear vision of when you started?


Farel:  When I was first writing it, I was working on a book, an older book that I did called Pop Gun War.  I was working on a sequel and this was about seven years ago.  When I moved to Portland, I met an agent and I was having trouble working on that story because I wasn’t really getting paid for it, it was just kind of something I wanted to do.  So when I met this agent, she suggested I pitch an original story to First Second and I had this “Photogalactica” thing and I was thinking about down the road, developing it into something else. I put together this pitch and the agent wanted me to come up with some art. I wrote three pages of plot and I did 15 or so different drawings. I feel like the plot, the bare bones nature of it, is pretty close to what ended up being the final book, definitely the ending is the same. I’ve added a lot of stuff over the years, filling it out.  But, it’s pretty much the same, like I knew those chapters were going to be divided in such a way and which characters were going to be prominent and which story was going to be told in what style. There were definitely a lot of things that changed, but the basic premise of the story was the same.

Harper: What was your process on the writing side, since this was something that you’re writing and drawing?  Were you always writing a script or were you creating any sort of thumbnails?

Farel:  Yeah, I was kind of doing thumbnails as I worked on it.  Maybe 30 pages at a time or something like that I would try to thumbnail.  Basically a chapter or half a chapter, I would go ahead and thumbnail a bunch of pages and then I switched up my process a little bit from chapter to chapter. I had some lulls when I wasn’t as productive as I would have liked to have been. Just problem solving mainly, like storytelling challenges and kind of making certain things line up with other things.  Kind of brought me to a standstill a couple of times.

Harper:  I can imagine with something this complicated…

Farel:  And plus too there was the not realizing when I started how ambitious that I was being.  It took me a lot longer than I thought it was going to take, so I was also having to work on other stuff in the between time to like pay rent and things like that. But, the last chunk of the book, I had a pretty good system down where I would just use a wall of my studio to have all the pages up that I had left to do and I would just thumbnail right on that, on the wall. I put up a big piece of paper anyway, I didn’t do it actually on the physical wall. I’d just try to wake up every day, work on a spread and try to finish the spread in a day and then check that off the little list on the wall so I had kind of a visual thing to look at.  I didn’t quite do one every day but I definitely picked up my pace there at the end which was kind of nice to prove to myself.  Like okay, I can do that, I can work a little fast if I really, really need to!  But most of the time, I was taking my time with it.

Harper:  I can just kind of imagine this like giant thing on the wall with yarn, strings and different colors and all these timelines connected like a – you Wrenchies-Sampler_Page_03know, some crazy thing….

Farel:  Oh yeah, it did look a little serial killer-ish.

Harper:  Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking.

Farel:  I kept adding notes – that was a thing too, the last chapter,  that was kind of the hardest to sort of figure out, was to make everything kind of sync up because all the years that I was working on it, I kept like adding and getting ideas for things.  “Oh, I want to do this and this” and “this will develop the Sherwood character more” and “I’ll put this in”. I had to edit a bunch of stuff out just to get it done because it would have been like twice the size as it is now if I just kept going.

Harper:  How much fun did you have drawing the cross-sections of the secret headquarters?  Those are definitely some of my favorite pages in the book.

Farel:  Oh yeah, that was a blast.  I love doing stuff like that.  It would be fun to do more –sadly, it doesn’t lend itself I guess to the best storytelling, you know? It’s a fun visual thing.

Harper:  Yeah, that’s for the companion book with all the maps to the hideouts.  So of all the characters in The Wrenchies, which character do you feel like you kind of most identify with or maybe when you were a kid, which one of these characters would you have identified with?

Farel:  Well, I guess that’s why I like that Hollis guy so much.  I remember hearing someone talk about that character, they sounded like irritated by him and I didn’t take it personally or anything but it was just kind of funny to me that this person had almost like a negative emotional response to him ’cause I love him.  I know he’s kind of supposed to be dorky or nerdy or whatever, you know, like I guess kind of sweetly pathetic or something.  There’s just, I guess, a lot of me in there, from when I was that age or around that age or I guess even now, sometimes. I’d say him probably the most.  But there’s also Sherwood, there’s a lot of autobiographical elements in that character, kind of obvious ones. Not obviously the fantastic stuff, but my anxieties and neurosis and all that was kind of cathartic for me working on him.  It was kind of like including myself as a character in the book.  From a more relatable level though, its Hollis for sure.

Harper:  Yeah, that makes sense.  And you use Sherwood to literally slay your demons, right?

Farel:  Yeah, exactly.

Harper:  What drew you to putting the plot together in such a kind of non-linear fashion?  Was there an inspiration or an influence that kind of led to that format for the book?

Farel:  I can’t really think of anything book wise to compare it to. I tend to think a lot of movies do that and can kind of get away with it.  I don’t know why that is, but Pulp Fiction and Fight Club and stuff like that,  I feel like that’s more common in that medium.  To me, writing this book, it didn’t seem like it was a big deal to me to do that.  I wasn’t necessarily trying to make a comic book that’s going to be a movie–I was kind of trying to do the opposite–it was just the most easy way to organize everything for me. The Wrenchies is like five different like comic books that are all telling the same story.  It’s akin to the old Fantastic Four, even within the issue they would have different chapters and stuff and I just really like that sort of thing. Pop Gun War was kind of similar too, though I did release that in issues first. I guess with The Wrenchies, it was more – I could make each chapter as many or as little pages as I wanted to, so I just tried to kind of keep them all sort of similar in length wise.  I felt like the quest chapter I could have made three times as long as it was, but I also started working on a web comic at the same time. I had to decide if I would incorporate some of this admittedly fun material here or there. I decided to hold some of it back for this webcomic.

Harper:  Was there ever a thought to do The Wrenchies in single issue serialized form or was it always an idea as a graphic novel?

Farel:  I thought about it, but I guess I wasn’t on my mind when I first met the agent and went to First Second with the pitch.  It was after I actually started working on it and was like, “Oh man, this would be so much easier if I could just do it issue by issue” –particularly in getting feedback from people after they see it in print. I had never really worked on anything like that long in isolation before, but First Second doesn’t really do that kind of single issue thing typically beyond the promotional Battling Boy comic. They’re all just graphic novels. That was kind of the deal going into it, so it was too late at that point to serialize it.  I thought about doing it online or something, but I was so focused on just trying to get the thing done that I was just, “Okay, I’ve just got to like keep my head down and power through this”.


Harper:  So I saw the other day the Remainder short story that’s on Tor.com. How did that come about?  Where did that come in the process?

Farel:  That was Gina Gagliano at First Second, she’s their publicist and I’ve been working with her a lot, going over some different promotional ideas and things like that. Because First Second is owned by McMillan ultimately, and they’re also owned by Tor, I think they have like a good relationship and she suggested it to me.  She was like, “Hey, do you want to do a 10 page story on Tor.com that’ll come out around the same time the book’s coming out, this promotional thing?”  It sounded like a good idea to me, so I just started working out ideas in my sketchbook. I did all The Wrenchies pages on bristle board or watercolor paper, but “Remainder” I just started drawing in my sketchbook. I kind of did a little bit of a different process, where there was a mix of some Photoshop in there, which in The Wrenchies there’s hardly any Photoshop at all.  It’s mostly just scanned straight in with some cleanup around the edges. The actual art is like pretty much what you see is what you get with the pages: the original pages. The “Remainder” story I kind of did a little more piecemeal where I would do a spread and then kind of try to clean up the seam, hopefully it looks pretty seamless. I guess people that have a little savvier of an eye can spot the differences in the art style, I guess.

Harper:  It was just neat to see, for one, more of Bug Gun Guy, which is also the greatest character name of all time, I have to say.

Farel:  Yeah, that just came out of Hollis, I wrote a scene in The Wrenchies where Hollis referred to him as that. So, while I was writing this story, I just started calling him that and it was like okay, that’s just going to be his name.  But all that stuff in there is like the title of that, “Remainder”, and those two characters that feature kind of more prominently in that story are characters that kind of disappear in the book, so it’s like a little follow up to them.  I guess that – that part was kind of fun, you know, like getting to do a little like “Hey, what happened to these guys” kind of thing.

Harper:  Do you plan on doing any other kind of stories within The Wrenchies universe or anything else like “Remainder”?

Farel:  Oh yeah.  All the stuff that I write, the comics that I do myself, are all in the same universe and I can do whatever I want with them. I have some like crossover characters between like the Pop Gun War stuff that I do, like Hollis is going to be in the next Pop Gun War story.

Harper:  Awesome.

Farel:  And yeah, the web comic that I mentioned earlier, I just think of that as being in the same post-apocalyptic whatever fantasy world that The Wrenchies live in. There might be some crossover going on in there in the future, I don’t know.  I want to do a Wrenchies sequel, just like a straight up part two. Particularly to follow more of Sherwood’s life on board this space station that I talk about in The Wrenchies.  As I was working on it, I was kind of throwing things in a file for the next book, which I haven’t really started even really thinking too much about how I’m going to organize it all.  But I definitely want to do a Wrenchies follow up and possibly like a third one too.

Harper:  I’ll be watching for the expanding “Farel-verse”, I guess, right?

Farel:  I like that.

Harper: I wanted to briefly talk about the title that led me to find your work, which is Prophet. You did a lot of work on that in the very beginning of when they relaunched it. How did you find yourself on that project?

Farel:  Well, that was pretty much through Brandon Graham who’s an amazing cartoonist in his own right, with King City and Multiple Warheads. I don’t even know exactly how it came about but, Rob Liefeld was relaunching his line from the 90s and I don’t know if he suggested doing it or Eric Stephenson asked him to do it personally, I’m not sure. Somehow, down the road, he told me he was writing this science fiction comic: “It’s Conan in space.” I never really read the old Prophet but I loved that description.  I said: “Oh, I love Conan and Conan in space, that sounds amazing!  I want to do that!”  That was really fun to do and I kind of couldn’t really afford to do it because I was supposed to be working on The Wrenchies, but it was such a cool opportunity getting to work with Brandon who’s one of my favorite cartoonists. I guess the weird factor of that book too, I don’t really see a lot of American comics that look anything like that or seem anything like that, so it just seemed like just kind of an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t turn down.  I only did two issues really, so that should have just been a quick thing for me, but I spent way too long on that, especially that second issue I spent way too long working on.  But, I’m glad I did it and yeah, it’s awesome getting to work with all those guys on that series and hang out with them too.  I did a little on some of the later issues, a couple pages here and there and some covers. I would have loved to have drawn more of that because that is a really cool series. It’s one of my favorites.

Harper:  With Earth War coming up, are you going to be involved in that at all?

Farel:  No, I’ve got too much stuff on my plate.  I’d love too. I think Simon (Roy) is writing that too, right?

Harper: Yeah, they’ve started heavily co-writing.

Farel:  Yeah, that would have been really cool.  I think they kind of have their whole like art team locked in. And…they’re doing that Strike File stuff which I wanted to do some stuff for that too, but I just…

Harper:  Oh, the Farel-verse calls!

Farel: Yeah, I know, that’s what I’m saying.  I’m 42 now, I’ve got to get on the Farel-verse train.

Harper:  The material that you’re working on now, what can your fans look forward to coming out in the next couple months or years?

Farel:  Well, the two things, I just did like three pages for a Captain Victory kind of reboot thing.  I think Dynamite is putting it out, so I’m just finishing that up. I’m also working on a science fiction love story with a writer, Chris Stevens, that’s going to be in Dark Horse Presents once I get enough pages done on it.  I only have eight done at the moment but that’s going to be around 90 pages or something like that when it’s finished. I’m also working on that Pop Gun War sequel again.  I started working on that again.

Harper:  Do you know which issue of Dark Hose Presents that story’s going to start in?

Farel:  I don’t know actually.  I was supposed to have enough stuff done to have it be in the first issue but that was months and months ago.  But, with all The Wrenchies promotional stuff, I haven’t had time to work on it.  At this point there’s not really a date set.  I think it’s just once I get enough pages to where it’s a safe bet that I won’t make the book late or anything, I think they’re going to start scheduling it.  I’m kind of driving the writer a little crazy I think with how slow I’m being on it.

Harper:  Where can your fans find more of your work and find all your stuff online and follow you on all the social media and all that good stuff?

Farel:  Well, I have a website, it’s just FarelDalrymple.com.  Or that’s also PopGunWar.com. I have links there to Facebook and all that stuff.  My web comic which I have been taking a break from the past couple months, but I’m going to get back on it is called It Will All Hurt and it’s on the Study Group Comics website which has a bunch of other web comics by a bunch of brilliant cartoonists.

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2. The 150th anniversary of Newlands’ discovery of the periodic system

The discovery of the periodic system of the elements and the associated periodic table is generally attributed to the great Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. Many authors have indulged in the game of debating just how much credit should be attributed to Mendeleev and how much to the other discoverers of this unifying theme of modern chemistry.

In fact the discovery of the periodic table represents one of a multitude of multiple discoveries which most accounts of science try to explain away. Multiple discovery is actually the rule rather than the exception and it is one of the many hints that point to the interconnected, almost organic nature of how science really develops. Many, including myself, have explored this theme by considering examples from the history of atomic physics and chemistry.

But today I am writing about a subaltern who discovered the periodic table well before Mendeleev and whose most significant contribution was published on 20 August 1864, or precisely 150 years ago. John Reina Newlands was an English chemist who never held a university position and yet went further than any of his contemporary professional chemists in discovering the all-important repeating pattern among the elements which he described in a number of articles.

 John Reina Newlands. Image Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
John Reina Newlands. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Newlands came from Southwark, a suburb of London. After studying at the Royal College of chemistry he became the chief chemist at Royal Agricultural Society of Great Britain. In 1860 when the leading European chemists were attending the Karlsruhe conference to discuss such concepts as atoms, molecules and atomic weights, Newlands was busy volunteering to fight in the Italian revolutionary war under Garibaldi. This is explained by the fact that his mother was Italian descent, which also explains his having the middle name Reina. In any case he survived the fighting and set about thinking about the elements on his return to London to become a sugar chemist.

In 1863 Newlands published a list of elements which he arranged into 11 groups. The elements within each of his groups had analogous properties and displayed weights that differed by eight units or some factor of eight. But no table yet!

Nevertheless he even predicted the existence of a new element, which he believed should have an atomic weight of 163 and should fall between iridium and rhodium. Unfortunately for Newlands neither this element, or a few more he predicted, ever materialized but it does show that the prediction of elements from a system of elements is not something that only Mendeleev invented.

In the first of three articles of 1864 Newlands published his first periodic table, five years before Mendeleev incidentally. This arrangement benefited from the revised atomic weights that had been announced at the Karlsruhe conference he had missed and showed that many elements had weights differing by 16 units. But it only contained 12 elements ranging between lithium as the lightest and chlorine as the heaviest.

Then another article, on 20 August 1864, with a slightly expanded range of elements in which he dropped the use of atomic weights for the elements and replaced them with an ordinal number for each one. Historians and philosophers have amused themselves over the years by debating whether this represents an anticipation of the modern concept of atomic number, but that’s another story.

More importantly Newlands now suggested that he had a system, a repeating and periodic pattern of elements, or a periodic law. Another innovation was Newlands’ willingness to reverse pairs of elements if their atomic weights demanded this change as in the case of tellurium and iodine. Even though tellurium has a higher atomic weight than iodine it must be placed before iodine so that each element falls into the appropriate column according to chemical similarities.

The following year, Newlands had the opportunity to present his findings in a lecture to the London Chemical Society but the result was public ridicule. One member of the audience mockingly asked Newlands whether he had considered arranging the elements alphabetically since this might have produced an even better chemical grouping of the elements. The society declined to publish Newlands’ article although he was able to publish it in another journal.

In 1869 and 1870 two more prominent chemists who held university positions published more elaborate periodic systems. They were the German Julius Lothar Meyer and the Russian Dmitri Mendeleev. They essentially rediscovered what Newlands found and made some improvements. Mendeleev in particular made a point of denying Newlands’ priority claiming that Newlands had not regarded his discovery as representing a scientific law. These two chemists were awarded the lion’s share of the credit and Newlands was reduced to arguing for his priority for several years afterwards. In the end he did gain some recognition when the Davy award, or the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for chemistry at the time, and which had already been jointly awarded to Lothar Meyer and Mendeleev, was finally accorded to Newlands in 1887, twenty three years after his article of August 1864.

But there is a final word to be said on this subject. In 1862, two years before Newlands, a French geologist, Emile Béguyer de Chancourtois had already published a periodic system that he arranged in a three-dimensional fashion on the surface of a metal cylinder. He called this the “telluric screw,” from tellos — Greek for the Earth since he was a geologist and since he was classifying the elements of the earth.

Image: Chemistry by macaroni1945. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

The post The 150th anniversary of Newlands’ discovery of the periodic system appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Hard Drive Crash Recovery Continues at Stately Beat Manor

NERD COMPUTER ALERT! I know computer stuff isn’t entertaining but I like writing out my experiences just for Google.

I got my laptop back! You may recall that my MacBookPro died just before Comic-Con. A recovery of my files prior to hard drive replacement was made more difficult by the fact that all the folders were locked. But it all turned out pretty good, I think.

I got a copy of Disk Warrior, which is absolutely a lifesaver when a drive crashes. As my MacBookAir has no DVD drive and no firewre or thunderbolt port for target mode anyway, I had to use my iMac at the office. I booted the old MBP in target mode and ran Disk Warrior for about 8 hours. I had only 32 disk errors, so that isn’t long — I’ve heard of disks that have 10Ks of errors that run Disk Warrior for weeks…After this I was able to made a Carbon Copy Cloner back up of the repaired but unsavable disk image…then it was off to Tekserve where my new Crucial 512 gig SSD was installed. (I got the drive on Amazon with my affiliate money. It was VERY affordable!

I just got the repaired MBP back today and was able to restore about 80% of my files and 99% of the important ones from the back up I’d made! And this new drive is fast as hell! So it all worked out pretty good! I use my MBP in clamshell mode which supposedly shortens its life by years, and the thing runs hot as a toaster so it may still be only temporary.

So now I’m backing up EVERYTHING to Backblaze, which has unlimited storage of one disk for $5 a month or $50 a year. (You can also back up an attached external disk drive.) Because the one bad thing, I’m told, is that SSD/Flash drives don’t give you any warning when they crash. They just go BLAM and it’s as if it has been run over by a car. It’s dead Jim. So cloud backup is pretty much a necessity.

As mentioned previously, ALL DRIVES CRASH EVENTUALLY.



If you have a Mac here is the basic protocol against that day:

• Schedule regular backups with Carbon Copy Cloner (or Time Machine which some people say isn’t as good, but you can run that every day) By regular I mean once a day.
• Disk Warrior
• Cheap cloud backup storage

I’m a digital hoarder who still gets upset thinking about a back-up drive that crashed and took 10 gigs of music with it. I don’t remember what the music was but I didn’t like losing it. I feel that this simple regimen is enough to avoid a nervous breakdown for the next time there’s a crash.

With my powerful workhorse back, there will be much more posting here. For various reasons it was just a slog on the MBA. (DO NOT hook up an old MBA to an external monitor!!!!) I hear the new MacBookAir’s can spin around and jump through rings of fire without so much as a fan turning on but I’m not going to upgrade the whole system until next year.

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4. My tweets

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5. Chuck Leavell

Monday night, Stan and I went to see Chuck Leavell (keyboardist for the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, and many more) speak at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
     Wait... did I say speak? I did! Chuck is known for his strong environmentalism and expertise in responsible tree farming and land stewardship, and he's promoting his latest book, GROWING A BETTER AMERICA. Until that email from the Botanical Garden about him speaking, I had no idea!
     I started doing some research and discovered that he's a life long Georgia boy and even owns a tree farm in south Georgia. So what do I do? I email him! Why not? Even famous people are people after all. I told him about A BIRD ON WATER STREET and offered to send him a free copy. What better book could there be for a true tree-lover, after all? That was my reasoning at any rate.
     Dang if he didn't email me right back and offered a trade for a book of his own! Y'know why? Because he's just a darned nice guy. That's why. Fame can turn people into well... not nice, or it can bring out their humanity and kindness. After his kind email and hearing Chuck talk on Monday, I'm happy to say he is of the latter set.

     He was passionate about his topic, and of course shared stories of Mick and Keith and Charlie and Ronnie. And happily, he did play a few songs on his keyboard, ending with Georgia. *le sigh* 'Twas perfect.
     That man can TEAR UP a keyboard! Seriously, it's why I quit taking lessons oh so long ago. I knew how I wanted to play (like him) and I could tell after ten years of lessons that I didn't have the talent for it. His fingers are the conduit for the music that fills his head - without effort or thought, they sing through those keys. How amazing.
     Afterwards, I introduced myself. He's looking forward to reading my book although it hadn't arrived yet. And he asked me which of his books I'd like the most. I asked for his autobiography as I think Stan will enjoy reading it too, and then I purchased a copy of his picture book The Tree Farmer, which he signed.

     What a pleasure, what a delight, to meet such a great and talented man in the middle of one of the most beautiful gardens in the state. What a perfect evening!

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6. Repair crew

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7. Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 276

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out my announcement of the 2015 Poet’s Market. (Click here.)

For this week’s prompt, write a news poem. When I’m really in a creative rut, there’s one constant source of new ideas for me: the news! There are the big headlines; there’s the sports page, the comics, and the advertisements. One of my former professors (James Cummins) would have us read the “News of the Weird” for ideas. There’s always plenty happening in the world to prompt a poem.

Note of caution: Remember that news is (or should be) impartial. The poems inspired by the news need not be. That said, please be respectful of each other’s views and opinions. Even when we don’t all agree on a topic, we should still listen with open minds and hearts.


Publish Your Poetry!

Learn how to get your poetry published with the latest (and greatest) edition of Poet’s Market. The 2015 Poet’s Market is filled with articles on the craft, business, and promotion of poetry, in addition to poet interviews and original poetry by contemporary poets.

Plus, the book is filled with hundreds of listings for poetry book publishers, chapbook publishers, magazines, journals, contests, grants, conferences, and more!

Click to continue.


Here’s my attempt at a News Poem:

“5 Things to Start Your Day”

An American journalist
beheaded in a foreign land.

Water bottles provoked police
in demonstrations here at home.

A new Icelandic volcano
threatens to disrupt air travel.

Another patient is tested
for Ebola in the U.S.

Two cardinals and a goldfinch
have visited your bird feeder.


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.

A former Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, Robert has been a featured poet at events across the country and is married to poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets. He’s written and shared more than 600 original poems on this blog over the years.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


Find more poetry-related stuff here:

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8. Dmitri Mendeleev’s lost elements

Dmitri Mendeleev believed he was a great scientist and indeed he was. He was not actually recognized as such until his periodic table achieved worldwide diffusion and began to appear in textbooks of general chemistry and in other major publications. When Mendeleev died in February 1907, the periodic table was established well enough to stand on its own and perpetuate his name for upcoming generations of chemists.

The man died, but the myth was born.

Mendeleev as a legendary figure grew with time, aided by his own well-organized promotion of his discovery. Well-versed in foreign languages and with a sort of overwhelming desire to escape his tsar-dominated homeland, he traveled the length and breadth of Europe, attending many conferences in England, Germany, Italy, and central Europe, his only luggage seemingly his periodic table.

Dmitri Mendeleev, 1897. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Mendeleev had succeeded in creating a new tool that chemists could use as a springboard to new and fascinating discoveries in the fields of theoretical, mineral, and general chemistry. But every coin has two faces, even the periodic table. On the one hand, it lighted the path to the discovery of still missing elements; on the other, it led some unfortunate individuals to fall into the fatal error of announcing the discovery of false or spurious supposed new elements. Even Mendeleev, who considered himself the Newton of the chemical sciences, fell into this trap, announcing the discovery of imaginary elements that presently we know to have been mere self-deception or illusion.

It probably is not well-known that Mendeleev had predicted the existence of a large number of elements, actually more than ten. Their discoveries were sometimes the result of lucky guesses (like the famous cases of gallium, germanium, and scandium), and at other times they were erroneous. Historiography has kindly passed over the latter, forgetting about the long line of imaginary elements that Mendeleev had proposed, among which were two with atomic weights lower than that of hydrogen, newtonium (atomic weight = 0.17) and coronium (Atomic weight = 0.4). He also proposed the existence of six new elements between hydrogen and lithium, whose existence could not but be false.

Mendeleev represented a sort of tormented genius who believed in the universality of his creature and dreaded the possibility that it could be eclipsed by other discoveries. He did not live long enough to see the seed that he had planted become a mighty tree. He fought equally, with fierce indignation, the priority claims of others as well as the advent of new discoveries that appeared to menace his discovery.

In the end, his table was enduring enough to accommodate atomic number, isotopes, radioisotopes, the noble gases, the rare earth elements, the actinides, and the quantum mechanics that endowed it with a theoretical framework, allowing it to appear fresh and modern even after a scientific journey of 145 years.

Image: Nursery of new stars by NASA, Hui Yang University of Illinois. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Dmitri Mendeleev’s lost elements appeared first on OUPblog.

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9. High Tea at Kensington Palace Orangery

So I come to the end of an unscheduled blog break. This summer has been about attempting to keep my financial head above water and setting up my supplies business. It has also been about sorting out my personal life and what happens next after the horrors of last year. So far it is all a bit uncertain. There have been one or two lovely highlights though.


Being treated to high tea at the Kensington Palace Orangery was one of them.


Dressed as I was in my old leather biker jacket and army boots, my old friend and I were given the most prompt and courteous of service by exquisite young waiters.

Tea was served and we genteelly dived in.

Having not seen each other in person for several years, my old friend and I had much to talk about, in-between debating which sandwich or cake to have.

The orange-scented and currant scones served with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam were naturally, divine.

And served on crested china.

It was all so very delightful and so very, very civilised. As my kind and generous friend observed, tea and cake put many things right. Though that theory has been sorely tested this summer.

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10. Revolution: Review Haiku

Freedom Summer as
you haven't seen it before.
Pair this with Delphine.

Revolution by Deborah Wiles. Scholastic, 2014, 544 pages.

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11. words

It seems like a good time to practice my handlettering.  It's an ongoing project, but here's a peek at one design I made in full color.
Maybe a bit of a goodbye to summer.

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12. WOW Wednesday: Tahereh Mafi on Making Mistakes

Today's WOW post is from the archives, an article from the lovely Tahereh Mafi, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Shatter Me series. It was written before her smash success -- and in case the best-selling status didn't give you a hint of the magnitude of that success so far, it includes foreign rights have sold in 25+ territories, film rights optioned by 20th Century Fox, and a marriage to Ransom Riggs, author of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

This post was written before Shatter Me, and for all of you -- us -- who are still struggling, who still doubt, who face the blank page and wonder whether a current piece of work is worth it, read on. (Hint: Yes, it is! : ) Believe in yourselves!)

on making mistakes

by Tahereh Mafi

Tahereh Mafi
the path to publication is paved by perseverance. it’s full of mistakes and inadequacies; it’s bursting with emotion and fleeting moments of hope and despair. it’s the manifestation of your blood, sweat and tears on paper. getting published is about taking an infinite number of chances. it’s about taking a deep breath and swallowing the burn of a million tears that have somehow fallen down your throat. it’s about waking up every morning to an inbox full of rejection and having your heart explode in your hands multiple times a day. it’s about being vulnerable.

you finally allow someone to take a look at your stories only to have them rip it apart.
you finally land an agent only to discover the hard work has just begun.
you finally manage to sell a book only to realize you feel even tinier than you did before.

but then.

when you get a small yes of possibility from someone willing to take a chance on you.
when you get positive feedback from a beta reader, an agent, a highly-regarded friend.
when you hear from readers, fellow writers, strangers you never knew existed.

somehow all the pain is worth it.

my journey toward publication has barely started and i’ve already done everything wrong. i wrote my manuscripts wrong. i edited wrong. i queried wrong. i waited wrong. i made every possible mistake but i was committed to never giving up. i discovered that mistakes are okay when you learn from them, and bad manuscripts are just fine if you learn to laugh at them later. i knew that if the first book didn’t work i would write a second one. and if the second one didn’t work i would write a third. nothing was a waste of time. not the fourth book, not the fifth or the sixth. not the time i addressed a male agent by a woman’s name, not the times i thought “editing” meant “looking for typos”, and certainly not the hours i spent hunched over my computer with imaginary friends and places painting my world into something i never knew i could see.

i discovered:
  • my first novel taught me how to write.
  • my second novel taught me how to edit.
  • my third novel taught me how to write elegantly.
  • my fourth novel taught me how to write commercially.
  • my fifth novel taught me how to combine all four.
  • my sixth novel taught me how to write a book.
it’s easy to lose hope. it’s easy to look around and compare, to feel deficient. but the truth is that we’re no different, you and i. i might have an agent and i obviously don't like proper capitalization but that doesn't make me special. it doesn't make me cool. it doesn't make me a better person. it doesn't erase the fact that i had to battle the query-wars every single day for too long. it doesn't erase the countless rejections i've received and will continue to receive for the rest of my life.

we're all human-beings aspiring to live up to our potential, aspiring to live up to our goals for the future. and i hope that when you look at your manuscript you will not doubt yourself. because you can never wonder if it's worth it, this novel you are writing. you can never wonder if you are wasting your time. because every single moment is a moment you are learning, growing, maturing, and cultivating your mind. this, what you are doing? is not a waste.

because you know what it means to persevere.
because you are made of momentum.
because you will be unbelievable.

never give up.

i'm cheering for you.

Find Tahereh:

Website | Twitter

Ready for a giveaway? How about a full set of the Shatter Me trilogy signed by Tahereh?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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13. I saw a tree

After digging around some of my previous work, I found a poem that I forgot about. I still really like this one, although it could use some work. I thought it would be fitting to share as we approach my favorite time of year, fall. I live in New England, so the fall foliage such an exquisite time of year and very inspiring to write about. I don't have a title for this one and I wrote it quickly without much drafting. So, take it as you will. I hope you enjoy!

I saw a tree still carrying

the burden of leaves.
Dead hanging corpses
clinging long past the autumn foliage
had fallen in coordinated beauty.

But losing time this tree held onto
it’s past in umber paper.
Written in veins of
newborn chicks,
summer sunsets, misty mornings
and it could not accept the death season.
And it could not
move on with fellow crooked, naked limbs
mirrored beside it.

So I looked at my own burdens
latched onto weighted limbs
refusing to part with them
in beauty or shortened days.
And interchangeable parts
I realized peers in
heavy coats and woolen hats
were just as naked as the trees around them.

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14. Query Question: when is a novella not a novella?

I have a question regarding submitting my work to literary agents. I write juvenile horror novellas for ages 8-14 (I like to think between Goosebumps & Twilight Zone) and what I'm finding is that several agents don't represent novella writers. Is this pretty standard or am I unfortunately finding only those that don't? 

You're confused about what you're writing. You're not writing novellas. You're writing chapter books. Novellas are shorter than novels, but that only applies to adult trade books.

You're writing for kids. That means you look for agents who say they are looking for MG (middle grade) or YA (young adult)

You describe your work as scary chapter books akin to R.L. Stine.

And I'm guessing you don't belong to SCBWI because you didn't know this.  Join. Learn. It's a resource you'll come to value a great deal.

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15. Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis: Construct Your Ultimate Sales Tool – Aug. 21 Webinar With Agent Nephele Tempest

nephele_tempestA strong, compelling synopsis serves as a vital sales tool at every stage of your career. Whether you are a new writer starting to submit to agents or a multi-published author proposing a project to your editor, you need to be able to write a synopsis that meets your needs. That means not only writing an interesting synopsis that shows off your project to its best advantage, but tailoring it to suit different purposes. A synopsis written from a completed manuscript differs from one written as part of a proposal.

In this live 90-minute webinar — titled “Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis: Construct Your Ultimate Sales Tool” —  literary agent Nephele Tempest will show you how to tackle the task head on, and to generate the right synopsis for your project—and your audience. Shake off your fear and frustration and master the art of writing the synopsis. It all happens at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, August 21, 2014, and lasts 90 minutes.


  • Break down your plot into manageable parts
  • Emphasize the most important details of your project
  • Build interest in your story while remaining concise
  • Maintain a tone consistent with your manuscript
  • Produce a synopsis for a project that is incomplete
  • Adapt the length of your synopsis depending on its intended use


U8059Nephele Tempest joined The Knight Agency in January, 2005, opening the Los Angeles office. She comes from a diverse publishing and finance background, having worked in the editorial department at Simon and Schuster, as a financial advisor at Dean Witter, in the marketing and communications departments of several major New York investment firms, and as a freelance writer. Her experiences in sales, marketing, and writing provide her with insights into multiple aspects of the publishing industry. Nephele belongs to the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) and Romance Writers of America (RWA). She continues to actively build her client list, and is currently seeking works in the following genres: literary/commercial fiction, women’s fiction, science fiction, fantasy, single-title romance, historical fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction.


  • Writers who have no idea how to start writing a synopsis
  • Writers whose existing synopsis sounds dull and lifeless in comparison to their novel
  • Writers who cannot find a way to cut their synopsis down to an appropriate length
  • Writers who cannot get past the query stage when submitting to agents
  • Writers interested in selling work based on several opening chapters and a synopsis


All registrants are invited to submit their revised synopsis. All submitted synopses are guaranteed a written critique by literary agent Nephele Tempest. Nephele reserves the right to request to see a partial or full manuscript by e-mail following the event, if the project interests her. Instructions on how to submit your work are sent after you have purchased the webinar and officially register in Go-to-Webinar. When you have registered in GTW, you will receive a confirmation email from gotowebinar@citrixonline.com, which contains the information you need to access the live webinar AND the Critique Submission Instructions.

Sign up now!

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16. Graphic Novel Review: Skip*Beat! Volumes 22 and 23

I’ve been in a manga kind of a mood recently.  I’ve been reading some new series that caught my attention, as well as trying to catch up on some of my favorites that I’ve fallen behind on.  Skip*Beat! is one of those.  Kyoko is a fun protagonist; she’s a good girl who had her heart stomped on by the guy she loved, and now she’s out for revenge.  Sho is an up and coming celebrity, and in order to get back at him, Kyoko is determined to become more popular than he is.  When she’s in a rage, she’s possessed by her anger, which causes dramatic, and usually, hilarious results.

Now that we are quite a ways into the series, the tables have turned on Sho.  Now he has a crush on Kyoko, but he won’t come out and tell her directly (as is the shoujo way!), nor will she give him the time of day.  Kyoko just wants her revenge, revenge, revenge!  She’s even gotten over her earlier animosity for Ren, one of  Sho’s rivals.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?  Only Ren has developed feelings for the stubborn Kyoko and her never say die spirit, but she’s so oblivious she doesn’t even notice.  Just like with Sho, all of her focus is on becoming a success in show biz.

In volume 22, Kyoko is having a hard time stepping into her latest role.  She’s confused about what the director wants, and she’s holding up shooting with her inability to immerse herself into her new character.  With some help from Ren, her acting mojo is recharged and viola!  She’s become Natsu, a high school bully, much to the dismay of Chiori, one of her cast mates.  Chiori is resentful of Kyoko’s success, and she wants desperately for her to fail.  Chiori’s career is stuttering, and the intense competition she feels for Kyoko isn’t helping her.

I thought that volume 22 dragged a bit, but volume 23 cranked up the drama and the action that I love this series for.  Kyoko and Chiori’s feud becomes explosive.  Chiori schemes against Kyoko, almost causing her great bodily harm. In return, Kyoko pushes Chiori to deliver the very best performance she’s capable of.  Their competition is intense, and I felt really bad for the actress who got caught up in the middle of it.

Volume 23 closes out with the beginning of a fun Valentine’s Day story, which I’m looking forward continuing in the next installment of the series.

Is there such a thing as being too good? With Ren’s help, Kyoko finally gets into her new character. But when she shows up on set and wows the crew with her new spin on the old bully role, it sends some of her costars over the edge! Kyoko’s used to dealing with her own demons, but can she stand up to someone else’s?!

Chiori’s rage threatens the whole production when she lashes out and hurts Kyoko. Kyoko is used to overcoming obstacles, and she uses her injury as an excuse to push Chiori into exploring her acting. But Chiori has a traumatic past. Will focusing on the dark side of her character bring it all rushing back?!

The post Graphic Novel Review: Skip*Beat! Volumes 22 and 23 appeared first on Manga Maniac Cafe.

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17. Is This The Future For Libraries?

New Florida University Unveils Bookless Library

Kathryn Miller, director of FPU’s library, in The Commons
Photo courtesy of Florida Polytechnic University

As for the electronic-only aspect of the library resources, Miller emphasized that it’s the information that’s key, not its form, and the student’s appropriate use of it. “We want our students to recognize when they have an information need,” she says, “and be able to locate the relevant information to apply it in a scholarly and, ultimately, professional way.”

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18. Lakes Festival: Viz Unmasked!

VIZ UnMasked - or, "It's not all over until the fat lady sings..."

VIZ UnMasked Exhibition Poster
The ever-irreverent VIZ team are promoting their Lakes Festival exhibition plans with this satirical take on the British Library's recent Comics UnMasked poster by Jamie Hewlett. Image: Graham Dury/Simon Thorp
Kendal, UK, 18th August 2014:  Hot on the heels of the British Library's "Comics UnMasked" exhibition comes the Lakes International Comic Art Festival's very own homage to art and anarchy in the UK - "VIZ Unmasked".

VIZ Unmasked will, amongst other things, reveal the dark art of how a VIZ comic is made through a fully interactive, animatronic, state-of-the-art museum experience.

"It's been a long-held ambition by the VIZ team to create and present this unique installation," notes Festival Director Julie Tait, "and they are delighted that LICAF has enabled this dream to be realised.

"I suggested they could do a spoof poster of Comics Unmasked," Julie says of the tongue-in-cheek promotional image from Graham Dury and Simon Thorp. "They went for it – I just hope Comics UnMasked's co-curator Paul Gravett and artist Jamie Hewlett appreciate it!"

The exhibition will form a major part of a new, and still emerging,"Pop Up" Fringe over the Festival weekend (17th - 19th October 2014), aiming to reinforce its distinctiveness and respond the creative ideas of its supporters and collaborators.

VIZ have also lent their name to this year's special Comic Festival beer inspired by their long-running Biffa Bacon, the label art drawn by Graham Dury and Simon Thorp. The beer will be on sale during the Festival weekend at select outlets, including the Brewery Arts Centre, Castle Green, Wetherspoons, Ruskins and still-to-be-revealed venue for the "Pop Up Fringe".
VIZ Beer - "Fighter Fluid
Tickets for all the events at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (17th - 19th October) are on sale now. For the full guest list, details of events and exhibitions and bookings visit: www.comicartfestival.com

• Sign up for the Festival's newsletter here for the latest news! Web: www.comicartfestival.com

About the 2014 Lakes International Comic Art Festival

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival (17th – 19th October 2014) is a new kind of comic art event in the UK. Modelled on a European-style festival it aims to take over the market town of Kendal, on the edge of the Lake District, with comic art presenting the widest range of genres. Events include a 24 Hour Comic Marathon, children’s comic workshops, talks, signings, Great War in Comics art exhibition and a Comics Fair. 
The huge line up of guests at this year's Lakes International Comic Art Festival include the acclaimed comics creator and newspaper strip artist Nick Abadzis (author of Laika); Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard; Storm Dogs and UNITY artist Doug BraithwaiteFables and Sandman artist Mark Buckingham; The Mire and Wolves creator Becky Cloonan; Alec and From Hell artist Eddie Campbell; veteran publisher Dez SkinnWatchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons; digital comics pioneer Scott McCloud; Japanese artist Junko Mizuno; Drowntown co-creator Robbie Morrison; leading US comics writer Gail Simone; the creator of the multi-award winning Bone Jeff Smith; and Grandville and Luther Arkwright author Bryan Talbot, one of the Festival's patrons alongside Sean Phillips and Mary Talbot and Emma Vieceli, will also join other comic creators for Kendal's second comics extravaganza.

• Visit the Festival web site for the full guest list announced so far

24 Hour Comic Marathon

The 24 Hour Comic Marathon creative team is: Dan Berry, Marathon curator and producer; Kristyna Baczynski (NME), Warwick Johnson Cadwell (Tank Girl), Joe Decie (The Accidental Salad) Sarah McIntyre (Oliver and the Seawigs, shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Awards 2014), Fumio Obata (author of the graphic novel Just So Happens) and Jack Teagle.

• For more information about the 24 Hour Comic Marathon visit: www.comicartfestival.com/competitions

Festival Sponsors and Benefactors

The Patrons of the Festival are comic creators Sean Phillips, Bryan Talbot, Mary Talbot and Emma Vieceli.

The Festival is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, with funding from South Lakeland District Council and Kendal Town Council working in partnership with the Brewery Arts Centre and Kendal College.

Commercial sponsors include the Westmorland Shopping Centre, SEQUENTIAL and Knockabout.

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19. I'm back! And ready to write!

I've spent the last 18 months working on one of the most difficult and most rewarding things in my life. Just last week I completed my MBA in project management from Norwich University. I was hoping that I'd somehow be able to fit writing in between work and school, but I quickly discovered I had no energy left by the end of the day to devote to my novel without sacrificing some quality as well.

I've missed having time devoted to my writing and escaping into the world of the Great Oak. So not only do I feel relief at having survived the past 18 months, but also I'm exulted to have the time I need to get back into Book Two.

On another note, I have a short story that I've been working on sending out to various contest. Also, a screenplay I started many years ago that I thought had been lost forever was finally recovered! Thanks to my brother-in-law, I have my lost screenplay back and I'm looking forward to completing that as well.

Here's to no more studying and more sci-fi/fantasy! I've had more than enough reality than I can handle!

Thank you for being so patient with me and my hectic life. I wish you all well and hope to be sharing some work with everyone, including the reveal of my Book Two title!

Lots of love,

Celeste Simone

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20. Leah Apple, my beautiful student, shares her dance as a Fulbright Scholar on the island of Kinmen

The great privilege of teaching extraordinary students is that the semester of writing, reflection, and talk marks only the start of an involving conversation.

Last evening, Leah Apple, the hip-hop dancing Fulbright winner who enrolled in my second nonfiction class at Penn and whom you met here in a Philadelphia Inquirer story, came for dinner, bringing with her tales of her time in Kinmen, near the People's Republic of China. In a remote niche of that island, Leah met and taught English to children with whom she soon fell in love. Inevitably, they fell in love with her. Dance, "the universal language," became core to Leah's curriculum as she and her fellow Fulbright scholars prepared the children for a first-ever island flash mob.

This short film, shot and produced by Leah's friend Jonah Stern, tells the story of remote classrooms, willing children, and a young woman with a boundless soul.

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21. "Fig" Newton, Carnival Worker

Yesterday I took my compact watercolor kit "into the wild" to the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, New York and painted an impromptu portrait of James "Fig" Newton, the oldest carnival worker at the fair.

He was assigned to a ball-toss game in Kiddie Land. A bucket of ping pong balls cost five dollars. The goal was to toss a ball into one of the glass bowls floating by on little rafts in a circular wading pool. 

The game looked impossible and nobody was going for it. 

I asked him if I could sketch him while he waited between customers, and he was glad for the diversion.

Fig is 71 years old. He has been in the carnival business for 48 years, working mostly in New York State. He has saved up money to help his nephew get started in glassblowing, and he just sent his daughter $500 so his grandkids could get outfitted for school.

He said when a family walks by he can tell right away who makes the decisions and who's got the money. Sometimes it's the dad, and sometimes it's the mom. I asked him if he had a good sales pitch to pull people in. "This game's not worth my barking," he said.

Every fifteen minutes or so a family would come up, pay the money, and a kid would toss the balls one by one. 

Ping--Splash.  Plip -- Splash.  Dink, Dink -- Splash. 
As each kid went away disappointed, Fig got up to his feet, leaned over the plastic pool, and scooped out the ping pong balls with a kitchen strainer.

The portrait took about an hour. I used watercolor and colored pencils, with a little gouache for the edge lighting, highlights, teeth and the blue collar. When I showed it to him, he shook my hand and said, "Good. You got my scowl."

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22. Poetry Friday - A review of On the Wing

Douglas Florian is a poet and artist who has created poetry picture books that explore a wide variety of subjects. Over the years I have greatly enjoyed reading these books, and it is interesting to see how he applies his considerable talent to take on a new topic that interests him.

Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Harcourt, 1996, 978-0152023669
Birds truly are remarkable animals. They come in a dazzling array of colors, live on every continent, and make their homes in all kinds of places. In this wonderful picture book Douglas Florian pairs short poems with his artwork to give readers a true celebration of birds.
   Over the millennia birds have evolved to suit many kinds of environments. Some birds, like the egret, sail on water and then rest on the beach making it seem as if there is a “feathered hat” lying on the sand. Dippers love to dip and dive in waterfalls. They are so aquatic that one wonders if they would be happy to “trade / Their oily wings for flippers.” They are such good swimmers that it is possible that the little birds might “think that they are fish.”
   Birds come in all shapes and sizes. The spoonbill is tall and thin with a beak that does indeed look like a long-handled spoon. In his poem about this rather odd looking species, Douglas Florian wonders if the spoonbill uses its bill “for stirring tea” or does it “use it as a scoop / For eating peas and drinking soup.”
   The stork has a bill that is perfectly suited for the environment it lives in. Wading through shallow water, the bird uses it rapier like bill to stab frogs and other creatures. Woodpeckers also have beaks that are perfectly adapted so that they can get to their chosen food - insects that live in wood and sap that runs through wood. Not only are these beaks perfect for creating holes, but woodpeckers also use them to communicate.
   With clever touches of humor and insightful descriptions, this collection of poems will give young readers a colorful picture of twenty-one bird speci

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23. Classroom Connections: I HEART BAND by Michelle Schusterman + Giveaway

age range: middle grade
setting: middle school band
genre: contemporary fiction
Michelle Schusterman’s website

Fellow band geeks will be thrilled to see themselves in Holly and nonmusicians will appreciate the world of music. A sweet debut.
–School Library Journal

Please tell us about your book.

I HEART BAND is a middle grade series about a seventh grader named Holly who’s pretty obsessed with being first chair French horn in band. Unfortunately, she’s got a rival in new girl Natasha, who’s not only a talented horn player, but spent all summer at band camp bonding with Holly’s best friend, Julia. Band might be a competition, but friendship isn’t, and Holly needs to figure it out before she loses Julia for good.

What inspired you to write this story?

Actually, I was commissioned to write this series. My editor, Jordan Hamessley, is a self-proclaimed band geek from Texas, just like me. She came up with the idea for the series, I wrote the outlines, and we went from there!

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

I was in band from third grade through high school, got my bachelor’s degree in music education, and was a middle and high school band director in Texas for four years…pretty extensive “research” for this series! I had plenty of anecdotes and experiences to draw from when I wrote these books. And of course, my editor had lots of stories about her own time in band too. For each book, we started by meeting for lunch and brainstorming ideas. Because the series progresses throughout Holly’s seventh grade year, there were certain markers we knew we had to hit – all-region auditions, holiday concerts, solo and ensemble contest, the band trip…

After brainstorming, I’d write an outline, my editor would make changes or suggestions, then I’d write the first draft and we’d go from there.

What are some special challenges associated with writing middle grade?

I think one of the hardest things about writing humorous MG is that the humor has to be authentic or kids just won’t buy it. In other words, I can’t sound like a thirty-something year old trying to sound like a seventh grader. My teaching experience definitely came in handy here – lots of time spent listening to how kids talk and joke around. But I’ll definitely catch examples of “trying too hard to be funny” in my drafts during revisions.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

One comment I’ve been seeing a lot in reviews is how I HEART BAND emphasizes the importance of music education in schools. Throughout the series, Holly and her friends learn not just about music, but how to work together to achieve goals and how to handle winning and losing with grace. There’s also an emphasis on friendships, which often go through a lot of change and strain during adolescence.


Michelle is giving away signed copies of books 1 and 2 for one lucky winner. To enter, simply leave a comment below, sharing a memory from your middle school years. US residents only, please. Contest closes Saturday, August 23.






The post Classroom Connections: I HEART BAND by Michelle Schusterman + Giveaway appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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24. Flogometer for Karyne—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed—just one for next week in the queue. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.

The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Karyne sends the first chapter of Magic Despised. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

It always started with a spell. Something simple, like a cup of ale. But her power had its limits. Every time they asked for magic, Julana knew how it would end.

“Be a dear and fetch us some stew,” Luna said.

Julana paused, arms raised to remove her apron. The blue sky teased her from the tiny window. So much for a free afternoon. It wasn't worth refusing them. When she was fourteen they killed her pet goat because she rebelled. It would take longer than three years to get over that lesson. Luna shifted on the wooden settee covered with straw pillows and narrowed her eyes. Did the pillows really aid Luna’s comfort or was her large backside cushion enough?

“Yes, Aunt Luna,” Julana said. She tied her apron back in place and made her way across the main living area to the kitchen. Luna wasn't really her aunt, but in order to keep up the facade the Klups insisted Julana practice at home.

“And Julana…” Alazer’s deep voice stopped her in her tracks. She didn’t turn to face him; she knew what he would say. “Be sure you use magic. There’s no reason for you to make us wait all night.”

Julana’s stomach dropped. “Yes, sir.” It was a test. Why did they always test her limits? They had just as much magic as she did. That never changed. And unlike her, they enjoyed using it.

Were you compelled to turn Karyne's first page? Were you compelled to turn Karyne's first page?

I do like the writing and the voice, and there is tension in the scene. Yet there’s not much in the way of story questions raised, nor a sense of jeopardy to her or consequences. The next page has a greater sense of that and, considering that in fantasy an author is often granted time to set up the world, it might have done the trick. Here’s the stuff that would be nice to see on the first page:

The stew was easy enough. She drew energy from her blood to summon water from the well. The sight of water soaring through the air made her grimace. If anyone happened to see, they would all be hanged for witchcraft.

There is a clarity issue here, though—I thought the well was outside, and it may be, so I thought this was happening there. But a little later she goes outside, so the water is coming into the kitchen from outside. That isn’t clear, and needs to be. Having it soar through the kitchen window rather than the air is all it would take.

The voice and the world are good, but, since this opening could be stronger, I’m giving it an almost. But read on, there are interesting things to come and clear and serious danger to her ahead—and you’re going to despise the “aunt” and “uncle,” bad guys through and through. Notes:

It always started with a spell. Something simple, like a cup of ale. But her power had its limits. Every time they asked for magic, Julana knew how it would end. But the reader doesn’t, so this doesn’t mean much. This is an opportunity to introduce tension and jeopardy. For example, what it this sentence ended this way: Julana knew how it would end—with her blood. Wouldn’t that crank up the tension a little?

“Be a dear and fetch us some stew,” Luna said.

Julana paused, arms raised to remove her apron. The blue sky teased her from the tiny window. So much for a free afternoon. It wasn't worth refusing them. When she was fourteen they had killed her pet goat because she rebelled. It would take longer than three years to get over that lesson. Luna shifted on the wooden settee covered with straw pillows and narrowed her eyes. Did the pillows really aid Lunas comfort or was her large backside cushion enough? A few things here. I didn’t feel that her wearing an apron contributed sufficiently to story or character. “It wasn’t worth refusing them” sounds like she’s being inconvenienced, but the following line suggests far more. Instead, how about something to the effect that it was dangerous to refuse them? I cut the description of Luna because I’d rather have a little more setting of the scene. Are they in a one-room hut? Farmhouse?

“Yes, Aunt Luna,” Julana said. She tied her apron back in place and made her way across the main living area to the kitchen. Luna wasn't really her aunt, but in order to keep up the facade the Klups insisted Julana practice at home. Don’t need the apron.

“And Julana…” Alazer’s deep voice stopped her in her tracks. She didn’t turn to face him; she knew what he would say. “Be sure you use magic. There’s no reason for you to make us wait all night.” “stopped her in her tracks” is a cliché, look for a fresh way to show it.

Julana’s stomach dropped. “Yes, sir.” It was a test. Why did they always test her limits? They had just as much magic as she did. That never changed. And unlike her, they enjoyed using it.


Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.


Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Karyne



Was it really worth it to the Klups? That same energy brought the water to a boil. The cupboards were well stocked with carrots and potatoes and Julana sighed in relief. Very little magic was needed.

“Where is the meat? We want venison stew,” Alazer said. He pushed away the bowl she served, his mouth twisted in a scowl. “Honestly, you can be so dense.”

“Sorry, Uncle Alazer,” Julana said. Tears pricked her eyes, but not over his reaction. She would have to make an unecessary kill. His beefy hand shot out to grab her wrist and the familiar sense of invasion swept over her. His tracking spell.

“Be back before the sun’s sleep.”

She pulled her cloak around her shoulders and grabbed her bow and quiver. A blast of cold air hit her face, but she found it refreshing. The sun defied the wind and enveloped her in its rays. In a few weeks it woud be warm enough to leave her cloak behind.

A twinge of pain flashed across her foot. Her time was limited by his spell. The Klups had been her guardians for as long as she could remember. More like her prison guards. They used their magic to control her, but they used her magic to get what they really wanted: money, power, revenge. It didn't matter they were only requesting venison stew this time. She'd seen them use her magic for unspeakable things, and she refused to be caught in their web of desire. She would never use magic by choice.

It only took moments to reach the forest's edge. The shade folded around her as she stepped between the trees. She strapped on her armguard and pulled an arrow from her quiver. With a sigh, she nocked the arrow and anchored her hand at her cheek.

She closed her eyes.

The loss of vision encouraged her other senses to take over. Crisp mountain air with fresh pine scent flooded every breath. Birds twittered and trees creaked. Warmth surged through Julana's veins as she called the creature in her mind. She hated that they trusted her. Soft footfalls crunched in the remaining snow. Tears snuck past Julana's lids and crept down her cheeks as she loosed her arrow.

The arrow met its mark. She didn't need to look to know for certain. She couldn't bear to look. Instead, she studied the fresh green foliage poking through the slush as she approached the fallen doe. She dropped to her knees and laid her cheek across its still chest.

"Forgive me," she whispered. "Today should not have been your day. There was no need. May the Stars bless you for your sacrifice."

Julana propped her bow against a tree. Her hands shook. She was reaching the limits of her magic, but she drew the power back to her heart anyway and flooded it out to her muscles. With a slight groan, she lifted the deer in her arms and carried it back to the house. With the last of her magic, she skinned, portioned, and cooked the venison. She wouldn't let the deer's sacrifice go to waste. Conflicted relief flooded through her. Her magic was drained and it would take time for her blood to draw more energy from the sun. They couldn't force her to use her magic at this point. But there were other things they could do.

"That's more like it," Alazer said. He inhaled the gamey steam but didn't bother taking a bite. He set the wooden bowl next to his cup. "I should like some entertainment with my meal."

Luna rose from her chair and made her way to the table. "I should like some new clothes," she muttered.

"Fine, whichever you'd like to do first." He waved his hand as though the generous choice should put Julana at ease.

"I've used all my magic. You know my limits," Julana said.

"Foolish girl," Luna said. "You know those aren't really your limits." Her lip curled.

Julana shuddered. This was where the test always ended.

"Hold out your hand, Julana," Alazer stood, his face passive. She tried to match it, but her eyes darted between her wrist and the knife in his hand. Her own hand was like lead as she lifted it, palm up. "Now your other hand."

She frowned and met his unrelenting gaze. He'd never asked for both before. How much blood would he need? In the past, when they took her starblood and used it to strenghten their own magic, it left her too weak to move. If they took more, would she survive? She clenched her jaw and raised her other arm. To her surprise, he placed the knife in her open hand. Uncertainty settled in her chest.

"What am I…I don't understand," she whispered.

"It's time you learned to do these things on your own," Alazer said. "It's not like we enjoy drawing your blood. It's not kind for you to make us bear the burden every time." The lie only solidified Julana's hesitation. They enjoyed it far too much.

Luna's eyes narrowed. "Our soup will be cold if you don't hurry." Greed leeched from her words.

The knife clacked against the stone floor before Julana realized she'd dropped it. She took a step back and shook her head. Alazer closed the distance between them.

"You do not say 'no' to us, girl." His voice was soft, but the hard glint of his eyes made Julana's stomach clench.

"It can't be right," she whispered. "The Stars would never ask—“

"What would you know about what the Stars would want? When is the last time you communed with one?" Luna's sneer set Julana on edge.

“Just because they don’t meet with us face to face doesn’t mean—“

“It means plenty!” Luna raised an arm and Julana flinched, but instead of being struck, the knife flew back into her hand, nicking her finger. Once they decided to use their magic, her time was short. Blood trickled into her palm and panic set in. Alazer’s grim face brightened at the sight. She wanted to drop the knife again, but instead her bloody hand tightened around the hilt of the knife against her will.

“No!” she said. She clawed at the grip with her free hand, but Alazer already channeled the magic from her blood. Within moments she would go from his puppet to a puddle of blood. “Stars release me. Stars protect me.” She muttered the words over and over. But her grip only tightened and her attempts to remove the knife put her free wrist in perfect striking distance.

The cool metal sliced her skin. Julana gasped as blood flowed down her arm and the pain hit a moment later. Alazer and Luna rushed forward, inhuman desire crossing their faces. Alazer released Julana’s hand from his control and once again the knife clattered to the ground. But it was too late. They caught her blood in their hands and squealed like children catching candy thrown from the sweet shop. Eventually they would come to their senses and collect the blood in a jar. After all, it needed to reenergize in the sun. But then it would be theirs to use, to magnify their own power. To steal, to control, to wound, to kill. Magic was a temptation that led them astray. Her knees buckled and for the hundredth time she hoped the cut was fatal. That she would never be used for their selfish gain again.

Spots danced in her vision and hope flooded her soul. They'd never taken this much blood before. With her eyes closed, the flashes were almost like Stars streaking across the night sky. The way she always envisioned them in her dreams. Something firm pressed against her wrist. “That’s enough, Alazer,” Luna’s muddled words saddened Julana, but she couldn’t remember why.


Julana woke with a kink in her neck and her mouth dry as cotton. She was slumped against the wall of the sitting room. Blood covered her blouse and skirt and she groaned at the sight of more on the floor. Of course they would leave her lying in the mess. Why would they put her in her loft just for her to climb back down to clean up? Especially after she’d lost so much blood. They probably thought they'd been kind. Bandages barely clung to her oozing wrist. It was a wonder the saturated scraps stopped the bleeding.

She sucked a breath in through her teeth as she rose and tested her limbs, her balance, her vision. She was weak, but capable enough to do her job by Alazer’s standards. The Klups were nowhere to be found, but if history was repeating itself, they were passed out on their bed, drunk from their success at whatever deed they deemed worthy of magic. Out of habit she tested the front door. A small shock spread through her already weak body and she held back a cry.

The disappointment that knifed through her was embarrassing. Of course he set a perimeter spell. In the six years since her magic surfaced, Alazer had only forgotten a perimeter spell once. Once. She was fourteen and just as scared of the world as she was of her guardians. Alazer woke with a moan, shouted the name Nessa, and ran out to find Julana sitting on the front step in indecision. It was the only time she’d seen true fear in his eyes. She regretted that hesitation every day of her life. And wondered about that name just as often.

  She was surprised it was past the sun’s morn. This was the longest she'd been unconscious after they took her blood. How much did they use? Five shaky steps took her to their room. Two monstrous lumps rose and fell beneath the disheveled covers. She sighed. The rest of the room bore evidence of their celebration. Food and drink for an army rested on the table near the door. Jewelry fit for Cherans and silks spun for nobles spilled from the trunks that lined their walls. There was hardly space to walk around the bed because their thievery had been so complete. Bile rose in her throat at her unwilling role.

It could be hours before they rose. She shut their door and leaned back against it. Their house was surprisingly modest, but that was a front to hide their means of survival. The rest of the living space lay before her in one open room. The kitchen held food and water she desperately needed, but her stomach still hadn’t settled. The ladder to her right led up to her loft. The space was hers, but she only slept in it. The thought of climbing to her bed was exhausting. Instead she turned to the sitting area on her left.

Her feet were heavy as she made her way to the bookshelves. To a visitor they appeared to be cupboards that might hold linens or dishes. Instead they were filled with Vendaran folklore and Thlieven textbooks that her guardians collected. They'd stolen enough goods from the wealthy; there was bound to be a new book. And those were always placed immediately on their shelves for safekeeping. She flung the doors open and gazed at the precious bindings. Books were reserved for the priests and noble. And even the noble mostly collected them to show off their wealth. She ran a hand along the familiar volumes. She would never condone the actions of the Klups, but she loved the books. Familiar guilt crept beneath her skin. They took these books using her magic.

There. A tiny new book rested between Histories of Lentans and Songs for the Stars. She pulled it out and studied the Thlieven words: Maps of the Great Land. She frowned at it for a moment. She’d only heard The Great Land referenced in the History of the Stars, a book that seemed more legend than truth. She opened the book to a center page and let out a gasp.

Color like she’d never seen before bled on the pages. Drawings with exquisite detail filled every corner. And sure enough, there was a single continent pictured. One great land that was shared between all the people. Could it be true? Her mind filled with the image of eager brown eyes and a lopsided grin. Cyrus would be thrilled at this new find. She bit her lip and glanced back at the bedroom door. There was only one way to get it to him. It would take a fair amount of luck and a lot of work, but she regularly depended on both.

By the second half of the sun’s rise she'd cleaned the blood, bandaged her wound, and prepared food. She quenched her own thirst and hunger, but made sure there was plenty left for the Klups. The weariness faded with the added nourishment, and a walk in the sun would finish her recovery. She swung her cloak around the fresh blouse and skirt she’d donned and tucked the book of maps in the inside pocket. She held her breath and pushed open the bedroom door.

"Uncle?” she whispered. She prayed to the Stars that he would only wake enough to grant her request.

No response.

“Uncle Alazer?” she tried again a little louder.

A grunt from the bed made her wince. “What?”

“I wish to receive the priest’s blessing at the Stargazer.”

Another grunt.

“I would seek atonement for the blood magic.”

He sat up and squinted at her. “If you speak of our magic to the priest you know what he’ll do. And you know what Ill do.” Of course she knew. They told her on a daily basis they would kill her if she revealed their magic, unless they thought the magistrates would make it more agonizing by deeming it witchcraft.

“Yes, Uncle. I would speak of it only to the Stars.”

“The Stars aren’t even out to gaze upon right now,” he muttered. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his fat fingers. “Very well.” He waved his hand at her and she felt a slight lift in her heels as he extended her leash enough for her to gain entrance at the house of worship. Relief flooded through her veins and she rushed out the door before he could change his mind. It was a small freedom he afforded her on a regular basis. She would never understand why such a wish was granted. And she would never dare question it.

The walk to the Stargazer was a few miles. Julana didn’t mind, even in her weakened state. The longer she was in the sun, the more her health improved. There was another one in town that was closer, but Alazer preferred her to stay out of sight as much as possible. Perhaps he wouldn’t be so afraid of the public if he didn’t leave signs of their mutilation. She gave a rueful glance at her bandage. It would have been better to heal it with magic, but as usual, she couldn’t bear to use magic if she wasn’t forced to.

She couldn’t keep the smile off her face when she crested the last hill before Galden Valley’s Stargazer. Much of the valley was covered in snow, but the perimeter of the Stargazer was kept meticulously clear by the priest-in-training. The building was made of simple stones. Several small rooms were enclosed and held the rooms of the current priests and their few servants. The largest room of all was the Stargazer itself, and its roof was left wide open to give worshippers a constant view of the heavens. A man in a priest’s robe worked outside, pushing snow off the path to the front door. A shock of red hair peeked out from beneath his hood. Cyrus.

Julana broke into a run and let the slope into the valley carry her the rest of the way. The events of the prior evening still haunted her, but every step closer to the Stargazer, and Cyrus, lightened her load. Her cloak flapped behind her and the hood fell, letting her long hair spill out. She gripped the book in her hand, and remembered to pull the sleeve of her blouse over her bandaged wrist just before colliding into Cyrus’ open arms.

“The earth comes to life and teases me with fresh dirt and green sprigs.” He brushed her brown locks before stepping back to look into her eyes. It was his standard greeting ever since he decided the growth of the valley’s foliage was a reflection of the depth of her eyes. As her green eyes fluctuated, so did the trees. At first it made them laugh, but over the last month it had carried a sentimentality that made Julana uneasy. Even though they'd spent the last two years growing up together, he was still a priest-in-training. He was like a brother.

"Fire drew me in so I must quench my thirst." She tugged his hair back before taking the customary drink of water at the gate. Everyone that came to worship the stars drank the water blessed by the Chosen priests. The rare ones that actually communed with the Stars. Or so they said.

"It's good to see you, Jules," Cyrus said.

Julana smiled. “I have something for you." His amber eyes lit up and an infectious grin split his freckled face.

“You come bearing gifts? For me? What about the Stars?” he said with mock rebuke.

She punched him in the shoulder with her good hand and relinquished the book. “You can only look at it for the day.” His face was already slack from shock as he thumbed through the colorful drawings. She eased passed him and headed to the atrium of the Stargazer. Entering the place of worship was not something she took lightly. Her wound burned and itched with her guilt as she stepped over the threshold.

It was said the Stargazers on the lands of the noble had glass roofs, to keep out the elements. But Julana couldn’t help wondering if that hindered the nobles' worship. How could they see through a pile of snow? Or sense the Stars' presence? Fresh air kissed her lips and soft sounds of the valley’s creatures met her ears. These were the things that would please the Stars. Their creations.

The sun neared its peak, which meant there were no Stars out to worship. But Julana still knelt to pray. She uttered words of confession and shame. A green stem grew from the dirt floor by her knees and Julana held her breath. Had it been there when she entered? It was too early for much growth, but within the Stargazer's atrium, anything could happen. She bit her lip and glanced around. With her in the Stargazer, anything could happen. She closed her eyes in frustration and resumed her prayers.

She was twelve when she first made a flower grow. She'd thought it was such a fun coincidence that she wished for a daisy and then found one growing by her foot. Luna's eyes took on a greedy glint when she asked for Julana to wish for another. And another. They told her she had magic, and the magic resided in her starblood.

Now, Julana peeked between her lashes and saw yellow petals unfolding. She squeezed her eyes shut. It was all supposed to be legend. She'd read of the Vendaran creatures that were half-human, half-stars in their books, but everyone else spoke of them as folklore. Everything had changed that day. It was the only day the Klups willingly answered her questions about magic.

"The sun energizes your blood and your blood's energy supplies whatever you will it to," Alazer had said. It was limited, but they watched her as if one day it wouldn't be. As if one day she would unlock the key to controlling it.

That was also the first day they took her blood.

"Just a smidge to enhance our own magic," Luna assured her. Suddenly the consistent high yield from their crops, and the unending supply of money made sense. All those years they'd been using magic to meet their needs. Julana had squirmed under the weight of the discovery. The deception. She cried as they bottled her blood, but she'd been too overwhelmed to resist. The next morning she discovered they used the power to seek revenge on a merchant they claimed cheated them. Most of his belongings filled their room and his oldest child was dead.         

The horror of it washed over her anew in the atrium and fears of the dark spirits left her cold. In the last year she'd read more of the histories and texts thanks to Cyrus' work at teaching her Thlieven. The blood magic invited the presence of dark spirits, and Julana feared it was too late for her to make amends with the Stars for the use of her blood.

Without warning, the image of Cyrus’ lifeless body floating just out of reach danced across her vision. She paused in her prayers, eyes open wide. The recurring nightmare plagued her. For over a week she'd had the same dream. But why would she think of it now? It meant nothing.

The daisy was in full bloom at her elbow. She continued to pray, her lips moving even faster.

The sun was well past its peak before she rose again. Her cheeks were stiff with tear stains and her heart felt lighter with the forgiveness she sought. Cyrus would never disturb her worship, but he would be desperate to discuss his findings. She rushed back out to the grounds.

“Where in Rystahn did you get this?” he asked, his voice filled with awe.

“Where else?” she muttered. Cyrus knew her guardians had questionable means of income, but he also knew better than to ask for details. And as long as he was in the dark about her magic, he was safe. “What have you learned?” She turned the question back to him to avoid discussing her guardians. He could go on for hours about Vendaran history and the legends all priests valued. Although she’d never met one quite as obsessed as Cyrus.

“These maps…” he shook his head. “They’re just…”

She laughed. “Find your tongue, Cyrus.”

“They show the Great Land before the Divide. Before the barriers were put in place.”

She sobered a bit. She had assumed as much, but it was hard to believe. “Could they just be someone’s guess?” she asked.

“I don’t think so.” He sat on a bench and opened the book. She hid her arm behind her cloak and peered over his shoulder. “These markings are consistent with the original Songs for the Stars.” He pointed at symbols bordering the same map she’d studied earlier.

“That’s impossible,” she said. That would place the text’s origins before the Divide, which wasn’t even a certain historical event. According to the folklore in the Klups’ books, the humans used to live in the Great Land, among the fabled Vendarans, Lentans, Giants, and Littles. The Stars grew concerned over the wars and treachery, so they separated the people. The Great Land itself was divided into portions for each group, and barriers were set in place for their protection. Hardly anyone believed in such stories, but the magic running in Julana’s blood was proof that Vendarans existed. So despite her resistance, she was forced to believe. Cyrus’ knee bounced with excitement beneath his robes. He needed no proof. He’d been a believer long before she knew him, and things like this only whet the appetite of his curiosity.

“Why do you have no faith? You come here to worship, but when there is evidence right before your eyes, you scoff.” His words were gentle, but it was an ongoing debate. She supposed the side of him that trained to be a priest couldn’t resist.

She sighed. “I don’t know. I wish I had your faith.”

He turned to face her, his boyish grin lightening the mood. “But then you wouldn’t bring me such fascinating books, because we would rely only on our hope. I like having the best of both worlds.” He studied her a moment longer and she grew uncomfortable with his scrutiny. “You look tired,” he said.

She gave a laugh. “That’s never the right thing to say to a girl. You might as well say I look ugly.” She didn’t meet his gaze as she sat next to him.

He didn’t laugh back. “Brother Keef said his offer still stands.”

Julana played with the cuff of her sleeve. “I haven’t forgotten it,” she said. “I’m just not sure it’s possible.”

Cyrus snorted. “What does that mean? You come of age in two weeks, you enter the service as a priestess. What’s not possible?” His words should have brought her hope, but a deep sadness coated her insides. She didn't know what the Klups had planned after she came of age, but it wouldn't include letting her out of their grasp.

“It’s hard to explain.” She cringed, knowing he’d be insulted.

“Fine! Don’t even bother trying.” He stood and ran a hand through his hair. His hood fell back but he didn’t seem to notice. “Forgive me, Julana. I shouldn't raise my voice."

She stifled a laugh. Even after he completed his training she was certain he would be a loud and opinionated priest.

He paced and his hands twisted in agitation. "You realize that we’re trying to help you? That maybe this is the Stars answer to your prayers? You don’t tell me what the Klups do to you, but you come here with such sorrow in your eyes, and I’ve heard you pray for escape.”

Julana stilled. What else had he heard in her prayers?

“You come here day in and day out. It’s a natural suggestion for a woman with such devotion and no marriage prospects.” His face turned red. He glanced over his shoulder and this time Julana couldn't hold back her smile. Brother Keef was forever warning Cyrus to tame his tongue.

“No need to worry. I’m the only one who heard your shocking statement. How do you know I don’t have any marriage prospects? It’s quite possible my guardians have already made some arrangement. They’re under no obligation to give me warning.”

Cyrus paused, brow furrowed and lips turned down. “That would never be good news for you. Not if they made the arrangement.” His voice was soft. It took her a moment to realize he was afraid for her. He’d met the Klups a handful of times and saw the way they treated her in public. It took nearly a week for him to calm down after each occurrence. She couldn’t imagine how he would react if he knew the depth of their abuse. 

“Well I’m not worried. They like having a personal slave too much to sell me off to a rich, lonely, old man.” She gave a light laugh and ran her fingers through her hair. Cyrus froze at the same instant Julana glimpsed bright red in the corner of her eye. Her bandage.

She moved to cover it, but he was there in an instant and she was too slow. “What is this?” Cyrus ground out each word, his grasp firm but gentle on her arm.

“It’s nothing. I just—“ the words caught in her throat as he removed the dressing. There was no way to explain away such a deliberate cut. She should have used magic to heal and hide it.

“Another accident?” His eyes burned with anger. “Don’t lie to me, Jules!” His whispered words made her flinch. She focused on the front of his robes. The drab brown was considered a sign of his choice to take a humble position, despite the fact that priests were among the elite. It always brought out the warmth in the eyes she was so carefully avoiding.

“I can’t speak of it,” she finally whispered back. She was tired of lying to him about her injuries, and this time she wasn’t able to hide the severity. His fists were clenched as she clumsily rewrapped the wound and hid it beneath her cuff.

“Brother Keef gave me another option for you,” Cyrus said. His normally playful voice was strained. “He said I could marry you.”

Julana’s eyes flew to his. “What? You’re a priest!”

Cyrus rushed on, as though afraid he wouldn’t have time to explain it all. “It doesn’t matter. He showed me records of priests that were married. It’s fallen out of practice, but there’s no sin in it. The Stars relish companionship, so they would not deny it of their servants, even if we have made it our own strange custom to avoid it. There were even records of priests that had married priestesses. You would only be two years behind me in your training. It would be a good match.”

“Even if all that were true, I would not ask it of you,” Julana said. He would die at the hands of the Klups, by the magic of her blood if she made any attempt to follow through on his suggestion.

“Well then it’s a good thing the man traditionally does the asking.” His eyes danced with mirth. How could he be so blissfully ignorant? She sighed. How could she keep him that way, forever?

“Cyrus, you don’t love me.”

“Of course I love you!” His brows furrowed.

“Not the way a man should love a woman.” Her face heated. She never expected to have this discussion with her only friend. And favorite priest.

“It's true we're better friends than lovers, Jules, but it could grow. At least it could for me.” He placed a hand under her chin, as though testing a more intimate proximity. She felt like a deer before her flying arrows.

“And what if it’s not enough?” she whispered. Marriage would not hold her guardians at bay. This discussion was pointless. But Cyrus took her words the wrong way.

“If it doesn’t grow the way I anticipate, then we maintain a marriage of companionship. A priest and priestess that serve the Stars for life under the same roof.”

She shook her head, choking back a sob. His kindness tore her in two, and the secrets she kept threatened to spill over. Why hadn’t Brother Keef minded his own business?

His hands moved to her upper arms, his grip more urgent than usual. “Can we at least seek out the Stars before you dismiss such a suggestion? We have several days before you're of age to marry without your guardians' consent.” He was hurt.

“It’s not the thought of being with you that deters me,” Julana said. That wasn’t entirely true. She loved him like a brother, and treating him any other way wouldn’t feel right. But the real concern was the Klups.

“Then what is it?”

“They would kill you,” she whispered. Her heart quickened. She’d never spoken of the lengths they would go or the depths of her fears.

“All the more reason we should seek out the Stars.” He pulled her into the atrium and they knelt in the center. After their discussion, Julana found herself uncomfortable. They’d prayed together before, but not often. Cyrus spoke with ease, beseeching the Stars for wisdom, guidance, and protection. Her heart broke over his sincerity, and the knowledge of the extent he was willing to go for her safety. Perhaps he really did love her.

He paused in his prayer, offering her the chance to speak. She opened her mouth, but couldn’t find the right words. Doubt plagued her like it never had before. Surely the Stars were there and cared for her. But she wanted answers. She was tired of praying to the Stars without any real hope of hearing back from them. “Show me,” she whispered. “Please just show me what to do.”

Light flashed in the room and she and Cyrus rose in shock. Julana's heart pounded and her eyes attempted to adjust. Cyrus placed himself in front of her as the golden figure of a woman materialized before them. The rest of the room dimmed in her presence, or perhaps she drew the light into her magnificent glow. It hurt Julana's eyes to look, but the pain couldn't draw her gaze away. They were communing with a Star.


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25. Cold Run by Rachel A. Brune- Urban Fantasy

Cold Run By Rachel A. Brune

 Genres: Shifter Urban Fantasy

Published: Aug 2 2013

Untold Press www.untoldpress.com

EBook Price: 3.99 Available at [Amazon]

Check it out on Goodreads!

Aug 3rd-30th Enter the Giveaway to win eBooks or a 20$ Amazon Gift Card!

Enter Here!

Review: 5 stars!

If you enjoy shifter books, then don’t miss this one! Do be warned, this is not a paranormal romance. There is a tad of romance inside, but it’s not the central part of the story. I’d call this more military in nature, but also deals a lot with Rick dealing with what/who he is. Lots of action, fighting, guns, and a kick ass female agent included too. Due to subject matter, language and violence I’d rate this for 18+.


It is amazing how quickly a phone call can interrupt your life, even when you’re a werewolf. Rick Keller hangs up from the unwanted call, but the shadowy organization he once belonged to doesn’t take such an answer lightly. Waking up collared and caged by MONIKER is a quick way to learn retirement isn’t always permanent. Death will be if he doesn’t accept their assignment.

Keller and his new team follow a group of human traffickers on a thin trail across the globe. Their only hope is in a man who hasn’t had much practice being a werewolf in a really long time, a sadistic agent who loves making dog jokes, and a beautiful operative who is better with guns than relationships.

If being forced back into service wasn’t bad enough, he quickly discovers they have many new experiments to try out on their pet wolf. Even worse, MONIKER now isn’t the only one who knows his secret.

Hopefully an old dog can learn some new tricks, especially if he wants to stay alive.


Author Bio

Rachel A. Brune graduated from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts in May 2000, and was immediately plunged into the low-stakes world of entry-level executive assistant-ship. Her unexpected journey out of that world and into the military is chronicled in her self-published book Echoes and Premonitions. After five years as a combat journalist, including two tours in Iraq, and a brief stint as a columnist for her hometown newspaper, she attended graduate school at the University at Albany in NY, where she earned her MA in Political Communication, and her commission as a second lieutenant in the military police corps. Although her day job has taken in her in many strange, often twisted directions, Rachel continues to write and publish short fiction. She released her first novel, Soft Target, in early 2013. She blogs her thoughts about reading and the writing life at http://www.infamous-scribbler.com.

Connect with Rachel: [Blog][Twitter][Facebook][Goodreads]

Blog: http://infamous-scribbler.com/blog/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ rachelabrune

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rachel-A-Brune-Author/212995402108944

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5414042.Rachel_A_Brune

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Rachel-A.-Brune/e/B00CLO4DSS



The man behind the weapon was a ghost, a black tactical suit concealing his form, expensive scope mounted on some sort of rifle. I howled again and lurched at him, brought down short by another surge of the change. I struggled to remain upright but found myself on my knees.

Another man appeared to the side, shining a bright, piercing strobe light at my eyes, disorienting me as I tried to turn to face the new threat, my traitorous body rendering my reactions unreliable.

I scrambled to get my feet under me, but the final throes of the change robbed the ground from me. I flailed my paws against the last remnants of my work clothes, now torn and scattered on the ground.

I heard the explosion of gases from the chamber of the first man’s rifle a split second after the bullet pierced my side. I yelped and fell sideways, trying to relieve the pressure. I rolled to all fours and lunged toward the man, intent on relieving the pain by ripping the screams from his throat.

He shot again and again as I reached him, bowling him over and aiming for the soft pieces exposed to my grip.

Instead of soft viscera beneath my teeth, the next sensation I felt came as intense pain, which slowed and disjointed my movements. I raised my head, snapping and gnarling in vain against the folds of the net suddenly enveloping me. Ignoring the second man–stupid mistake. From the burning the lines of the net raised against my hide, I could tell the wires were laced with silver filaments.

The man with the rifle scrambled away from me. I let him go, rolling on the ground, trying to escape the clutching net.

“He’s a big one.” The second man spoke the words, looking down on me from an impossible height as the pain began to outweigh the panic. I could feel the silver working against my struggling.

“He always was.” The first man hocked and spat. It smelled of Copenhagen. “It’s going to be a bitch dragging him down to the truck.”

The words made no sense. I listened, but could not understand.

“If we let you up, do you promise to be a good doggie?” The man with the rifle prodded the barrel into my side.

I growled, but it was mostly wishful thinking, the energy from the night and the change suddenly sapped by the ensilvered net. I lay on my side and simply lolled.

“Good boy.” The man kept his rifle trained at me as his partner knelt down and fiddled with the edge of the net. Grasping a loop from the edge, he pulled. The line must have been attached in some ingenious way so when he pulled on it, it contracted the net into a small, compact circle around my neck.

“Come on.” The second man jerked at my neck, holding the line as a leash. “I’m not carrying you down this hill in the dark.”

The net continued to burn against my neck as he dragged me to my feet. Head hanging, I padded after him through the snow.

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