Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chapter Book, Fantasy

Name: Dee Keymel

Category: Chapter book for children

Genre: Christmas Fantasy

Other age categories I like to write: MG, SS, Fables

Twitter: @DeeKeymel
Web: none

Excerpt from end of Chapter Two, Chapter Three, and Chapter four.. Just over 500 words.

            Now this story is true
            So some people say.
            It happened like this
            On that long ago day.
            The day that the Christ child
            Was first laid in his bed,
            One shiny golden hair
            Fell from his sweet head.

There it lay, in the manger, hidden in the fresh sweet straw. It surely would have been lost. No one would have known and certainly no one would have thought to look for a single golden hair.

                        Chapter Three
                 A Spider and His Web

But there came someone to see the baby that night, a sort of un-invited guest. A quick peek was all he wanted. A tiny spider that lived in the corner of the stable scurried out of his world of shadows to see why the angels sang.

This uninvited guest looked and saw the glory of the new born Christ child. While he watched and gazed around, he spied the golden hair down in the straw.

“Ah,” he said, “a golden thread. I must have it—to spin into my web. He scrambled down and carried the golden hair back to his world of shadows.

He began a new web; the most beautiful web he would ever make. The tiny hair lengthened and strengthened as he performed his work of art. He spun the golden thread into a star, just like the one in the night sky, and the new star lit up his world of shadows.
“A golden star. I’ve found a miracle.” the tiny spider cried. “What beauty. I must make more.”

The spider rushed to the Christ child’s bed and searched for more of the golden threads. His head filled with thoughts of all the golden stars he could make, all over the stable.

                        Chapter Four
                  A Bird and Her Nest

Now up in the open window the birds perched and sang songs with the angels. They wanted to tell the world about the birth of the new born Christ child. As they sang, one little turtledove spied a gleam of light down in the corner of the stable. It looked like a star. The little bird flew down to see. As she got closer, the turtledove saw the golden star was but a bit of a shiny thread spun in a spider’s web.

“Ah. A golden thread,” she said. “I must have this for my nest.” She pulled loose the glimmering hair, destroying the web, and flew to her nest in the eave of the stable.

When the spider came home and saw his star gone, he wept for his loss. As he wept, he knew the greed in his heart made him lose the golden star. He knew there would never be another as there were no more sparkling threads.

The turtledove strutted and cooed as she intertwined the golden hair into her nest. With her work the thread became stronger and longer. To her delight the nest glistened as beautiful as a king’s crown covered with golden jewels shaped like tiny stars.

“It glows. It sparkles. I’ve found a miracle.” the turtledove cried. “I can’t wait to show my friends.”

Bio: I'm married with four grown children, ten grandchildren and seven great. I'm retired with my husband after being self-employed with our own printing company. Retired and loving it! I've taken classes with the Christian Writer's Guild by Jerry Jenkins. My mentor, Eva Marie Everson, encouraged me to move forward. I'm involved with Martha Alderson, her classes, and "A Path to Publishing". I have a MG Adventure novel finished and I"m sending out queries now.

Critique methods: I will do what the person or group wants. I can tell what moves the story or slows it down. What makes sense and what doesn't. I can point out trouble with sentences, weak verbs, and useless words. I am not mean spirited. I want to help, not hurt.

HIstorical Fantasy

Name: Ash K. Alexander

Email Address: ashkalexander at gmail dot com

Age Category (MG, YA, NA, or Adult): MG

Genre: Historical Fantasy (Pseudo-Steampunk)

Other Age Categories and Genres You Like to Write: MG, YA, Adult fantasy, high, urban and historical. Some romance. Some horror/paranormal.

Twitter Handle: @ashkalexander

Web Presence (Optional):

Chapter Excerpt is From: Chapter One

500 Word Excerpt:

The first encounter between Miss Liadan Foley and Inspector James Abercrombie is an event which has been heralded by some as the beginning of great catastrophe, or at the very least, the upset of the social order. Miss Foley, a twelve-year-old of high intelligence and questionable sense, was on the run from her place of incarceration. Miss Foley had been occupying the residence hospital of reformist psychotherapist Dr. O’Toole. His methods of electro therapy were well known for being risky with successes few and far between.

Miss Foley was scheduled for one such treatment on a crisp fall morning. The sky being a becoming shade of October blue with few clouds in residence and the temperature had dipped below pleasant resulting in a dearth of shawls on those ladies taking a morning constitutional. The Brackenridge Hospital was abuzz with gossip and the good doctor was preparing for his patient—she had spilled ink down his shirtfront that morning after he informed her of his plan for electrotherapy.

Miss Foley herself, in stockings, shoes, pantalets, chemise and a particularly scandalous plaid petticoat was scaling down the brick façade of the hospital, her dress abandoned in a third floor closet. Miss Foley’s incarceration was not due to mental defect. Her deviance was visible to anyone who cared to look at her bare arms.

Shouts followed her as she ran away from the hospital, towards the complex of Trinity College to the north. Her attire drew remarks and stares from those she passed, but Miss Foley had no time for them.
Her boot heels clicked loudly against the street cobbles. The long thick braid of prematurely gray hair streamed behind her, though her thick eyebrows were still copper red. She was pale from long hours in dimly lit libraries and basement troves of knowledge and looked like a ghost against the backdrop of Dublin’s lively streets, though her nose and cheeks were liberally freckled from those short moments sunlight had dared grace her complexion.

Her pace slowed only just as she neared the campus, indecision written across her face. Her slim nose wrinkled. White coated medical professionals ran some distance behind her. Dr. O’Toole notable by the splatter of ink down his shirt front and memorable by the unfortunate nature of his facial hair, being of exuberant style and vibrant red, the color Dr. O’Toole’s hair would have been had he had any hair remaining.

The young lady was undeterred by their shouts, deciding on a direction that would take her deeper into the university’s tangle of buildings and with luck, a suitable place to lie low until the search was abandoned or night fell and she could sneak out again and seek passage to Glasgow or London. Someplace, she was determined, far, far away.

Miss Foley’s chosen trajectory put her directly in the path of a commotion occurring in an alley between two campus halls. The Dublin police in their blue uniforms and tall hats were in force around the site, truncheons in hand to keep back passerby and curious academics. A macabre display arranged in the far alley was the obvious reason for their presence.

Bio:  I am a current resident of the Heartlands, though am nomadic by nature and design. I received my BFA in fine arts illustration, minoring in writing and art history. I spent a year after college doing more college while pursuing my dream to go to Europe and see--everything. I fell in love Dublin Ireland and knew at some point I would be writing at least one book set there. Upon my return to the states I continued to bounce around until I landed in Ohio. I'm currently an Autocad jockey by day and author by night. I have written more than a dozen novels (many of which were terrible) and have published to some degree under my pseudo-name, Missouri Dalton.When not working my time is devoted to art, research and teaching my ferocious beast of a cat that hands are not food and the sparrow is not out to get him no matter how he feels about either.
Critiquing Style: I start out with a general over-read, commenting as I go through if I see anything that's out and out grammatically wrong or spelled incorrectly (it happens to the best of us). I also remark on awkward phrasings, overall plot arcs and emotional beats. Once I have comments throughout I'll do a second read and then write a letter with any other thoughts/concerns/etc. I tend to do better talking face to face about issues but email exchanges also work. I'm always happy to expand/explain my comments if they aren't clear.

Contemporary - Magical Realism

Name: Mayken Brünings

Email Address: m.bruenings at web dot de

Age Category: MG

Genre: Magical realism (with sports)

Other Age Categories and Genres You Like to Write: YA Fantasy, YA Magical Realism

Twitter Handle: @MaykenAlanna

Chapter Excerpt is From: Chapter 8

500 Word Excerpt:

We all know the ritual. The moment after the starting horn sounds, the hall will erupt into deafening noise again. But right now, all is quiet.

Just as the whistle has switched off the noise, it has switched off my nervousness. I look ahead, at my lane, at the blue and green backstroke flags hanging limply at the five-metre mark.

At the second whistle, we step onto the blocks and take our positions. The silence is almost eerie. I grip the edge of the block and lower my head.

“Take your marks.”

My muscles tense.


An ear-splitting screech explodes in my head, and the next thing I know is I’m in the water, the screeching still piercing my ears.

I’m flailing wildly. I can’t get a grip on anything.

A hand takes hold of my arm, pulls me up. A second hand takes my other arm, and I am lifted out of the water. My ears are hurting from the shrill sound.

I stand beside the block, shaking. The screeching finally stops. I am staring into the face of Coach. His hands hold my shoulders.

“What happened to you, Clare?” he asks.

Behind me the whistle sounds again, and something in my brain clicks.

False start. DQ.


I’m in the showers, still shaking. I’ve been standing under the hot stream of water for at least five minutes. I was unable to speak, even when Coach repeated his question. I didn’t know what happened. I still don’t know.
I can’t remember the last time I did a false start. I’m good at starts. When we do them at practice, I usually end up getting picked for a demonstration.

I’ve also seen video footage of our starts. It’s part of classroom. Angel, Coach’s assistant, films us occasionally at practice, and then we watch the footage together during a classroom session
In the videos, I always seem to fly off the block before the starting signal ends. I have good reflexes, Angel says. Reflexes or reaction times are really important in swimming. On the Provincial level, a fraction of a second can get you in or out of a final, on or off the podium.

The shaking slowly subsides but I still don’t understand what happened. Where did the screeching come from? My mind is numb.

I can’t decide what to do. As a result of the DQ, I’m done for the day. When the shower stops, I slowly return to my seat at the back of our club’s section.

“Got DQ’ed, Clare?”

Sarah. I stop, but I don’t reply.

“I thought you were so good at starts.”

Leave me alone, I want to say. The words are stuck in my throat.

“DQ’ers don’t get onto Provincial, you know?”

“Stop spouting nonsense, Sarah. Coach doesn’t kick people for a single DQ.” Nate stands near the railing.
He glares at Sarah until she turns away, then comes over to me. “You all right?”

I shake my head.

“It happens to everyone,” he says. “There was another false start just now.”

Bio: A trilingual writer, translator, swimmer and full-time working mom of a (so far) bilingual kid with a husband who helps me keep all these things balanced, I write during my lunch breaks in a Parisian café (though to be honest it’s an American café, but it’s in Paris, so that counts, right?). I started reading when my bedtime stories were Pippi Longstocking, and I haven’t stopped since. I’d been writing quietly for years when an illustrator friend pointed me to SCBWI, they set up a conference in Paris of all places, which prompted me to join Twitter, and that’s when I really started learning about writing, revising, querying, CPs and beta-readers and all the rest.

Critiquing Style: I don’t have much critiquing experience to go on yet, but I’m more of a line-editor than a big-picture person. If you need typos weeded out or inconsistencies hunted down, I’m your girl. But give me romance, and I’m utterly useless.

Contemporary Fantasy

Name: Kaitlin Hundscheid

Age Category: MG

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Other Age Categories and Genres You Like to Write: MG Contemp or Mystery, Cozy Mystery

Twitter Handle: @khundscheid

Chapter Excerpt is From: Chapter Three

500 Word Excerpt:

Theodore peered down the dark row. “Hello?” He cleared his throat. “Is someone there?” 

A man in a long velvet coat emerged from the shadows, gazing at Theodore from beneath a large feathered hat, his eyes glinting like a panther on the hunt. “And who might you be?”

            Telling a strange man his name might not be smart, but telling a costumed man in a dark library his name was crazy. Theodore gulped. “I have to go. My brother and sister are waiting for me.” He turned towards the stairs, but paused for one last glimpse of the stranger.

The man was gone. 

Theodore stared down the rows to either side. 


How could anyone move that fast without making a sound? It wasn’t possible. 

In the corner of his eye, Theodore caught a swiftly moving bit of red. He whirled around as a small figure disappeared around the end of a distant row. “Hey, wait!” He raced through the shelves, rounded the same corner, and stopped. 

No one. 

Theodore checked his watch, his heart fluttering. He didn’t have time to search further; he was already late. He bolted to the stairs, flew down the steps, and collided with a dark shape at the bottom. 

“Excuse me,” said a cold voice. 

Theodore stepped back to look at the tall man before him dressed in a stiff black suit with a somber tie, sharp eyes glaring beneath thick, furrowed eyebrows. “Sorry,” he mumbled. 

“Who are you?” The man leaned close to inspect Theodore’s face. He smelled like strong tea and mothballs. “I know all the children in Pickettsville, and you are not one of them.”

“He’s Mabel Cleghorn’s nephew,” said Mrs. Pickett-Smythe as she bustled over, eying him suspiciously. “Were you sprinting down those stairs?”

“I…I’m late. My brother and sister are waiting for me.”

“Run along then. I believe they stepped outside.” Turning to the man, her face grew sunny. “Mr. Withers, would you care to sit down and discuss plans for the summer fundraiser?” 

Mr. Withers nodded and held out his arm to escort her. “Take care, boy. Hurtling down stairs is hardly the way to behave in a library.” Mrs. Pickett-Smythe nodded with a sniff. 

“Yes, sir,” said Theodore. He shuffled towards the door. 

“Children these days have no decorum,” said Mr. Withers. 

A wave of heat crept up Theodore’s neck. “I thought I saw someone.” 

“You what?” said Mrs. Pickett-Smythe, her head whipping round.

“I thought I saw someone.” 

“Scared of the shadows? A grown boy like you…” Mr. Withers shook his head and turned to leave, but Mrs. Pickett-Smythe’s eyes bore into Theodore. 

“Why do you say that?”

“I thought I saw a man. He was dressed…funny.” 

Her eyes dropped. “Rubbish. There’s no one else here. If you spend hours reading, you’re sure to imagine things, and I did warn you about the shadows.” She shook her head decisively and tightened her grip on Mr. Withers’s arm. “Have a good evening.”

Bio: I write mostly MG, but I’m open to critiquing anything light-hearted. By day I teach a variety of subjects K-12 and spend my free time writing, drinking tea, and harassing my cats. Ravenpuff.
Critiquing Style: I’m still a newbie CP and don’t know that I have a particular style, but I enjoy both parsing the nitty gritty and evaluating big-picture stuff. I like to work in 2-3 chapter chunks.

Contemporary Fantasy

Name: Pete Catalano

Email Address: billypayne at aol dot com

Age Category (MG, YA, NA, or Adult): MG

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Other Age Categories and Genres You Like to Write: MG Contemporary.
Twitter Handle: @Pete_Catalano

Chapter Excerpt is From: Chapter Twelve 

            Stepping through the door leading to Black’s office, his floor was stone and the walls were carved out of these massive rocks.


            “It doesn’t seem like you’ve ever heard of the concept of ‘cozy’ . . . ” I started.    


            Black laughed as he took a seat behind a very large, very imposing desk. “I’ve been in this game for far too long, Mordecai. When I first put on my Super Villain suit, our lairs were these remote, fog-covered islands, where the Superheroes or even the police couldn’t find you. I was comfortable in the caves back then. In fact, I did some of my greatest masterminding and had my most impressive victories while hiding away. When the IFCE moved here to New York I knew this room was a little bit of home I needed to bring with me.” He paused for a moment. There was a look in his eyes as if he were remembering those times. “Sorry, now where were we?”


            “My education,” I reminded him.


            “Ah yes, your education,” Black repeated as a holographic board appeared before us. “There are several areas we need to concentrate on over the next few days we are together. Name being the primary one.” As Black said the word, it appeared in the middle of the screen before us. “Laugh. Abilities. Costume. Henchmen. Lair. If we can begin to talk about these six Super Villain factors, we should be able to carve out a niche from which you can start your training. Does that work for you?”
            I nodded my head like I was a bobblehead doll.
            “Now for choosing a name,” Black said, tapping his fingers on the desk. “A really great Super Villain name has to accomplish at least one of the following three things . . . but hopefully all of them. It has to lend itself to a really cool costume.
            “Check,” I said.
            “It has to sound dark, threatening, and menacing.
            “Check again.”
            “It must have the potential to inspire great nicknames.”
            “But I don’t – ” I started.
            “Think about it, Mordecai,” Black said. “Would "The Meaner Ballerina" ever get taken seriously? The costume alone would get you laughed out of the International Federation of Creepy Evildoers. However, if for some reason you do prefer to be of service to the IFCE and commit your crimes through the expressive power of dance, I would suggest something slightly more sinister, such as "Deadly Dancer".
            I thought about it and sighed. “But I kind of like Mordecai . . . ”
            Black shook his head. “Mordecai is a  . . . terrible name for a Super Villain.”
            “I know!” I said, jumping up out of my seat and taking a super stance. “We can add a few words to it so I can become Evil Mordecai. Or Mordecai the Destroyer!

Bio: I writ MG contemporary and contemporary fantasy and prefer to critique the same. Claim to fame includes a MG Contemporary Fantasy coming out from Month9Books in May 2016. I do make my bed, and I’m scared of penguins.

Critiquing Style: I make notes on what I love, what makes me laugh, and anything that trips me up or falls flat for me. Dialogue and voice are my biggest strengths.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

O Christmas Tree: The Untold Story

The following is a short story I wrote after thinking about captive Christmas trees due to an email subject I misread. The subject was "Release the Christmas Stress," but I read it as "Release the Christmas Trees." The beginnings of a story swirled into being, and the following grew out of it. (Grew. Tree. Ha, ha. I am easily entertained.) It is rather sad, so if you don't like sad tales, skip this one. 

O Christmas Tree: The Untold Story

by Rebecca Blevins

The first Great Slaughter I remember, I was a little slow to figure out what was happening, even after all the preparations my parents had made. After all, the sap had thickened in my branches a great deal since I was quite small back then, and that always made me a little fuzzy. The air was my favorite kind—so cold my needles tingled, so clear I could see down into the valley where hundreds of us evergreens stood, growing straight and true, protected by the hills. The snow glittered shades of pink and orange as the sun hung low in the sky, bathing us all in the most enchanting scene. It would have been perfection, except for one thing—
The screaming.
“Just hold still, Sprout,” my Mama had said. "They likely won't notice us evergreens out here in the oaks, but you can't be too careful." There was some rumbling from the oaks, but it was too low to understand.
“Yes, listen to your Mama.” I loved hearing my Papa speak. The low vibrations of his voice rumbled into my roots and made me feel safe, protected. Both my parents had told me many times how fortunate we were to be here, safely tucked away on a quiet, oak-filled area of the hill, away from the humans. We didn’t know how we came to be here, but as I heard the laughing of human children in the distance, the sound of whining killing machines, and the sickening thuds of the trees falling, I was ever so thankful for our secluded spot. The only time we were ever exposed was this, the worst time, when all the leaves had been blown away in the icy breezes and snow gusts, and the people came with red and green scarves and strong shoulders to carry away those trees they had killed. Even though this was my first time seeing what was happening, Mama and Papa had prepared me as well as they could. 
“But, why do they do this?” I had asked for the umpteenth time. 
"You know as well as we do," Papa said. "The humans aren't very intelligent. They can't even understand what we say. We have tried for years, but they don't listen. There were some humans who came close, long ago. They lived among us in the forest, but they disappeared. Now, no one comes close to trying to understand us." Papa shook a cone off a branch in disgust. It hit an oak, who cursed at him. "Pardon," Papa said. 
"I know that, Papa. Tell me the story Mr. Bumblepaw told you." If they were telling me stories, I could halfway ignore the screaming trees in the open field. I knew they would. My parents indulged me in telling the same tales over and over again. Trees like tales. It's the only thing about us that travels well.
Papa motioned to Mama, who was the best storyteller. She began in a grave tone, “One day, long ago, we had a friend, Mr. Bumblepaw.—”
“He was a rabbit, right?” I asked.
Papa grumbled. “Don’t interrupt your mother. Yes, he was a rabbit—”
I broke in, “He was called Mr. Bumble—”
“—Because he had a paw that had been damaged by a thorn. You know this already, so hush,” Mama scolded and flicked a few of her needles at me.
The needles tickled, so I laughed, then said nothing. After a few moments, she started again. “One day, Mr. Bumblepaw came to us all excited. ‘You’ll never guess what I found out!'” Mama shook an annoying cardinal out of her branches and continued. “So, Mr. Bumblepaw said, 'I followed a group of humans as they dragged a poor spruce to their house, then set it up inside in a pot of water that kept it barely alive. Then they put spots of fire on it—that didn’t burn it up—then hung apples and other foods and things on it. Then, they sang a song worshipping the tree, calling it a Christmas Tree and praising its beautiful branches.'” Mama stopped, choking back sobs.
“That’s right,” Papa had said in disgust,“They cut down the tree, then stuck things all over its branches while keeping it barely alive, tortured it with fire (I recoiled in horror, as fire was one of the things we feared most next to humans), then called it beautiful! I don’t know what these humans find so appealing about cutting a tree and torture-worshipping it until it dies.” He rustled some of his huge blue-green needles as he always did when he was upset.
Mama let out a little wail. I wondered again why she consented to tell me the gruesome tale whenever I asked, since it upset her so much. But then again, we trees don’t have a lot of excitement day-to-day. The oaks love telling ghost stories when their sap runs fast in the spring, the scarier the better. They mellow out to tales of skunk and porcupine wars in the summer. I guess we’re not that much different, even if we do keep our needles while they lose their leaves. (The oaks brag a lot about their colors in the fall, but don’t talk much in the winter. I think it’s because they’re naked and embarrassed, but Mama won’t let me ask them. She says it’s not appropriate to discuss such things.)
I was as horrified as I always was when I heard Mr. Bumblepaw's story. “But the humans seem so happy!” I stared out at the field again, listening to joyful singing from the humans amid more screams—this time from a tree named Sway, who was only a few years older than I. The spring before, we had begun to call to each other and kind of became friends, since I was old enough to have my voice carry. I curled some of my shorter branches to my trunk, trying to muffle the sound. Now that Sway was being hacked down, I didn’t want to hear any more tales. It hadn’t quite seemed real until I heard screams from a tree I knew. Thick drops of sap leaked down my spindly trunk, and I tried to wipe them off, but only got my needles stuck together.
When I'd looked again, Sway had been tied up and was being dragged away.

That was several seasons past. Since then, no new tree has grown up to take Sway’s place. The humans planted new ones farther away from where we were, and that made me hope we would be more hidden as the years went by. Even though I heard the evergreens laughing and talking to each other during the warmer growing months, I had learned not to be jealous of their friendships—having no friends was better than dying. Each winter I held my breath and tried not to hear the screaming, hoping the humans would never find us. It seemed to work, until this year.
The snow glistened as beautifully as ever, and I concentrated on it, trying to block out the thudding sounds and dying trees.
Suddenly, Mama smacked one of my branches and hissed, “Sprout, Deform!” I bent a few of my limbs and listed my trunk to one side. I let go of some of the needles from a few branches my parents had chosen. We had practiced this many times before. Mama and Papa Deformed, too, and my heart sunk into my roots as the horror shot through me.
The worst had happened. 
My branches shook in terror, because the older my parents got, the harder it was for them to manipulate their branches. Neither of them could bend their trunks anymore, though they could still drop a few needles. I wished and wished as hard as I could that they would be able to Deform enough to keep them safe.
“Well, well!” A laughing man’s voice exclaimed. “Look at these! All hidden in the oaks—what a beautiful green they are!”
“Yes, yes! Those branches are so lovely!” a woman’s voice replied, all shiny. “The little one is too small—besides, it’s bent—but either of the other two would do nicely!”
In a few moments I saw what my taller parents had already seen. Humans. Two of them. The man stepped in front of me, over by Papa. He wore loud orange and red, and carried a stick of dead tree topped with a gleaming, silver weapon. “I think this larger one would be perfect. There are a few dead branches, but nothing a little surgery can’t fix.”
“Oh, wonderful!” The woman, with yellow hair and blue everywhere else, examined Papa. “Yes, I think the council will be thrilled! This will be the best lighting ceremony Castledale has ever seen!” She frowned. “I’ll need more lights, though.” She turned around and put a black thing to her ear. “Yes, Mr. Mayor. We’re going to have to increase the lighting budget by a little bit . . .” She walked away, deep in conversation, then turned to watch the man as she kept talking into her little box.
The man sharpened his silver weapon until the edge gleamed in the dimming light. Then he picked it up and marched over to my mother, staring at her. “Oh, Silvia! No!” Papa cried, shaking his branches. The man paused for a moment at the rustling and muttered, “Stupid wind.”
I watched in horror as the man swung at my mother! I heard a snicking sound, and she gasped as a branch tumbled free, landing in the powdery snow.
“What did you do that for?” The woman covered the talking device with her hand and stalked toward the man, glaring. “We could have used that one next year. Now you’ve ruined it!”
The man's face fell. “Oh. Sorry. I wanted to test the blade, and I thought that tree had too many dead branches to look nice. It had more bent ones than I'd first thought.” 
The woman rolled her eyes. "I still don't understand why you won't use a chainsaw. An ax is so archaic."
"You just don't understand the appeal of doing things the old way. If you want me to get the tree, let me do it how I want, or you can get a saw and do it yourself." He stood solid, eyes flashing.
 The woman sighed. "Fine." Then she turned her back on the man, talking again into her device. The man put all his sharpening supplies away. He stood by Papa, and I pled with all my might. Please, please, not Papa.
For a moment, the man turned away, and I thought my begging had been heard. I was about to rejoice when he held the weapon up and brought it around so fast it was a blur.
Papa shuddered and moaned.
Mama sobbed quietly. The man didn’t notice her quaking limbs.
My sap ran freely from my few knotholes, thick as it was. I felt numb, cold to my roots, and it wasn’t the good-feeling kind of cold. I wished I could save my father, I wished I could transport us all away, I wished the man would stop. I begged him, but he didn’t hear my pleading. The only sounds besides the grunts of the man swinging his flashing silver weapon were dull thuds punctuated by cracking, and the pungent scent of Papa's needles shaking loose.
 I don’t know how he kept quiet after that first moan. He had to be in agony. I felt his shaking through the ground clear to the tips of my needles. I think the only reason he didn't scream was so he wouldn't leave me and Mama with that as our last memory of him.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I pretended it was spring and we were in a beautiful rainstorm, the sound of rain on us, around us, glorious rain hammering the dirt into mud. Anything to stop the dull thuds vibrating my bark, resonating the sounds of my father’s murder into the deepest part of my soul.
The thudding ceased, and I felt a final crash on the ground. My mother sobbed silently next to me. “Oh, Oren,” she whispered over and over. I wanted to yell at her to stop. Saying Papa's name wouldn't do anything to help. After a few minutes of rest, the man began whistling. I looked at the spot where Papa lay, majestic and barely alive. The air was filled with the sweet scent of his sap, which dripped slowly off the end of his trunk and beaded in small circles on his stump.
The man left. Mama and I stared at Papa, when he whispered weakly, "I love both of you so much."
We whispered back our love as the shock set into Papa's trunk, and he grew quiet. Soon, the man came back with a machine, which he hooked my father up to. I said goodbye to my Papa as he bumped along in the snow, taking my soul with him while leaving broken needles and sap on the broken white trail. I looked away and saw Mama’s lopped-off branch lying beside her. “Mama, does it hurt?” I winced at the sight of the sap oozing on her white limb.
“Not much. It’s a clean cut and is already hardening over. No twisted bark, thank goodness." She sighed, resigned. "I have to say that I’m glad that branch is gone.” There was relief in her voice along with sadness, which puzzled me.
“Why? I don’t see how that could be anything good, Mama!” I stared out at the trail where Papa had gone, and at the sparkling lights in the distance where the humans lived. I felt empty, drained of sap and life. The glittering snow, so beautiful minutes ago, reminded me of the glistening silver edge the man used to cut down Papa.
Mama straightened out her branches as well as she could. “Well, if you heard the woman, now that the man took my branch off, they won’t come back to get me next year. Things will never be the same without your father--" She paused for a moment to regain her composure "--but this means I will never leave you here alone. We will be together here for years to come.” She reached out and stroked one of my little, spindly branches with one of her soft, silvery-green ones before holding it, gently. She spoke with sadness. “We will miss him. We always will. But this is the life of a tree, and it looks as if we will get to live a better one than most.” Soon the night was fully black, dotted with bright stars overhead. I heard Mama sniffle in her sleep now and then, and I cried silently for my Papa, who I would never see again.

As the dawn rose, illuminating the stump that used to be the foot of my father, I resolved to only think of his life, his bravery, his love for me. And a few nights later, as the distant sounds of a choir came from the town, the soft strains of gentle music filled the air. It had always been a great time of sadness, this funeral song spreading over the land, but this time my mother and I felt it to the very innermost ring of our cores. I don't know if we trees will ever understand why the humans insist on killing us in order to celebrate our lives, but I hope someday we will be able to communicate with them to tell them that what they do is not the way to honor us.
 Someday, I hope they become smart enough to understand.
My mother and I stood, branches touching, quiet as the blowing snow. Every tree fell silent and still as we bowed our branches and listened to the funeral hymn for my Papa and all the trees who were taken from us this Slaughtering Season. 

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Your beauty green will teach me
That hope and love will ever be
The way to joy and peace for me.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Your beauty green will teach me.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Name: Heidi Boyd
Email Address: hr-boyd at hotmail dot com
Age Category: MG
Genre: Lower-fantasy
Other age categories and genres I like to write:  MG mystery, YA lower fantasy with a bit of romance thrown in for kicks and giggles.
Twitter Handle: @heidi_boyd
Chapter excerpt is from: Chapter Two

500 word excerpt:

Nicole watched him go. Her gaze skimmed past the fireplace in the great room below her as her brother walked by it. She stilled and the room tunneled into silence. There in the hearth, where she’d stood just minutes before, a cheery fire flickered and danced, warming the entire room.

“Wait!” Nicole yelled. A chill settled into her core and it had little to do with the temperature. She tore her focus away from the fire and blinked rapidly, trying to unsee what she knew she had just seen. “Wh—when did you have time to light a fire?”

“I didn’t light the fire. You did. Or Dad did. Or the fire king did. Not me.”


“See ya.” And off he ran.

Nicole stood completely still near the top of the stairs, trying her best not to breathe, for fear of what might happen. She bit her lip, reasoning through her confusion. Two fires in one day! Two unexplainable fires starting in one day. What was wrong with her?

There was a simple explanation. There had to be. Dad was here somewhere, right?

“Dad?” she called.

No answer.

Okay. So someone else had come in and started the fire. In the two minutes it took her to climb the stairs? Nicole shook her head.

“I’ve got to get out of here.”

 She rushed up the remaining stairs, choosing to ignore all thoughts of fires and concentrate instead on taking a nice hot shower. If she ever had another day like today, where unexplainable things happened all around her, she’d go crazy for sure. And then where would they all be? Maybe they’d be better off building their own private family wing at Heavenspot.

Just as she reached the bathroom at the top of the stairs, the front door slammed open again. “Nic!” Nathan yelled up to her. “Dad said we’re going to see Gran. Meet us by the truck. And don’t spend so much time on your girl stuff. Hurry up.”

            Nicole huffed out her held breath, shoulders sinking in defeat. Her shower would have to wait. But at least she’d warmed up a bit, and if she hurried she could put on some clothes that didn’t smell like the inside of a chimney.

Freshly clothed, Nicole bounded down the stairs five minutes later. She grabbed her sweater off the coat rack and turned toward the door. Summer had started the week before, but she was still waiting for someone to tell the weather. Stepping onto the back porch the frigid breeze hit her skin, and she rubbed away the goosebumps on her arms. June in Montana was never warm enough.

Nathan stood near the pond, and he waved her over as he belched out, “Over here.” A small laugh escaped before Nicole could remind herself that almost thirteen-year-old girls thought burping was gross, not funny. She covered her mouth, chased her smile off her face, and then ran toward her brother.

Standing in front of the pond, she pushed away the urge to shove Nathan in.

Bio: I write MG and YA and read as much of each genre as I can get my hands on. I’m lucky enough to live in Montana and love love love it here. Writing from home, while my three sons are at school, is one of the joys of my life. I feel lost without a book in my hands or a laptop at my fingertips, and I think Stranger Than Fiction and Crazy, Stupid, Love are two of the best movies ever made. If you cut me, I might bleed Diet Dr. Pepper, and a bag of Twizzlers Nibs fuels my word count every day. I’ve been a finalist in three separate online writing contests, including Pitch Wars. I smile ALL the time, seriously, you could bounce a quarter off my cheek muscles.

Critiquing Style: I prefer to do line edits and make general comments in the margins throughout the story via a word document. I think it’s important to point out the things I love, and what is working, along with what I think could use work. I like to give specific ideas and examples for fixes as well as ask questions that might spur creative thought. Character authenticity and voice are my biggest strengths, but I don’t fuss too much with punctuation.