“Uppercase Art in modern America has become a synonym for arrogance, irresponsibility, vulgarity, disrespect, and wild, suicidal self-indulgence. It seems to me that consumers of entertainment products would be much better served if writers started viewing themselves as practitioners of a craft and stopped pretending to be a kind of secular clergy that stands above the laws of man and God.” – Story Craft by John R. Erickson
Crow was her first and now he knelt before her to say goodbye.
Arthritic knuckles no longer able to hold a pen.
Her eyes have closed.
Her breathing slowed.
Her living family waits and weeps.
In her mind, the last of her stories played out, the last of her characters gathered around her. Crow’s first. He loved her best, knew her best, bore the deepest scars inflicted by her hand, but burnt with the brightest hope infused by her every mark. Behind him ranged rank after rank of heroes and villains, sinners and saints, men and women, boys and girls, and animals given voice, trees given wings. Some of them have had their stories told, some waited and waited and waited too long, the chance now gone as she slipped away.
Crow took her little hand in the strong one she gave him.
“I’m sorry,” she said in her head to her best creation. “I’m sorry for everything you had to carry, everything you had to endure.”
He smiled. “You never left me. You were always there. You always brought me home.”
“But so many of you never made it home.” Tears sprang to her eyes as she scanned the faces of so many representations of her soul.
“You gave us life, even if only for a moment,” said Sundance, with blueberry eyes and blonde hair. “You gave us love.” Ronan, wearing his sunglasses, kissed Sundance on the side of her head. He came forward, holding the old storyteller’s other hand. “You gave us purpose.”
Beautiful Olive wrapped in all the seasons rested her hand on Crow’s shoulder. “You gave us a chance to fight the darkness.”
“You saved us from the darkness.” Fortunatus said beside Jack. The one-eyed boy twisted his wolf’s head earring.
“You loved us. You cried over all of us.” Star removes her top hat and bows. Beside her, Bree wrapped her arm around her son Jonah. “You reunited us.”
“Thank you….thank you…thank you…,” the old storyteller said. She searched all their well-known faces one last time. “Thank you, for sharing your stories with me. For asking me to voice them.” She turned one last time to Crow. “Thank you for finding me.” She smiled, turned her eyes to heaven, and slipped away. The room emptied instantly, all of them forever gone, for they were her soul, fragmented and broken, healed. And when she was gone, so were they.
“Goodbye…” whispered the wind.
Pages ruffled. A child snuggled deep into a chair. His eyes swept the letters, reading the words. A world opened. Characters breathed.
Goodbye was temporary.
I’m working on Book 2 of The Artists Return Series: The Sparrow and the Star. Everything in the book is rushing towards Christmas Day and the moment of Eucatastrophe.
I love Christmas, so it seemed natural to place my YA novel at that time of the year, albeit in another world. It gives me a good excuse to listen to Christmas music (as if I need one) and bake Christmas goodies, and light candles. I’m creating mood, putting my mind in the right place…right?
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
But seriously, if my story takes place in deep winter, than Christmas must be part of the story. If I want to have a turning point of grace, where light infuses the story, what better day to have that happen on than Christmas? It is one of two great moments of Eucatastrophe in our own History. Christ became man and dwelt with us. What a moment of pure grace. The other, greater moment is the resurrection. Death overcome. Wishing to mirror, as a small child her father, the great story, I have purposely placed Christmas Day at the center of my faerie tale.
This has caused me to listen to Christmas carols with a new ear. The lyrics take on another layer of meaning. The first layer of rejoicing at the goodness of God is still there. The second layer of years and years of beloved family tradition is still there, and now a third layer of characters and events birthed from my mind and heart infuse these songs. The other day, I heard one of my favorites in light of this new layer: Wintersong by Sarah McLachian
I’ve always enjoyed Wintersong in the context of the end of Book 2. (No worries, this should be spoiler free, dear readers.)
Book 2 ends on Christmas Day with both the perfect and the worst things happening all at once. He’s befriended a girl named Star of Hope, a Scarecrow who came to help him. Jonah is about to start the upswing of his story, going from darkness to light.
This is the song:
“This is how I see you, in the snow of Christmas morning. Love and happiness surround you. As you throw your arms up to the sky, I keep this moment by and by. Oh I miss you now, my love. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, my love.
Sense of joy fills the air and I daydream and I stare up at the tree and I see your star up there.”
I can’t believe how perfectly this song fits my feelings for Jonah as I mentally start moving into Book 3 and how his life is going to culminate. I even wrote the ending of the whole story the other day. Already I miss everyone. Already I miss my young warrior, Jonah.
I love how the song mentions a tree and a star, both significant in Jonah’s life, both women in Jonah’s life.
And this is how I see Jonah. I see him in the snow on Christmas morning. I see him with love and happiness all around him for the first time in a long time. I can see him throwing his arms up to the sky. This is a moment I’ll keep. I miss Jonah already, but this happiness I give him is my Christmas gift to him. Joy fills the air and I daydream of how Jonah is doing, and I stare up at the Tree and I see his Star. Oh how happy I am for my dear Jonah.
So as you can imagine, this is now playing on repeat one on my phone. And it’s been added to the playlist for the Series. So far I have these songs and why:
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Casting Crowns: despite being very One Kingdom, the idea of not being forgotten and God bring peace suits this story, as does the music.
Rose Tattoo by Dropkick Murphys: I love the sense of family, adventure, and a good Irish brawl mixed in this song. It suits a new group of characters you’ll meet in Book 2 and a bit of the Dragons.
Worn by Tenth Avenue North: This is a heartfelt song about being worn down by this life and sin and needing some hope. Jonah gets beat down and down and down, but looks to what he’s learned from Soul about the King for hope.
Raise Your Horns by Amon Amarth: You could not find a better battle anthem than this song. It is a great brotherhood bonding song.
How Firm a Foundation: This is to remind me that the foundation of all our hope is the Word of God.
Never Once by Matt Redman: The image in this song of never being left out of God’s care is beautiful and filled with hope. It specifically mentions battle which suits this series perfectly.
The Soldier and the Oak by Elliott Park: I should move this song to the top of the list because as soon as I heard it I had to write a story for it. It is beautiful, touching, so sad, and amazing.
Hey Brother by Avicii: There are strong, repeated ideas of brotherhood and sisterhood in this story. I think that is a far more important theme for YAs than romance. Brotherhoods and sisterhoods, friends and family, will last much longer than romance. This song captures both the joy and the sorrow of standing together.
On top of that, I have also listened to the Band of Brothers and Rambo 4 Soundtracks. They both have a haunting melody that brings to mind the sadness of war.
I love having a layered view to life. This is one of the things I love most about fantasy. When you read good fantasy stories, they become a lens through which you view your world. They help you see the magic that we take for granted or have become callused to. They help you see stories in a patch of white flowers, or in a tree, or even a Christmas carol. I hope one day to bring this same joy to others as they read my story. I hope it gives them fresh layers in their own lives.
I’m going to try to do more character interviews. In the past, I was averse to them because I write in a very visceral manner. My stories are quick, painful, bloody, and over. I don’t really have a strong sense of my main characters until the third or fourth rewrite. I’m a pantser and one of the failings of writing without an outline is that you don’t get a real sense of the world or characters until after the book is finished. Then you polish polish polish and attempt to herd cats into a basic plot. Plus, as you will see, some of my characters don’t interview very well.
Abby Jones’ Interview with Christopher
Christopher leaned back in his chair, arms crossed across his chest, a lazy glare on his face. I have to admit, I was a little nervous talking alone with Christopher. While I’m years older than him, his reputation as an unfeeling bully who lorded his power over his fellow bruisers put me slightly on edge. Everything about this boy oozed danger. His scars, his posture, his mixed-match clothing stolen from others, even the fact that he was not as gaunt as the rest of the kids from the Streets communicated his first priority: himself.
I sat opposite Christopher and held out my hand. He glanced at it, smirked slightly, and refused to take it. Any pleasantries we might have exchanged remained unspoke. His scars were the first thing I noticed after he pulled off a filthy knit cap revealing a shaved head. They tracked here and there across his face and into the shadow of his hair. Across his nose and just below his right eye blossomed a spider web of lines.
On his left cheek, as if to balance out the scars carved by fights, rested Fear’s mark delineating him a bruiser. My eyes flinched away from the mark: a boy trapped in the horror of a fire. There for all the world to see was, possibly, the only thing Christopher feared: burning to death.
He grinned at me and tapped his cheek. “Pretty, in’it?”
My heart raced. Awkwardness gave way to true uncomfortableness. Wait. Stop. I took a deep breath. I knew this boy’s fate. Why was I afraid? I matched Christopher grin for grin. All the anxiety he induced melted away.
Let’s start with the basic’s okay, just to warm up. What’s your name?
Listen lady, I ain’t some fancy rotten boy born to fancy rotten parents. (Excuse his language, dear reader, he has, as stated, no mother.) I was pulled from the ground like everyone else around here. And it’ ain’t rotten likely that some dirty hero from Greenhome’s gonna come sweep me up. It’s just rotten Christopher.
So, you’re an unborn?
You’re as bright as the shining sun.
What’s it like to be an unborn?
What do you think it’s rotten like? No one wants a maggot like you. No one cares about a maggot like you. (He leaned forward.) It means, iffen I want it, I take it. You got a pretty I like, it’s mine. Got it?
Uh…yes. I believe I’ve got it. So, what’s your unborn skill?
(He harrumphed and leaned back.) Rotten skills.
Closest thing I got to any skill is being a rotten scrapper.
Scrapper? What’s that?
A fighter. (He wiped his mouth with his hand.) I ain’t scared of getting hurt, or dirtying my hands, or pushing the little ones around. Flo said I came up fighting and she got me out of the scroungers real rotten fast. Said I was harvested to be a dirty, maggoty bruiser.
Do you like being a bruiser, and doing what Fear says?
So bruisers eat better than the mechanics and workers?
(Christopher laughed, moving in again.) What’s it look like to you?
How about Axe? Is he a good leader?
Rotten Axe. (Christopher glanced around real quick, checking to make sure we were alone.) He ain’t much older than me, and he ain’t rotting better than me. His skill is filthy dumb, reciting all them words. Give me time. I’m gonna make my pretty play and then Axe’ll be the one at the bottom of the dirty heap instead of the pretty top. Then all the bruisers will listen to me.
Sounds like you’re pretty ambitious.
I’m cold and hungry.
And Axe isn’t?
He’s got filthy food, ain’t he? He got so many pretty coats, he just rotting gives them away. The bruisers follow him around like he’s something special, and filthy Cagen lets him do whatever he rotting wants. Iffen Axe is, he isn’t as much as me.
Do you like living on the Streets?
Like? (He pushed back and put his boots up on the table. They both had holes in the soles and toes. Scraps of paper and dirty rags stuck out here and there.) What’s to rotting like? Marks, Axe, cold, hunger. Sure. It’s rotting dandy.
If you could leave, if someone offered to salvage you, would you go?
(Christopher’s face twisted this way and that.) No one would rotten do that for me.
How old are you, Christopher?
Who knows? Maybe somewheres around sixteen. Seems a pretty answer.
What is your job in Gang Gray, as a bruiser?
To bruise. (He smiled, showing all his dirty teeth.) I watch the wall with my boys and pound any of the dirty gangs that try and attack us. And I pound any other rotting bruisers who try to sleep in our spot. (Christopher paused.) And I pound any maggot who has what I want.
Sounds like you were born to be a bruiser. Any last thoughts or something you’d like to say?
(Christopher stands up.) Last thoughts? Yeah. I’m the one to watch. I’m going pretty places. Axe thinks he gives the orders now, but Pain’s asking me to do special things. Me. Rotting Christopher. And I’m gonna do ‘em. So you just keep your dirty eyes on me.
Oh believe me, I will. One last thing, did you know Jonah before he was salvaged?
(That question got a frown from Christopher.) Sure I rotten did. He and Deke were two of my best dirty little ones. I was going to make something of that boy. Talk about a rotten skill to fight, though they said he wasn’t no filthy unborn. I never in my life seen a boy so bent on hurting everything. I would’ve smashed Deke’s dirty hands myself for getting Jonah salvaged.
How do you think he’s doing in Greenhome?
Jonah? He better be making that rotting Soul regret ever salvaging him. I put a lot of work into training Jonah. Hate to rotting see it go to waste.
Do you miss him?
Miss him? He wasn’t no dirty brother of mine. But, boy, could he fight. (Christopher smiled to himself.) One time he took on three kids big as me in a fight, and whipped ‘em good. They was howling maggots by the end of it. Sure could use Jonah now, with what Pain’s got planned.
I ain’t no rotting snitch!
He stared at me for a few minutes.
Thank you for coming by and talking with me.
Without a word, Christopher pulled his hat back on and stalked out of the room. I sighed. All the ambition in the worlds, good or bad, wasn’t going to get Christopher what he wanted, thank the King. I couldn’t help but smile to myself at the fact that Christopher thought he had it all figured out. I folded up my paper and put away my pen. I was glad to interview the sixteen-year-old bruiser. I love him after all. But, I was gladder to never again have to deal with him like he was then. Change was coming for Christopher, change named Jonah.
Christopher is a character in my Faerie Story from the Worlds before the Door, The Cost of Two Hands. Read the first chapter here.
Author Bethany Jennings created a fun hashtag challenge for writers, with a different prompt about your WIP (work-in-progress) every day. I’m so excited. This exercise not only allows me to share my story with you, but it prompts me to twist my brain around for different perspectives on the story.
If you want to join in visit Bethany’s Twitter profile (@simmeringmind) to see the pinned list of daily prompts!
THE COST OF TWO HANDS #WIPjoy
One: Intro Week
Tell us about your WIP:
The Cost of Two Hands is my WIP. It is a Faerie Story set in a world overtaken by long harsh winters. Jonah is salvaged off the Streets and comes to live in Greenhome where he must learn to control his uncanny ability to get into fights. Settling in, Jonah struggles with making friends and learning how to read. Back on the Streets petty wars are started by petty men. The starving shadow of Jonah’s old Gang reaches out for Greenhome while on the horizon kidnappers appear drawn by the scent of children: born and unborn alike.
Share your Protagonist’s awesomeness:
What I love the most about Jonah is that even as he discovers he is something mighty and magical, his main concern is living up to being Jonah Soul’s Man. All he wants to do is live in light of the sacrifice made to him. What he comes to find out about himself is far less important to him, than what was done for him. I also love how he has embraced using his abilities to get into fights for the good of others.
Share a line showing your WIP’s Atmosphere:
White flakes trickled down from the flat, steel-gray sky. Brittle branches tingled stiffly in the wind. Gray sky above the gray naked branches, and white below, white falling, all lined and encased in silver ice: the world gone monochromatic.
Share a line showing your WIP’s main emotion:
“Root and water,” he muttered.
“You’ve said that before,” Presto said. “What does it mean?”
“Roots that are deep don’t fear the wind. Trees by water don’t wither.”
Two: Character Week
The character you relate the most to and why?
I relate most to Jonah. I wrote him as a semi-allegory for a new believer and have poured into him a lot of what it’s like to be converted as a child. Obviously, with more magic and with a far different lifestyle than the one I had growing up. I also love him cause he’s not afraid to fight for those around him. This is something Soul develops in him. I love that Jonah is always ready to defend the ones he loves, with violence if necessary.
A character who shares a flaw with you.
I literally have no idea how to answer this one. My writing style doesn’t really lend itself to me thinking about flaws and strengths that often. Adele is the character with the most flaws and on some level I guess I understand her. I would willingly sacrifice almost anything in the name of peace. I hate conflict. I view this as a flaw cause there are things worth fighting for. Adele willingly sacrifices what she knows is right for what she thinks is the greater good. That’s as close as I can get.
Did you base anyone off a real person?
Yes. Axe is based off of Matt Axelson who was a Navy Seal in Afganistan. He died during Operation Red Wings and is know from the movie Lone Survivor. My character Axe isn’t a whole lot like him other than looking the same and knowing random bits of quotes and things. This is my way of honoring this American hero.
Share a line that shows a character’s sense of humor:
Presto is all about the sarcasm:
“What’d I miss?”
“Nothing,” Presto grunted. “We were waiting patiently for your return so we could communicate with Oak in words instead of smoke signals.”
Which characters would you want to be roommates with?
Kelby, my sharpshooter. She’s brave, loyal, comes with a paint pony named Sackett, and is an excellent shot. I think we would probably have a lot of fun together . . . wait, she may be my alter-ego . . . does wanting her as a roommate make me a narcissist?
Share a line that makes you want to hug a character.
Bree looked around the tent. The bright morning sun flooded in down the hole at the top of the teepee. Boys with bare chests—clean for the first time in how long?—sat around her. The light gleamed in eyes of all shapes and sizes and across smiling faces. They all looked at her. They’d had their time running wild and now they wanted, needed, a mother’s tender touch. A kiss for their hurts. Someone to see and exclaim over their amazing acts. Someone to care for and to take care of them. They wanted a mother. Bree bit her lower lip. “Go and come back then,” Bug translated for Eagle. “Go and come back. We will still be here. We are always here.”
“I can’t. I just can’t. I have to go back.” She pointed to the marks on her face.
“Mighty Eagle says you should stay here,” Bug translated. “Here you will have many sons to replace the ones who didn’t grow up. Won’t you stay?”
A minor character with author-head canon you enjoy:
Haze. He is in charge of the defenses of Greenhome. He paid the cost of the crimes of a handful of kids from Gang Red including Cid, George, and Silas with his eyes. (Not his sight.) This is as much as you can piece together from the story. He himself was salvaged from the Streets by a cranky old man with a big white beard at Christmas time. Soul sent the old man to save him, indicating Soul is much older than he appears. Haze, though wild and disrespectful, brought joy to the cranky old man: each saving the other. Haze and Soul are best friends now that Haze is grown up. They remind me of friendships like Spock and Kirk with Haze being Kirk and Soul being Spock.
Thanks for reading! Check back later for the rest of June’s #WIPjoy. If this peaked your interest at all, you can read a sample chapter here. Also follow me on FB for updates on how the writing is going. The link should be on the left side.
Read the prologue and 1st chapter of The Cost of Two Hands!
If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you know I love to write stories for my nieces and nephews: The Texas Cousins Adventure Stories. But, did you know I’m also working on a YA Faerie Stories series? It has hints of fairy tales, a twist of steampunk, and undeserved rescues. Here’s what it’s about:
The Artists are gone. The world is trapped in winter. Young expendable lives fade fast. Petty wars are run by petty men. One mother flees. One man fights. One girl hunts the hunters.
Jonah relied on violence to survive. After Soul paid the price for Jonah’s crimes and adopted him, the boy had to adapt to a new life: reading, writing, and learning to control his uncanny ability to get into fights. But when his first good friend is kidnapped in order to build a machine endowed with a human essence, Jonah must apply his fighting skills in a new way. Can the fists that once beat a crone be used for the good of others?
If you enjoy the first chapter, please share it and leave a comment. Let me know if you would like to be a beta reader. I’m always looking for fresh opinions on my story.
It’s been three years since I made a change in my writing. Three years since I left behind my thriller, criminal, vampire urban fantasy stories for a blog geared to encourage my church, stories for my nieces and nephews, and YA Faerie Stories. (Read about it here, and see my new blog here.)
As I worked on my YA Stories, I tried to create a whole new world from scratch for my characters, but the world I used in my Urban Fantasy stories fit too well with what I was doing to resist. What a joy not to waste the work I put into the world building. The Worlds before the Door is here to stay. Originally, I had only the Material World and the Spirit World before the Door. Now, I’ve added the Metaphysical World which will house my unborn.
So, what has changed? My Faerie Stories are just a bit more obviously Christian. They’re not preachy, but the Bible is quoted. The term ‘witches’ has been changed to Guardians. I felt like this might be a bit more palatable to parents, and this wasn’t a hill I wanted to die on. The focus characters are no longer Crow, Olive and the Justicars, but a group of kids in the Metaphysical World. Moving to Faerie Stories has pulled out more of my poetic prose and a whole cast of quirky magical creatures. The darkness has been toned down. The stories are still dark—unborn are aborted babies from the Material World after all—but the serial killers are now monsters, and the toned-down tortures leave less visible scars. These are the biggest changes.
What hasn’t changed? The themes of the Undeserved Rescue, Warriors, Eucatastrophe, and Hope in the Darkness are as well and alive now as they were in my Urban Fantasies. The King still stands behind the Door only reached by Death. Crow, Olive and the Justicars are still fighting monsters and evil Guardians. Things are still dark and characters you love still die. These things haven’t changed. J
My goal is to write a story that I would have loved as a regenerate young person. No language, sex scenes, or whining teens, but adventure, friendship, and heroes. Along with that, I’m continuing to develop my craft so that my stories can be enjoyed by adults as well. I want to write a story I love to read now. I don’t want this to be a book only for teens, even if teens are the main characters. I want this to be something that all ages of Christians find encouraging.
If you have read Fiddler’s Green by A.S. Peterson and enjoyed it, there is a strong chance you will enjoy what I write. I love to read and write that strange combination of beauty and visceral action.
So far, I have finished the second rough draft of The Cost of Two Hands (Book 1). It is being examined by beta readers and critiqued on Scribophile. While others are spotting problems, I’m working on The Sparrow and the Star (Book 2). Jonah’s storyline is finished, but I have only just started Sparrow’s side of the story. The Seventh Son of the Seventh Son (Book 3) is semi-patiently waiting its turn to be written.
This blog will be dedicated to everything about my world and Faerie stories. All my articles, book and movie reviews, Sunday Thoughts, and Quote of the Weekend will stay on my Gentle and Quiet Blog. Due to my health, both of these blogs will stay only partially active. I don’t have a schedule for this blog and don’t plan on setting one up. If something happens that I want to share about my book, I’ll share it. The schedule for my Gentle and Quiet Blog will remain Monday posts and Saturday quotes.
Thank you for your support for so many years. I’m excited to share this world, slightly refurbished, with you!