Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Hello wonderful readers of my blog~~~~~today I’m welcoming David Brown who is going to do a guest post for his Discover Fantasy Blog TourSmile


A World Apart - David M. Brown

David M. Brown


Fantasy but a Realistic Type of Fantasy

It wasn’t a difficult decision to choose the sci-fi/fantasy genre as the one I wanted my novels to be set in. I’ve always loved both, fantasy in particular, but although I have heroes such as Tolkien, Pratchett and Goodkind to look up to I never wanted to just try and be like them. If I was going to write fantasy I wanted to do it less my way but more in a different way.

If anyone asked me whether Elenchera would be a great place to take a holiday I would offer a resounding no in response. Like our world, Elenchera has many wonderful places, lands of scenic beauty, dense forests, snow-tipped mountains, crystalline lakes, golden fields and rolling hills, but those that live there find that life is very hard. I wanted a level of realism amidst that fantasy. Yes, you can procure and use magic in Elenchera but at a very severe price. Even gods that live in the early ages of history are not as omnipotent as they think they are. Elenchera has rules but I don’t want any loopholes that will leave the reader feeling cheated or that it was all too easy.

My aim in writing fantasy is to put the emphasis on the characters and push the world into the background. Each Elenchera novel will convey some of the world’s history, just a taster, but a reader’s main focus will be the characters and the many struggles they must overcome in search of the kind of lives they wish to lead.

Elenchera is a gritty place but it’s not designed to make readers miserable. I wanted a world which, while fantastical, mirrors our own in many ways. Life is undoubtedly hard for so many of us. Some fare better than others, while many struggle, but amidst those extremes are always inspirational stories and I wanted Elenchera to be the same. The individuals depicted here often come from ordinary backgrounds. They are not perfect. I don’t believe in characters without flaws and the ones in Elenchera are always striving to overcome their inhibitions but some are more successful than others. The stories I tell may not seem out of place in our world but they just happen to be in Elenchera.

Fantasy is a genre I feel most comfortable writing in but my love of history cannot help but infiltrate the pages of Elenchera novels. I was indebted to our own world history in building Elenchera across more than ten years. There are the same struggles for power here, times of war and peace, love, friendship, family and adventures for many of the characters. I want to give the reader characters they will love and hate, stories they can lose themselves in and reach out and show them that the fantasy genre is rich and varied. No longer is it about wizards and dragons.



Friday, July 20, 2012




Dastardly Bastard

Written by Edward Lorn

The Dastardly Bastard of Waverly Chasm does gleefully scheme of malevolent things. Beware, child fair, of what you find there. His lies how they hide in the shadows he wears. ’Cross wreckage of bridge is where this man lives. Counting his spoils, his eye how it digs. Tread, if you dare, through his one-eyed stare. This Dastardly Bastard is neither here, nor there...

Located twenty miles east of the town of Bay's End, Waverly Chasm awaits.

Seven people embark on a tour of Waverly Chasm. The excursion soon turns into a struggle for survival when evil awakens.

Supernatural Vs. Can-Happen Fiction


As far back as I can remember, my mother has had a bookshelf filled with terrific stories. Stephen King shows up more prominently than any other author. The way she tells the tale, is that a friend loaned her a copy of The Stand, and she became an immediate fan. She's told me on more than one occasion, "It was the way he described a character opening a stick of gum that did it for me." I know exactly how she feels.

My mother's collection of King's work was mainly obtained through The Stephen King Book Club. Every month, a new nondescript brown box would show up, just to be secreted away. I'd notice from time to time that there were new books on the shelf, but they were always set too far up for me to reach. But like the fabled cat, curiosity got the better of me. So one afternoon, after staking out the mailbox for what seemed like an entire week, I absconded with the newest delivery, hid in my closet with a flashlight, and tore that packaging to shreds. Inside, Stephen King's book, Dolores Claiborne, sat waiting to be read. I devoured that book. But for me, the kicker wasn't anything as subtle as the opening of a gum wrapper, but a man thrown down a well. He didn't die right away. Dolores could hear her husband down there scratching away at the walls, begging to be released. I was terrified. But I was also taught a very valuable lesson.


You can scare with a can-happen story.


I was a huge fan of every Universal Monster and B-movie atrocity that I could find. Creatures, beasts, and evil science experiments were my favorite reading material. So, why was it that King's story of an abused woman scared me so bad? Because it could happen. Before I read Dolores Claiborne, I believed horror was only managed through supernatural events. Once I realized that everyday horrors could entertain, my entire world changed.


And then I read Stephen King's It. After I finished Dolores Claiborne, It arrived the next month (I realize It was published before Dolores Claiborne but that's just how the book club worked back then). It took me almost a year to read, not because the book is almost 1200 pages, but because I kept having to stop for fear of recurring nightmares. Pennywise the Clown didn't bother me—I've never had a problem with clowns—but the way the monster kept changing into different phobias freaked me out. In the end, what kept me reading was the real life, can-happen elements: The Loser's Club and their friendship, Henry Bowers and his inherent evil, Bev's insane, abusive father. It made me realize that to make the supernatural scary, you must base it in reality. Once again, another lesson learned.


I tried to implement these lessons with my second novel, Dastardly Bastard. My monster is supernatural, but the being uses its preys’ humanity against them. Without the can-happen horrors of the group's pasts, there would be no connection to the horror. Hopefully, I succeeded.




Edward Lorn is an American horror author presently residing somewhere in the southeast United States.

He enjoys storytelling, reading, and writing biographies in the third person.

Other books by Edward Lorn:

Bay’s End

Three After


Dastardly Bastard (Amazon)
Dastardly Bastard (Amazon UK)
Dastardly Bastard (Barnes and Noble)
Dastardly Bastard (Smashwords)


Author's Twitter
Edward Lorn's Goodreads Page
Edward Lorn's Pinterest Page
Amazon Page

Wednesday, July 18, 2012



Lauren Carr


In Shades of Murder, Mac Faraday is once again the heir to an unbelievable fortune. This time the benefactor is a stolen art collector. But this isn’t just any stolen work-of-art—it’s a masterpiece with a murder attached to it.
Ilysa Ramsay was in the midst of taking the art world by storm. Hours after unveiling her latest masterpiece—she is found dead in her Deep Creek Lake studio—and her painting is nowhere to be found. Almost a decade later, the long lost Ilysa Ramsay masterpiece has found its way into Mac Faraday’s hands and he can’t resist the urge to delve into the case.
In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, former JAG lawyer Joshua Thornton agrees to do a favor for the last person he would ever expect to do a favor—a convicted serial killer. The Favor: Solve the one murder wrongly attributed to him.
In Shades of Murder, author Lauren Carr tackles the task of penning two mysteries with two detectives in two different settings and bringing them together to find one killer. “What can I say?” Carr says. “I love mysteries and mystery writing. Two cases are twice the fun.”
In her fifth mystery, Lauren Car brings back her first literary detective while introducing a new one. In Shades of Murder, Joshua Thornton teams up with Cameron Gates, a spunky detective who has reason to believe the young woman listed as the victim of a serial killer was murdered by a copycat. Together, Joshua and Cameron set out to light a flame under the cold case only to find that someone behind the scenes wants the case to remain cold, and is willing to kill to keep it that way.
“Readers of my first series kept asking when I would bring back Joshua Thornton,” Carr explained. “However, they are going to find that single father Joshua Thornton is not in the same place since we left him in A Reunion to Die For. His children are grown. He’s more independent, and he’s ready for some romance and adventure. That’s where Cameron Gates comes in.”
With that, Joshua Thornton, Cameron Gates, and Mac Faraday all land together in Deep Creek Lake. Little do these detectives know that the paths of their respective cases are on a collision course as they follow the clues to bring them together in a showdown with killer who’s got a talent for murder!


What/who inspired you to become a writer??
I believe writers are born. They are always writing. My earliest memories are rewriting the Bobbsey Twins after reading it. Instead of looking for a lost bracelet, they were hunting down a kidnapper.

Do you have a favorite genre of book that you like to read/write? If so, why??
Mysteries. Hands down. I consider mysteries word puzzles. They’re like jagsaw puzzles only with clues. The fun in reading them is putting it together. The fun in writing them is to take the murder, and tear the mystery apart and then scatter the pieces throughout the book.

What helping aids do you use to focus when you write? Music?? Nature???
Silence. It used to be music. Classic Rock and Roll. But now, I write in silence, with my dogs (what I call my Muses) at me feet. My dogs, Ziggy and Beagle Bailey, follow me everywhere.
What character(s) of your book(s) do you relate to the most??
Tough question. It used to be Joshua Thornton, my first protagonist. In my first two books, the Joshua Thornton mysteries, he was a single father, widowed with five kids. He felt clueless when it came to his children. That reflected me, a new mother at the time.
Now, it is Archie Monday, in the Mac Faraday Mysteries. She’s his spunky side-kick. She literally came with the house that he inherited from his birth mother. She was his late mother’s research assistant and editor. Now, she’s his romantic interested and things keep heating up between them in Shades of Murder.
What words of wisdom would you like to share with aspiring writers like myself?
Never give up. Most of writing is perseverance, from getting the book written, to editing it, to publishing it, to promoting it. There’s a point every step of the way where you want to stop, but you can’t. You have to keep on going if you want to achieve that dream of being an author.

How do you visualize your stories?? In pictures?? Conversations? Dreams?
Dreams. Even when I get to a point where I don’t know what to do next, I will go to sleep and it will come to me.
I find inspiration for my books everywhere. Someone can be late for an appointment and I’ll be thinking, “Supposed she was kidnapped and murdered by the garbage man, who ended up being a long lost uncle and she’s the only living heir …” Or maybe I’ll overhear someone talking in the booth behind me while waiting for my husband to meet for lunch. They may be gossiping about a co-worker, but in my writer’s mind, I’ll twist and turn it around until I come up with a dead body found in the lunchroom at Petco.
What are your writing goals for the next 5 years??
I am now working a new series, Lovers in Crime. In that, I bring together two characters I introduced in Shades of Murder: Joshua Thornton and Cameron Gates. Dead on Ice will be out this fall. I would like to see one of my series become a television series, possibly on Hallmark Mysteries.
How long did it take you to write Shades of Murder? What/who inspired these books??
Shades of Murder took about a year to write, and I went through several drafts before I came to the final storyline that it is now.
Since I was going back to Joshua Thornton, my first protagonist in the Joshua Thornton Mysteries, I had to really think about him and where he would be in his life now. It’s been five years since I had written A Reunion to Die For. Not only am I in a different place, so is Joshua. His children are leaving the nest. He’s got more independence and is ready for some romance in his life. He’s not the same protagonist that he was when I wrote A Small Case of Murder. He’s ready to lighten up now, which I’ve done myself.
I had been asked by fans of the Joshua Thornton Mysteries to bring back Joshua. So I decided to include him into this Mac Faraday mystery. Since Joshua and Mac don’t know each other, I had to come up with two murder mysteries that, on the surface, don’t appear to be connected, and then bring them together. Coming up with this puzzle was not only a challenge, but a lot of fun.
Mac is a homicide detective whose wife leaves him and takes everything. On the day his divorce becomes final, he inherits $270 million dollars and an estate on Deep Creek Lake.
In Shades of Murder, he inherits a stolen painting that had disappeared the night its artist was murdered. So he starts investigating that case on Deep Creek Lake. Meanwhile, Joshua is working on a cold case of a Jane Doe murdered in Pittsburgh. They come together in the middle of the book.
Shades of Murder actually introduces two characters that I will use in my next book, Dead on Ice, which will come out this fall: Joshua Thornton and Cameron Gates.
If you could have dinner with someone dead or alive, famous or not famous, who would it be and why??
Agatha Christie and Earl Stanley Gardner. I consider them the masters. I jump up and dance on Cloud Nine anytime a reviewer compares me to Agatha Christie, who I am pleased to say, a few have. That makes my whole week.
Let's do something fun...write something about each of the next 10 words in 10 words or less.

Movement: Life
Fantasy: Can become a reality of you stick to it.
Chaos: Youth
Energy: Something I’m going to lose if it don’t use it.
Balance: Something you get after 50.
Synchronicity: An unobtainable goal in marriage.
Imagination: Use wisely.
Invention: What I do when cooking.
Freedom: You have it. All you have to do is look.
Intelligence: Is a terrible thing to waste.
What made you decide to jump on the E-book trade?? And how do you feel about it??
I was asked. My first two books, A Small Case of Murder and A Reunion to Die For were first generation e-books. I received an e-mail from amazon inviting me to upload them for e-book sale. You could say I was a pioneer. Okay, I did not invent E-books, but I certainly followed closely behind the lead wagon.
Back then, we are talking 2007, soon after A Reunion to Die For came out. At that time, I uploaded them in pdf format. They were available and selling for years. I forgot about them. This was even before the KDP site was up. Then, one day a couple of years ago, I see a horrible review for A Reunion to Die For because of the formatting. The technology had changed so much, and Amazon was still using that pdf that they converted to Kindle, but it did not convert well. I reformatted both A Reunion to Die For and A Small Case of Murder and uploaded them.
If you found yourself on a deserted island, what 10 things would you take and why?
So I’m willingly going to a desert island? As if I plan to be there? Well, my two dogs would be there. So I need to bring dog food, dog beds, dog treats. Will this island have leash laws or can I let them run free.
That leaves the laptop, sun screen, ice cream, coffee, and Kindle for me.
How do you write your books?? Are you by the seat of your pants writer or do you plot out your books in advance??
I plan my books in advance, but in my head. During that process, I will write a loose outline, which I usually don’t refer to because I help to get it straight in my head. Then I sit down and write by the seat of my pants.
And last by not least, if you could time travel what period of the history of future would you go to??
I’d love to go back to the 1940’s or 50’s and be a screenwriter in Hollywood writing movies like Alfred Hitchcock or turning Agatha Christie’s books into movies on the silver screen.
Feel free to any other interesting tidbits about yourself :) Please include your social media links.
Contest! Contest! Contest!
This fall, Dead on Ice, the first installment in a new series entitled the Lovers in Crime Mystery, will be released. This book brings back Joshua Thornton and Cameron Gates, who we first meet in Shades of Murder.
In Dead on Ice, Cameron investigates the murder of a female porn star, whose mummified body turns up in an abandoned freezer found in Joshua’s cousin’s basement.
From June 1-July 31, I am holding a contest to Name the Porn Star! The winner will win autographed copies of all three Mac Faraday Mysteries, and a copy of Dead on Ice, which will be released Fall 2012. (E-pub or print, winner’s choice. Print versions are only available for winners in the US)
The contest is to provide both a stage name (naughty is okay, but it must be clean) and the real name of the murder victim in Dead on Ice. E-mail your suggestions to me (writerlaurencarr@comcast.net). Put Name the Porn Star in the subject line. Please include contact information, including mailing address and phone number.
Lauren Carr fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime. The first installment in the Joshua Thornton mysteries, A Small Case of Murder was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award. A Reunion to Die For was released in hardback in June 2007. Both of these books are in re-release.
Lauren is also the author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. The first two books in her series, It’s Murder, My Son and Old Loves Die Hard have been getting rave reviews from readers and reviewers. Lauren’s fifth mystery, Shades of Murder has been receiving rave reviews since its release.
Lauren’s sixth book, Dead on Ice, will be released in Fall 2012. Dead on Ice will introduce a new series entitled Lovers in Crime, in which Joshua Thornton will join forces with homicide detective Cameron Gates.
The owner of Acorn Book Services, Lauren is also a publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for independent authors. This spring, two books written by independent authors will be released through the management of Acorn Book Services.
Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.
She lives with her husband, son, and two dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.
Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:
E-Mail: writerlaurencarr@comcast.net
Website: http://acornbookservices.com/
Blog: Literary Wealth: http://literarywealth.wordpress.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lauren.carr.984991
Gnarly’s Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/GnarlyofMacFaradayMysteries
Twitter: @TheMysteryLadie
YouTube: Shades of Murder Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwOm59Wxgmg a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Today, I’m turning over my blog to the wonderful Amanda McNeil.

I hope you enjoy the guest post and excerpt of Waiting for Daybreak. 

Amanda has been gracious enough to offer 1 lucky commenter an ecopy of her book.




Waiting For Daybreak started with a simple question: what if instead of being the minority, the only people left were people struggling with mental illnesses? From that simple what-if moment, the entire world and story of Frieda evolved.
Frieda is surrounded by zombies. For the most part, this zombie virus is typical, but there’s one key difference. The virus only affects the mentally healthy. So, since Frieda has Borderline Personality Disorder, she’s immune. She just has to avoid being eaten.
A lot of post-apocalyptic works explore how a mentally stable person is slowly driven crazy by their situation. I decided to flip this on its head. Frieda’s situation helps her overcome her mental illness. She goes from self-loathing, crippling depression, and an inability to successfully advocate for herself to people to growing and becoming a more complete person.
I think too often post-apocalyptic stories go to a dark place and stay there. I wanted to use the scifi genre settings I love to tell a story that does the opposite. I’m a big believer in the basic concept that struggles and tribulations lead to triumph. People with mental illnesses struggle with a dark, scary world that others don’t have to face every day. I hope that this book can help others experience that and empathize, but also give some hope to those for whom mental illness isn’t a story; it’s a part of their life.

My eyes have adjusted to the dark in a way they never used to back when Boston was perpetually lit with street lamps. Losing electricity was actually the thing that bugged me the least about the whole incident. Guess that's one way being raised in the country prepared me for this. A bottle of vodka sits next to me. Although I know it's almost purely superstition, I drink it whenever I worry that I'm getting sick or have been exposed to something. My daddy always said that alcohol is better for you than any medicine. Smiling, I take a swig, and it gives the old familiar pleasant burn down my throat. That's one positive thing about society falling apart. So much free liquor from raiding the package stores. Plus you don't have to keep it refrigerated like beer.
I set the bottle down and grasp my therapy journal. The entries used to be so full of anger. Why me? Why is my brain like this? Why did she do this to me? I can't trust anyone. Now it veers more toward, I'm so alone. Anger has a hard time staying bottled up inside you when you have to physically fight to stay alive. Instead of battling the world in my brain, I'm battling it in reality.
The world went crazy, and I got saner. That's the definition of irony right there. Or maybe it's just all relative. Anyone would look sane compared to the Afflicted. Not to mention compared to the politicians and military strategists who got us into this mess to start with.
I take another swig, swishing it around in my mouth before swallowing.
I always had a sneaking suspicion that all that drama with the Middle East would lead to no good, but of course I never would say so. People would only accuse me of being pessimistic at best and racist at worst. In fact, it has nothing to do with what I think about people in the Middle East. It has everything to do with what I think about politicians. They're power-crazy assholes, each and every one of them. They step on us little people willy-nilly in their power-crazy trips, and people who normally would just shrug at each other's existence, or even be friends, are informed by politicians that they are enemies. Too bad not enough people realized it to stand up to the big bullies before they went and ruined everything.
I catch myself in the obsessive loop and stop. No use crying over spilled milk, I tell myself. No use crying over spilled milk.
Obsessively thinking the same thing over and over again is a symptom of my illness, and it happens more when I'm bored. It used to bug me, but now it just helps pass the time. It's hard to explain the obsessive thoughts to someone who's never suffered from them. They fly by at break-neck speed in a circle that catches you in its loop like a snare, and you're flying around as if you're caught on a demonic merry-go-round.
One that I come back to quite frequently:
If I hadn't called in sick to work because I was depressed because I'd dissociated the night before then I would have been at the epicenter of the outbreak in Boston. I wonder if I would have survived? Did I only survive because I dissociated the night before? If I hadn't called in sick to work because I was depressed....
Dissociation. It was always the number one issue I had with my illness back before the incident, and now it's still my number one fear. Blacking out. No recollection of entire portions of my life where I'm still moving around and doing things. If the reports from people who were present for my dissociative moments before the incident are any indication, I don't tend to make smart decisions when dissociating. I'm rash, angry, and violent. Heck, if my brains were leaking out my nose you could probably mistake me for one of the Afflicted. You can probably see why this behavior isn't the best for survival when surrounded by an apocalyptic society still booby-trapped with the Afflicted. On the other hand, rash, angry, and violent could make for some seriously awesome Afflicted ass-kicking. Maybe that's really why I've survived this long.

Author Bio:
Amanda is an energetic, masters degree educated, 20-something happily living in an attic apartment in Boston with her shelter-adopted cat. She writes horror, scifi, paranormal romance, literary fiction, and urban fantasy. She has previously published short stories and a novella.
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012






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The Color of Snow Summary

Can a troubled young girl reenter society after living in isolation?
When a beautiful 16-year-old girl named Sophie is found sequestered in a cage-like room in a rundown house in the desolate hills of Arbon Valley, Idaho, the entire community is shocked to learn she is the legendary Callidora--a baby girl who was kidnapped from her crib almost seventeen years ago and canonized in missing posters with portraits of what the fabled girl might resemble. Authorities soon learn that the cage was there to protect people from Sophie, because her biological father believes she is cursed.
Sophie is discovered after the man she knows as Papa, shoots and injures Damien, a young man who is trying to rescue her. Now, unsocialized and thrust into the world, and into a family she has never met, Sophie must decide whether she should accept her Papa’s claims that she is cursed and he was only trying to protect others, or trust the new people in her life who have their own agendas. Guided by a wise cousin, Sophie realizes that her most heartbreaking challenge is to decide if her love for Damien will destroy him like her Papa claims, or free her from past demons that haunt her mind.


Brenda Stanley's Bio:

Brenda Stanley is the former news anchor at her NBC affiliate KPVI in Eastern Iadho. Her writing has been recognized by the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Hearst Journalism Awards, the Idaho Press Club and the Society for Professional Journalists. She is a graduate of Dixie College in St. George, Utah, and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Brenda lived for two years in Ballard, Utah, within the Fort Duchesne reservation where the novel is set. She and her husband live on a small ranch near the Snake River with their horses and dogs.

ISBN: 9780983741893
ISBN: 9781476172309
Pages: 413
Release: June 1, 2012

Kindle buy link - $2.99
Nook buy link - $4.95
iBookstore buy link - $4.99
Google buy link - $3.79
Smashwords buy link - $4.99

PDF buy link - $4.95

Guest Post by Brenda Stanley

The Color of Snow has been described as dark or mysterious.  I feel most of my writing fits this description because I enjoy looking at the strange and unusual things in life.  My novel will definitely make some people uncomfortable.  I like to look at situations and issues and try to figure out how people will react.  For years I was a crime reporter, so I enjoy investigating stories and learning about the parts of life most people try to hide.  When I wrote The Color of Snow, I was working on a story about a young girl who went missing years ago and has never been found.  I started thinking about what would happen if she were to suddenly show up now.  I loved putting myself in Sophie’s shoes and seeing things for the first time.
Sophie’s relationship with Damien is both intense and tempered.  Her father has raised her to believe that she will destroy anyone who truly loves her, so she is torn between her love for Damien and her fear of causing him harm.
The story changes between what is going on with Sophie and what happened in her parent’s past that brought her to where she is.  I wanted readers to experience the often isolated feeling of living in a vast rural area, but also the mental confinement of a small town.
Mental illness, teen pregnancy, religious intolerance, and racism are all big parts of The Color of Snow.  I like my characters to face challenges and see them grow from them.  It is not only the conflicts with the other characters that keeps the story going, but also those within the person’s own mind.
I wanted Sophie to be unusually beautiful so that people treated her strangely and therefore made her feel even more alien when she is first discovered.  She has transformed from a tragic kidnapping victim to a mythical ghost from the past and this makes her transition into her new life even more difficult.
My ties to the Mormon Church go back to my great-great grandparents.  I was raised in the teachings of the Mormon religion and even though I am no longer a member, I have many friends and family who are still very active in the church.  My descriptions of the Mormon culture are how I view it and how I feel someone who has never been exposed to it might see it.  I think there are a lot of people who are curious about the Mormon religion and have misconceptions.  I feel I’ve been both candid and fair in my portrayal.

The Color of Snow Excerpt
Malad, Idaho, early spring 2009
Spring had spread across the fields and pastures. Cottonwood trees fluttered their newly sprouted greenery, and purple asters covered the rolling hills. The snow had melted and Stephanie and I started taking the horses on rides up the valley. It was incredibly liberating to roam and wander without fear.
There was a trail leading from the foothills up into the forest, and once we were in the midst of the wild spruce and lofty pines, the noises of cars and life around the ranch disappeared. The sound of hooves on early spring dirt was solid and steady. The breeze was still crisp, but the sun reached down and warmed our shoulders. For almost an hour we rode in silence. We both were in awe of the day and the splendor that was ours alone to enjoy.
At the top of the hill, the trail opened up to a small plateau and a blue mountain lake. I gasped at the incredible beauty of it. I smiled at Stephanie and she nodded in acknowledgement. Her eyes were bright and her freckles seemed to glow in the sunshine. The horse she rode was a black mare my grandfather was going to sell. Stephanie loved the white diamond-shaped patch on her forehead, and scolded him for even thinking about selling Black Bean. My horse was an old buckskin gelding named Clyde. He lumbered along and rarely went faster than a slow trot, but for a beginner like me he was perfect.
Stephanie turned her horse down the hill and toward the lake. “Do you want to go swimming?” she called back.
“I don’t know how,” I answered.
She giggled as she reached the water’s edge. “You don’t need to. The horses do it all.” Her hair was pulled into two short pigtails and they bounced with each step of her horse.
I waited and watched as she urged Black Bean into the water and out into the lake. As the water got deeper, the splashes became larger around its legs as it pushed forward, and soon they were floating along smoothly.
“Come on!” she yelled, waving me in. She had her legs pulled up on the sides, trying to avoid getting completely soaked. They were pale and freckled like her face, and seemed to make up most of her body. Stephanie wasn’t much taller than I, but her legs and arms were long and made her look gangly and even thinner than she was. She waved so hard she almost fell off the horse, and started laughing as she steadied herself.
It looked like fun, but I was terrified. The water was immense and dark. The largest amount of water I had ever been in was my own bathtub. I wondered what would happen if I fell off in the middle. Stephanie and Black Bean were in the center of the lake and they looked like a serene harmonious duo.
I gave Clyde a slight nudge and he walked to the shoreline. The water lapped as I waited and watched Stephanie continue to beckon. She looked like she was having a marvelous time and wasn’t worried in the least. I patted Clyde and prodded him with the heels of my sneakers. He seemed unconcerned as he clopped loudly into the water. I took a deep breath and told myself to keep looking forward and it would be okay. Clyde had no hesitation, which helped ease my fear.
The sun beat down on us and made splashes of water light up as Clyde moved forward into the water. The splatters that hit my exposed skin were freezing and made me realize how cold it would be if I did fall in. I fixed my eyes on the opposite shoreline and put my faith in Clyde. The horse had a wide back, and as we got deeper into the lake, I curled my legs back the way Stephanie did and clung to his mane. We were riding bareback that day, because Stephanie didn’t want to spend time putting on saddles.
I held my breath as we got further away from the shore and closer to the very center of the lake. At one point I looked down, staring deep into the abyss. There was no bottom, and I felt my stomach turn, knowing I would surely die if I left Clyde’s back.
As the horse rhythmically propelled us along, I began to feel a sense of buoyancy and freedom. When we crossed the center point and were on our way to the other shore, my confidence turned to elation. I started to breathe again and smiled at what I had accomplished. I sat up straight, closed my eyes and imagined I was flying, gliding along on my winged unicorn, soaring through clouds and racing the wind. When I opened my eyes, I giggled at my foolish imagination, but couldn’t help beaming at what an amazing adventure it was.
When the horse’s hooves made contact with the lake bottom and we started to emerge from the water, I wanted to burst from relief and joy. “That was the most wonderful thing ever!”
Stephanie was sitting on a large tree limb that had fallen while her horse munched on fresh new grass beside her. “I didn’t think you’d do it. I’m proud of you.”
“It was so scary, but then it was so amazing.”
“I’m glad you liked it, because that’s how we’re getting back.”
We led the horses to a shaded area and tied them loosely to a tree so they could rest and graze. Stephanie leaned back against a tree and looked out at the incredible view of mountain-lined lake and clear blue sky.
“This is where I go when I can’t stand life anymore. The first time I came here, I tried to kill myself. I stole my dad’s gun and had it all planned out. Then I sat here and looked around at all this and thought...who would care? I’m nothing and no one would miss me, so why do it? That’s when I decided to live for me. I do what makes me happy now and screw the rest of them.”
“You were going to kill yourself. Why?”
Stephanie took a deep, labored sigh. “I didn’t see the point in living. My mom was dead and my dad married that crazy bitch.” She shrugged. “I don’t really fit in anywhere. Even at school, the kids hate me.”
I shook my head. “I don’t believe that. There is no reason to hate you.”
Stephanie scoffed. “You say that because you don’t know any better. You don’t know what normal is. That’s why we get along. I’m a freak, but you’ve never had any friends, so you don’t know how weird I am.” She smiled.
“I’ve had friends,” I protested.
“Really? I thought you were kept alone at that house all the time.”
I nodded.
Stephanie raised an eyebrow. “So, did your dad kidnap kids and bring them home for you play with?”
My eyes went large, but then Stephanie laughed and I realized she was joking. I paused for a moment, trying to pick my words carefully.
“Don’t worry about me telling anyone. Remember, we’re best friends, so you should be able to tell me anything. I’ve never told anyone that I was going to kill myself.”
I looked at her with a mixture of love and concern. “I had two friends. I met them when I was eleven. Their mother worked with my father and they came to our house one day. That’s how they knew I lived there. They lived over the hill from us and they came over while Papa was at work and we played in my yard.” I stopped and smiled at the memory.
“You had to hide them from your father. Why?”
“He was afraid that if people knew I was home alone all day, they would come and take me away.”
“Didn’t it drive you crazy to be alone all the time?”
I shrugged. “Not really. When I met Donny and Damien I was much happier. I didn’t know what it was like to have friends before I met them, so I didn’t realize what I was missing.”
She studied me. “Isn’t Damien the kid your dad shot? Why’d he shoot him? Did he catch him with you?”
“Why didn’t you just tell him that you two were friends and that it was no big deal?"
“I tried to convince him, but...there is a lot you don’t understand.”
Stephanie gave me a disappointed curl of her lip. “And I won’t be able to understand if you keep everything a secret.”
I stayed silent.
“Sophie, I’ve already told you something that I never told anyone. I trust you because we’re friends. That is what friends do. They trust each other and they tell each other things. Do you think I won’t believe you?”
“No, it’s not that. And I do trust you, but there are things that will sound strange, and I don’t want you to think I’m a monster.”
She laughed. “You are the opposite of a monster. You’re friendly and kind. People would love to be near you.”
I ran the word through my head several times. I wondered if the statement had validity, because if it did, it explained some of the things Papa told me that seemed unimaginable.
“So, what is this big dark secret? You say your father didn’t kidnap you or treat you badly, so why did he keep you locked up in that house hidden away from the world?”
I thought it was inconceivable that the two of us were best friends. Stephanie had just confessed that she had almost ended her life and now I was about to tell her how I had ended my mother’s and one of my friends. My fears of being ostracized and treated like a disease were still at the surface, but the thought of releasing some of the weight with a person I trusted was like having a balloon inflating inside me ready to burst. I felt my secret was slowly killing me, and the only way I could get relief was to talk about it. I was still scared that once it was out, it would sprout wings and fly out of control.
“I’ll tell you, but you have to swear you’ll never tell anyone else.”
“I swear. I swear on my stepmother’s grave,” she giggled.
I looked at her, worried that she wasn’t in the right mind frame to hear what I had to say. My face must have showed it, because Stephanie quickly lost her smile and leaned forward. She put her hand on my shoulder. “God, Soph, I was just kidding. You look like I just cursed her dead.”
I gasped and put my hand to my mouth. I felt an icy chill go down my back and my heart jumped.
“What?” she asked.
“It’s what you said. That is why I had to hide all those years.”
“What I said? How could that be? I wasn’t even around.”
I was speechless and stunned. Just hearing the word made me dizzy. I put my face in my hands and rocked back and forth, trying to steady my nerves and my thoughts.
“Sophie, what’s wrong with you? You’re not making any sense. I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.”
I stopped rocking, and looked up at her. “I’m so afraid to say anything.”
“You have no reason to be afraid. I’m not going to tell anyone. You’re my only friend!” She smiled. “You’ll go crazy if you keep it all inside.”
“But what if you don’t want to be friends after I tell you?”
“That’s crazy.” She sat up on her knees and squared her body to mine. She held my shoulders and made me look at her. “Here, think about this. Imagine I’m the one telling you this big secret. If that were the case, would we still be friends? Sophie?”
I realized I had drifted off. I blinked as I came back and smiled. I had no reservations about how I would react if she were the one telling it. Stephanie would be my friend regardless of her secrets and I knew that she felt the same. So with the same strength I had mustered to lead my horse into a deep dark lake, I pushed forward and decided to reveal what had shaped my entire life. It would either knock me into a cold, deep abyss, or I would cross it and end up gaining the confidence I needed to take even more risks in my life. I was willing to take that chance. I suddenly realized that I had no idea where to start. It struck me as funny, and I stopped and smiled to myself.
“You’re a tease!” she yelled. “Come on, out with it.”
“I don’t know where to start. There is so much to tell.”
She leaned back against the tree and put her arms behind her head. “We have all day. They don’t expect us until dinner and I brought food in my backpack. Spill it!”
I took a deep breath. “There is something terrible that happened a long time ago and it’s the reason Papa and I had to hide all those years.”
“Did he kill someone?” she asked, both horrified and intrigued.
“No,” I said firmly. “It’s not something we did, but something that was done to us.”
Stephanie lowered an eyebrow. “What?”
“A curse.”
Her eyes shot wide open, but she gave me a sideways grin. “A curse?”
“Yes. We had to hide away because Papa says we are a threat to the people who love us.”
She cocked her head to the side. “How?”
I looked at the ground and felt my face flush. “I’m not sure, but some of them have died.”
Stephanie reeled back. “They died? How?”
I shrugged. “Papa says it’s the reason my mother died and Donny. He says we’re the reason.”
Stephanie shook her head. “You said he didn’t kill anyone.”
“It’s not us. It’s the curse that kills them.”
“How did they die?”
“Donny died when a dirt cave collapsed on him.” I felt a heavy lump in my stomach. “I don’t know how my mother died. Papa never talks about it.”
“Sounds to me like your father gave you a line to keep you in line. There is no such thing as a curse.”
I felt rejected and embarrassed. It had taken every ounce of trust I could muster to tell her and now she brushed it off. “Yes there is.”
She furrowed her brows. “Did you push that kid into the cave?”
I shook my head. “No!”
Stephanie sat up straight. “Do you think that other kid was shot because of this curse, too?”
I lowered my eyes. “Yes.”
She sat in silence, looking as if she was deep in thought. Several times she began to talk and then stopped. She stood up and walked in a circle. “That doesn’t make sense. If you say the curse kills people who love you, then why am I still alive? And what about your grandparents? Why aren’t we all dead?”
“I’m not sure. Sometimes it scares me. I don’t want to hurt people, but I don’t want to be alone. Papa was trying to explain it, but then we got caught. I’ve tried to figure it out, but without Papa, I can’t. There’s more to it, and he’s the only one who knows.”
“Who put the curse on you?” I shrugged.
“Papa said it was done a long time ago, before I was born.”
Stephanie lowered her brow. “If you weren’t even born, why would anyone want to curse you?”
“It was placed on our family for something Papa did. He said it was done out of anger. He said he didn’t believe it at first, but when my mother was killed, he knew we had to hide or more bad things would happen. He said if anyone found out about the curse, I would be taken away. He hid us away for our own good. He didn’t want the curse to hurt anyone else. I didn’t know about it until after Donny died. Papa felt it was his fault for not warning me sooner.”
Stephanie looked at me in awe. She hadn’t moved a muscle or changed her facial expression in the slightest, as though my story had struck her dumb. I started feeling awkward and worried that I had said too much, but before regret set in, she took a seat beside me and put an arm around my shoulder. “So, what are you going to do? If you think you’re cursed and you’re putting other people at risk, how are you going to live?”
I thought for a moment. “I don’t know.”
“That’s crazy, Sophie. There is no such thing. I think he told you that just to keep you from running off. He knew that if people saw you they’d find out who you were. That would threaten him.” She scratched her head; pulling at the hair in one of her pigtails, making it crooked. “He makes it sound very convincing.” She sat back with a start. “He must have seen the newspaper article that ran the sketch. That’s why he took all the mirrors out of your house. He didn’t want you to discover who you really are. On the other hand, this is so strange, because if he really thought you were cursed, a lot of this stuff he did makes sense. That’s totally wild.”
I thought about the mirrors. I remembered the expression on Damien’s face when he realized all the mirrors in my house had been taken down or destroyed. I still had aversions to them, and rarely gave in to the temptation. They were everywhere at my grandparents’ home, but I did my best to avoid them, knowing that God watched and judged what I did.
“When I tell you that I love you, does it scare you?” she asked.
I contemplated her question, knowing I had thought about it many times before. “It used to, but for some reason I’m not worried anymore.”
“I think I know why.”
“Tell me.”
“Sophie, I don’t believe in curses or superstitions. I think the more you’re out in the normal world, you’ll realize all the stuff you’ve been told is not real. There is no such thing. All this stuff you father told you isn’t the truth. You’re not cursed.”
What she said completely deflated me. I had trusted her with my deepest, darkest realities and now she said that what I harbored and lived with my entire life was just a lie.
“You’ll never be happy if you live in fear like this. You’ll have an awful life if you never let anyone love you. I think it’s terrible what he did. He’s the one that’s cursed you with stupid superstitions. It’s not real. There is no such thing as a curse.”
I was shocked at what she said and felt the need to scoot away, fearing God would strike her down with a bolt of lightning. “You don’t believe in God?”
“No. And I don’t believe that how I live my life will determine how I spend my death. I believe that you do the right things for this life, not for some afterlife. Everyone around here is so worried about what’s going to happen to them when they die. It’s stupid. When my mom died, people actually told me that God needed her in heaven and that’s why he took her home.” She gave a disgusted smirk. “Why would God take someone’s mother away? My mom died because cancer cells overtook her body. It had nothing to do with God, and it had nothing to do with curses or prayers or any other hocus-pocus that everyone tries to fill your head with.”
I was still uneasy.
“You were worried about telling me your secret because you thought I would be afraid of you. And it turns out, you should be afraid of me.”
“Because I am a bad influence. That’s why I’m not allowed at the school. I asked questions and talked about things that made everyone nervous. The other kids told their parents that I didn’t believe in God and that I attacked their precious religion. That’s the reason I no longer go to school.” She smiled and pulled me close. “I’m worse than you. You may lure them in with your beauty and then kill them off, but I threaten their beliefs and their chances at eternal life. We make quite a pair.”
Being close to her was a comfort, even though I was still concerned about what she said. I cared about her and felt her statements against God would come back to haunt her.
“I know you aren’t just going to believe everything I say. It’s all been drilled into your head for so long, it will be hard to change what you believe, but I want to show you something that will hopefully help you get over all this. We’re going to do an experiment so I can prove that there is no such thing as a curse.”
I didn’t like the idea and was apprehensive.
“You don’t have a choice,” she said, with a defiant lift of her eyebrow. “You are my best friend, my only friend in this world. I love you as if you were my sister. Nothing fatal has happened to me yet and nothing will. I’ll prove to you that you are not cursed.”
I felt funny having her tempt fate for me.
“I was planning on killing myself anyway, so this isn’t a big sacrifice. Quit looking like that,” she chided. Stephanie put her finger to her mouth and feigned deep deliberation. “Hmm. If you have the power to kill people, then let’s work on how we can use it to bump off my stepmother!” She fell back against the soft forest floor in wicked laughter.
She giggled with delight.
I couldn’t help but smile, even though she had made me out as toxic. She had heard what had kept me hidden and silent for years and was still my best friend. She had accepted what I said. She made light of it in a way that made me feel like nothing I told her would scare her away. Stephanie was intriguing and confusing, but I had no reservations that she was loyal and trustworthy. I had given her the secret of what I feared and what had formed my life. She had the power to destroy my world by exposing my enigma, yet I felt assured she would guard it, regardless of her own doubts about its truth.
She stopped laughing and leaned over to her backpack. She pulled out a bag of chips and a bottle of soda, and offered them to me. I took a handful of chips and we sat in silence for a while as we passed the bottle back and forth. “I think you saved me.”
I looked at her strangely, smiled, and shook my head.
She smiled back. “You did. Now the hard part is going to be saving you.”