Thursday, August 21, 2014

Interview with Melodie Campbell: 'Comedy is a good way to present serious ideas...'

Billed as Canada’s “Queen of Comedy" by the Toronto Sun (Jan. 5, 2014), Melodie Campbell achieved a personal best when Library Digest compared her to Janet Evanovich.

Winner of nine awards, including the 2014 Derringer (US) and the 2014 Arthur Ellis (Canada) for The Goddaughter’s Revenge (Orca Books), Melodie has over 200 publications, including 100 comedy credits, 40 short stories, and seven novels.

Melodie got her start writing stand-up.  In 1999, she opened the Canadian Humour Conference. Her fiction has been described by industry reviewers as "hilarious" and "laugh-out-loud funny."

Melodie has a commerce degree from Queen’s University, but it didn’t take well.  She has been a bank manager, college instructor, marketing director, comedy writer and possibly the worst runway model ever.  These days, Melodie is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.

Her latest book is the paranormal romance time travel, Rowena and the Viking Warlord.

For More Information
About the Book:

He was her enemy and her lover…

As Cedric fights battles down south, Rowena unwittingly rides into an enemy war camp and is taken prisoner by her old friend Lars, who is not what he seems. 

Yet Rowena is not helpless. After all, she is a hereditary half-witch with a whole lot of magic in her.  Too bad she doesn’t know how to use it. Escaping from the camp, she continues to botch up spell after spell. Soon Kendra joins her on the trek back to Huel, along with the latest magical mistake, a flame-burping dragon called Cinders.
When war comes to Land’s End, it brings the one man who threatens to conquer everything in Huel, including Rowena’s heart. Now she has to make the biggest decision of her life. Will she return through the wall to safety in Arizona? Or will she stay in Land’s End for good, and fight to save her people from the Viking Warlord?

For More Information

  • Rowena and the Viking Warlord is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

I needed escape.  Oh Lordy, did I need escape.  My mother had been admitted 38 times to hospital, dying.  I sat at her side for seven weeks, as the news got worse and worse.  At one point I looked up at the wall in her room and thought, if I could walk through that wall into another world right now, I would.  That night I started writing the Land’s End trilogy.

I wrote the wildest fantasy I could imagine!  A world where emotions where heightened, and the adventure was rollicking.  “The Princess Bride with sex” as some reviewers have called it.  Complete escape from our world where I had to be stoic.

And that's what I hope to offer readers with Rowena and the Viking Warlord.  A complete escape for a few hours, into a book and world that is dangerous, fun and sexy. 
Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

I got my start writing comedy, and have over 100 comedy credits and 40 short story publications, so novel writing was not my first endeavor.  I think the best advice I can give is this:  Love Writing.  Not the anticipation of being an author, but the actual act of butt in chair, hands on keyboard, writing away the story that is pounding to get out of your head!  If you love to write, you will continue to write, get better and better, and eventually you will be published.  

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

Imajin Books is my publisher for the Land’s End humorous time travel series, and they are wonderful.  Smaller publishers are great at hand-holding!  They can give you individual attention, and that can make a big different for your first books.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

Yes – how my idea of what success would mean has changed.  I used to think that success meant huge sales, or winning awards (I have 9.)

Then one reader emailed to tell me that my first book, Rowena Through the Wall, was her favorite book of all time.  I cried that night.  It changed the reason I write, forever.  I write for her, and readers like her.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

My 7th book, The Artful Goddaughter (a mob caper) will be out Sept. 1, from Orca books.
I’ve started a new humorous fantasy/space opera series, The Blue Angel Bar and Bolthole.  It has a female publican running a bar at the frontier end of the galaxy, who doubles as a PI.  It’s another rollicking adventure series.

Q: What’s your favorite place to hang out online?

I love Facebook and participate in a number of groups.  I love to respond to readers, and also connect with other writers.  You can find me on Goodreads as well.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

I write to entertain, first and foremost.  Yet even then, there is a dark side to the Land’s End series.  What would happen in a world where women are scarce?  Would they be more valued and therefore have more power and freedom?  I explored that theme throughout and came to some disturbing conclusions.  

Most people see these books as comedies, and I’m glad of that.  But there is this underlying theme that some readers have picked up on.  Comedy is a good way to present serious ideas, don’t you think?

Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

What I tell my writing students at college:  Writing is work, hard work. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like work, and those are the days we live for.

For me, Rowena and the Viking Warlord, was that book. I loved every minute of writing it.  Hopefully, readers will love it too.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Interview with Eliot Baker, author of 'The Last Ancient'

Eliot Baker lives in Finland. He teaches communications at a local college and runs an editing and translating business, but would be content singing for his heavy metal band and writing novels full-time. He grew up near Seattle, got his B.A. in World Literature at Pitzer College, and got his M.S. in Science Journalism from Boston University. He was an award-winning journalist at the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror, and before that he wrote for the Harvard Health Letters. He spent four years pursuing a career in the sciences while at the Harvard Extension School, during which time he spun old people in NASA-designed rocket chairs and kept younger people awake for 86 hours at a time in a sleep deprivation study. He likes good books, all music, and bad movies, and believes music and literature snobs just need a hug.

His latest book is the supernatural thriller/historical mystery, The Last Ancient.

About the Book:

 Around Nantucket Island, brutal crime scenes are peppered with ancient coins, found by the one man who can unlock their meaning. But what do the coins have to do with the crimes? Or the sudden disease epidemic? Even the creature? And who--or what--left them?

The answer leads reporter Simon Stephenson on a journey through ancient mythology, numismatics, and the occult. Not to mention his own past, which turns out to be even darker than he'd realized; his murdered father was a feared arms dealer, after all. Along the way, Simon battles panic attacks and a host of nasty characters -- some natural, others less so -- while his heiress fiancee goes bridezilla, and a gorgeous rival TV reporter conceals her own intentions.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

It started with a simple story idea that was overwhelmed by inspiration. The idea: while hunting, a man finds a wounded mythological creature. I’d been meaning to get back to writing fantasy, and I intended for this to be a shorter piece, perhaps a novella. But then inspiration struck, and that idea germinated into an entire urban fantasy world that encompassed my personal and professional experience as an American emigrant and a science journalist.
My inspiration for The Last Ancient included two phases. It started off as something darker than the final product. Some people very close to me were having their lives ripped apart by addiction, and I began writing a parable about that downward spiral. As I travelled further down a creative rabbit hole myself, I found some incredible stuff, recorded it, and realized the story I needed to tell was a much more personal one than I’d intended. I’d just quit my job as a reporter on Nantucket and moved to Finland to raise a family with my Finnish wife. Having given up career and country to make the move, I felt stuck between two worlds, living in one but missing the other. Staring out my office window at the pale winter sunlight, I suddenly thought back to our former home on the island. I got homesick. I recalled one of my first field assignments as a reporter where I’d shadowed a deer hunter at sunrise, and how amidst a chorus of shotgun blasts the red island sun rose over the cold, windswept island. I remembered seeing truckloads of dead deer at the weigh-in station, and some illegally butchered carcasses discarded on pristine trails and beaches. Looking back down at my laptop, out of nowhere, I typed, “Shotguns crow across Nantucket.” The Finnish sunlight outside just seemed to turn golden. A gateway to this darkly fantastic Nantucket opened. It was a pivotal moment.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

Remember how Keanu Reeves had to first decide which pill to take to enter the Matrix? And once he’d made that decision, he then had to learn how to fight and fly and teleport and choose the perfect black leather-and-sunglasses ensemble? Writing The Last Ancient was kind of like that: swallowing the pill was pretty easy. I was compelled to write the story that was unfolding before my eyes. But dealing with the consequences of swallowing that pill was really hard.

I knew my story required a complex conspiracy, but I’d never designed a mystery before, much less one involving mythology, peak resource theory, alchemy, and history. At times I felt like I was juggling flaming machetes. So much research, so many interlocking subplots and historical anecdotes. And yet the characters always spoke to me and the story always flowed. I rarely got burned or cut and never dropped the blades. How? First off, I believed in the story and committed to it. You have to believe in your story if you want it to have real depth.
Next, I found the sweet-spot between hard research and outlining, and creative release. You see, I’m a natural pantser who’s reformed himself into an outliner. I’d set aside days – sometimes weeks – for research and outlining, while dedicating other time blocks for hard-core writing, often in a secluded cabin away from all my soul-sucking electrical gadgetry. ClichĂ©, yes, but it worked. Fiction is like journalism in that once you’ve got your background research settled, you can let your writer’s brain take over.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

I went the small press route with BURST Books, an imprint of Champagne Books out of Canada. I didn’t really consider self-publishing because I don’t have the social platform to pull it off, and because, honestly, I wanted the validation of traditional publishing and the security of getting a professional editor, which I received in Nikki Andrews. The large house option would have been nice, but I just didn’t see a good fit. I pitched my novel at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference in 2012, and got conditional interest from some New York agents. BURST Books was the one house who wanted my book as-is, without substantial changes, and they praised my writing and story right off. New York was worried the book was too long and combined too many genres, and recommended pretty invasive surgery. I went with the house that believed in me. And did they ever. I received 2013 Novel of the Year from the Champagne Book Group Annual Author Awards.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

I was prepared for rejection, so the fact that I got three outright rejections and three very kind rejections before being accepted for publication was actually pretty solid for me. I didn’t bother cold querying. And the editing process was about as hard and rewarding as I’d thought it would be. But I have been amazed at how much time, effort, money, and skill it takes to market and promote your book effectively after it’s been published; at least when you’re a debut indie author with no real marketing budget from your publisher. There’s just so many indie and self-pub authors out there; reviewers and bookstores are inundated with review requests, so you have to be savvy about how to get out the word about your book.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

I’m really excited about a YA horror/fantasy duology I’m finishing up called The Golden Crow. The starting point–not to get dark here, but—comes from when I was fourteen years old and my mother died of cancer. A month later, a golden crow winged into our backyard, taking residence for the duration of my high school years. I believe the albino-like pigment defect it had is called xanthrochroism, which is universally rare, and perhaps unique in crows. Can’t find another mention of it in the literature. Anyhow, The Golden Crow is, at its heart, a meditation on overcoming grief and finding meaning as a teen after losing a loved one. The Golden Crow also just happens to involve demons and a New Demon World Order conspiracy launched from a high school in a south Seattle suburb (where I grew up).

Q: What’s your favorite place to hang out online?

I usually make my way to my fantasy football team site to memorize statistics, and then I’ll flip through various science magazine sites before perusing Good Reads and then settling into Face Book.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

I’m drawn to growth and transformation, be it for better or for worse, literal or metaphorical.  The Last Ancient became what it is once alchemy came into the picture. Alchemy is a three-thousand-year-old study into transforming base elements into precious ones, especially gold. It’s about finding immortality and godhood, via the Philosopher’s Stone. We’ve all read or seen Harry Potter. But have you read C.G. Jung’s work on alchemy and symbolism? Jun, was obsessed with how neatly alchemical processes and symbology aligned with his own theories on personal transformation. He believed people were trying to basically turn from lead to gold, to become gods. The process of transformation from religions across ages requires certain rites and rituals, from sacrifice and suffering, to love and sex. If this sounds familiar, you probably heard of it from dealings with the Stone Masons in Dan Brown novels. They really believe it. I’m not preaching anything literal like that in The Last Ancient, but I am drawing from such stuff

Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

You mean, before you light the fuse that leads to the TNT cannisters you strapped to my swivel chair? Well, how about, “I’m glad I got some words down on the page before the whole thing went kaboom.” And indeed, if you’re struggling with getting your book finished or published, do know that something will work out eventually if you just keep writing. And when it does work out, you’ll feel at peace with many things. Publishing a book you’re proud of is a singularly rewarding experience.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Interview with Cheryl Kaye Tardiff: 'I believe research is a key element with writing any book'

Cheryl Kaye Tardif is an award-winning, international bestselling Canadian suspense author. Her novels include Divine Sanctuary, Submerged, Divine Justice, Children of the Fog, The River, Divine Intervention, and Whale Song, which New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice calls "a compelling story of love and family and the mysteries of the human heart...a beautiful, haunting novel."

She is now working on her next thriller.

Cheryl also enjoys writing short stories inspired mainly by her author idol Stephen King, and this has resulted in Skeletons in the Closet & Other Creepy Stories (collection of shorts) and Remote Control (novelette eBook). In 2010 Cheryl detoured into the romance genre with her contemporary romantic suspense debut, Lancelot's Lady, written under the pen name of Cherish D'Angelo.

Booklist raves, "Tardif, already a big hit in Canada…a name to reckon with south of the border."

For More Information
About the Book:

There's no place like home…

In the Divine trilogy finale, the heat is tripled when CFBI Agent Jasi McLellan must rescue Emily, the ghost girl that haunts her dreams; expose her own mother's killer; and uncover a murderer that preys on the weak at Sanctuary, a controversial cult nestled in the woods near Mission, BC.

Something insidious lurks behind the safe haven of Sanctuary's wrought iron gates. Led by the charismatic Father Jeremiah, the cult's idyllic lifestyle seems perfect on the outside. But a lethal hunter is on the prowl, and in a carefully executed game of cat and mouse, the body count rises.

Along with Victim Empath Natassia Prushenko, Psychometric Empath Ben Roberts and Special Consultant Brandon Walsh, Jasi follows three trails of clues that lead to one terrifying conclusion: home is not always the safest place on earth.

For More Information

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us to the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

My latest novel, Divine Sanctuary, is book three in my Divine Trilogy, and it was born from my love of the paranormal/supernatural. I have always been fascinated by the idea of people with authentic psychic “gifts” and the possibility that they might assist law enforcement agencies with cold cases or high profile cases.

Three of the lead characters have different psychic abilities. Jasi is a Pyro-Psychic who can see through the eyes of a serial arsonist/killer when she smells smoke from his fire. Ben is a Psychometric Empath who can read items or people at a single touch. Natassia is a Victim Empath who can read victims, whether alive…or dead. And the fourth member, Brandon, is a fire chief who starts off as a skeptic but soon realizes that even the unexplainable can be possible.

In this trilogy, I’ve created a covert division of the CFBI (Canadian FBI), whose various psychic powers are instrumental in solving crime. The first book, Divine Intervention, explores themes of child abuse, abortion and the foster system. Book two, Divine Justice, delves into a conspiracy that is affecting government officials. And book three, Divine Sanctuary, takes readers behind the gates of a cult compound.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

Writing Divine Sanctuary was much easier than the first two books because I knew that not only did I have to close the current case, I would finally get a chance to resolve two sub-plots—the ghost girl from Jasi’s closet and the mystery behind Jasi’s mother’s murder.

I believe research is a key element with writing any book. The more believable you can make the plot, the more it will be accepted. But even more important is adding emotion. I want my readers to care about my characters. I want them to yearn to know what happens to them and to cheer them on when they win, or when the bad guy is caught. I want these characters to seem real, 3-dimensional, vulnerable and flawed.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

I have many publishers, and I am also self-published. I have self-published my English ebooks and paperbacks and one Spanish ebook. I also have multiple translation deals with traditional publishers in Turkish, Chinese and German. I recently signed a 4-book translation deal with a German publisher, only days after the release of Des Nebels Kinder, which was published by Amazon Crossing. And Audible has published two audiobooks.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

My first published novel was Whale Song, back in 2003. What surprised me was how expensive it was and how much I enjoyed book signings at that time. This was the perfect career for me, something I had dreamed about since I was a teen. And I could see the endless possibilities, even early on.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

I am currently working on a paranormal horror/thriller that takes me back to my author idols, Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I am hoping it will be published in 2015. I believe it will be my greatest success to date! I also have some other novels in the works; I am never short on story plots.

Q: What’s your favorite place to hang out online?

Facebook, hands down, is my favorite haunt. I enjoy socializing with readers and other authors. So you’ll either find me on my profile page or my author page. I love meeting people from different countries.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

Divine Sanctuary really is a novel about family and home, and what each of those words truly mean. We all have various definitions. This is why I wanted to explore the cult theme. Family isn’t always about your immediate family; often it can extend to best friends. And sometimes home isn’t the safest place to be, even though many will tell you “there’s no place like home.”
Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

I’d like to invite everyone to pick up a FREE copy of Divine Intervention. You’ll also find Divine Justice on sale for only $2.99, and Divine Sanctuary is now available. You’ll find them at your favorite online retailers.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

More Precious Than Rubies by Randy Coates Book Feature

More Precious Than Rubies
Title: More Precious Than Rubies
Author: Randy Coates
Publisher: iUniverse
Pages: 174
Genre: Fantasy
Format: Ebook
 Purchase at AMAZON

 Paul Brager is twelve when his father tells the story of Iduna and her apples. Mr. Brager always tells stories before bed to entertain Paul’s little brother, Adrian—a ritual that has become even more important since their mother died. Iduna was a goddess who grew apples that made the gods younger and stronger, but one day she disappeared, along with her apples. Paul doesn’t think much of the myth; he has other things on his mind. Paul and his best friend, Chad Tremblay, are excited to start the school year as seventh graders at Dorian Heights Public School. Even when they hear about the new principal, Mr. Theisen, they aren’t worried about ending up in his office. When Paul finally meets the principal, however, he finds him to be strange, mysterious, and extremely fond of apples. That’s when things start going wrong. Theisen develops an uncomfortable interest in Paul, claiming he once knew Paul’s father. It becomes apparent to Paul and Chad that Theisen is after something, maybe some kind of treasure—and it involves the Brager family. Paul believes his family must be protected and that Theisen must be stopped. Still, he can’t get the story of Iduna’s apples out of his head; there seems to be an odd connection to the tale his father told. He and Chad want to know the answers, but learning them may put their lives in danger.
Randy Coates graduated from the University of Waterloo with a bachelor of arts degree and went on to acquire his teacher’s certificate at the University of Western Ontario. He is currently an elementary teacher in the Toronto District Board of Education. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

First Chapter Reveal: Two Empty Thrones by C.H. MacLean

Title: Two Empty Thrones
Author: C.H. MacLean
Publisher: CNH Publishing
Pages: 242
Genre: YA Fantasy
Format: Paperback; Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

With her powers growing every day, fourteen-year-old Haylwen Rightad thinks she’s safe in the magical forest. And now that she finally has the friends she always wanted, what is there to be afraid of?

But she’s not out of the woods yet. Old enemies rip through her beloved forest, threatening to haul Haylwen and her newfound friends away. Their safety shattered, Haylwen and her friends are suddenly at each other’s throats. Is the friendship she worked so hard for already ruined, or is there another, unseen enemy at work?

Haylwen and her brother must unmask this mysterious enemy before they can fight it off. But even if all their enemies are destroyed, the King of the magic users will stop at nothing to ensure he’s still in power when the dragons take over the world. And he’s hidden an enemy where Haylwen would never think to look. 

If no one is what they seem, who can she trust?
First Chapter

Haylwen, Cadarn, the twins, and Nacia sat in a circle in the open grassy area where they usually met for martial arts practice. They used it for everything now. Today they were practicing sign language. It was quiet, only occasionally broken by a few words, if Cadarn asked a question.

Haylwen took a break and leaned back against the large oak behind her. 

Surrounded by the trees, the magical trees that somehow kept them safe from the monsters that chased them, she relaxed, hearing the birds and breeze through the leaves above her. Without trying, almost by reflex, she felt the energy of magic. She had been reading and practicing so much, the light leaped to her inner sight without effort. She could see clearly the light surrounding her, and her own bright and strong inner ball of light sitting in her chest.

She let her ball of internal energy grow and felt a tug. For a moment, she felt there were other places in her body where energy would form! She excitedly wondered if they might let her do more with magic. Does Cadarn or my father know? Maybe one of the books? She didn’t wait to ask.

She found one at her throat, touched another really big one at her head. Maybe it was more than one? She focused. Ok, there was the first one in my chest, one in my belly, and at least another one below that. She compared them and felt lines, strings maybe, connecting them. Haylwen suddenly realized they weren’t balls, but were more like pools of energy, with streams flowing back and forth between the pools. She looked at their pulsing movement, growing and shrinking. In another exciting realization, she saw them as tide pools being fed by the ocean of light all around her. They’re all connected!

Then she felt another one, a bigger one, just out of reach beyond her head. She imagined her top pool sending a little stream toward where she felt this other pool. She strained, but it slipped away. She relaxed, and it came closer. She let the stream wander its own way, which just happened to be toward the bigger pool. They touched.

Suddenly, she was swept along in a river. Her little stream grew in an instant, swallowing her in a flash flood. Terror twisted her stomach, but before she could even open her eyes, she stopped. She blinked. Or, at least, she thought she did. Am I awake or dreaming? Or finally gone completely crazy?

She stood on a small island, surrounded by a stream. The stream's giggles whispered around her as it danced along its rocky bed. Other islands surrounded hers, with swift streams making their way along them, a network of water and earth. Each island had a single tree on it. Her island had a tall oak, and she could swear it was the same one she had been leaning against. She took the several steps to the water's edge and looked into the rapidly moving water. Though it was running quickly, the water was so clear she could see sparkling stones on the bottom.

“Welcome!” a voice said from behind her.

Haylwen spun and saw an old man standing there, his arms crossed, smiling through his beard. His hair was long, dark brown, and snarled, but in such a pattern as to seem intentional. He wore a long robe of coarse fabric, shaded in browns. His eyes were amazingly bright green and shone in contrast against his brown skin. He stood right where the oak had been, the great tree that was now gone.

“Again we felt. You come.” He spoke so slowly, Haylwen initially thought of saying something during the pauses after his sentences. “Welcome. Haylwen. Quickling child.” She eventually figured out his sentences were all one.

Haylwen didn’t mind waiting, as there was so much going on in her…what she felt coming in from around her. She felt as if she were immersed in energy, in magic. Everything had a background shimmer, as if she could see the energy of the air reflecting and bouncing off the energy of the land and water. The energy carried a chorus of music, perfectly harmonious together, though each was a full symphony by itself. Haylwen caught a part of the tune, a catchy, simple melody that sounded familiar. She was barely aware of a tiny note of wrongness that was somewhere close, but Haylwen lost it in the wonder.

When the old man had not spoken for some time, Haylwen replied, “Where am I?”

He gave a breezy laugh. “You are. Where you were. And still are.”

“Huh? Um, let’s start over. How do you know my name?”

The old man blinked, shook his head slowly. Haylwen felt herself slow down, or everything else speed up, as the old man muttered something about time and quicklings. Either way, suddenly his speech didn’t seem slow.

He said, “You told me your name.” He didn't seem to be kidding.

Haylwen tried again. “Who are you?”

“I am who I was.” He looked briefly confused, then brightened. “But, of course! For the you-now this is the first.” He made an odd sort of bow, a swaying from the waist. “I am Barandarus, the youngest of the elders, the speaker for the grove.”

A flash made Haylwen look around. On the other islands, where the other trees had stood, now stood men and women, wearing similarly-styled robes. They silently watched.

Haylwen tried again. “What is this place?” She tried not to think she was just hallucinating. A dream, that's all.

Again, the breezy laugh, which seemed to echo as it spread among the other people. “This is no place, quickling. This is the energy of the grove. You might even call it the mind of the grove,” he said, looking around. “Your energy, my energy,” he continued, waving his hand at the others, “hers and his and hers, all of their energy, vibrating in resonance, in concert. Energy, mind, all as one.”

“Why did you bring me here?”

He shook his head, still smiling. “We do not bring. The way was there, the door to open, and you brought. Why did you bring you here?” After a pause, he continued with a wink. “Perhaps it is guidance you seek from the grove?”

Was that a hint? “What sort of guidance might I want?”

The old man smiled and gave another of his wavy bows. “You told us, or will tell us, this would be the way, but still.” He smiled with a slow head shake. “Curious quicklings, so full of energy, without perspective.” He stood a bit differently. “You said to be sure I will tell you three.” He held up one finger. “One. Remember Rivenwake.”

Haylwen's eyes widened. Remember Rivenwake? She echoed it in her mind, memories flashing past. Her one real-life meeting with him was a blur of embarrassed stammering as she’d tried to seem normal in the face of his fathomless eyes and too-cute face. Or, could he be talking about her dream of him, running from a horde of assassins and her first kiss, heart-pounding nightmare and romantic fantasy all in one? She couldn't forget him, despite all her trying.

A thrumming started, and Barandarus blinked. “Nothing save trouble,” he muttered. He flicked a second finger up. “Two. Find Faustas.”

Why did that name sound familiar...? Oh! The mustachioed king from her book on the history of magic! Find Faustas the Traitor?

“He's dead!” Haylwen blurted.

Barandarus shook his head. “Of course not. Though, it has been a while, even for us.”

A moan interrupted. Low and quiet, like someone in the distance was injured. Barandarus winced and then grimaced as more moans joined, changing voices, coming closer. He shook his head, eyes unfocused. A scream broke his look, and he fixed his gaze on her intently.

“Child, there is damage come to the grove,” he said with energy beyond the volume of his words, “and darkness carried in it. We feel it comes for you. We will do what we can, but they were invited, in a way. You are needed to protect yourselves, ourselves. Go, please go.”

Looking in Barandarus' eyes, Haylwen could feel his pain. For a second, she knew him, trusted him. She felt a pulling, as if someone had opened a door on a storm.

“Wait, what is the third?” she blurted, fighting the pulling sensation.

“Clearing come. Now go!” Barandarus shouted.

Haylwen let herself slide into the opening, back along the same way she’d come. She blinked and was back in the clearing, sitting just as she had been. She jumped up, the others watching her curiously.

“What's up, Hayl?” Cadarn asked.

“There is damage and darkness coming to the grove,” she shot out. She blushed slightly, trying not to notice Cadarn’s look. “We should get back to the house.”

She quickly grabbed her pack and went to the edge of the clearing to stand looking toward the main house. The others were slowly gathering their things, except for Oakren. He had grabbed all his things, stepped up almost in front of her, and made a few gestures in sign language. Haylwen shook her head, not understanding. He was deaf, but she felt dumb.

Nacia was leading the others out, and Oakren gestured to her and then Haylwen.

“What?” Nacia said. “You want me to say what? You heard the trees and want to talk to them next time?”

Haylwen looked sharply at Oakren, surprised. Oakren nodded to himself and smiled. He made a few more gestures.

Nacia sighed. “He says he wants you to bring him next time.” She shook her head and said under her breath, “I know he has a crush on you, but honestly.”

Haylwen heard a crash, the distant sound of breaking wood. She started walking, and then heard the sound of a chainsaw. She picked up the pace. Nacia was gesturing to the twins, who looked confused, then angry. They started running, sprinting past Haylwen. By the time Haylwen got to the farmhouse, the boys were standing next to Feabee on the porch, the three of them looking like thunderclouds.

Nacia ran over to stand with her mother, Topaz, just inside the door. They looked so much alike, one just an older version of the other, a mirror through time. 

Haylwen drifted to stand by her parents off to the side, while Cadarn stood by himself to the side of the porch. Everyone was looking down the path, to where the sounds of crashing branches and large motors were gradually coming closer. Feabee made an occasional gesture to the twins to let them know what the rest were hearing.

Haylwen blanched at a particularly loud crash, wincing. Her father looked at her questioningly. “They are trying to help, and it is hurting them,” Haylwen whispered. Her father held his questioning look for a moment. His eyes popped wide and suddenly narrowed as he heard what she’d said. He looked into the forest briefly and then turned and started to say something to Haylwen.

He was drowned out as a large, olive-green truck crashed through the last of the branches, leaves and twigs caught in its grille and hanging from the roof rack. It looked like some savage beast, a destroyer of trees. It revved its engine and then growled its way up the slope to stop halfway up. It backed off the dirt road onto the grass as a shiny black SUV quietly rolled out from the mangled tunnel of trees. After the SUV passed it, the truck threw itself in a roaring spin that threw chunks of green and mud behind it to block the road out. It sat there, engine still growling. The smell of diesel rolled up to the house.

The SUV pulled off the road and drove across the rolling lawn, leaving crushed grass in its wake. It stopped with the passenger side at the very edge of the farmhouse porch. The passenger door opened and a tall man in a charcoal suit stepped out, directly onto the porch.

With his blond hair chopped short, it took Haylwen a moment to recognize him. 

“Mr. Johansen,” she whispered, clutching her father and sliding behind him. Her ex-principal was here? A wave of fear washed over her, carrying memories of when he had grabbed herthe feel of his hands on her neck, the chemical smell of his car as he’d stuffed her in.

“You have nothing to fear from him,” her father said in a quiet, but stern, voice, tension rolling off of him.

Haylwen’s mother, Crystyn, leaned over, turning to look Haylwen in the eye. “He will never touch you again, I promise.” Crystyn stood, taking a couple of firm steps to stand a bit ahead of Haylwen and her father. Abrennin twitched away as Crystyn moved past him, like he had gotten a shock. He gave her a brief look of surprise and confusion, but she wasn’t paying attention.

“May I help you?” Feabee said. “You realize this is private property.”

Mr. Johansen took a step toward Feabee, a reddish hue seeping from him.

Haylwen’s guts clenched. He was going to use magic to hurt Feabee!

Abrennin whispered something and then choked. Haylwen's stomach twisted more, realizing what her father’s choking meant. With me and Cadarn here, our parents’ Oath is in effect. Mom and Dad can’t use magic. Her parents might protect her from a physical attack, but what about a magical one?

Feabee shot Abrennin a wide-eyed look and he nodded once. She blinked, then her jaw muscles jumped as a green glow slipped around her. Haylwen squeezed her father’s hand, a question. He smiled thinly and squeezed back. Of course, Feabee could use magic!

“I have information that you are willfully transgressing against federal law,” Mr. Johansen said. Haylwen gave a little gasp as a red arc shot from Mr. Johansen, a striking snake, to bounce off Feabee's green shield. “You are harboring fugitives, aiding and abetting criminals.” Another red snake slithered along the ground, trying to work its way under Feabee's shield.

Feabee shook her head with a smile.

“You think truancy laws are less important than any other?” Mr. Johansen said loudly, standing a bit taller. “We must make sure the children of society are safe.”

“My paperwork is in order and has not expired,” she said.

“Perhaps, but it only lists three students,” he sneered.

Haylwen looked over to Cadarn, sharing the look of guilt and fear that this was about them. Haylwen felt her fear twist into anger. Feabee, Nacia, and the twins were going to get in trouble because of her! She looked up at her father, who just held her hand and shook his head slightly.

“Actually, I submitted updated paperwork, which was received two days ago,” Feabee replied.

“And I was sent to confirm the information was accurate. We have the right to do an inspection for classes equal to, or larger than, five,” he said.

“There is no such law,” Feabee retorted, eyes narrowing.

“Law? Oh, I guess you didn't see the express invitation to an inspection on the forms you completed?” he sneered. His red bubble pulsed. Several snakes struck as he said, “The forms you signed authorized the right of inspection with acceptance. We must make sure there is actual learning, to prevent child neglect.”

Feabee threw apologetic looks at Haylwen's parents. “Invitation? I didn't see…” Her green shield was weakening under the repeated attacks.

“You understand that the neglect laws include all students, correct?” The red intensified, and the attacking snakes grew in number. “Under the child abuse and neglect statutes, we have the authority to take all of the children into custody immediately,” Mr. Johansen said.

Haylwen watched as the green glow started to show tiny spots of black, gaps in the shield. Two more red snakes quickly shot out from Mr. Johansen, squirming against the black spots, trying to force their way in. Feabee looked resigned, trapped. Haylwen felt her father try to say something, but he tensed and choked.

“You have no authority here.” Haylwen gave a small gasp, hearing her mother's voice with such power. “You will take your polluting trucks and leave immediately.” Crystyn stalked across the porch to stand ahead and to the side of Feabee, making Mr. Johansen shift to face her. Haylwen glanced up at her father, who was breathing easier. His face was an odd combination of confused and proud.

Mr. Johansen looked over Crystyn's head, following where she had come from to see Haylwen and Abrennin standing there. He gave a little smirk, a twisted look of revenge.

“Ah, Mrs. Rightad. I see where your vandalizing daughter gets it.” Several thick red snakes slowly approached her mother. “If I leave, it will be with your truant children...”

A white glow erupted around Haylwen's mother. Haylwen squinted, slightly blinded as the white glow around her mother flared even brighter, engulfing the snakes, obliterating them.

“You will leave with nothing,” her mother said in a tone that sent shivers down Haylwen's spine. Her mother had locked eyes with Mr. Johansen. Though he was at least a foot taller, he seemed to shrink with each passing moment, while Haylwen’s mother seemed to grow. The white glow increased in intensity and size, washing like waves against the receding red of Mr. Johansen. “If you ever come close to either of my children again—”

“I did nothing, I have witnesses,” Mr. Johansen interrupted, momentarily straightening, the red pushing against the waves.

The white flared again, and Mr. Johansen took a step back. He had only the slightest hint of red around him now, flickering.

“You have nothing to withstand a mother protecting her child,” Haylwen heard her mother say, as another blinding flare of white pulsed out. Mr. Johansen took another step back, stumbling, withering even more under her fierce gaze.

Crystyn pointed her finger toward the SUV as another pulse of the white light washed over Mr. Johansen. “You and your agent's invitations are revoked!”

Haylwen's mother nudged Feabee, who nodded once.

Mr. Johansen slid backward down the stairs, banging into the SUV, scrambling to open the door and get inside before being sucked away. He slammed the door closed, and the SUV's idling engine roared, tires spitting grass and dirt in every direction. Everyone was pelted, but Haylwen noticed not a fleck hit her mother.

The SUV bounced down the hill as the olive-green truck tore out of the way. The black SUV disappeared into the tunnel as the truck spun around, engine roaring, tires clawing the ground, making a new set of wounds in the grassy field. A cold shiver crawled up Haylwen's legs, tightening around her throat, as she looked at the ruined lawn. Even after the smell of exhaust had drifted away, the wounds were mocking proof they weren't safe. It was only a matter of time.