A letter from beyond the grave brings accountant Fae Childers face to face with murder, embezzlement, romance, and a hidden family legacy. Certified public accountant Fae Childers is not an embezzler, despite the belief of the accounting firm that fires her for stealing. But proving her innocence is harder than convincing an IRS agent to allow a deduction. She's lost her mother, her job, her fiancé, and her self-respect. She's running out of money and the lease is about to expire on her apartment. Then the fortune-telling grandmother Fae never knew existed, whose name and psychic abilities she now learns are also hers, issues a challenge from beyond the grave—a challenge that brings Fae face to face with murder, embezzlement, romance, and a hidden family legacy. When the mystery of Fae's past collides with the troubles of her present, the situation veers out of control. Her very life is threatened. Who can she trust? The man she's falling in love with? The former fiancé who has already betrayed her once? Or only herself? With justice, romance, and her future at stake, Fae must overcome personal and professional obstacles to save herself and those she loves. And she's going to have to do it fast, before someone else dies.
Deep within the castle walls, dinner preparations were underway. Table Setter readied napkins, plates, and utensils, all fit for royalty. Chef set up the enchanted box and plugged it into the magic outlet. As the elemental fire heated the mysterious coils, Chef asked, “Where be the spell book with the rituals we must follow?” “I am uncertain of the location of the spell book,” Table Setter said. “I shall search.” Table Setter diligently searched the pantry, the library, and all the secret nooks and crannies of the castle but found no spell book. By now the enchanted box was sizzling. Since Chef was fairly sure of the correct ritual and incantations of time and temperature, the food was placed upon the mysterious coils. The royal dinner cooked to perfection…though both Chef and Table Setter were still puzzled as to the whereabouts of the missing spell book. Later, when the enchanted box was cool again, Chef removed the mysterious coils for cleaning. Scraps of charcoaled paper flew into the air, showering the kitchen with black confetti. In one voice, Chef and Table Setter said, “The spell book!” And that is how the spell book was cooked to perfection along with the royal dinner. NOTE: This story may or may not have taken place during a recent grilling session in Carpenter Country.
The white-line markings on the garden gauge marked the amount of rainfall in precise increments---until the dark and stormy night of literary infamy brought more rain than the gauge could measure. The gauge filled, overflowed, and finally fell over. Yet when the dark and stormy night yielded to the less dark and still stormy day, the gardener didn't need an exact measurement to appreciate the gift. Are you measuring what matters?
The tree-killer has set sights on the oak in the backyard. Long silvery tendrils cloak the tree like a monster embracing a hapless victim. The killer feeds off the tree's nutrients and grows uncontrollably. The resulting dense growth blocks the warmth and light of the sun, entombing the prey-tree. Captured branches, entwined and weak, snap off and thud to the ground, unable to bear the burden of the killer's grasp. When one victim is conquered, the tree-killer moves on to the next, nature's relentless serial murderer on the loose. Except...except that like most myths, this one is not true. The tree-killer's name is spanish moss. Spanish moss is not a parasitic plant, but instead an airborne rootless bromeliad. What myths do you believe?
Six lily bulbs rested at the bottom of a box tucked into a corner of the gardening shed. The gardener, busy with fall planting, had set them aside, then forgotten them. As approaching winter shortened daylight hours, gardening tools and tasks were set aside. The shed, infrequently visited, was often dark and always cold. The bulbs rested in the chilly silence and drew on reserves stored during the sun-drenched days of summer. Those warm yesterdays were now both a memory of the past and a wish for the future. Will your inner strength carry you through the winter?
The yellowthroat swooped from sky to birdbath. She drank, then turned her back to the wind-rippled water and hunkered down, feathers puffed. The air was cold, the breeze colder. But the birdbath was nestled in a circle of sand among a bed of pine needles and the mid-afternoon sun warmed the stone. In the midst of the day's chill, the warmth was balm, granting a brief welcome respite to bird and birdwatcher. Do you appreciate the sunshine?
The pine cone gingers stood tall beneath the sycamore. Twenty healthy plants now grew in a space originally intended for a cluster of five. What to do with the over-abundance? Share, of course. Next year, the noninvasive gingers, also known as pine cone lilies, will form gorgeous red pine cone shaped flowers in a different part of Carpenter Country. Like all shared plants, the gingers will bring a special beauty to the new-to-them garden—a beauty derived as much from the memories they evoke as from their appearance. What memories are you planting?
Fifteen year old Josey is a liar. She’d like to stop. But after Mom left, the lies started popping out, like the time Josey left her little brother at the library and told Dad he’d run away. Then Josey meets a boy who tells bigger whoppers than she does. He says he’s the son of a privateer who’s been dead two centuries. He’s so convincing Josey’s brother believes every word and sets off to find the privateer’s hidden treasure. When her brother disappears, Josey is sure she knows where he's gone. But everyone thinks she's lying again. Everyone, that is, except the so-called privateer’s son. He knows she’s telling the truth because jeweled riches are only part of his tale. There’s also the snooperscope, a device that makes time leaps possible, like the one that brought him to the present. The story is fantastical...and yet Josey will do anything to save her brother—including traveling back in time two hundred years with a boy she can’t trust.
The hyacinth bulb perches above a glass pot full of water, its roots a medusa-tangle of white tendrils. The flowers are a profusion of cheerful pink that brighten what's normally a gray time of year. The frilly flowers seem frivolous and airy, yet are heavy enough that the stalk sags under their weight, and their sweet fragrance perfumes the sunny porch. In two weeks, when the flowers are finished, the bulb will turn brown and lifeless. Without the proper care and a favorable environment, neither of which are guaranteed, that one burst of color and scent will be the bulb's sole achievement. Do you give your all despite the uncertainty of tomorrow?
After months of rain, water was plentiful, collecting naturally in small depressions and topographical low spots. The birds no longer visited the bird bath. Yet the caretaker kept the basin clean, the water sparkling, the surrounding vegetation from jungling into concealment for predators. When the dry days returned, as dry days do, the bird bath was as it had always been. Where's your touchstone?
Question 1 in the author interview: "Why do you write young adult stories?" Us: "We don't." Host waves copy of Pirate Summer, our young adult novel. Us: "Young adult is a category that our stories fit into. What we actually write is what we like to read – stories about plucky characters who wrestle with insecurities and frustrations, who fail and succeed and fail again, and who discover they are, at bottom, admirable and courageous and ordinary and not-so-ordinary, all at the same time. That’s as true of our septuagenarian sleuth hero in our cozy mystery as it is of Josey, the teenager in Pirate Summer." What stories do you like to read?
Time travel is possible. We know, because all it takes is an old song, picture, or book, and we're right back where we were when we first sang along, or snapped the image, or began reading. The hero of our young adult novel, Pirate Summer, also learns that time travel is possible. Josey's journey is not a flight of fancy, triggered by memory and imagination, and it's not a journey she's anxious to make. But there's no other way to save her brother—and she's not going to leave him stuck two hundred years in the past. Would you travel through time to save a family member?
The utility worker who knocked on the door handed us a sheet of paper and unexpected news. Due to a leak, the water main supplying water to our house had to be repaired. The water would be shut off for six hours, and we'd be under a "boil water" advisory for two days following the repair. Given the severity of water issues suffered by others, the interruption in our service was a minor inconvenience. Yet every time we reached for the faucet to fill a glass, we were reminded of how much we take for granted in our everyday lives. The hero of our book, Pirate Summer, learns a similar lesson when she travels back in time two hundred years to save her brother. Josey's thirsty, dirty, and surrounded by "water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink," as the old poem goes. And—horror of horrors—her cell phone doesn't work either. Like Josey, we've developed a new appreciation for the value of daily desiderata. Clean water, abundant food, a safe warm home, people we trust and believe in and who trust and believe in us—we are fortunate indeed, and these days we make a point of recognizing and acknowledging what we once might not have noticed. What about you? What are you taking for granted?
In our book, Pirate Summer, the brother of our hero believes finding a pirate's treasure will restore his heart's desire. Like Andy, we have dreamed of finding wood chests overflowing with gold doubloons, pieces of eight, chain ropes of gold and silver, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. So far, those riches have eluded us. And yet even as we seek them, we know we don't need pirate jewels to have what we want. We are wealthy with treasures already surrounding us. Those exist in the words of a favorite book, in the love of a sibling, in the giving of ourselves to ensure the safety and comfort of another. We are richer for having dreams, and we are richest when we recognize that our dreams are already reality.
***NOTE TO READERS: Dream Stealer is a stand-alone young adult novelette of approximately 8,400 words.*** Ever wonder what became of the dreams you once had? Fancy Moonstruck can tell you. Fancy is supposed to steal dreams. It's what her family does for a living, and now that she's fifteen, the job is hers. It’s a job she’d rather not have. She knows first-hand what dreams mean to the dreamer because she dreams of her mom, who died five years ago. Losing her dream would be like losing her mom all over again. That’s a pain Fancy doesn't want to inflict on anyone. But the rules are clear: Steal a dream—or lose her own.
Plants. So many plants. Lined up in rows on the ground, arranged in clusters on long wood tables, set in groupings near pathway curves. Flowering plants, perfuming the air, surrounded by buzzing bees. Ornamental grasses in purple, green, white, swaying in the gentle breeze. Young trees, standing soldier tall, roots yearning for freedom from restrictive containers. The gardener wanders, entranced, drawn deeper into this wonderland by imagination and visions of what could be. The journey began with a finite goal: buy ten pots of Aztec grass to accent a small sunny garden. But this gracefully draping plumbago...that tall purple lily...or perhaps the frothy dwarf azalea in stunning red... Wouldn't those fill the already-prepared garden bed beautifully? Tempting, very tempting to be drawn into another gardener's vision. Yet those plans, that layout, these specific plants are wrong for the task at hand, wrong for the result the gardener wants to achieve. Can you focus on your own dreams?
The leaf drifted down and twirled around, dancing on the wind. No one cared and no one shared and yet the moment was undimmed. The wind moved on, the dance was done; only the leaf remained. No one cared and no one shared and the leaf did not explain. Who do you dance for?
The original architect of several of Carpenter Country's gardens was an artist. Despite the passage of time, the knowledge, skill, and talent are obvious in the layout and appearance. And yet that same passage of time resulted in change unforeseen in the initial design. Plants died, weeds invaded, erosion deteriorated garden beds. No individual change was transformative and most went unremarked. But the cumulative effect is substantial and dramatic---and only obvious when observed with hindsight. How has time changed you?
Once upon a dream, in a book written long, long ago...Both dreams and fiction are flights of fancy. When you get caught up in either, you enter a world of images, events, and emotions--a world that exists only for you, and one you interpret through your own experiences. There, at the intersection of the real and the not-quite-real, you become a dream traveler, an oneironaut. May you travel joyfully and often into the dreams you find within the sentences of stories.
**Note to readers:a stand-alone novelette of approximately 10,800 words.** Flying frizzles! The year is 2176, a rebellion is brewing, and the boss wants a recon report. Ichann Count is all wet as a spy, but she plunges into the fray. Will she emerge with her memory banks intact? Ichann Count is an expert at accounting warfare. She spends her days crunching numbers at the Etherworld Tax Bureau and crushing on her really cute co-worker. When the Water Tax Rebellion of 2176 geysers to the surface, Ike finds herself—and her really cute co-worker— drowning in trouble. Can Ike save them both? Or will events continue to burble downhill?
A plumbago is a plumbago, no matter what name you use. Or so a famous author said about roses and the same truth ought to apply to plumbagos. But if you use a different name, the plumbago may not get proper care because you believe the plumbago is another plant entirely. The plumbago hasn't changed no matter what you call it. The plumbago still needs the same essentials that all plumbagos need to thrive. And yet your perception changed when you gave the plumbago a different name and, in turn, the new perception changed your treatment of the plumbago. Words have power. Are you using yours wisely?
The idea was ambitious: A new garden, spanning the width of the yard, to replace the failing grass. The project began with a mind-picture, translated into a quickly drawn plan. The original simple sketch evolved into a more detailed design, leading to a shopping list and enjoyable visits to the local garden center. Once the gardener was prepared, the transformation began. Day by day, foot by foot, an inviting garden emerged from the unsightly space. Passersby commented on the amount of work done and yet to do, expressed interest in the result, offered well wishes, suggestions, and observations. The gardener smiled and nodded, all the while applying hoe to soil. And the plan came together, as envisioned. Do you start with the end firmly in mind?
The clouds scudded across the sky, drawn inexorably in the wake of the powerful storm. Innocent and uninvolved only a few hours earlier, now they raced, ever faster, to join the lure of the hurricane and become part of the swirling bands of wind and rain that wreaked damage and destruction. Later, when the storm was spent and the clouds were no longer caught up in the frenzy of the moment, they wisped away. Are you towed along by the events surrounding you?
We've been watching Digger the Pocket Gopher shift dirt around Carpenter Country this week. Digger works mostly underground and an entire day or more can go by before a mound of sandy soil appears on the surface. All that excavation, done out of sight and unnoticed, is Digger's daily routine. And all that excavation changes Digger's world in ways that affect both Digger and the larger community around her. She loosens the soil, introducing air and allowing nutrients and water to reach plant roots. Her burrows provide habitat for other small wildlife. The dirt she mounds above ground gives fallen seeds the opportunity to grow. But not everyone appreciates Digger's work, because the changes have a negative side too. Digger eats roots and can seriously undermine the growth and distribution of some species of plants. Her underground tunnels can result in soft soil that collapses beneath the weight of heavier above-ground animals. Yet Digger continues to move forward, day by day, mound by mound. Do you?
The nandina was a nuisance. Planted by a landscaper who lacked forethought, the hardy shrub grew too quickly, spread too rapidly, bumped against the house, and overlapped the sidewalk. As with most nuisances, the plant had good features. It was pretty, with golden foliage, fat red berries, and small white flowers that attracted bees and small wildlife. For a while, those factors outweighed the negatives of this invasive pest who ruthlessly elbowed out less aggressive plant-neighbors. And yet...and yet the day arrived when the disruption affecting the garden's plant community could no longer be overlooked. Removal was not easy. But when the work was done, the garden was once again a place of joy and pleasure. What do you need to weed from your life?
What's more important when choosing a book to read? Genre? Cover? Title? We were in the library recently thinking about this question while we worked our way down the shelves searching for our next book-reading-adventure. As authors, we don't much like the convention of genre, as you may be able to tell from the variety of stories we write. However, genre is useful for managing expectations--you pick up a book from the romance genre, and you expect to get a romance, right? On the other hand, in a visual world, the cover image is important, especially for online shopping, where the cover is front and center. On the third hand, assuming you have one, the title may no longer be as important, since book selection is not restricted to spine-facing-outward shelves. In the end, we turned to our fourth hand and chose our next reading adventure based on the back cover copy and the first page. How do you choose what to read?
Jack Ponsi Dileonardo Thomas is eighteen years old. At least, that’s what he tells everyone. He doesn't like to lie. But he has to, because he celebrated his real eighteenth birthday five centuries ago. Some people say the Fountain of Youth is a myth. Jack knows better. He drank from the fabled fuente in 1513. Over the five hundred years since, he’s given up believing his life will ever again be normal–and that he’ll ever rediscover the magical spring. But when he learns the Fountain is located on the property of Nessa Owens, Jack takes up the search once more. And when Nessa captures his heart, his quest acquires new urgency. Caught in the midst of a hurricane, surrounded by centuries-old memories and present day mysteries, Jack must risk all for a future with Nessa. Will love prove more powerful than the enchanted waters of the Fountain of Youth?
The young sailors were weary. The voyage was long, the sea relentless. They had devoured the last bites of food days earlier and the remaining barrel of stale drinking water was nearly empty. Then the mighty storm began. Fierce, pounding rains and whistling, whipping winds forced the creaking wooden ship to shore. The sailors lashed themselves to sturdy palm trees to avoid being swept into the raging sea. Hours later, the storm ceased. The sun rose, bright and hot, to shine upon this strange new land. The sailors untied themselves and ventured inland to search for edible fruit and fresh water. They found enough to fill their stomachs and the ship's larder. But before they could return home, they had to a quest to complete. "Do you think we shall find it today, Juan?" Fourteen-year-old Lady Maria Integra pushed aside tangled fingers of ropy Spanish moss and stepped into a clearing. "Impossible to know." Her twin brushed back the lock of dark hair that fell across his forehead. He wanted to find the fountain, if only because he needed a cool drink. "My wish is we see no snakes." Lady Maria grinned. "I shall watch for snakes. You keep your sword busy clearing a path." "I—" He stopped. His brown eyes widened. Maria gasped. "The fount!"
No matter where you live or what work you do, weather has an impact on your daily routine. Maybe you check the forecast to decide what to wear. Perhaps you initiate conversations with a reference to the current temperature. Your mood, health, and general well-being might fluctuate in relation to weather conditions. The prospect of future weather, such as blizzards and hurricanes, can prompt you to store supplies and consider disaster plans. As writers, we study weather so we can add realism to the lives of our fictional characters...or so we say. Maybe we just like looking out the window at the sun and the rain. :) How's the weather where you are today?
According to the Roman speaker Cicero, if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. We're fortunate indeed here in Carpenter Country. We have multiple gardens and multiple libraries to visit and be part of. This week we were even more fortunate, because Jack and The Fountain of Youth was accepted into the collection of a library near us, and now sits right there on the shelf beside big-name best-selling authors. How great is that? And to complete the circle, Nessa, the heroine of Jack and The Fountain of Youth, is an herbalist. Gardens and libraries...two of our favorite places. Pardon us while we grab a book and head outside to read. Won't you join us?
According to Mark Twain, you can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. Part of the fun of books for both the reader and the writer is falling into the story and becoming one with the hero. Your eyes see the words and your mind imagines the scene, and you are there, on a quest, tromping through the tangled wood, invested in emerging on the final page, triumphant and sweaty, a different person than you were when you started the journey. We hope you immerse yourself in that journey at every opportunity.
We were sitting on the porch in Carpenter Country (a magical place that is unreal but not untrue), when Jack popped up in the garden fountain. That was unexpected, since our usual fountain visitors are birds, bees, and butterflies, so after we told Jack to stop splashing out the water, we handed him a towel and asked why he was there. When he told us his story, we knew we had to help. How could we resist the kind of hero we believed only existed in our daydreams, a chivalrous guy with eyes the color of unsweetened cocoa who looked and acted like a caballarius of old? Heroes. Where would we be without them?
Today in Carpenter Country, the plight of our hero in Jack and The Fountain of Youth has even deeper meaning. After taking what precautions we can, we are, like Jack, waiting to learn in what direction a potentially devastating storm will turn. As writers, we've discovered waiting has several forms. For example, waiting might be putting off action, what we call marking time or sitting tight, while we decide what to do. Waiting also can mean pausing after a period of activity to regroup, such as when we've completed a story and we need a "cooling off" period before we can be objective about what we've written. In either case -- whether the waiting comes before or after the related action -- both waiting and action are necessary. What are you waiting for?
The phrase may be a cliché now, but in the golden days of radio many stories were told in installments. Pauline would be in peril, tied to the railroad track, the engine huff-huff-huffing its way toward her and...meanwhile, back on the ranch, the hero would be doing something completely unrelated to heroine-saving. Would he ride to the rescue in time? Tune in next week for another exciting installment! Our story has no railroad tracks or ranches, and we don't use the phrase in our book, Jack and The Fountain of Youth. Instead, we borrowed the idea of serial sharing. Each week we publish another installment in the story of Jack and Nessa. You can follow the fun weekly, or catch up with past issues on our website. However you choose to join the fun, we invite you to read along with us. Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
Most myths and legends contain a kernel of truth. And all are as true as you believe, because belief gives myths their power. Some people say the Fountain of Youth is a myth. Jack Ponsi Dileonardo Thomas knows better.
Seventeen year old Vandy Spencer lives like a princess. Sheltered by her wealthy family, she happily makes plans to spend a before-college gap summer with her gorgeous boyfriend. Then her dad is accused of financial fraud. The victims of her dad’s swindle vow revenge, and her dad flees. As accusations and innuendos pile up, Vandy retreats to a hermit-like existence in her childhood tree house and struggles to separate reality from lies. Was her perfect life truly so perfect? Did she ever really know her father? When family secrets come to light, revealing an unimaginable betrayal, Vandy learns to appreciate the simple richness of sincerity and truth.
The impending arrival of the season's first frost has been evident for days. The signs are obvious: fewer hours of daylight and cooler temperatures as the sun's nourishing rays shine at a lower angle. When the frost strikes, the plants are ready. During the chill, the garden rests. No profit comes from dwelling on the faded flush of last summer's color, nor from worrying about the work of new growth that lies ahead. For now, in this moment, the garden merely waits. When the glittering rime of ice retreats, the garden will emerge, the same yet different, the future guided by—though not determined by—the days before. Are you content to bide your time?
At dusk, the squirrel hobbled to the edge of the birdbath. She dragged herself up on the fluted edge of the cool concrete basin and lay down, her swollen and bloody front leg dangling over the side. Her ears twitched as she rested. Danger lurked, as always, and for an injured squirrel, the risk of peril was high. She had hidden in her nest all day, until thirst drove her to follow the scent of water. Now she lowered her head and drank, then rested again. Drink, rest, repeat. By the time she had her fill, dusk had turned to twilight. She paused before sliding to the ground; listening, looking. When the chorus of crickets began their nightly moonsong, she picked her way across the leaf-strewn ground. Yesterday she would have leapt from the birdbath to the nearby tree and darted up the trunk with insouciance and joy. Yesterday. Today she crept. She paused when she reached the tree, gathering herself for the climb to her nest. She fell halfway, the injured leg collapsing beneath her. She caught herself with the claws of her back feet, and the slow upward journey began again. At last, she reached a branch wide enough to lay on. She rested again, panting. And heard the swoosh of owl wings a moment too late.
There's nothing boring about watching the grass grow here in Carpenter Country this time of year. Daily rain showers combined with summertime sunshine adds up to tall grass, very quickly. Yet only a few weeks ago, the grass was a color not found in a crayon box, best described as not-green, with thin blades turned in on themselves like a clenched fist. We feared that this year the rains would not arrive in time and that the grass would perish. And then, whipping in on a gust of air, the first summer storm arrived. The grass unfurled, a near instant leap from dormancy to vigorous life. Are you prepared for changing weather?
Years of inclement weather had poked holes in the side of Carpenter Country's barn, rotted the wood steps, and left the outer walls moldy. The time had come for drastic action. We tore down the walls and applied elbow grease, nails, new siding, and fresh paint to the still-solid interior posts and beams. The barn, transformed, is once again ready to withstand the inevitable vicissitudes of fickle weather. After our labors, we are too. What do you need to restore?
Into each life some rain must fall...at least according to the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, The Rainy Day. The rain in the poem is both metaphorical and real, and in the final stanza the poet notes that the sun is still shining behind the clouds. In our book, Walled In, the rain falling into the heroine's life is metaphorical. To grow, she must continue to believe the sun will one day shine again. After all, rain, when followed by sun, is what makes flowers bloom. How do you deal with the rainy days of life?
How do we love books? Let us count the ways. Books let us lose ourselves in an exquisite journey into the life and emotions of a fellow traveler who lives at the border of imagination and reality. Books let us understand that love and longing is universal. Books let us glimpse the mysterious inner world of which we might otherwise remain unaware. Books help us discover who we are and who we might become. How do you love books? Can you count the ways? We hope you can. And, wherever you are in your booklove journey, we wish you happy reading.
The concrete basin in the center of one of Carpenter Country's gardens nestles atop a cushion of pine straw. The clear water in this miniature pond reflects the sky and the clouds by day, the moon and stars by night. When the wind blows, the water ripples into waves. When rain falls, small concentric circles flow evenly to each edge. When the temperature drops, the water forms into a thin skin of ice. The water adapts to each new situation, yet retains its true character. Do you?
Have you ever read a book where the hero's name simply doesn't seem to fit? We have too. That's one reason we're particular about the names we use on—and in—our books. For example, we've written before about the title of our young adult novel, Walled In. We chose that name as a play on Walden, the classic by Henry David Thoreau. The duality works for us because our hero, who feels walled in, learns to appreciate the simple richness of sincerity and truth through her reading of Thoreau's book. In addition to the title, we also think the name of the main character sets the tone for the entire story. For instance, the teen-aged hero of Walled In is Vandy Spencer. We wanted a pretty, fancy, girly name that brought to mind old-style wealth, because Vandy’s family is wealthy. “Vandy” plays off Vanderbilt (old-style wealth), with the added bonus of being a modern, strong, feminine name that describes our hero's character. What's in a name? As Shakespeare suggests, names matter less than the true nature of what they represent. At the same time, names have great power, because we equate them with identity. And you know the saying about the responsibilities accompanying great power…
The cardinal perched on the edge of the car door and flung himself at the bird in the appropriately named wing mirror. He beat the intruder with body and beak, incensed when his opponent exactly matched his every move. The battle continued until the humans covered the mirror with a towel. People often fight phantom opponents too, comparing themselves with others and flailing away in an effort to defeat their "foe." As one year ends and another is soon to begin, ask yourself how often you have struggled against what you imagine instead of what actually is.
Walled In is the story of Vandy Spencer, who discovers her entire life has been built on a heart-shattering deception when her father is accused of fraud. In an effort to work through the pain of the revelations, she retreats to her childhood tree house. The title is a play on Walden, the book by Henry David Thoreau, because Vandy learns to appreciate the simple richness of sincerity and truth. While writing Walled In, we re-read Walden, and discovered there's a lot of truth in the Clifton Fadiman saying "When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before, you see more in you than there was before." In that spirit, we offer a free copy of Walden on our website, for readers who would like to re-read Thoreau's classic. Whatever you are reading—or re-reading—we hope you celebrate the pleasure of seeing more in yourself than you saw before.
A quote from Thoreau's Walden leads every chapter of our young adult novel Walled In. Why include quotes from a book written in another century? After all, our heroine Vandy is surrounded by technology and advantages Thoreau may never have dreamed of. Yet the quest for understanding the self and the world in which we live is as much a challenge today as in Thoreau's time. The interior world of thoughts, dreams, insecurities, and aspirations is one in which we all dwell. Vandy's story -- your story -- is one of seeking answers. The words of other seekers provide the comfort of knowing you're not alone, and not consigned to a life of quiet desperation.
The hummers are gone. The three tiny birds who frequent the Carpenter Country feeder spent the past week preparing for the annual journey to warmer winter climes. We'll miss their jeweled beauty and the moments we spent watching them flit from feeder to flowers. We wish them well on their journey and look forward to their return to Carpenter Country next spring. Such is the way of life. Celebrated arrival, pleasant interlude, sad ending. What changes will the seasons bring to you?
Dear Reader, The bunny bolted from beneath the plumbago as the mower roared past inches from her burrow. She came to a trembling halt on a patch of dirt the same color as her fur. Ears flattened, nostrils twitching, perfectly camouflaged, she crouched and waited. Sometimes, as authors, we feel like that bunny. A newly-released story quivers in the light of day and we wait, wondering what will happen next. And then you, dear reader, take the time to read our work. You share our hero's adventure, encourage us to continue writing, and tell us what we got right--and what we got wrong. You offer support, advice, and motivation. You give us the inspiration to start a new journey and nurture us along the way. In our book, Walled In, as the hero's once-perfect life disintegrates around her, she's thankful for her friends. We're thankful for our friends too--you, our readers. Like the bunny, who happily returned to the shelter of the plumbago once the mower was gone, we're grateful for all you so generously offer. Thank you for reading with us.
Until the first spooky visit, ten year old Chrysantha Howe doesn't think about ghosts. She thinks about plants. All. The. Time. She has her future planned out, and that future includes plants. Chrys is going to be a plant scientist like her uncle and her favorite teacher, and she's determined to find the very rare Coralroot orchid. The ghost is not in the plan. But when her teacher disappears and the police suspect her uncle was involved, Chrys has to figure out what the ghost is trying to tell her—before it's too late.
The epic massacre, legend in the grapefruit orchard, took place a hundred human-years earlier. None of the current standing grapefruit trees were first-hand witnesses. Eldfather Tree, who had lived nearly half a human century, heard the story in his youth from the last remaining adult tree who survived The Storm. That tree whispered of how she was maimed and misshapen by the wicked white fingers of the cold. Eldfather relayed the tale to each new crop of saplings. "Grow tall," he said, "and sink deep roots so you will survive in times of frost and cold, for those times will surely come again." In his youth, the saplings listened respectfully as their bright leaves shivered in the wind. But as many seasons of warmth and comfort passed and the horrible events faded without repeat, the tale of The Storm softened around the edges and turned into myth. And then one day the chill wind blew again, and the wicked white fingers of snow and ice squeezed the life from the trees in the grapefruit orchard. Those few who survived whispered of how they were maimed and misshapen. In the early seasons, the saplings listened...
The weeping bottlebrush trees are young and sturdy. Released from the confinement of the pots that sheltered them all their short lives, they stretch limber branches toward the sun while their roots spread underground, seeking nutrients necessary to flourish. The gardener took time to prepare the soil and continues to protect and nurture the new growth, to provide water and shelter on a daily basis, to check leaves and branches for signs of vigor and growth. And yet no matter the depth of good intentions and the richness of care, many of the events that shape the young trees are beyond the gardener's control. Whether the saplings thrive or fail, whether they reach for the sky or wither before achieving their potential, is a consequence of opportunity and injury, both planned and accidental. The task of the gardener is to cultivate the possibilities. Are you tending your garden?
Here in Carpenter Country, bright golden leaves are fluttering off the trees as they always do this time of year. Raking them up is a chore that is almost comforting in its familiarity. Other routines that we follow each year, each month, each day---annual house cleaning, monthly bill paying, daily work schedule---can also be comforting, right up until they become a habit that feels more confining than helpful. When does the transformation from comfort to tedious occur? Is the shift so slow as to be unnoticeable, until we awake one sunny morning disenchanted and spiritless, drifting on the vagaries of the wind? Leaves follow routine mindlessly. Do you?
On a lovely day not so long ago, we strolled through the garden, admired the fluttering pink flowers, enjoyed the sweet scent and the brilliant color. We didn't intend to bother the bee. We hadn't even known the bee was near. But from the perspective of the bee, we were intruders. We were danger. And so we were stung. In the moment, we forgot the beauty of the flowers, the peace of the day, the pleasure of the garden stroll. We let the sharp sting of pain crowd out the good. Even now, looking back, we remember the bee first, and our initial enjoyment of our surroundings second. And yet the beauty of that day far outweighed the momentary discomfort. Do you focus on the flower or the bee?
How often do you think of plants? Maybe you believe you never do. And yet you probably have a plant in your house right now. Even if you don't tend to houseplants, you may have salad greens in the refrigerator and bags of vegetables in your freezer. The cotton garments you wear, the aspirin you take for granted, the wood chair you sit on---all plant based. Even if you're a botanophobe, you can't avoid plants. They're everywhere, living on light, communicating with each other via underground root systems and with other species via color and scent, and demonstrably conscious of their environment. Whether that's creepy or fascinating depends on your point of view. Either way, plants live among us, often overlooked and yet vital to our existence. What seeds are you planting today?
We feel like movie stars this week, with so many author friends sharing the news about the release of our book. There are times when only one word will do, and that word is THANKS. Who are you thankful for this week?
Say you see a ghost. You're not really sure you believe in ghosts. In fact, you probably don't. But you've seen a shadowy presence you can only define as a ghost. You confide in a friend. Would you expect your friend to believe you? Or to tell you that ghosts are not real and a logical explanation has to exist for what you've seen? Now suppose your friend comes to you and says she's seen a ghost. You're not really sure you believe in ghosts. In fact, you probably don't. Would you believe your friend? Or would you tell your friend that ghosts are not real and a logical explanation has to exist for what she's seen? If your answer changed from one scenario to the other, ask yourself one more question. Are you the kind of friend you expect your friends to be?
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote "The love of learning, the sequestered nook, and all the sweet serenity of books." Serenity? Here in Carpenter Country, we love learning and sequestered nooks. But we're not much on serenity in books. We prefer being rocketed directly into the midst of adventures that take place on the beach, the mountains, or a snow-filled valley. We want history books to drop us onto a bombs-bursting-in-air battlefield or deposit us quietly into the halls of government to watch the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We gravitate to science fiction that spaceports us to distant planets populated by aliens. We set aside hours for time travel tales that zing us to a weird and wacky future or past. We puzzle over mysteries that pit our sleuthing skills against a wily—and deadly--antagonist. We gallop through fast-moving fantasies with dragons, giants, and swashbucklers. How about you? What's your reading preference?
Storm clouds rode in on the gusting wind. The sun disappeared. The blue sky turned dark and ominous. At the first thunder boom, gardening plans were abandoned and the gardeners settled in to watch the show. Would the result be a gentle shower or a gushing downpour? No way to tell with early summer pop-up storms. An hour later, the storm clouds were gone, leaving the ground as parched as before. Not a drop of rain. Were we disappointed? Not especially. We enjoyed the cooler temperatures the storm brought, as well as the rainbow that appeared even without the rain. How do you handle changes to your plans?
So the book is finished, the story of this part of the hero's journey brought to a conclusion. Now what? One surprise-not-surprise that follows the end of writing a book is the desire to continue the story. That desire can lead to sequels. But here in Carpenter Country, we choose our own path, and so we wrote a short story that's included as a bonus at the end of The Ghost in The Gardens. The story is called The Adventures of Flower Girl and was inspired by a book written by one of the characters in The Ghost in The Gardens. What could be more fun than creating story about a story contained in a story?
Every story has a time when The End truly means The End. That time has come for The Ghost in The Gardens, our latest middle grade mystery. The book is currently in pre-order with a cover reveal for May 31 and will be released on June 17. And yet…well, we could make this one improvement. And wouldn't this word sound better than the word we used? And did we wrap up ALL the loose ends? Wait! Did we forget the hero was wearing glasses? Perhaps we should add a comma to this sentence…
Septuagenarian sleuth Emma Twiggs thinks her neighbor’s death was an accident—until her friend Arnie says he suspects murder. Arnie is convinced he knows the killer’s identity. He wants Emma to prove it. Is Arnie right? And is he right in his belief that Emma’s best friend is the killer’s next target? As Emma navigates madcap mayhem, multiple mysteries, and murderous motives, she discovers more than one person is hiding deadly secrets. The question is, who has a cause for murder?
The weeping yaupon holly grew up and down at the same time. The slender flexible limbs cascaded to the ground in a colorful green tumble while the main trunk pushed upward, reaching for the sky. The rounded shape was dense, prickly, impenetrable...until a single branch swayed slightly in the breeze, revealing Mrs. Mockingbird's now-abandoned summer home. Secrets, once revealed, can never again be hidden. What inner beauty should you bring to light?
The birds of Carpenter Country typically take turns in the birdbath. But on hot sunny days when the line is long, the customary code of politeness can wear thin. Birds tired of waiting try to hurry the current bather by perching on the edge of the birdbath or leaping into the water. Either action results in an argument, complete with screeching and ruffled feathers. Instead of a refreshing bath on a hot day, winning the squabble becomes the goal. Meanwhile, the birdbath lies unused. What distracts you from your goals?
Do you treat yourself to dessert first or do you prefer to eat the main course, savoring the knowledge that a treat awaits? Are you comfortable journeying without a firm fix on your destination, or do you have more fun when your destination is known and you can settle in for the ride? Your answer to those questions can indicate how you feel about book spoilers and whether or not you read the end of a book first. And in whichever camp you belong, no doubt you have a firm opinion about the correct answer. But in the end (so to speak), whether you prefer to pit wits against the author or know what's going to happen, the important part is that you enjoy the story. Have you read any good books lately?
Carpenter Country's murder of crows flies in on a schedule as predictable as the plot of a cozy mystery. We have been trained to deliver crackers at specific times and the current cast of corvid characters shows up---on schedule---to devour them. Our reward is an inside look at crow family dynamics and a raucous alarm system that lets us know when visitors arrive. This week we received an additional, unexpected gift. After enjoying their daily snack, the crows placed a dead eastern lubber grasshopper on the cracker table. Not much of a gift, you say? We beg to differ. Lubbers invade our gardens this time of year and picking them off plant leaves is a daily chore. Because they produce a foul, toxic secretion, lubbers have very few natural predators. The crows' offering was useful and appreciated. Have you surprised someone with a random act of kindness recently?
"So," the interviewer asked. "What was your inspiration for writing your cozy mystery, A Cause for Murder?" Our initial answer was that we write mysteries because we enjoy reading mysteries. But when a nesting bluebird went missing in Carpenter Country and we tracked down the culprit, we learned how much we enjoy solving mysteries--a subtle yet important distinction. What inspires you?
So how do authors come up with characters and plots? We can only speak for what happens here in Carpenter Country, land of the co-zany mystery. And the story begins ... Once upon a time, in a magical land called Carpenter Country, a pair of aspiring authors wanted to be part of a competition calling for tales of villainy featuring brainy female sleuths. The dynamic author duo sat on the hard wood bench of a picnic table under a spreading oak, and brainstormed ideas, most of them sadly lacking. When a septuagenarian named Emma Twiggs walked up and said she was bored with her life and ready to tackle mysteries, those intrepid aspiring authors scooted over on the bench and invited her to tell her story. A Cause for Murder is the result—a cozy mystery with a zany collection of side mysteries woven through the book. Each side mystery needed a solution that tied into the main plot. Even with Emma's help, we had a real job keeping all those threads straight!
Love is in the air – especially if you're a lovebug in May and September. During those months, these pesky little black-and-orange bugs lock together in an amorous embrace and become airborne missiles that splatter cars along the Gulf Coast states of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida. Originally from Central America, lovebugs arrived in America's southern region around 1940. Their scientific name is "Plecia nearctica." Though they don't bite or sting, they're a nuisance to cars, pedestrians wearing light-colored clothes...and the hero in our soon-to-be-released cozy mystery, A Cause for Murder. A Cause for Murder is set in the month of May and features septuagenarian sleuth Emma Twiggs, along with plenty of lovebugs, both insect and human.. Septuagenarian sleuth Emma Twiggs thinks her neighbor’s death was an accident—until her friend Arnie says he suspects murder. Arnie is convinced he knows the killer’s identity. He wants Emma to prove it. Is Arnie right? And is he right in his belief that Emma’s best friend is the killer’s next target? As Emma navigates madcap mayhem, multiple mysteries, and murderous motives, she discovers more than one person is hiding deadly secrets. The question is, who has a cause for murder?
**NOTE TO READERS: The Demise of Fyne Literature is a stand-alone SHORT STORY of approximately 3,700 words.** Ivy League wants to learn who murdered the love of her life. The Fictional Book Investigation Agency agrees to take the case, and soon discovers a surplus of suspects. Is the killer one of the victim’s many enemies? Is there more to the story than anyone knows? The Agency’s profiler has a clue, yet she’s remarkably reticent. For the lead investigator, unraveling the plot means confronting the mystery within.
The hawk flew because she could. On that bright and chilly winter day, she flew so high into the blueness she was a mere speck, nearly invisible to those earthbound few who chose to look up. She was free, feared and respected, queen of all she surveyed...up to the very second her wings failed her. One moment she rode air currents effortlessly, the next she was on the ground. Dazed, confused, unable to see clearly, she crouched, making herself small—though not small enough. Those whom she outflew and outmaneuvered when she was healthy now circled overhead, shrieking and divebombing, swooping closer with each pass to test her. She was no longer a threat. She had barely enough strength to hiss and spread her wings to keep her balance, and she might have died there on the side of the narrow dirt road where she fell, her passing marked only by a small bundle of bronze and tan feathers fluttering in the uncaring breeze. Instead, the commotion raised by her tormentors saved her. Wildlife rescue arrived, diagnosed a case of avian virus, and transported her to a safe haven where sick and injured birds were treated and released. Her fear was great, her struggle long, her recovery slow. The sky waited. And one day she flew again, because she could.
The attack was sudden and unexpected, as deadly attacks are designed to be. The rabbit survived the way prey animals do, fleeing with speed and agility. After, in pain, with a bloody chunk of fur and skin torn away, the rabbit huddled into the haven offered by a sheltering shrub. The relentless heat gave no quarter by day, and the rabbit panted and burrowed into the soft dirt of her refuge. The cooler night concealed skulking predators and the rabbit quivered as they snuffled past. After three days, hunger drove the rabbit from concealment to seek a patch of tender clover. Still wounded, still surrounded by danger, still alive, the rabbit hopped back into the sun. What are you hiding from?
One of the documents in our research folder for our short story, The Demise of Fyne Literature, is an FBI monograph on serial killers. According to the paper, serial murder is a relatively rare event, making up approximately one percent of all murders committed in any given year. Those numbers, of course, come from the real world. In the world of crime and mystery fiction, serial murders occur much more frequently--you might even say frequently enough to cause the demise of fine literature ... fortunately, our fictional FBI, the Fictional Book Investigation Agency, is on the case.
We're celebrating here in Carpenter Country this week. Our allegorical short story, The Demise of Fyne Literature, tied for second place in a readers poll. Wait a minute. Second place? Not first? What's to celebrate about an award for second place? Are we underachievers? The answer to the last question is no, we're not underachievers. And the answer to the first three questions is that while we're delighted to receive recognition and acknowledgement for our work, we're even happier that we had the confidence and perseverance to write and publish our story. We'd have been content with that accomplishment. Winning an award is an added pleasure. How do you define success?
The idea for our short allegorical story, The Demise of Fyne Literature, began with an image. The art director at the publisher we were working with at the time spotted the photo that is now Fyne's cover. She was so taken with the picture that she challenged the publisher's stable of authors to write a story to match the picture. The Demise of Fyne Literature was the winning result. As we say on the story's acknowledgment page, Thank you, Kelly. Without you, there would be no Fyne story.
Our latest release, The Demise of Fyne Literature, is a short story, brief enough to read in one sitting. But coming up with a label for Fyne has taken longer than one sitting, and we’re still not sure we have it right. We describe the story as satire, though we’re not “attacking” anything, which is a main element of satire. We think Fyne has a touch of noir, but the setting isn’t bleak. Maybe Fyne’s a caricature, yet the tone is not critical. So we’re stuck, and we’re asking for your help. Read the excerpt in this bubble. Then, if you know the right word for this Fyne style of writing, let us know. We’ll send one code for a free copy of the audio version of The Demise of Fyne Literature to the person who comes up with the best description.
We sat in the car in the sunny parking lot of the local movie theater, eating takeout burgers and fries while discussing different ideas for a character in a contest entry. We decided we didn’t have a single one that would work with the picture and we might as well forget about entering the contest. Then the lead character appeared in the back seat and said, “Listen, ladies, that’s my picture, and here’s the story you need to write.” We threw him out of the car, of course, primarily because he wanted to steal our fries and we don’t share those with anyone. But he was waiting for us when the movie was over, and he rode all the way home with us. By then we knew writing his story was the only way to get him to quit asking for our fries.
When fourteen year old Tovi Taggert moves to Honeysuckle Hollow to take care of her grandmother, she has a hard time fitting in. For one thing, she’s been tagged with the hated nickname Too-Tall Tovi. For another, everyone at Honeysuckle Hollow High believes Tovi played the Choking Game with someone else’s boyfriend–-and made out with him besides. As if she doesn't have enough problems, after the latest stand-off in the school hallway, Tovi finds a gorgeous speckled egg nestled in a feather lined nest. She takes the egg home–-and mysterious visitors begin appearing almost immediately. Even more worrisome, whatever is inside the egg starts chipping its way out. When the egg hatches, revealing a winged horse, Tovi's troubles multiply. As she struggles to return the horse to the magical land where he belongs, Tovi must make a courageous decision–-and accept what that decision will cost her.
Fog emerged last night. Sheer, silky, gossamer, gauzy. Shy and always retreating when approached, sliding around knobby-barked trees and peeking out between dangling moss and sturdy branch. Floating away, beckoning the ambling wayfarer to a nearby natural sink. Coyly lingering above the dark and inviting subterranean passage that links the known to the mysterious. An adventure? Or danger? Delicate diaphanous fog, befuddling, bewildering, bewitching. Thin, transparent trickster, veiled friend, potential foe. Walk into the mist, breathe in the woe. Turn away, let go. And never know. Which do you choose?
The project was ambitious. The goal: strip all the straggling plants from the sidewalk garden. The reality: remove sixteen five-foot shrubs---and their roots. By hand. We prepared our tools and tackled one plant at a time. Some days we were sure the roots we extracted made a hole on the other side of the earth. If a surprised person had popped up in our garden, we would have welcomed the help. Fortunately, since we later learned that the antipodes of Carpenter Country is the Indian Ocean, we didn't actually break the surface at the end of the root tunnel. We did however, achieve our goal...and then began the task of creating a fresh landscape. What can you do today to make tomorrow look different?
The window screen rattled. Not once. Not twice. No, the rattle was prolonged and insistent. A moth fluttering against the invisible barrier? A lizard hunting the moths seeking the light? A much larger intruder attempting to gain entry? Horrors beyond imagination? Dare we look? Yes, of course we dare. And discover the curious neighborhood raccoon staring back at us through the window. Are you willing to unmask the hidden bandits who steal your courage?
Where do you belong? Where do you fit in? Do you hang with a group who always welcomes you? What would you do if you moved? How would you decide where you fit in your new surroundings? As readers and writers, these are questions we seek to find answers to. Perhaps you do too, as you write your own real-life story.
March is a special month and not just because of those treacherous ides. March is also the original book birthday of our young adult novel, The SkyHorse. That's right! Our little winged horse flew into the world on the winds of March. So how are we observing this special event? With a reverse birthday celebration, of course, featuring gifts to readers. Visit our website and download a free copy of The Reader's Guide for our book. While you're there, listen to the two minute audio of where we got the idea for The SkyHorse. However busy you are, take time to celebrate what’s important to you. As always, thanks for reading along with us.
When we are deep into the of writing a story, the question we always ask is...BUT HOW? Here's an example, direct from our logbook of The SkyHorse.... .... .... ...Now she is in a strange place, not fitting in, with no friends, and then she wishes Zephyr into existence and she's responsible for him. And so far she's failing at being responsible for him. So how is she going to get the horse back to where he belongs? We know all about that part, too ... She's going to create some sort of diversion ... but how is she going to keep the ghosti from getting Zephyr? So many things here that need to be worked out... ... ... ... End logbook entry...
A butterfly perches on the title on the cover of The SkyHorse, our young adult fiction novel. The butterfly signifies the beginning of our heroine's journey--once she makes a butterfly wish, her adventures begin. We thought of that quest when we discovered a single butterfly wing lying in the yard yesterday. We thought too, as we held the delicate wing between our fingers, that butterflies are as fragile as wishes, and as beautiful. We hope the wishes you whisper to the wind flutter to life and leave a hint of beauty for others to find.
One of the questions we answered in the Reader's Guide that accompanies our middle grade book The SkyHorse is how we were able to understand what our hero, Tovi, was going through. The best way to describe our process for writing authentically from the perspective of a younger person is that we think of life as a map. Instead of countries or states, we picture different stages of life as separate continents. Once upon a time, we were fortunate enough to have lived in the exciting and wondrous world where Tovi now resides. Our journey there became part of hers, as much as her journey became part of ours. With whom do you share life's journey?
and it wasn't quite what you expected? That's what happens to fourteen year old Tovi, the heroine of The SkyHorse. Tovi wishes for a forever friend, and thinks finding one is fabulous luck--until a mysterious stranger says finders aren't always keepers.
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