I began wondering about the fine distinctions between a writer and an author after encountering some online snootiness toward those who self-publish. One commentator sniffed that self-publishers cannot be authors since no one has validated their work; they’re merely writers who scribble whatever nonsense comes to mind and upload it to KDP or CreateSpace or Spark or wherever. Another commentator sneeringly called self-publishers authors because they’ve published books, no matter how awful, but refused to consider them writers because they have yet to master their craft.

Which title confers respect and validation: author or writer?

In the broadest sense, a writer is anyone who writes, but usually the word refers to a person devoted to the craft of writing — as opposed to someone making a grocery list or dashing off email messages. A writer of fiction works at shaping a narrative, developing characters, choosing the right word, finding an appropriate voice, and expressing a theme that will resonate with readers. A writer of nonfiction works at developing an argument or presenting information in a fresh way that engages readers.

Anyone who wields a pen or taps a keyboard in pursuit of these goals is a writer at some level. Beginning, aspiring, accomplished, masterful.

Jenny Sanford Signs Copies Of Her New BookAuthor refers to a writer who has published a book, article, or poem. The title’s kinship to the word authority lends it prestige. I get uncomfortable at the way some folks puff up at the prospect of being authors, as if publishing a book is an accomplishment. It’s the writing that matters. Does it show craftsmanship? Does it offer anything fresh or entertaining or informative to readers?

In a way, the author is the writer’s public face.

Suppose you sign up for a writers’ workshop. What do you expect? Probably to read and critique the work of other writers and receive their feedback on your work, all with the goal of improving your craft. At an authors’ workshop you’re more likely to learn about marketing and promoting your books. Both kinds of lessons can be useful.

My understanding of the distinction between writer and author coalesced when I read Stephen King’s novel Misery. Some readers say The Stand is King’s best work, but I think Misery surpasses it. Annie Wilkes is the most compelling psychopathic character I’ve encountered in fiction, scarier than Hannibal Lector, whose abilities verge on the supernatural. Annie is terrifying in her realism.

Misery Cover 2She drags author Paul Sheldon from his car after an accident and takes him prisoner. Crippled in the accident, he’s trapped in her isolated house in the mountains of Colorado. She calls herself his “number-one fan.” When she reads his just-finished manuscript and discovers he has killed off her favorite character, she demands a rewrite. Addicted to the drugs she feeds him, at the mercy of her violent whims, Paul doesn’t have much choice. He rewrites the story and even takes inspiration from his tormentor’s criticisms.

His breaking point comes when she chops off his foot to punish him for leaving his room. After that he stops caring whether he survives, yet he continues to care about the book Annie is making him write. He hangs on from day to day to finish the book. For Paul authorship and the acclaim that comes with it are secondary to the process of creation.

So what are you — writer or author?

If anything you’ve written has been published, you’re both. What matters is where you love to be. Is it sitting behind a table in Barnes & Noble, autographing copies of your book for adoring fans? Or alone in front of a computer screen or notebook, perhaps late at night, practicing your craft?

As for respect and validation, either you don’t need it or you can never get enough.

Daniele is a loner. The way she looks at it, who needs other people when you can read a good book? Worried about her reclusive ways, her brother gives her a parakeet so she won’t be altogether alone. She takes the bird reluctantly and names him Yubi. To her surprise Daniele enjoys having Yubi around. Then Yubi begins a romantic courtship of Daniele, and she finds herself unable to resist his bold advances. The pair settle into a happy relationship — until Daniele steps out into the world and begins dating her boss.

Now she becomes torn between two lovers. One of whom is very jealous.

“Yubi” is a short story with comedy, mild erotic content, and a touch of magical realism.

It was first published in Yellow Silk: A Journal of the Erotic Arts.

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In Manroot Anne Steinberg tells the tragic story of Katherine, who inherits the gift of magic from her Native American mother and nothing but heartache from her abusive white father. After her mother’s death Katherine and her father travel from the Southwest US to a small town in Missouri, where they find work at a tourist hotel. There Katherine falls in love with a local judge who hangs out at the hotel with his cronies.

She begins collecting items connected to the judge—a cigarette butt, one of his cuff links, a few strands of his hair, and a man-shaped ginseng root (the manroot of the title)—negligible things, but she believes their magic binds him to her. For a brief time the couple is happy even though the judge refuses to leave his spoiled, childless wife. Then the magical items are discarded when Katherine’s room is repainted. Distraught, she behaves in ways that alienate her lover.

At this point in Manroot I wondered if Katherine’s belief in magic is supposed to be a delusion, since her reaction to the loss rather than the loss itself triggers the chain of events leading to her ruin and threatening her sanity. Later events show the magic is quite real. Just not altogether under her control.

I can’t give specifics without spoiling the story, but the narrative shifts away from Katherine in the second part of the novel. She stays in the background, emerging now and then to do her magic and influence events. Although these events are compelling and matter to Katherine, it’s as though her destiny is sealed and her personal story has ended. From now on she must live by proxy.

An omniscient narrator tells the story, which necessarily creates distance between the reader and the characters. Both the point of view and the narrative structure kept me from fully identifying with Katherine. In addition, the narrator comments on and reacts to events. The editorial omniscient is more common in 19th Century fiction, and it gives Manroot an old-fashioned feel. Not a bad thing in itself. Sometimes, though, Steinberg uses it to insert long expository passages that become a bit boring. Manroot coverOne quirk irritated me, the overuse of the exclamation point. The author attaches it to sentences that are declaratory. For instance, “That was when she sent for Katherine!” Those exclamation points were like flies. Just when I hoped I’d seen the last of them, another one buzzed me.

Overall, though, Manroot is a haunting story with lush description, complex characters, and a kind of mystery that cannot be neatly categorized or explained.

The Awesome Indies are looking for short stories for their upcoming anthology. Submissions are open to anyone. Here are the guidelines:

1.    Length: 4500 word maximum with no minimum. Short shorts are as welcome as longer works.

2.  Target audience: We want to appeal to a general adult audience.

a.  No explicit violence or sex, nothing offensive to any cultural or religious group, nothing encouraging socially inappropriate behavior.

b.  Follow the grammar and spelling conventions you are comfortable using. We can include a short note somewhere about our multinational authors.

3.  Send submissions to: by July 14, 2014. You may submit as many stories as you like.

4.  We prefer stories that have not previously been published and that you don’t intend to publish elsewhere for at least a year, but pre-published stories are acceptable; just let us know where they have been published and make sure that they aren’t under some preexisting agreement for exclusivity. We don’t want stories presently in publication as stand-alone short stories.

5.  Payment: All fame and glory accrue to the authors. Awesome Indies will use the remainder for maintenance of the website.

6.  Authors who do not already have a book listed on the Awesome Indies site will get priority on our review request list for one of their books.

Have questions? Send them to the submissions address or leave a comment here.


I began David Litwack’s novel The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky expecting the title character to be a fabulous creature supercharged with magical power. Instead I met Kailani, a nine-year-old girl who has run away from home. Kailani does have the ability to transform the lives of those she meets, but her power isn’t supernatural. It comes from the altogether human qualities of beauty, innocence, and love.

The world of the novel consists of two hostile nations, the Blessed Lands where people believe in the Spirit, and the Republic of Reason where people embrace empiricism. Most of the action unfolds in the Republic, a place much like our own world with technology circa 1985. The Blessed Lands are less advanced. Decades after a long and bloody war, the two nations have an uneasy peace maintained through rigid diplomatic protocols. Each side demonizes the other. Believers are zealots; non-believers are soulless. Free travel between the nations does not exist although procedures exist to seek asylum. Those who enter surreptitiously are considered enemies until proven otherwise.

When Kailani arrives on the shores of the Republic of Reason in a foundering boat, proclaiming herself the Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, she presents a problem for the authorities. Although only a child, she breaks the law by preaching the existence of the Spirit. She tells Helene and Jason, the young couple who rescue her from the sea, that she has come from the Blessed Lands to do penance. For what sin she refuses to say. The couple tries to protect her and discover that doing so requires greater personal sacrifice than they imagined. Meanwhile subversive elements within the Republic see in Kailani a means of advancing their own agenda.

A major theme of the novel is that grief is unavoidable for anyone capable of love. Almost every major character mourns a loved one and struggles to make sense of the loss. Yet love gives meaning to life. After the death of her father Helene is cast adrift until she reconnects with Jason, her childhood sweetheart. Significantly, the villain, a religious fanatic who would sacrifice Kailani to his faith, feels neither love nor grief. He only cares about getting what he wants.

Another theme examines the dichotomy of faith and reason. The two nations struggle to coexist yet they need each other. The Blessed Lands lack modern technology. The Republic of Reason prospers materially, but it’s a drab and uninspiring place where many people hunger for a greater meaning. Kailani shines there like a candle in the dark. Litwack suggests that we need both faith and reason and our challenge is to find a way for them to coexist within us.

The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky is a beautifully written story with a fully imagined world and complex characters. I would have preferred a bit more subtlety in the presentation of theme, but other readers will disagree. Without a doubt this is a novel worthy of your time even if you don’t usually read fantasy.

The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky

In Ebony and Spica: Two Birds in My Life, Janet Doolaege tells about a blackbird and a starling who were rescued as fledglings and spent long and happy lives as part of her household. It might seem like there wouldn’t be much of a story here, but the author’s keen observations and skillful description make this brief memoir an entertaining read.

The writing abounds with vivid imagery and information about birds, the kind of knowledge that comes only through close observation:

An aggressive blackbird looks very different from an aggressive starling. Ebony in an angry mood would look like a horizontal missile, all feathers on his head flat and his beak pointed forwards. . . . An enraged starling, on the other hand, is a vertical challenger with crown feathers sticking straight up.

Bird lovers will enjoy the antics of these feathered sweethearts, who worm their way into the hearts of Doolaege and her husband. The latter occasionally loses patience with Spica’s dinner-table incursions. My husband and I share our home with a budgie, so I know how birds can take over a household and how annoying they can sometimes be. I had quite a few moments of recognition while reading Ebony and Spica.

Some think of birds as neglible creatures. Anyone who has lived with them knows they’re intelligent and sensitive. but even bird lovers might not think of starlings and blackbirds as beautiful. Doolaege reveals their beauty—Ebony “with a fine gold ring around each large black eye” and Spica “with his feathers slightly puffed out like miniature cockle shells.”

The story of the birds inevitably allows readers into the author’s daily life. I enjoyed visiting a world not fraught with melodrama or darkened by disaster, a world where people with ordinary problems find contentment in their day-to-day experiences. The author adopted Ebony and Spica because they would have perished otherwise, but she concludes that birds cannot live a full life among human beings. I understand her arguments but think a bird, wild or domesticated, could meet a far worse fate than life in a French farmhouse with other birds, cared for and loved by compassionate human beings.

Ebony and Spica

checking your grammar day and night

There’s nothing like a dose of ambivalence to add unwelcome melodrama to your life. Allow me to introduce Grammar Nazi. She takes up space in my head, and like any good nazi she’s always looking to expand her territory. I think I remember her from sixth grade.


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No way am I a grammar nazi. I think any writer who finishes a novel, no matter how flawed, deserves some respect.



Grammar Nazi ThumbnailImpertinent fools, they presume to pen a novel without having mastered the fundamental skills of their trade. They deserve your scorn.



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Who am I to criticize?



Grammar Nazi Thumbnail

Your sole mission in life should be to point them out and humiliate them.



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Experience has made me what I am: a reader so bothered by grammatical errors that they sometimes spoil my enjoyment of a book.



Grammar Nazi ThumbnailNever apologize for having received an adequate education. You are right to disdain the ignoramuses who cannot understand why the prepositional phrase “between you and I” is improper usage.



Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 4.54.17 PMWhile teaching writing at a university I marked thousands of comma splices, run-on sentences, clumsy sentence fragments, comma errors, apostrophe errors, etc. I learned that small mistakes matter less than creativity and thoughtful argument.


Grammar Nazi ThumbnailOne expects such errors in students’ writing, not in books offered for sale.



Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 4.54.17 PMCreative writers have great leeway in their use of language.



Grammar Nazi ThumbnailThank you for stating the obvious. Good writers know how to break the rules because they have mastered them. We are speaking of people who cannot even punctuate the vocative case correctly. They ought to go back to grade school.


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Here’s the thing: correctness doesn’t always result in effective writing, but mistakes often prevent writing from being effective.



Grammar Nazi ThumbnailFine. I enjoy a catchy platitude as much as anyone.



Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 4.54.17 PMMost readers don’t even notice the mistakes that bother me.



Grammar Nazi ThumbnailOh, they notice. The mistakes are a major reason why many readers ignore indie books and why critics argue that the self-publishing revolution has flooded the market with garbage. You, Mary Maddox, are an indie writer. Join the procession to the virtual landfill.


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As a reviewer I dislike downgrading an otherwise good book because of rampant grammatical mistakes, but to overlook them would be a disservice to the author and potential readers. I guess the key is to balance faults with virtues and remember that everyone makes mistakes, including me.


Grammar Nazi ThumbnailYou made a mistake? Where? Where? Find it at once. You will be the object of universal derision. You must scour every page of the manuscript for errors that have escaped your scrutiny. Take all night if need be. I stand at your back with my whip.

Author Tahlia Newland has offered me the opportunity to join in this blog tour. The idea is simple. I answer a series of questions on my writing process and my current work, then I tag new authors to answer the same questions, and the chain carries on, a pattern of infinite growth. Unfortunately, the authors I hoped to tag could not participate. Ah well. Suppose every branch of a tree kept growing and sprouting new twigs that grew into branches and divided. It would be one cancerous tree, and eventually someone would attack it with a chainsaw. But I had lots of fun answering the questions.

I want to thank Tahlia for tagging me . Check out her website here.

What am I working on?

Right now I’m revising a suspense novel, Darkroom, for about the sixth time.

Kelly Durrell, assistant curator at a small museum, befriends Day Randall, a footloose and immensely talented photographer. While Kelly is home attending her sister’s funeral, Day disappears. Kelly is too grief stricken to care until Day’s boyfriend, art collector Gregory Tyson, asks for her help. He’s determined to find Day. As Kelly searches for her missing friend she finds herself drawn into a world of dangerous people. She begins to question Tyson’s motives. What is he really after? How far will he go to get what he wants?

And will I ever finish this novel? The story is radically different from the first draft I wrote some years ago. Maybe I should have left this one in a virtual drawer, but something about it keeps pulling me back. I hope it will have that effect on readers.

Why do I write what I do?

My stories come from a bleak place. Though I’ve been lucky enough to find love and joy in my life, my imagination thrives in the dark. The darkness of my stories puts some readers off, but it’s so much a part of my worldview that I can’t change it without losing my authenticity. If I wrote lighthearted romance readers would sense the phoniness.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write urban fanstasy and horror as well as straight suspense. I also like to mix genre elements. But I’m hardly the only writer who does these things. In the end only one thing sets my writing apart from others in my genre: its voice. Voice encompasses a writer’s prose style, imagination, and worldview. It’s a quality hard to define but easy to recognize. Like a singer’s voice it can’t be acquired, only developed. You can often recognize a writer’s work by voice alone. And of course some voices are more accomplished and versatile than others. Not everyone can write a first-person narrative with an unforgettable voice. Mark Twain sure could. He’s one of the greats.

Sometimes I think stylistic rules (which, let’s face it, change through time) hamper the writer who is trying to find his or her voice, but without rules the new writer usually produces awful prose.

How does my writing process work?

Voice is important to my writing process. It can slow down my writing. If a paragraph sounds wrong — off key or discordant with the rest of the piece — I can’t proceed until I’ve solved the problem. If it sounds right I can move along at a steady pace. I know voice shouldn’t matter so much in a first draft, but my creative process depends on it. Fortunately I’ve reached the point where I can find the right note quickly, but sometimes I fail to catch false notes until I read through the draft later. They make me wince.

I wish I could write faster. Commercially it’s a good idea to produce two or three books a year. But what’s the point if they suck?


About Tahlia Newland:

She writes heart warming and inspiring contemporary fantasy and magical realism . You can also call it metaphysical fiction. She has  been writing full time since 2008, and is also a respected reviewer with over 300 published reviews. All her novels have been awarded a place on the Awesome Indies list of quality independent fiction, and have received the AIA Seal of Excellence. Two of her novels, You Can’t Shatter Me and  Lethal Inheritance, also received a B.R.A.G Medallion for outstanding independent fiction.

An Animal Life: The Beginning by Howard Krum with Roy Yanong and Scott Moore follows a group of students through their first semester at University of Philadelphia School of Veterinary Medicine in the 1980s. For readers interested in what vet school is like, this novel offers a full experience of demanding class work, raucous parties, and sometimes painful personal growth.

The omniscient point of view is skillfully done. It gives the authors leeway to explain aspects of veterinary medicine in technical detail so readers can understand what the students are learning in class. But the analytical perspective on the action is less suited to expressing the characters’ emotional lives and motivation. Too often we are told rather than shown who characters are and what they want.

In an intensive and useful glossary, the authors give a tongue-in-cheek definition of An Animal Life as  “A book series . . . [that] may be an upcoming blockbuster movie or TV series.” They offer a “Suggested Soundtrack” of popular songs to accompany each chapter. Their music selections are knowledgeable and clever, and the objective omniscient point of view has a cinematic flavor, but the story isn’t presented in a way likely to attract Hollywood.

The book makes demands on the reader. It takes some knowledge of biology to understand the chapters about vet school classes. (Those pre-med biology courses back in college came in handy here.) The illustrations by Patty Hogan help, but they’re difficult to see in the Kindle book. The story, while interesting, isn’t exactly a page-turner. The narrative plods through that first semester of vet school, developing the various subplots sporadically. Despite the potential for suspense, there isn’t much.

On the other hand, a screenwriter might transform this promising raw material into the hoped-for blockbuster.

The story has several plotlines, but two stand out: a romance between two first-year students and a medical mystery.

Jack, a former cop, is attracted to Anna, who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Although she has feelings for him their personalities aren’t altogether compatible, and various missteps and misunderstandings keep them apart. Their story follows the conventional pattern of romance novels without the usual emotionalism. Both know Anna will die young, but the story is almost over before they become close enough to acknowledge it. The title suggests the story will continue, and I’m curious to know whether the two will get together.

Because of the point of view, Jack and Anna occasionally seems like puppets, doing what the plot requires rather than acting from character-driven motivation. Jack’s infatuation with pet-food PR slut Avery is one example. We’re told that Jack resists sex with Avery because he’s waiting for “the one,” yet Avery has him enthralled. That kind of paradox is certainly possible, but readers aren’t shown enough of Jack’s thoughts to understand why this intelligent, experienced man gives in to juvenile lust.

The medical mystery begins when animals and birds in the area begin to die in startling numbers. A zoo vet and a pathology instructor work to discover why, but corporate interests at the zoo are less interested in the truth than in avoiding bad publicity. This conflict culminates in one of my favorite scenes as an Aussie thug employed by the zoo tries to intimidate the vets.

An Animal Life succeeds most completely on an intellectual level. I learned a lot about what veterinarians do and the challenges they face. The book raises the ethical dilemma of caring for animals while exploiting them for food, experimentation, and entertainment. An Animal Life offers no solution and has no ideological agenda — all the characters except Anna are unapologetic meat eaters — but it reminds us that humans and animals are part of the same ecosystem. Our treatment of animals has environmental consequences. On a personal level, the story depicts callousness and cruelty toward animals as character flaws, kindness toward them as a mark of goodness, and respect for them as essential in a veterinarian.

I noticed smatterings of punctuation errors concentrated in certain parts of the book, an uneven job of proofreading, but by and large An Animal Life is well written and worth the time of any reader who cares about animals and enjoys biology.

The Fourth Season is the fourth and final book in a mystery quartet by award-winning Australian author Dorothy Johnson. (The others are The Trojan Dog, The White Tower, and Eden.) I read the book with the disadvantage of not having read the earlier ones, so I knew nothing about the protagonist, Sandra Mahoney. She lives a complicated life with two children, an ex-husband, a live-in partner, and a fraught friendship with a police detective. She also has a reputation as a cyber-security expert. Of course Sandra’s history comes to bear on events in The Fourth Season.

The story centers on two murders: a student killed and dumped in a lake and a scuba diver killed and dumped in a public swimming pool near Sandra’s house. Sandra takes an interest in the first murder because her partner, Ivan, was in love with the student, Laila Fanshaw. He becomes an immediate suspect. It doesn’t help that he turns uncommunicative and selfish, staying out all night and neglecting their young daughter, who adores him. Then a stranger, Don Fletcher, phones Sandra and offers her money to investigate the case. Also a suspect, he wants the real murderer caught. Sandra has qualms but needs the money. She takes the case.

She discovers Laila’s passionate interest in environmental causes—in particular protecting the waters around Australia from exploitation by oil companies—and the passion that her beauty and energy aroused in those who knew her. Ivan isn’t the only one who fell for Laila. Various suspects emerge, including a prominent politician. Sandra’s snooping results in her being followed. After the scuba diver’s body is found, a phone call to the police places her car near the swimming pool. It becomes more and more obvious that Sandra and her children could be in danger.

Johnson writes polished prose and constructs a solid plot with masterful pacing. The story held my interest even though Sandra’s investigation consists mostly of her talking with the various people involved, and some of the conversations end without her learning much of anything. The most action-packed scene that she instigates is sneaking into Laila’s house to steal evidence. Much of the story concerns Sandra’s relationships with her children, with Ivan, and with Detective Sergeant Brook. The complex lives of these characters are as compelling as the murder mystery.

Sandra’s first-person narrative shows her intelligence and perceptiveness. She reads people well and knows how to draw information from them. But the narrative point of view keeps her on the periphery of the action. Lacking authority and tied by domestic responsibility, Sandra can go only so far. She must depend on Brook for crucial information that he isn’t always willing to share. She has a vital stake in the outcome, but the story’s climactic event unfolds many miles away from her. All she can do is wring her hands and hope things work out.

I would have preferred a protagonist more at the center of the action. Despite Sandra’s intelligence, I wondered why Don Fletcher comes to her and why the killer feels so threatened by her. She seems like an unprepossessing woman. The earlier novels probably establish Sandra as a formidable investigator, but in The Fourth Season she comes across as a gifted amateur snoop. At times I felt I was reading a cozy without the coziness.

But in the end, the problem isn’t this beautifully executed novel but my expectations. I want a story with pulse-pounding action centered on the protagonist, and Johnson isn’t a writer who sacrifices realism to deliver cheap thrills.

I’m delighted to welcome back author Tori Ridgewood. Blood and Fire, second book in her Talbot Trilogy, has just hit the virtual shelves.

What chance does one witch have against five vampires? Alone, not much. But Rayvin’s allies are gathering…

The battle between good and evil supernatural forces heats up in the long, cold November nights of the former mining town. But how will Rayvin’s motley crew of spellcasters and shapeshifters cope when they discover the threat they face is even greater than they imagined?

Crouching to prod the fire, Grant thought over the options now open to him. It wasn’t safe to go back to Talbot, at least not until he had gained a better understanding of what had happened to him. He needed more than a measure of control over this thing. Once he had that, he could go home and set things right. Destroy de Sade once and for all. After all, was that not the purpose of werewolves? To be an equal adversary for the undead?

The next question was not as simple. Just how did a werewolf train himself? Was it even possible for him to remain cognizant and in control when his body was no longer human?

A knot of sap crackled and snapped. He amused himself with the thought that the fire was speaking to him.

The thought that he was merely delusional, that being able to magically transform into a vicious four-footed animal was a hallucination, the product of slow starvation and exposure, nearly made him laugh aloud.

If a fire could speak, its language would be visual, he decided. He relaxed his eyes and let the glowing embers form shapes and letters.

The wind blew in from the open cabin door, swirling around him and carrying the clean scents of snow, damp wood and earth, mixed with the rank odour of animal carcass from his footprints in the snow…and something else.

Grant held very still.

The something else was faint, but recognizable. Vaguely comforting. It made him think of an old wet dog. Or an old man who had not washed in a long time. Some combination of the two.

A cluster of coals fell in a rush of sparks. The noise drew Grant’s attention, even as the strange smell made his nose twitch and his nostrils flare.

The collapsed, blackened piece of wood strongly resembled the face of a man with strong, mature features. It was broad in the forehead, with a long nose and wide, round eyes. A scattering of red embers looked like a bushy beard covering the mouth and jaw.

It couldn’t be possible during the day, but it seemed to Grant that he could hear the borealis sing.

Solomon. The name that belonged to this face. It was spelled out clearly for him, just for a moment, in the leaping flames.

A few more sticks collapsed, changing the image. An a-frame cabin on a lake. A short, blunt mountain nearby, and a small lake in the shape of a teardrop. The mountain had sheer sides.  Grant thought he recognized it, had even been rock climbing on it in his youth. Mount Cheminis, near Dark Lake.

Yes. Grant understood. He blinked, and the images were gone. Exhaling, he got to his feet and went to the door. The scent of wolf and man now seemed to clearly mark a trail through the trees, to the south-east.

Someone had sent him a message. His gut wanted to tell him that it was Rayvin, though logically that couldn’t be right. How the hell could she contact him from so far away? She’d done it before, sent him a mental plea for help, but she’d only been a few blocks away. And was it at all possible that she knew this character?

Great, more questions without answers.

He may have screwed up on his first battle with the monster, but at least he’d learned that he wouldn’t be able to fight on his own and win. He needed help. Wherever this information had come from, it felt right on some level. The sooner he could find this Solomon guy, the sooner he’d learn how to get control.

With control, de Sade and his little army wouldn’t find him as easy a target as before.

“Welcome to the family,” the bastard vampire had told him. Yeah, well—think of me as the black wolf in your little flock.

His mind drifted to the image of the small, red-headed witch who had chosen the vampire over him. Had she sent him the vision, the way she’d called out for help before? If she could still do that, what did it mean?

“Wait until you get a load of me,” Grant whispered aloud, as he turned back into the cabin.

He quickly filled the rucksack with a small aluminum travel pot, three more cans of beans whose dents were less severe than the others, a can opener, some boxes of pasta and rice that were still intact, and some sticks of dry kindling. He took the grey blanket, rolled it into a short, fat, sausage, and strapped it to the bottom of the rucksack in place of a sleeping bag. With the stub of a pencil he’d found in a drawer, and a scrap of paper, he wrote a quick inventory of what he’d taken. Once the bastard vampire was taken care of, Grant had determined that he would go back and try to make some compensation for what he had ‘borrowed’.

Grant used a cloth to close the door behind him, and then turned his face to the woods in order to once again find the scent of the unknown wolf.

Speed was definitely a gift that he could get used to, in this strange new life. He’d moved faster than Usain Bolt, even, reaching the edge of the small lake below Mount Cheminis by noon.

Casting his eyes around the shoreline, Grant fashioned a makeshift cup of birchbark and filled it with fresh water from the lake. The sun had just passed its zenith in the sky above, but with the temperature low, he could barely feel its warmth on his back. He scooped in some of the purification tablet he had crushed on a rock, trying to measure it proportionally to the amount of water, swished it around a few times to help it dissolve, and then waited for the iodine and assorted chemicals to work.

“You don’t need to do that.”

He started. The little man standing next to him had approached without a sound. He was no bigger than an eight-year-old child, and he was completely bald, except for his full beard and his eyebrows. He had a barrel chest, and sinewy forearms showed where the sleeves of his lined flannel shirt were rolled back. Grant looked at a pair of child-sized battered work-boots, only a few feet from his face. He sensed that the man was assessing him just as carefully.

“I don’t want to take any chances,” Grant answered, finally. His breath condensed in the chill air. He stood, casually, still swirling the cup of water. “You never know, these days. Decades of mining, acid rain, human presence. There are bugs in that water we probably don’t even know about.”

In response, the hermit took his hand out of his jeans pocket, brushed it against his chest, squatted, and leaned over a near dip in the rocky shore. He lowered his hand into the cold black water, and scooped up a palmful. Lapping it up, he shook off the remaining drops and wiped his skin dry again. “I drink this every day, buddy. Do I look sick to you?”

Grant laughed shortly. “Kudos to your immune system. I think I’ll stick with my iodine.”

His visitor shrugged, gazing across the lake. “You’re a long way from the trails. Where’s your gun?”

“I’m looking for someone by the name of Solomon. He’s supposed to live around here.” Grant watched his face for a reaction. The other man only continued to squint against the glare of the sun, a short distance above the horizon. “Have you heard of him?”

“Maybe.” He picked up a rock and weighed it in his hand. “Who’s asking?”

Grant wanted to laugh again, but he didn’t. He hadn’t really known what to expect, or even that he’d actually find the stubby little mountain in the dream or vision or whatever he’d had. The A-frame cabin further down the shore was evidently occupied, given the smoke rising from its chimney. From what he could see, there were no other cottages in the near area. Logically, then, this man was Solomon. What reason could a hermit have for concealing his identity? Was this some kind of epic quest moment, where the hero has to prove that he is pure of heart in order to receive wisdom from the sage? Grant had always believed in honesty. Still, he proceeded cautiously. “Do you believe in the supernatural?”

“You’re a cop, ain’t you?”

“What makes you say that?”

The bald man stood, cracking his back with an audible grunt of relief. “You always answer a question with another question?”

Grant shrugged with one shoulder. “No, but since you’re obviously being careful, I should be, too.”

“I’ll tell you what,” the stranger said, slowly. “You show me some balls, toss that so-called pure water and take a drink from the goodness of Mother Nature; I’ll show you Solomon.”

Grant regarded him with a half-smile, and deliberately poured out his birchbark cup. He should have been dead weeks ago, anyway. Maybe his new physiology would protect him from beaver fever, maybe it wouldn’t. Either way, he needed answers. The other man watched with narrowed eyes as Grant bent down, cupped his hands, and drank from the lake.

“Okay?” he asked, wiping his face on a clean part of his bright orange sleeve. “Where’s Solomon?”

The little man burst into laughter. He opened the snaps on his work-shirt, still laughing, and pulled his t-shirt over his head. As he stepped forward, his face elongated and sprouted fangs under a black snout; his eyes yellowed as grey fur grew out of his skin, and his back snapped, the bones expanding and rearranging themselves into a canine form. Grant stepped back in horror, holding his hands out in an instinct to defend himself, backing along the edge of the rocky outcropping. The stranger’s laughter became a series of yipping howls that echoed against the trees. The massive wolf shook itself, rippling its fur, and scratched its impressive nails on the granite as the howls lowered to a growl. Grant’s skin prickled, recognizing the attack posture of the biggest timber wolf he had ever seen.

Then it lunged into Grant’s outstretched arms.

The animal hit Grant’s chest like a bag of cement, knocking him back and down into the water.

His feet left the rocky ledge that formed the shore, but the boots he had taken from that hunter’s cabin stayed where they were. In the seconds that he was airborne, he felt it all clearly, as though it were taking place in slow motion: his ears registered the snarls of the animal snapping at his neck and the ripping of cloth under the wolf’s sharp nails, and from his own body’s transformation. His ribcage, expanding and elongating, pushed the threads of the bright orange fleece past their limits. His pants shredded and tore as his pelvis moved and sharpened, and a tail burst out of the base of his spine. Grant’s shocked cry became a canine yelp and a whine. Two writhing, growling animals hit the water at the same time and vanished beneath the surface.


About the Author:

After her first heartbreak, Tori found solace in two things: reading romance novels and listening to an after-dark radio program called Lovers and Other Strangers. Throughout the summer and fall of 1990, the new kid in town found reading fiction and writing her own short stories gave her a much needed creative outlet. Determined to become a published author, Tori amassed stacks of notebooks and boxes of filed-away stories, most only half-finished before another idea would overtake her and demand to be written down. Then, while on parental leave with her second baby, one story formed and refused to be packed away. Between teaching full-time, parenting, and life in general, it would take almost seven years before the first novel in her first trilogy would be completed. In the process, Tori finally found her stride as a writer.

Tori Headshot 1At present, on her off-time, Tori not only enjoys reading, but also listening to an eclectic mix of music as she walks the family dog (Skittles), attempts to turn her thumb green, or makes needlework gifts for her friends and family members. She loves to travel, collect and make miniature furniture, and a good cup of tea during a thunderstorm or a blizzard. Under it all, she is always intrigued by history, the supernatural, vampire and shapeshifter mythology, romance, and other dangers.

Tori is currently working on Crystal and Wand: Book Three of The Talbot Trilogy. She lives in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Canada with her husband and two children. She is a full-time teacher at a local high school.

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I don’t remember much from the summer I was thirteen, months of boredom punctuated by moments of emotional violence involving my father and/or my stepmother and/or my grandmother and/or me. I lived with Nana in a trailer behind the tavern Dad owned. The trailer had a small yard with a dusty cacti garden and a fence that separated it from the parking lot. I spent some time with my younger brother, who was staying with Dad, but mostly I sprawled on a couch in the trailer, reading library books while the swamp cooler in the ceiling gurgled and whirred.

This cover is NOTHING like the Ivanhoe I barely remember.

From that forgotten time, one moment remains in my memory. I finished Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and felt desolated. I stared at the last page, the final sentence. How could it be over? I really needed to get up and walk around, maybe get a glass of Kool-Aid from the fridge. Instead I turned to the first page of Ivanhoe and began reading the story again. I was obsessed by a novel that I can barely remember now.

The reasons for the obsession are obvious enough. What pudgy teenager with pimples wouldn’t prefer a world of chivalry and adventure to sordid reality? And fiction wasn’t my only escape. I loved movies. I saw Lawrence of Arabia half a dozen times and The Great Escape at least ten. Movies without a single female character. It must have been a relief; I wasn’t exactly comfortable with my emerging sexuality.

Now decades have passed and my life is happy. Of course I suffer pain and disappointment, the same as everyone else, but nothing like the constant anxiety and misery of adolescence when books and movies were my refuge. So why haven’t I changed? Why did I reread thousands of pages from George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice? Why did I reread all five books of Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series? Why have I spent the past few days watching all 55 episodes of the NBC urban fantasy Grimm?

Nick-Grimm-Season-3-grimm-35260010-500-185Grimm could be described as Law and Order with monsters. Nick Burkhardt, a detective in the Portland, Oregon police department, begins having disturbing visions of people morphing into monsters. Then his dying aunt shows up and announces that he is a Grimm and like his ancestors is able to see the true faces of these creatures in their unguarded moments. Yes! The monsters of Grimm’s fairy tales exist, and dozens of them live in Portland. Not the trendy neighborhoods of Portlandia, but the dark and gritty back streets where danger threatens and the darkness is drenched in eerie green.

The hero.

Nick’s aunt leaves him a trailer full of ancient books, potions, and weapons so he can hunt  down monsters and kill them. That’s his job as a Grimm. It’s a long tradition. The monsters expect decapitation, or worse, at his hands. In every episode he faces down another terrifying creature. He dispatches the nasty ones and befriends some of the not-so-bad ones. Geeky wolf man Monroe becomes his unofficial partner as he navigates the world of the supernatural. Eventually he shares his secret with his partner on the police force and with his girlfriend.

A howling good time

Nick discovers that the supernatural world has its own hierarchy and Machiavellian politics in which he is supposed to play a particular role. Some creatures want to assassinate him while others try to exploit his talents. He also has an object, left to him by his aunt, that certain people are determined to steal from him. The overarching story is his struggle to survive and find his place in a world he doesn’t understand.

I know why I enjoy Grimm. The series has an original concept, inventive plots, appealing characters, and a noirish visual style. The writing is literate with allusions to W.B. Yeats, Emily Dickenson, and various mythologies besides Grimm’s fairy tales. But none of this explains its hold on my imagination.

Habits formed in childhood are difficult to change. Maybe there’s nothing more to it than that. But often I don’t enjoy real life—the tedium, the labor, the difficulty and frustrusion, the questionable meaning of it all. I would rather escape into exciting fictional worlds where darkness and danger are caged within the story, where everything makes sense.

That’s why I sit at the computer and create a world of my own. And why I become lost in the worlds of other artists.

Photos from FanPop.