My shoes are bereft of presents

I woke up this morning to find St. Nikolaus once again failed to leave presents in my shoes.

My dad was in the Army, and my sisters and I spent most of our childhood in Germany and the Netherlands. We were understandably happy to adopt the tradition of leaving a pair of shoes out overnight on December 5th for St. Nikolaus, who would leave us a small present. We’d get little things, like a tiny wooden Christmas ornament, and it was great fun. Mysteriously, St. Nikolaus stopped leaving me presents after I left for college…

In some places, St. Nikolaus is accompanied by Krampus, a horned half-goat, half-demon creature. Coincidentally, I’m using a variant of Krampus in a faery story that will be out in a few weeks in a new anthology. My story is set at Midwinter, and incorporates some of the mythology about the Holly King and the Oak King, who battle at the solstices. The Holly King reigns from the summer solstice to the winter, and the Oak King from then until the summer solstice. I’ve really enjoyed researching all of this, and plan on using some elements from this mythology in future stories as well.

I’m wrapping up my story about Gilroy, a cat who is a witch’s familiar. I love writing about cats! I haven’t written many stories with dogs yet, which I realize is kind of funny, but quite a few of my stories have cats as side characters. This story – which doesn’t have a final title yet – is my second with a cat protagonist, and just like the last one it’s been super fun to write.

These stories are a reminder that I remain catless, which is not only a very sad situation, but will unfortunately continue to be the case until we do some more remodeling work. There is no good place in our house for a litter box, which was an incredible oversight on the architect’s part. So for now I just add cats to stories, and reminisce about my past cats.

Here’s an excerpt from “Sleeping Stones,” which is in the anthology Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence. This story is super short – it’s only two pages long. The setting is Stonehenge, at the winter solstice.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The stones stood as they had for millennia; some tall and somber above the small crowd of people, some mere remnants left underground because it hadn’t been worth the scavengers’ time to excavate the entire form.

Sleep.

The air was crisp, the sky brightened by the light of the moon as it peeked through the winter clouds. The mood of the people was festive. A number were solemn, awed by the sense of mystery they perceived to be present; others were jovial, dancing and singing. Several were asleep.

Wait.

No one was warm, although the less sober thought that they were. Even the stones were cold, but that didn’t bother them in the least. A happy group of revelers dressed in what they felt might have been appropriate attire thousands of years before danced around the one they called the Slaughter Stone.

Sleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story is super short – it’s only two pages long. I wrote the original draft years ago when I gave myself an ‘assignment’ to write stories that were no more than 500 words long. That is a really short amount of space, and it was quite a challenge! It was a fantastic exercise because I had to think so much about whether or not what I wrote was engaging and moved the story forward.

 
 

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There’s no such thing as too many fondue pots

This year I celebrated my birthday with fondue! My personal chef went a bit overboard and made four pots – two with broth and two with oil, one each for seafood and for non-seafood. This was not only fun (and tasty!), it also made for an interesting experience as there were only four people at dinner…

I own a fifth fondue pot, but we didn’t use it this time – which was a very good thing, because there was no more room on the table. 🙂

We used these super awesome ceramic plates my mom made in 1971. And check out that box of forks!

Writing-wise, I finally finished “Gardening for Souls,” a short story I started writing in 2004 – thirteen years ago. Even I was surprised when I looked that up! I’ve worked on it occasionally since then, the last time in 2014, so it was in pretty decent shape, but it still needed some work to get it ready for publication.

It was neat to see how much my writing has improved since the last time I worked on this story – and I can only imagine how much better the story is now than in the first draft! It feels really good to have this one wrapped up, and I’m also quite pleased to be down to having just a handful of old stories that I’d like to spruce up over time. There’s nothing wrong with reworking an older story, but I’ve found most stories I wrote more than 2-3 years ago need a fair amount of work.

Here’s an excerpt from “Gardening for Souls.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rebecca watched, smiling, and then looked up as something outside caught her eye.

A squirrel scampered along the top of the fence, and then bounded over to a tree, where something red and blue sat almost hidden by the leaves. Yet another gnome.

Seriously?

The squirrel jumped away from the gnome to another branch, as if the gnome made the squirrel uncomfortable, too.

What kind of person would have this many garden gnomes? And who would keep them inside the house? Rebecca had found them scattered everywhere—under the kitchen sink, in the tiny attic, and even behind the hot water heater.

She had hoped to meet the seller at the closing last week, but the previous owner had been represented by an old, dour man with a power of attorney. No explanation had been given, and he’d been so taciturn she’d felt it would have been rude to ask for details. All she knew about the previous owner was the woman’s name—Nellie Smith.

Why had Nellie had all these garden gnomes? She didn’t appear to have been much of a gardener. The yard was pretty barren—there were a few trees but no flowers, and the grass coverage was sketchy at best. It looked as though the sprinklers hadn’t been run in years.

Regardless of why Nellie had assembled all of the gnomes, they looked ridiculous scattered about the house and yard, the kind of thing a crazy old lady would collect.

And they were creepy, too, with their serious expressions—not a single one was smiling.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’m busy working on three more short stories. I’m working on a story about Gilroy, a cat who is a witch’s familiar; I’m making notes and thinking about a faery story inspired by the mythological Holly King; and I’m working out some plot details for a fairy tale told from a dragon’s point of view. Obviously I can only work on one story at a time, but I often think through plot details when I’m doing something like hiking with Rosie and Jasper. As long as I keep playing their pine cone game, they don’t seem to mind. 🙂

 
 

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The year of the pomander?

It’s a busy and festive time of year! I am always busy, of course… 🙂 But I’ve always loved the festive chaos of the holiday season from Thanksgiving through the New Year. Every year I think about fun craft projects that I’d love to do, and then I completely fail to do them because I’m too busy.

Pomanders, for example. There’s a pomander recipe in a book I bought about twenty years ago (maybe more, but I am not doing the math…) – every fall I decide to finally give it a whirl, then December comes around and I realize I’ve run out of time. But there’s still time – this could be the year of the pomander!

I have made plenty of crafty things in the past. A few years ago I ran across this little guy at my parents’ house. He looked so familiar that I thought perhaps I’d given him to my parents as a gift at some point. Then after a while I realized he looked familiar because I’d made him

I am not posting photos of the teddy bears wearing Christmas dresses, but I made a number of those as well… 🙂

Speaking of Christmas, my story “The Mystery of the Missing Presents” is in the Very Mysterious Christmas bundle. I’ve decided to write a series of Christmas stories with the same characters, and this is the second – you can find the first, “The Least Merry Elf,” in The Santa Claus Files bundle, which will be available on December 1st. (“The Least Merry Elf” is also in the Very Merry Christmas bundle, which came out last year.)

My friend Rebecca M. Senese inspired my Christmas stories. She also has a fantastic Christmas private eye series of novels that will be available soon – and I do mean fantastic. I’ve read a few of the books in her series, and can’t wait to read the rest.

I have a very short story in the anthology Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence, which will be released on Friday. Ed Bryant was a wonderful writer, and a kind and wonderful man. He passed away earlier this year; this collection was created as a way for the (many!) authors he touched to celebrate his memory and recognize how much he helped so many of us over the years.

Ed founded the writing group I joined in 1999, and I learned SO much from listening to him and his good friend John Kennedy. Being a part of this collection has brought back a lot of memories, and I’m honored to be a part of such a wonderful way to recognize and remember Ed.

I’ll close this post with the opening of my story “Becoming Free,” which is in the anthology Stars in the Darkness. My story is a western – the other stories in this collection range from fantasy to science fiction to historical fiction, but they all deal with justice in some way.

The sun hung low in the clear summer sky, and the warm breeze that tickled the back of Charles’ neck carried the tangy scent of sagebrush. The muffled sounds of the hooves of his mare and the packhorse were slow and plodding on the hard ground.

He’d started out that morning just before sunrise, and it had been a long day on the trail. A few more days’ ride and he’d be able to see the tips of the highest peaks of the mountains that ran north through New Mexico Territory, still white-capped even now, at the end of May.

Cottonwoods grew in clumps along the banks of the creek that wound along the bottom of the gully, the trunks of the trees hidden by clusters of bushes. Little white tufts of cottonwood fluff floated through the air and landed on his horse’s mane.

After a while he spotted the familiar sight of the old, bent tree that marked the edge of the pathway down to the water. It had been a long time since he’d ridden this way, but all the years he’d spent riding back and forth across southern Texas with Jim had etched the trail into his mind. This was the last time he’d ever pass this way—in a few weeks he’d reach Denver and would begin his new life there.

Alone.

Charles ran his fingers over the placket of his linen shirt, feeling the small, hard shape of the diamond pin he’d clasped to the inside of his shirt. It had been Jim’s favorite pin, and after his death in the fire that wiped out a full city block last year, it was all Charles had left of the man he’d loved.

He liked to think Jim had loved him as well, but some questions were better left unasked.

 
 

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