Just as the sun’s dying afterglow disappeared into the clouded dark of night, Alynn and Honor cantered into a small Norse village. Honor was covered in lather despite the chill wind, and Alynn’s excitement had faded with her need for sleep. She rode down the wood-paved main road to a longhouse at the center of town, tethered Honor to a hitching-post near the front door, and knocked.
No one answered. Alynn could hear her mother’s voice and the crisp Norse accent that belonged to her uncle Leif, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. She knocked louder.
“...stay awake, son, we need your help,” Leif’s voice said as the hired girl opened the door. Alynn hugged her quickly, and Leif finally caught eye of the visitor. “Alynn!” he boomed, finding a tired smile within him. “Come inside, have a seat! Try to keep Drostan awake while you’re at it.”
Alynn hugged Leif and glanced at his seventeen-year-old son, Drostan. He was sitting on the edge of a sleeping bench, leaning against a column that supported the roof, idly moving the pieces to a board game. Tafl, he’d said she could call it, since its true name of hnefatafl was too large of a mouthful for her. His hair looked like a rat had tried to nest in it.
Alynn smiled. “Hard day?”
Drostan’s head moved half an inch in her direction, and he shoved the game board aside so she could sit next to him. “Felling trees and carting timber, all day,” he groaned, his eyes glassy with sleep. “What have you been doing since I last saw you this morning?”
“I found out my brother’s alive,” she smiled. She slipped her fingers under Drostan’s warm hand, realizing how cold her own was.
“Good Lord, your hands are like ice!” Drostan exclaimed.
“I know. The wind doesn’t realize ‘tis June.”
A bit of life came into Drostan’s eyes, and he took a sheepskin from the bed behind them. He draped it around Alynn. His arm rested on her thin shoulder, his leather vambrace cool as she leaned against it.
“Thank you,” she said.
“For goodness’ sake, ye’re sittin’ too close together,” Caitriona scolded. She pulled Alynn two feet away from Drostan and wrapped the sheepskin tighter around her. “Try to stay awake. Ye can poke each other if ye start to nod off.”
“Aye, Mum,” both Alynn and Drostan answered.
“Now, for the last time, Drostan, do you have a ship we could use?”
“We’re working on one right now—lovely Karve, if you can wait a week to use her,” Drostan replied, brushing his red hair from his eyes. “We just sold our last Longship. It would be fastest. You could make the trip in a lifeboat if the currents were right.”
“When are we leaving?” Alynn asked.
“We’re not sure at the moment,” Caitriona said. “The winds are contrary, or some such nonsense—”
“The winds are perfect if you’re traveling to Iceland,” Leif interrupted.
“What about rowing?” Alynn asked.
“If you feel like taking five days instead of two to get to Scotland, then I suppose it’s doable,” Drostan said. He stabbed Alynn with his index finger.
“Your mother said I could poke you.”
Alynn shoved his shoulder. “Save it for mornin’. I’m knackered.”
Caitriona studied the flames of the fireplace. “Are there men who would row for money?” she asked. “It isn’t gold, but—Rowan would want me to—” She tugged at a goldtone ring that was reluctant to come off her left hand. Voice trembling, she asked, “How much is this worth?”
“Mistress, don’t do anything daft—that you’ll regret, I mean,” the hired girl interjected. She blushed and bowed her head. “My apologies.”
“Not at all. You’re right, Valdis,” Leif said, fingering the simple ring on his own hand. “Not your wedding band, Caitriona. I wouldn’t give mine up, either, not for the world, and certainly not to save a few days’ waiting time. The winds will change soon enough. I promise. And I’ll pay the sailors.”
“You’re a good man, Leif.”
Leif chuckled. “It’s what brothers do—at least in a functional family. Valdis, you had a normal family once, didn’t you?”
The hired girl’s blonde head dipped again. “Depends on what you’d call normal, sir.”
Quick note, I have no idea what happened to Monday's post. I'll fix that as soon as I can.
There are several things in life that I've never done. Most of them involve children's movies. My best friend insists that we need to get together and have a Shrek marathon to make up for my "lost childhood," but I'd rather see Lilo and Stitch or the rest of Megamind. I watched part of that with my sister the other day, and it looked pretty good.
But I'm not here to talk about movies. I'm here to talk about camping.
My mom went camping quite a bit growing up. She was a Girl Scout, so she know how to set up tents and cook over fires and everything like that. My dad calls himself a city boy. He's said that he'll never go camping unless there's air conditioning (which, in Texas, is pretty important). And since it's pretty hard to put AC in a tent, we got a trailer recently, and we're taking it out this weekend.
I've never been camping before. I've heard stories about bears and noises that turned out to be squirrels or deer or something else similarly harmless. I've heard stories about hikers getting lost and injured. But I know that actually camping is probably more fun and, at the same time, a bit more boring than that.
I'm not overly concerned with the lack of Wi-Fi. My writing doesn't require it, and I can download some music to listen to. But it means I won't be able to research anything, and I've been obsessively learning everything I can about medieval prosthetics for the past few days. I went on my first date about a week ago. I went early to use the coffee shop's Wi-Fi, since ours was down, and my date walked in to see me jotting down notes about wooden arms.
So. You've been waiting. You've been reading the bits of Where I Stand that I've been posting on Mondays. And you've been wondering: when are we going to see the cover?
Wait no more, my devoted readers! I present to you the results of hours scrolling through Shutterstock and 45 minutes on Microsoft Paint: the cover of Where I Stand.
I'm just grateful I was able to find a decent image to use. I had no idea until recently that most authors, even established ones, just use stock images for their book covers. I'd found another photo that I wanted to use. However, after contacting the photographer, I realized it was way out of my price range. Plus, that picture was pretty dark (the girl's hair was black and the ocean was stormy) and it didn't fit with the first book's cover very well. So yeah. Shutterstock for everyone!
Sometimes I wish books came with commentaries. Movies do; you can watch the film while hearing the directors talk about what went into each scene and the specific challenges they faced while creating it. I've only ever watched a commentary for one movie--Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. And I didn't stick around for the whole thing. But it was really cool, seeing the research and effort that had gone into making each scene of the movie. At least, I enjoyed it. It was like going to a museum and seeing how things work.
But even the commentaries don't mention the cover art. They might mention the lighting or the animation or the cinematography, but never the cover art. And that's kind of a shame. People aren't supposed to judge books or movies by their covers, but they do. Artists spend a whole bunch of time trying to come up with something that's interesting and original. And something that captures the theme, plot, or essence of the art that follows it.
It's not simple.
It's almost as hard as coming up with a title.
But once you're finished, it's so worth it.
And yes, you can do it without Photoshop. Microsoft Paint has this thing called Transparent Selection where you can erase part of a picture, select it, and superimpose it on another picture. It's the best thing since sliced cheese.
That being said, it's the content behind that cover that makes the cover worth creating. And with that content, dear readers, I'm requesting your assistance.
I've finished the book, but I know that there are still a few things that need to be cut or added to take the story from good to great. I just can't see the flaws because I'm too wrapped up in the story. So I need some of you to be Beta readers for me.
If you're interested, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll send you two documents: Where I Stand in a PDF form, and a Microsoft Word document that has a few questions I'd like you to answer. If you fill out that sheet for me before September 1, I'll email you an exclusive short story that won't be featured on my regular blog. (As if getting a free book wasn't reason enough to be a Beta reader!)
First rule of being a Beta readers is pretty simple. You can't share Where I Stand with anyone else. My book is my baby. I've been working on it for two years, and if anyone steals it, I'd be devastated. Second rule: don't be shy with your feedback. You hate the book? Let me know why. Don't be afraid of hurting my feelings. I work with fifth and sixth graders. I'm used to criticism.
Third rule: enjoy the book and tell your friends about it! I'll let you know when it's released on Amazon, just in case you want to support me financially. I really appreciate every single sale; it's a wonderful encouragement.
What's your favorite book cover? And do you actually watch the director commentaries on movies? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
So sorry about last week's failure to launch! Here we go again....
Alynn was met with cold rain, as well as her mother on a high-strung horse. The saddle’s girth was twisted and two holes too loose, and the seal-brown bay was making every effort to inform her oblivious rider.
Alynn grabbed the reins. “Mum, we ought to talk things out first!”
“What’s there to talk about?” Caitriona demanded. She grasped the saddle as the mare reared, nearly throwing Alynn off her feet. “Yer brother’s out there—”
“I know he is. Five minutes, Mum. We’ll make a plan, we’ll—”
“Leif will get us a ship,” Caitriona insisted. “Do you remember where Captain McMahon was headed?”
“Just get it as close as you can, Lynder. We’ll find him, I promise.”
Alynn closed her eyes. It sounded like skyr, she said to herself. Skare...Skey....“Skerray! Mum, ‘tis Skerray! He’s in Skerray!”
Caitriona spurred the mare on, ripping the reins out of Alynn’s hands as she set off at a gallop toward the village on the northern shore.
And she had taken Alynn’s horse.
Alynn stamped her foot before running into the stone-and-wood stable. Why, why did she have to be the adult in this situation? She ignored the cackling of chickens and bleating of sheep on her way to Lukas’s stallion, Honor. She threw a blanket on Honor’s snow-white back, then followed it with a saddle. As she tightened the girth, the stable door opened, and Lukas stepped in.
Alynn looked up at him, grabbing a bridle from its hook on the wall. “Are you coming with?” she asked.
Lukas met her gaze. “To the village?”
“Not at this hour.” Lukas shut the door and took off his hood. “I doubt ye’ll be coming back until morning.”
“Probably not. Do you want to come with us to Scotland? You’d love Tarin—you love everyone, but he’s special—and I know you don’t like being left alone—”
“Calm down, Alynn,” Lukas said. The sound of his voice, with his Highland brogue and his comforting tone, brought almost as much sanity into the situation as the words he spoke. “Don’t give a thought to me, I’ll take care of myself fer as long as it takes to find him. Just worry about helping yer mother. I was wondering if ye’d like to finish eating afore ye leave.”
Alynn smiled, putting the bridle over Honor’s head. “Thank you, Lukas, but I’m too excited. Faith, I wish Mum wouldn’t run off like that....”
“Does yer brother take after her?”
“Hardly.” Alynn turned, as if Lukas could see the lump in her throat. “He was—curious, sweet as honey, built like a freckled, redheaded fence rail. I always imagined that he’d grow up to be—quite a bit like you, actually. But—with hair.”
Lukas and Tarin didn’t look a thing alike, Alynn realized. Lukas had no freckles, his white hair had probably never been red, and he tanned every summer from working in the fields. But he still half-smiled at the comparison. “I’ll take most of that as a compliment,” he said.
Alynn smiled, kissed him goodbye, and disappeared on Honor’s back into the darkening forest.
I have no idea what happened to Monday's portion of Where I Stand. I'll repost it next Monday. Also, I can't remember if I warned anyone about spoilers before I started posting it. But I really should have.
Also, I swear I had a great idea for a blog post. But I can't remember it right now. I should have written it down. I'm a writer. You'd think I'd be better about that kind of stuff. But fortunately I have a backup idea, and I hope it proves just as interesting.
So our family has a friend. He's sort of an honorary uncle, one of my dad's best friends, and he's been staying with us for quite a while to help my dad finish a house he's been flipping. He's a school bus driver, and the kids on his bus call him Max Power. For the sake of privacy, that's what I'll call him today. Max Power.
Anyway, Max is quite a character. He's tall, large, and has a really weird voice. It's super scratchy, as if he's smoked for forty years. But that's just the way he sounds. He's been poked and prodded by doctors for most of his life, since everyone insists that his voice just can't be normal. But it is, and he's cool with it.
Anyway, he just seems like a normal guy. Before he drove school busses, he worked with my dad in construction. He's done roofing, carpentry, and carpeting, and probably plumbing. He knows his way around tools. But he doesn't strike you as the type of person to talk about anything besides typical grown-up stuff--cars and work and God and the state of the nation.
I never thought I'd be able to have a conversation with him about subatomic particles and parallel universes.
Aldi's sells something called Quark. It's a German yogurt-type thing that's always white no matter what it tastes like. It's healthier than normal yogurt, and since Max is pre-diabetic, we decided to put him on the same no-carb diet my dad's on. He inspected it and said to me, "You know what a quark is, in physics, right?"
"Of course," I said, recalling my high school chemistry course. "It's the smallest subatomic particle there is."
The other night, we had a decent chat about parallel universes. I've studied the parallel universe theory a bit, simply because I've got an idea for a sci-fi book that involves a time machine with a mind of its own. Max actually corrected a couple of my ideas.
I'm reminded now of the people who worked at Domino's with me. The music major. The future architect. An old classmate of mine is working at Walmart. He's one of the smartest people and fastest readers I know.
How many people do we look down on every day? We think that someone's less intelligent than we are simply because they work at a construction site instead of an office. We judge people on appearances. I do it, too. I don't trust girls who wear too much makeup and are always dressed to perfection, but apparently, my sister found a mentor in a girl like this.
Who do you know who's smarter--or dumber--than most people think they are? Let me know about them in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
Happy Independence Day!
As much as I'd love to write a blog post for y'all, between work this morning and the boatload of friends my parents invited over this afternoon, I won't be able to spend more than five minutes on a decent post. Oh well.
You really shouldn't be spending too much time on the internet today, anyway. Go eat some hamburgers and pork-'n-beans, get some mosquito bites, and watch some fireworks. Maybe blow off some of your own. Hang out with your friends. Wear some red, white, and blue. Review Where the Clouds Catch Fire on Amazon. But most of all, have fun.
Happy birthday, America!
Finally, Alynn glanced up at Lukas. She couldn’t tell if he was staring at her or past her, but she could see his mind working. “Alright, Lukas. What’s on yer mind?” she asked.
Lukas half-smiled and took another bite of cod. “Sigmund had some wonderful stories to tell from Hrafney. Seventy-eight souls were brought to the saving knowledge of Christ. He even translated the epistle to the Romans into Norse fer them, and he’s working on the Gospel of Matthew.” Excitement shone from Lukas like light from a candle. “The Lord’s doing a wonderful work there, just as He is here.”
Caitriona smiled. “That’s wonderful.”
“Who’s their pastor?” Alynn asked.
“They’re sending a young man to study fer the pastorate,” Lukas said. “He should be here afore the year’s out. But afore I forget, Alynn, Sigmund met someone who might be of interest to ye.”
Alynn lowered her spoon. Lukas was staring at her with a solemn gaze that she couldn’t help but return. Gravity settled in the air around them.
“Who was it?” she asked.
“The Scottish captain of a cargo ship,” Lukas said, glancing at Caitriona to include her in their discussion. “He and Sigmund struck up a conversation, and the captain asked if he knew of a girl who was fifteen, perchance sixteen, and had fallen off a ship in the area two Septembers ago.”
Alynn blanched. She had fallen off a ship two Septembers ago. She could still hear her little brother crying her name as she tripped over the ship’s edge. She remembered the shock of the water, the pain of the cold that nearly killed her. Her father’s hand reaching vainly for hers as it disappeared under the waves, never to rise again. She blinked and forced her memories aside. “The Scotsman—who is he? What’s his name?”
“Tamlane McMahon, captain of the Darting Swallow.”
Alynn let her spoon clatter onto her plate. “Tamlane McMahon,” she repeated. “Captain Tamlane McMahon? Are you certain?”
“Aye, I’m certain.”
Alynn drew in a shaking breath. The world was spinning.
“And his ship—the—” Caitriona drew a breath, as if she was afraid to speak what was on everyone’s mind. “It survived the storm? And the passengers?”
“The ship’s fine. Where its passengers are, I’m not sure, but Sigmund saw the Darting Swallow wi’ his own eyes.”
Caitriona blinked. “So if Tamlane...and the ship survived, then...Tarin...oh, praise God!” She flew from her chair and rushed headlong out the back door.
Lukas stood. “Caitriona—!”
“I’m going to find my son!”
The door slammed shut, and it barely moved Alynn from her stupor. Tarin. Sweet, quiet, curious Tarin—he’d be ten now. How long had they been apart? And him alive all this time? Where was he? Was he safe? Was he warm and fed and loved, taken in by a church or a kind family? Oh, she hoped so! She prayed so!
She could do better than pray. She could find him.
Lukas set his hand over hers. “Are ye alright, my dear?”
Excitement grew within her, and she grinned. “Tarin’s alive,” she breathed before running after Caitriona.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.