All Magic Comes With a Price

all-magic-comes-with-a-price-11If you read or watch fantasy you’ll recognize the old adage, “All magic comes with a price.” But this notion can extend far beyond magic to the every day trivial world. Broken down simply, where there’s good there has to be bad. There’s a balance. A yin yang of sorts. I’m sure you recognize this in your own life. Ever have a really great day, but in the back of your mind are wondering, “When will the other shoe drop?” Some might say that’s a pessimistic attitude, but it’s not. It’s an attitude of someone wise beyond their years who has an understanding of the balance of the universe. Whether you believe in God and Satan (good/bad balance) or are an atheist, there’s no denying that we appear to be living in a constant state of flux between good events and bad events in our lives.

Why am I entering such a philosophical state of mind all of a sudden? Because I had a high this week that had me floating on cloud 9 for days. But last night, it all came crashing down. The ultimate yin yang scenario. I should have expected it, but apparently, I haven’t grown wise enough in my 39 years to shut down my naivete to all things balance.

The Good

My son was asked to sub in on the travel baseball team he’s dreamed of getting on. He was so nervous about failing, but he blew everyone away with his hitting and fielding. He even caught the last hit to lead his team to victory. The coach said he did great and asked him to play again. Freakin’ awesome!

The Bad

Our mortgage broker notified us last night that our closing costs went up $3,000 due to a school tax error (they only set aside 3 months instead of a year in initial estimates). And our closing is in 10 days. 10 days! $3,000! Holy cow, that’s ridiculous!

But this high and low appear to be necessary for the world to “work.” In my mind, these two events are equal. I would pay $3,000 for my son to have an awesome game and increase his chances at making the travel team. I bet you think I’m crazy! But being on the travel team gets you into the school team, and excelling on the school team gets you…scholarships. You see where I’m going here? That $3,000 is paid back over and over again in savings if he gets even half a ride to college. So yes, the bad came with the good, but I still feel we’re coming out on top with that great game.

Call me an optimist. 😉

Have you noticed a balance in your own life between good and bad events?

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Why You Shouldn’t Read Reviews

Everyone comes to a book with a different background. Those backgrounds are what help form their opinions. Some readers are extreme bibliophiles that read 200+ books a year. Because of this they’ve “seen it all” and are extremely hard to please. They’ve been hardened to plots and are searching for the next Da Vinci Code or Hunger Games. Anything below this level is trash. These types often post 1 and 2 star reviews on Goodreads. Then there’re the readers who are lucky to read 2 books a year. Their friend tells them about a book they “have” to read. They read and it and think it’s amazing. The best book they’ve ever read…because, well, they’re comparing it to a total of 10 they’ve read to date.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are the prudes that didn’t expect a steamy scene and pooh pooh the book on principle. There are the romantics who don’t think there’s enough love in the book. There are the conservatives who think there’s too much violence. Then, of course, there are the “would-be writers” who rip apart books because they want to flex their writing-God muscles for the world to see. And I haven’t even mentioned the trolls. People who go around and give 1-star reviews either for the fun of it or to bring down their competition (in the case of authors).

But here lies the real reason not to read reviews. You can’t “unread” them.

“Oh, but I’ll form my own opinion,” you say. “These reviews won’t bias me.”

I beg to differ.

When Twilight first came out, I had just started taking my writing seriously. I had A LOT to learn, and because of this, was still reading books with a “reader’s mind,” not a “writer’s mind.” For the first half of the book, I actually enjoyed it. I found the plot interesting and was sucked into Bella’s world. But then I made the mistake at peeking at the reviews. Immediately, the veil of innocence dropped from my eyes. People (most likely other jealous writers flexing their writing-God muscles) complained about the constant sighing, the repetition of words, the telling, and how whiny and weak-minded Bella was. When I went back to reading, I was broken. Errors glared at me as if highlighted with yellow marker. I rolled my eyes at every sigh and gritted my teeth at every word repetition. I hated Bella for being so co-dependent on Edward. Basically, I fell out of love with a story that I might have liked had I not read the reviews.

So when are reviews good? When they come from a legitimate book review blogger. There are hundreds, if not thousands, out there to choose from, not to mention the up and coming youtube book vloggers. Simply check out a few sites until you find one who covers books that interest you. Whether it’s YA, romance, erotica, whatever… Read a handful of reviews then check out the books for yourself. Do your opinions match? Like his/her writing style? Then you’ve found a reviewer to trust for life.

What are your experiences with reviews? Do you find they impact your opinion of books? Have you been successful in “unreading” them?

What I Wish I Knew as a Teen

When I was a teenager, I had my entire life mapped out. I planned to marry a rich, brown-eyed man with muscles like the men on gothic romance covers. We’d have exactly one boy and one girl (never 3 because it creates a 2 against 1 dynamic that irked me growing up). They’d both be smart and sweet with my blonde hair and blue eyes. My son would play baseball and my daughter would be a ballerina. I’d work as an elementary school teacher and we’d all live in a beautiful house with a 2-car garage and picket fence.

And I was POSITIVE it was going to happen. I mean, why wouldn’t it? Life is what you make of it, right?

But I learned real quick that life never happens the way you think it will. It certainly didn’t for me.

  • I started off my adulthood living in a mobile home park (no garages or fences here!)
  • I married a farm boy with hazel eyes who most definitely wasn’t rich
  • I gave birth to a boy, then a boy, then another boy (3 kids and not a tutu in sight).
  • My oldest son has ADHD and learning disabilities
  • I work in an office

Then my prejudgments came back to haunt me.

I didn’t want to be one of those women who have a cheating husband.

I had a cheating husband.

I didn’t want to be one of those women who gets a divorce and upsets their kids’ lives.

I got a divorce and upset my kids’ lives.

I didn’t want to be one of those women who have a live-in boyfriend with kids in the house.

My boyfriend lived with me for three years before we married.

I didn’t want to be one of those women who have a different last name from their kids.

I got married in September and took my husband’s last name.

I didn’t want to be one of those women who have children with their new husband, making their other children feel like outcasts in their own home.

This has yet to happen. But looking at my track record…

If you break down my life in this manner, it would appear that God took all my wants – EXPECTATIONS — and brought them down on their ear. Not one of my plans came to light. It’s as if he puffed up his chest and said, “Julie, Julie, Julie, you think you know what you want. But I know what you NEED. Judge not others’ lives before you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Life will happen as I see fit. I HAVE A PLAN FOR YOU.”

And you know what? He’s right. Life didn’t go the way I planned. But in the process, I grew stronger, gained confidence, started writing, and met a man who dotes on me and spoils us rotten. I may not have girlie tutus in the house, but my boys are cuddlers, who make me feel loved. And instead of sharing my kingdom with a princess, I am the sole queen of all. It’s a wonderful feeling.

So my happily ever after eventually did happen, just not the way I expected. As an adult, I can now appreciate the important lessons I learned on this wild adventure called life. If I could go back in time to my teenage self, I’d tell her one simple thing.

Let go of the reigns and enjoy the ride.

What HOPE Means to Me

I’ve been accused of being the ultimate optimist. If there’s a bad situation, I’ll find the silver lining. You’d think this would mean I’m a positive person, and always smiling in my unicorn-prancing rainbow-skied world. But the truth is it’s just a coping mechanism. It’s how I SURVIVE. I focus on the good, and avoid the bad completely until it burrows into the recesses of my mind. Paired together, optimism and hope are my weapons in battling all that is bad in the world. It’s worked so far, but I’m no psychologist. And if you’ve read THE GLASS CEILING, you may recognize these very traits in my main character, Heart. So many of you are amazed at how caring and hopeful Heart is after her terrible childhood. Well, now you see where these traits were born from. Just like me, it’s her coping mechanism. If she doesn’t keep hoping there’s more out there, a way to escape, she’s lost to the tunnels forever.

Hope is a wonderful thing. It’s like standing at the bottom of the hill and not knowing what lies beyond the crest. Success? Love? Happiness? That’s the magic of hope. You just don’t know. It’s my absolute favorite part of querying agents. The not knowing. Every ding of your email could be an agent wanting to see your manuscript or better yet, offer you a contract. It’s like Pavlov’s bell, except instead of salivating, my heart does a parrump when I see that glorious envelope at the top of my phone’s screen.

I remember a friend complaining a few years ago that she was 28 and still not married. Of course, I kicked in my silver lining booster. I told her that although she’s unmarried now, there’s still “hope” she’ll marry a doctor. As opposed to me, who at that time was stuck in an unhappy marriage, and was most definitely not married to a doctor. I stressed to her that even though she didn’t have happiness “now,” she still had a chance of happiness in her future. (Years later, she ended up marrying her dream Italian guy and was able to use her favorite little girl name, Giovanna. And I found renewed happiness in a second marriage. Yay!)

Book sales also promote the feeling of hope. Each sale is important because you never know where your break is going to come from. A debut author’s “success” (and I realize success means something different to everyone) is like a river being held back by a massive rock wall. Each sale removes a pebble. Obviously, pebbles aren’t going to put much of a dent in the wall, but if just the right pebble is removed, no matter how small, it can cause a leak, which can then gain speed of its own accord until it begins breaking down more pebbles, and more pebbles, then rocks and boulders. And before you know it, the entire wall has been obliterated, the water has rushed through, and you’ve become successful. All because the right pebble was removed. The right person bought your book. It could be a huge blogger who took a chance on you. A sorority sister who has a popular Twitter feed. A celebrity who just happened to see your book come across Instagram. For me, each sale promotes hope. I’m living Christmas every day of my life, surrounded by packages wrapped in shiny paper and bows. Every fan is a gift and my hope is higher than ever that my time will come, and I will succeed.

But if we want to be honest with ourselves, hope is only the start of something greater. Something even more powerful. And that’s faith. That’s where true success comes from. It isn’t until you have FAITH that good things will come your way, and you’ll find everything you’re looking for in life.

A Tale of Two Toothbrushes

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Once upon a time, there was a prince and a princess who lived in the kingdom of Saratoga Springs. They enjoyed doing many exciting activities together like slaying dragons, sword fighting, and even shopping for food. On one such shopping adventure, they found themselves browsing the toothbrush aisle (the princess was always on the lookout for new and improved products).

A brightly colored package caught her eye. Inside, sat a red vibrating toothbrush like the one she had at home, except this pack held two.

“Why, two are better than one, and it’s just a dollar more,” the princess said. “Now we can share, my sweet prince, and you can have beautifully clean teeth, too!”

The prince smiled his dazzling smile, albeit not as white as the princess’s, and dropped the package into the cart. “What a wonderful idea, my princess. I knew I married you for a reason.”

The days passed and the prince and princess started preparations for their long trip to the Land of Chocolate. They packed exactly four shirts and four pants each, undergarments, and bathing suits for the magical indoor pool that sprouted bubbles from tiny holes. All that was left was their toiletries.

The princess retrieved her special toothbrush from the left side of the toothbrush holder. The bristles were beginning to wear down. Soon she’d need to purchase another one. She lifted up the prince’s toothbrush and noticed his had barely any wear.

“Sweet prince,” she called. “Can you please come in here?”

Within moments, he entered from behind and leaned his chin on her shoulder. “Yes, my love.”

She whirled to face him, an accusatory look in her eye. “Are you brushing your teeth, mister?” She recalled the sweet garlicky breath he’d had the night before.

“Of course.”

“Every single day?”

He nodded.

The princess placed the matching toothbrushes side by side. “Then why is my toothbrush more worn than yours?”

He pointed at his old blue toothbrush still sitting in the toothbrush holder. “Oh, that’s simple. I switch back and forth between the two toothbrushes.”

The princess looked at him through one eye and cocked your head. “Hmm, I guess that makes sense.” She placed both brushes into a storage bag. “Well, when we are in the Land of Chocolate, remember that your brush is the newer one and mine is the worn one.”

“I certainly will.”

The trip to the Land of Chocolate went smoothly and the prince and princess easily kept track of whose toothbrush was whose. Upon their return, the princess placed the worn toothbrush on the left and the newer toothbrush on the right just as they’d been before.

The excitement of the trip slowly wore off and their days returned to normal. On one such normal day, the prince suggested to the princess that they go out and explore the local merchant’s goods. The prince’s breath drifted in her direction, and she plugged her nose.

“Sweet prince, your breath is not so sweet this morning.”

His face reddened and he replied, “I must confess, I didn’t want to say, but now that you’ve mentioned it, yours is not so fresh either, my dear.”

“To the bathroom then,” the princess declared. “We brush.”

Although the prince and princess had done many activities together, they’d never brushed their teeth at the same time. What a nice treat. In front of the sink, they reached for their brushes and knocked fingers.

“You first, my princess,” said the prince in his most chivalrous way.

“Why, thank you.” The princess took the toothbrush on the left, now worn completely.

The prince’s face paled. “Is that the toothbrush you always use?”

“Of course. It’s mine.”

He shook his head. “That’s the toothbrush I use. The one on the left.”

“No, sweet prince, yours is on the right.”

“Oh dear. I thought mine was on the left. We’ve been using the same toothbrush all this time.”

The princess’s eyes widened and her cheeks puffed out like the frogs on the moor. “Oh dear, is right.”

 ~*~*~*~*~

The lesson to be learned, my friends, is that when buying a two-pack of toothbrushes to share, make sure they come in different colors.

Our Trip to the Sweetest Place on Earth

Do you know where the “Sweetest Place on Earth” is? Why, it’s Hershey, PA! Also, the place I spent my Valentine’s Day weekend. I love history and chocolate and this place had plenty of both. I learned many interesting facts in the Hershey Story Museum that I bet three-quarters of the chocolate eating population doesn’t know. For example, Milton Hershey started out as the son of a poor farmer. He had a 4th grade education, and remained a bachelor much of his adult life. When he first started into the work force, he was a printing apprentice, but quickly got fired after losing his hat in a printing press. Next, he moved onto confectioner’s apprentice, and his sweet tooth told him this was where he belonged.

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After quite a few failed attempts at running his own business, he finally found success with  caramels (Lancaster). He made his first million and began coating his caramels in chocolate. He soon noticed that people were sucking the chocolate coating off the caramel, then throwing away the middle, and then decided caramels were just a fad. Chocolate was the way to go. But at this time, only the rich could afford chocolate. He set out to change that. He sold Lancaster and invested all the money into the first chocolate factory.

Besides making chocolate affordable, he wanted to make a pleasing work environment for his employees. So he built a town for them around his factory in the middle of dairy country (actually called Derryville). He offered wonderful benefits, affordable housing, schools, sports teams (baseball and hockey), and entertainment. He literally built a small utopia. Probably the most notable thing he did, however, was to build a school for orphaned boys, which has grown exponentially over the years and helps boys and girls alike. In fact, on his death, he left all of his 60 million dollars to the school!

Here are some other miscellaneous fun facts:

  • He didn’t marry until he was 40 years old, and his young wife died early due to an undiagnosed disease. He never married again.
  • He had a ticket for the Titanic, but rescheduled for an earlier ship due to his wife’s illness.
  • Many of the factory improvements and ideas came from his employees on the floor.
  • One of these ideas is transporting chocolate from one part of the factory to another via bathtubs on wheels. And they still do it this way to this day!
  • He welcomed competitive candy companies to plant their roots in Hershey. One being a popular company called Reese’s. Later, Hershey would supply chocolate to them, and then eventually buy them out.
  • During the Great Depression, when all other companies were cutting hours and pay, he decided to create work for his town by starting construction on the Hotel Hershey, which is based off an architectural design he and his wife had fallen in love with overseas.
  • Milton Hershey created a similar utopian town for his workers in Cuba.
  • Hershey is the only company to use fresh milk in their chocolate recipe, which is why he so wisely built his plant amongst the local farms of his childhood instead of in a big city.

I have to say, that after my trip to Hershey, I’m proud to be a Hershey lover. While other philanthropists of his time squandered their money in lavish mansions and material possessions, Mr. Hershey put his money back into his company and back into his employees. What a wonderful man.

SO now to my trip! (I hope you enjoyed the mini-history lesson.)

Here’s a view outside my hotel window (we stayed at the Hershey Lodge, which is a woodsy version of the fancy Hotel Hershey).

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It was -4 degrees before wind chill!

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The streets really have chocolate themed names and the streetlights are kisses.

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We each received a Hershey chocolate bar at registration and the bathroom had adorable kiss wallpaper.

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Everything in the hotel and town smelled like chocolate! They use the cocoa butter to makes soaps and shampoos. And even utilize the leftover cocoa bean shells as fertilizer for the surrounding farms. Nothing goes wasted thanks to Mr. Hershey’s frugalness and meager beginnings.

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On the first night, we took a Truffles for Couples class. I went with the milk chocolate. Hubby went with white. By the way, do you know the difference between dark chocolate, white chocolate and milk chocolate?

Milk chocolate has chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, milk, sugar

Dark chocolate has chocolate liquor and a small amount of milk and sugar

White chocolate has cocoa butter, milk, and sugar (all the unhealthy stuff!)

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The most amazing thing I discovered though while touring the Hershey Story museum was the early advertising campaign for their Hershey bars.

“A nutritious confection!”

“Eat as a meal!”

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It makes you wonder what “nutritious” products out there now will turn out to be unhealthy years from now.

Besides the museum, the awesome amusement park (closed for the winter), the Hershey Gardens, and the great restaurants, there is one more little known fact about Hershey, PA. They have outlets. Lots of them! Underarmour, Zales, Coach, Gap, Banana Republic, Disney, and many more. We went a little bit crazy with our spending. Yikes!

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But perhaps my favorite purchase is my Hershey Kiss bracelet. A reminder that anything is possible if you work hard and never give up.

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I hope you will be able to visit Hershey at some point in your life. It’s definitely the Sweetest Place on Earth!

The Glass Ceiling Book Tour

My two week book tour is almost here! Starting Monday, you can find me at the blogs listed below. Feel free to stop by, check out their blogs, comment, and enter the giveaway.

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Blog Tour Schedule – The Glass Ceiling

January 11th

Shooting Stars Reviews  http://shootingstarsreviews.blogspot.com

3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy,&,Sissy, Too!  http://3partnersinshopping.blogspot.com

All in One Place http://kirstylovesbooks.wordpress.com

 January 12th

Living in a Bookworld   http://livinginabookworld.blogspot.gr

A Dream Within A Dream  http://adreamwithindream.blogspot.com

Lost in Ever After   http://lostineverafter.blogspot.ca

 January 13th

Geeks in High School    https://www.geeksinhighschool.com

Under the Book Cover     http://underthebookcover.blogspot.com

Just Us Book Blog   http://justusbookblog.blogspot.com/

Literary Musings  http://literarymusing.weebly.com

 January 14th

The Voluptuous Book Diva http://voluptuousbookdiva.blogspot.com

Elements of Living Life   http://www.elementsoflivinglife.blogspot.com

Andrea Buginsky, Author  http://andreabuginskyauthor.blogspot.com/

 January 15th

SolaFide Book Club  http://solafidepublishing.net/solafide-self-publishing-and-book-blog/

Crystal’s Chaotic Confessions    http://crystalschaoticconfessions.blogspot.com/

Reading to Distraction     https://www.readingtodistraction.com

 January 18th

Happy Tails and Tales Http://happytailsandtales.blogspot.com

The Book Lounge    http://gbshortcake.com

 January 19th

Mythical Books   http://www.mythicalbooks.blogspot.ro/

deal sharing aunt   http://dealsharingaunt.blogspot.com/

 January 20th

5 Girls Book Reviews    http://5girlsbookreviews.blogspot.com

Book-o-Craze   http://book-o-craze.blogspot.gr/

Kovescence of the Mind http://kovescenceofthemind.blogspot.com/

 January 21st

Around the World in Books     http://www.aroundtheworldinbooks.ca/

Teatime and Books    http://www.teatimeandbooks76.blogspot.com

Live Laugh & Love Books   www.livelaughandlovebooks.wordpress.com

Book Lovers Life   http://bookloverslife.blogspot.ie/

 January 22nd

Katie’s Stories    http://kjhstories.blogspot.com/

Reading Addict  http://readingadd.blogspot.ro/

Samantha Writes   http://www.samanthawrites.ca

Blog tour is being hosted by YA Bound Book Tours

Thank you so much to Sara for working with me and answering my multitude of questions!

YA Bound Book Tours

 

 

 

 

Secret Snippet!

As promised, below is a teaser of my new middle grade book. Mind you, this has never crossed an editor’s computer so it’s still a little rough. But I hope you enjoy it anyway!

To set the scene, Cam and Migizi are sitting in the middle school gym with the rest of their class for an assembly. Previously, Cam found a mysterious Native American bracelet that glows, and strange scratches have started appearing on her body.

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A high-pitched squeal made me nearly jump out of my skin, and I joined the rest of the heads turning toward a man dressed in a tan blazer.

“Sorry about that, kids,” the man said, adjusting a knob on the speaker. “So, how’s everyone doing today?”

Migizi poked me again. “Talk later.”

I sighed. If only I could fast forward time so I could find out what the heck was going on with this bracelet.

“We all know why we’re here, right?” The man looked around, expectantly. “We’ve got to raise money for your class by selling…” He paused for dramatic effect. “Easter candy.”

I groaned. My mom was a dietician. Candy was like brightly colored, individually wrapped poison to her. There sure wouldn’t be any sales from my house.

“Now, who likes free stuff?” The man picked up a glossy brochure and waved it through the air. “If you sell more than ten orders you can earn a fantastic prize.”

I squinted, but could only make out a pair of sunglasses and a tiny toy basketball hoop. Not too fantastic looking.

“Okay, where’s my student council volunteer?” The man surveyed the front row.

Chad Bellows stood up and took the microphone. Just looking at Chad turned my stomach into a lava lamp.

“Hi, everyone.” Chad ran a hand through his platinum hair. “We’re going to play a game to get you in the selling mood. It’s really easy. I’ll give you the choice of two boxes, and you pick one. You get to keep what’s inside.” He moved to the table and grabbed a small green box and a medium yellow box. “Who’d like to go first?”

Hands shot into the air. I kept mine planted firmly in my lap. No way was I going up there in front of everyone. Chad scanned the group then stopped in my direction.

I could feel myself shrink. Please not me. Please not me.

“Migizi!” he said. “Come on up.”

My muscles relaxed. Thank God.

Migizi jogged to the front. Kids scooted left and right to see what he’d get.

Just a little curious, I tilted my head to see around the girl in front of me.

He pointed to the green box. “I’ll take that one.”

“Okay, open it and show everyone,” Chad said, handing it to him.

Migizi ripped the paper off, exposing an MP3 player.

“Very cool.” He grinned. “Thanks.”

A roar of noise grew around me, and kids waved their hands to be picked for the next round. Not me. I didn’t care if they were giving away dates with Zac Efron.

Over the next ten minutes, kids won CDs, a camera, gift certificates, and a soccer ball. Murmurs surrounded me about what might be in the last two boxes that were wrapped in gold.

Chad held up the gifts and said, “Here’s the last of them. Who wants to pick?”

The excitement in the gymnasium swelled, and I hid behind the kid in front of me. Just one more to avoid and I’m safe.

“Russo.”

No, he didn’t just call my name.

“Cam Russo.”

Nononononononono! I wasn’t even raising my hand. I stayed glued to my spot, pretending I didn’t hear him. If Chad chose me, whatever was inside that box couldn’t be anything but bad.

Migizi cheered me on from behind. “Go on, Cam. It’s cool.”

Was he that naïve? It totally wasn’t cool. Chad was up to something. But I couldn’t pretend any longer. Everyone was staring at me like I was an idiot.

With Jell-o legs, I rose to my feet and slowly made my way to the front, keeping my head down. The twenty second walk seemed like hours. If only I could melt into the floor.

Finally I met Chad’s gaze. His blue eyes were unreadable, but he may just be good at poker.

He held up the two gifts. “Which one?”

The rectangular packages were identical, both the size of mini-cereal boxes. Something about his posture and the whole situation was off. Cringing, I pointed to the box in his left hand.

He handed it to me with a Cheshire grin. “Open it.”

My hands trembled. What I wouldn’t give to go back to my seat. My class leaned forward like a single mass. Migizi beamed and gave me the thumbs-up. He probably thought this was good backbone training.

“Well?” Chad shifted his weight onto his other leg, almost skipping on the spot.

Holding my breath, I tore open the paper. I choked. No, he didn’t. He couldn’t be that cruel. A picture of a yellow lab smiled back at me. Dog biscuits? My heart shot from Coyote to Road Runner speed in an instant.

Chad gestured to the crowd. “Show everyone what you’ve won.”

My body grew warm, sweltering almost. I swallowed hard, meeting Migizi’s gaze. He had no idea what kind of a bee’s nest he’d just pushed me into.

I was NOT showing off a box of dog biscuits. Both gifts were probably the same and he chose me on purpose. I couldn’t believe he did this. Sure he picked on me, but he’d never done anything this humiliating.

Chad’s grin spread from ear to ear.

I gritted my teeth and my muscles clenched, which meant I was either going to punch him or run away, crying. Running away won out. I forced my legs to move, but it was too late.

Chad snatched the box out of my hands and lifted it into the air so everyone could see.

Roars of laughter erupted, followed by dog barks and howls.

I stared at Chad, stunned. How could he?

The urge to throw up inched its way up my throat. I forced it down. Puking on Chad would make things way worse for me, even if it would serve him right.

The salesman shot me an apologetic glance and lifted his palms. He had nothing to do with this. It was Chad. All Chad.

The barks multiplied until the entire gym transformed into a human dog pound. The noise crawled all over me like a thousand fire ants, biting my sides, my ribs, the area around my belly button. I rubbed my stomach, but the pain stayed.

The principal marched to the microphone and grabbed it out of Chad’s hand, giving him a stern look. The barks died down.

“This school is a bully free zone. I will not tolerate this behavior.”

I slipped out of the gym and ran for the nearest girls’ room. The tears pressed against my eyes. Once inside, the dam broke and hard sobs shook my shoulders. I stared at my reflection in the mirror. I didn’t care about the river of snot pouring from my nose, or my red, blotchy cheeks. Right now, not even purple and green polka dots on my face would—

I gaped at the mirror and leaned forward until my breath left patches of fog on the glass. It couldn’t be.

I stepped back and pulled down the neck of my shirt for a better look. My hand froze mid-air. A bright glow flowed from the bracelet. Not again. I tugged at my collar and cried out. Five fresh, painful scratches crisscrossed my chest.

**************

If you read to the bottom of this, you’ve earned one more secret. This scene may be part of a work of fiction, but it actually happened to me when I was in 8th grade (everything, but the scratches). For the remainder of the year, I would get barked at in the hallways and in the cafeteria. Kids were merciless, sending my self-esteem into the toilet. 8th grade was not a good year for me. And to make this story all the worse, it wasn’t a student who played the prank, but the fundraiser guy.

So there you go. Therapy through writing. 🙂

 

 

Short-Short Freebies

Hello! You found your way to my site! If you didn’t come by way of the Facebook event we’re having (Beat the Post-Holiday Blues), you can check out the activity using this link.

As promised, I’m sharing three short-shorts as a freebie. These have never been published, and were basically a result of writing exercises I did a couple of years ago. I spent all yesterday polishing them up. I can’t believe how much my writing ability has improved over the years. After reading the original versions I’m glad I didn’t snag an agent before. I just wasn’t ready.

Writing is work. Sure, you can rip off pages upon pages of plot. Get it all down on paper. But does your writing engage the reader? Or just spit out facts, keeping your reader at arm’s length? There are so many things you don’t learn in English class or even in Creative Writing. Things you can only learn from interacting with other authors. If you are a budding writer, just be aware that it takes time and practice before your writing is ready for the world. It will happen. But patience and education is the key. Have faith! Feel free to contact me on the Dear Julie tab for writing tips or advice. Us writers have to stick together!

So now for my first short-short. This is a silly tale about some silly fellows who are in way over their head.

The Heist

Benny drummed his fingertips on the armrest of the van while it backed up to the rear entrance. This was an important job. If they didn’t get the goods, it could be the end of him…literally.

He swung open his door and signaled for Don to stay in the driver’s seat. He had to check first to see if the coast was clear. Don was a loudmouth and if a security guard was within earshot, it’d be over before it started.

Benny tiptoed to the large gate and slid behind a bush. He removed his gun from his holster and attached the silencer. The idea of killing made his stomach churn, but if it meant leaving no witnesses, he’d do it. The layout of the grounds was pretty simple. Three rows of eight enclosures. Their target was only two enclosures away, which meant less exposure, and less chance he’d have to use his gun.

Snaking his head through the bars of the gate, he checked for a visual. It was eerily quiet. No signs of security. He jogged back to the van and tapped on Don’s window, mouthing, “Let’s go.”

A smile sprang to Don’s lips, and he pushed open the van door as if he were about to see Santa Claus. He waddled after Benny, his short legs moving at toy-dog speed, in attempts to keep up with Benny’s long strides.

Thwash Thwash Thwash. Benny stopped in his tracks, causing Don to step on his back right heel. He turned around with a finger pressed against his lips. “Shhh.” His gaze traveled down to Don’s legs. “What the hell are you wearing? Jogging pants?”

Don shrugged. “I like the elastic. They’re comfortable.”

“Wonderful. I’m glad you’re comfortable. Now keep ‘em quiet.” Benny heaved a sigh and continued forward.

Thwash Thwash Thwash. Benny stopped and pivoted. “I said be quiet, Don. What don’t you understand?”

“I’m tryin’, boss.”

“Then try harder.”

Thwash Thwash Thwash. Benny whirled around again with a growl. “That’s it. Take off your pants.”

“Huh? You want me to take off my pants? It’s freezing out here.”

Benny’s lips turned into a snarl. “If you don’t remove those pants, I’m gonna have to kill someone, and it won’t be a security guard. Got it?”

Don gulped and immediately wriggled out of his pants. “What am I supposed to do with them?”

“Throw them on the ground. Throw them in a trash can. I don’t care.”

Don let the pants slip from his fingers, and he continued after Benny. They reached the gate, and Benny put his hand out. “Bolt cutter.”

“I, uh, left it in the car.”

“For cryin’ out loud, Don. I seriously don’t know why the boss still keeps ya around. You’re a complete buffoon.”

“I’ll go get it and be back in a jiffy.”

“Yay, and then we can all sing Kumbaya around the campfire.” Grumbling, he turned his attention to the padlock. Amateur stuff. It was so thin, it could have come from a bubble gum machine. He glanced through the bars at the concrete enclosures. Of course, no one in their right mind would want to break into this place.

Heavy breathing behind him announced Don’s return. Benny grabbed the bolt cutters and snapped the lock like it was a wishbone. Slowly, he pushed the gate open, being careful not to make any noise.

The two slinked their way up to the enclosure with the word “Zebra” on it. “Here it is,” said Benny. “In and out, real fast like. Let’s grab the zebra, then hightail it outta here. Got it?”

Don nodded, a jovial smile breaking out on his face.

Benny shook his head. Imbecile. After snapping the lock, and entering, Benny withdrew a harness from his pocket. “Here, zebra zebra. Come to Papa. I know a little girl who’s just gonna love you.”

 *******

Benny tightened his grasp around Don’s neck through the cold, steel bars. He didn’t care if he squeezed the life out of him.

Through clenched teeth, he hissed, “Your mother embroidered your name on your pants?”

 

The Cricket Matchmakers 

Molly pushed the carrot through the mesh of the wire cage. “Here’s a little treat for you, sweetie. Don’t tell Jane.” The rabbit sniffed the carrot then started munching with impressive speed. Molly grinned. “I bet that tastes better than that boring ol’ food Jane feeds you, huh?”

The bell over the door tinkled and Molly looked up. Trevor Dean stepped inside, glancing around the pet shop. What was he doing here? Okay, just act natural, Molly. Don’t make a fool of yourself. Of course, the fact that she’d had a crush on him since second grade didn’t make things easier.

His cool blue eyes caught her own, and she froze in her currently bent over position. She forced herself to straighten up and blink a couple of times.

“Hey, I know you.” He waved in her direction.

Molly turned around to see if anyone was behind her because he certainly couldn’t mean her. Not that anyone else was in the store.

He laughed. “Yes, I’m talking to you. You’re Molly, right?”

Wow. He even knew her name. “Uh, yeah?”

“I’ve seen you sing at school. You’re very good.”

Molly’s face warmed as she thought of her recent solos with the concert choir. A jock who came to school concerts? That was a new one.

Trevor must have seen the surprise on her face because he added, “My little sister plays flute in the band. My parents kind of make me go. You know, to support her and all.”

“Oh, okay.” She teetered on her heels. “So, uh, can I help you find something?”

He scanned the shelves to her right. “Yeah, I need some crickets for my frog. He’s running low.”

Molly couldn’t help but shiver. She loved animals and all, but the idea of an animal eating another live animal gave her the heebie jeebies. “Sure, they’re right over here.” She led him toward the back corner. This was the hardest part of her job; catching the little buggers. And now she had Trevor as an audience. Great. Just great.

She retrieved a container and opened the lid of the plexiglass case. Cringing, she reached inside and tried to grasp hold of one of the crickets. Just when she thought she had one cornered, it jumped over her hand. She followed the pesky cricket’s path with her fingers for a minute with no luck.

“Let me try.” Trevor placed a hand on her shoulder.

The warmth of his touch penetrated her lightweight shirt and seared down her arm. She hated to break away from his grip, but stepped aside to give him access. In the process, her foot snagged on her shoelace. She wobbled, attempting to regain her balance, then bumped against the cricket case, sending it crashing to the floor.

“Oh no!” Molly clasped a hand over her mouth, unbelieving of what she’d just done. And in front of Trevor Dean, no less. At least a hundred crickets bounced off in all directions. She scrambled to put the top back on the case before any more could hop out.

Goodbye Trevor. No one would stick around for the major clean-up job she had ahead of her. If the crickets were hard to catch when they were contained, this would be near impossible.

But Trevor didn’t leave. Instead, he grabbed a container and lid and dropped to his hands and knees.

“You’re helping me?”

“Of course. What kind of guy do you think I am?”

An awesome one. Molly joined Trevor on the tile floor and the two crawled after the tiny fugitives. Every time she got close, the crickets would hop away. She just wasn’t fast enough.

“I got a couple,” Trevor called out. Well, that was a couple more than she had.

She glimpsed a gang of crickets heading toward the front door. Maybe she should just let them outside and pay Jane for them? It would be a whole heck of a lot easier than trying to catch them.

Molly crawled after the crickets, her eyes focused on their hopping brown bodies. Slam! She reeled back on her heels and rubbed her forehead. Through squinted eyes, she saw Trevor sitting across from her, mirroring her actions. Heat rushed to her cheeks.

“Oh my God. I’m so sorry,” she said. “Are you okay?”

He waved her away. “I’m fine. Are you?”

“Yes.” She looked around and let out a puff of air. “Not sure how we’re going to catch all these guys though.”

Trevor suddenly burst out laughing. “Well, you’ve already caught one and don’t even know it.”

Molly wrinkled her eyebrows. She hadn’t caught one.

“You have a cricket in your hair.”

A chill ran through her body. She batted at her hair, and screamed, “Oh, yuck. Get it out!”

Trevor reached over and flicked the invader from her curls, then let his hand linger on her cheek. “You sure know how to liven things up, don’t you?”

She looked into his eyes and tried to slow her racing heartbeat. The sensation of his skin on hers made her feel like she was floating. Say something, idiot. Coming up blank, she let out a pathetic giggle.

“Would you like to go out some time?”

Would she? Was he serious? “Yeah, I’d like that.”

He glanced down at her still untied sneaker, then winked at her. “You may want to wear slip-ons though.”

 

(Story below is for older audiences)

The Tell-Tale Shirt

Jordan peered out from under the crumpled white sheet, admiring Marissa’s bare shoulders. He couldn’t believe he’d spent the night with Marissa Long, the varsity football coach’s daughter. She was off-limits to anyone on the team. A roll in the hay with her could get him kicked off the team, but hell, with her body, it had been so worth it.

The alarm clock read six twenty-two. Maybe he could get in one more round before he had to head home. He’d told his parents he was sleeping over Joe’s house. They wouldn’t be expecting him for hours.

Marissa sighed and rolled over to face him, the sun’s rays enhancing the sparkle of her green eyes. Grinning, she said, “Morning, Lover.”

The word “lover” made Jordan’s heart rate chug, and he beamed. Yes, he was her lover now, wasn’t he? He imagined himself as Casanova, sneaking into girls’ rooms and giving them pleasure while their parents slept just on the other side of the bedroom wall.

“Morning,” he replied. “When are your parents going to be home again?”

Marissa craned her neck to see the clock. “We have about four hours. Their plane comes in at ten.” She reached down and felt his growing lump. “Why? Are you thinking naughty thoughts?”

Chills went up his spine as she grazed her fingernails over him. For a moment, he lost his train of thought. “Uh…uh…”

“Uh, I think you’re at a loss for words, aren’t you?” She giggled. “Don’t worry. What we’re doing doesn’t involve a single one.”

Jordan gulped as she suddenly ducked underneath the sheet. He felt her satin hair blazing a trail down his chest. Thoughts of what she could do with her mouth excited him beyond belief. He squeezed his eyes shut in anticipation.

Slam. Marissa popped her head back out of the sheet, her eyes wide. “What was that? It can’t be…” She sprang out of bed and looked out of her window toward the garage. “Oh. My. God. My parents are home!”

Jordan’s breath caught in his throat. He was a big guy at sixteen, but didn’t relish taking on a man with the nickname “Wall.” Not to mention losing his spot on the team. Maybe this was a stupid idea after all.

Scrambling out of bed, he shoved his legs into his jeans, while hopping on one foot. He stuffed his socks in his pockets and threw on his sneakers, then scanned the room for his jersey. Where was it?

“Hurry, hurry!” squealed Marissa. “They’re almost inside!”

“I know, but I can’t find my jersey.”

The two scurried around the room, looking for the bright purple and yellow shirt. “It’s not here! Just go without it. Use the kitchen door in the back. Hurry!”

Jordan bound down the stairs two at a time, perspiration forming on his forehead. Just as he entered the kitchen, he heard the front door open. Quietly, he tiptoed across the linoleum floor, unlatched the back door, and slipped through. Safe.

He rushed across the grass to the house next door, glancing over his shoulder every few yards. As he approached the back door, he stopped to calm his breathing and slow his pounding heart. He took a deep breath and opened the door. His mom sat at the kitchen table, a mug of coffee in her hand.

She looked up, surprise showing on her face. “You’re back early. And shirtless?”

He glanced down at his bare chest. “Oh, yeah, I lost it in a bet.”

“Jordan! Coach is going to kill you.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” He gave his mom a peck on the cheek and hurried out of the room. He had to see what was happening next door. Grabbing his binoculars, he opened his window shade.

Every muscle in Jordan’s body froze. Across the way, Coach Long stared back at him with angry eyes, his yellow and purple, number twenty-two jersey squeezed tightly in his fist. Mom was right. Coach was definitely going to kill him.

Promotion and the Telephone Game

I can now officially check the box off for published author of a novel-length story. Woo hoo! And I have to say that thanks to all the friends I made on Facebook, my launch party was a success, as were my initial sales. Now, comes the hard part. The part that is completely out of my hands. And it’s called the telephone game.

If you’ve never played this game in grade school, I’ll explain the rules. You stand in one long line. The teacher whispers a phrase into the first child’s ear. That child whispers it into the next child’s ear, then they whisper it into the next child’s ear, down the line, until you reach the last child, who says the phrase out loud. What makes this game so fun is how messed up the phrase gets by the end of the line.

At least that’s what I thought made it so funny. When I was in 2nd grade, I happened to be the last person in line. It was Christmas time, so the phrase was “Santa climbed down the chimney.” I wanted to be a comedian. I figured, hey, no one is going to know where the message mixed up. There’s twenty of us! So I changed it to something like “Santa fell down the chimney.” Of course, the person who whispered it to me instantly yelled out, “That’s not what I said!” There went my great plan of anonymity. And it didn’t really help that we were working toward a prize as a class if we got it right. Yeah, I wasn’t voted most-loved student that day.

So after that drawn out example of me making a fool of myself, let me explain how the game of telephone has to do with promoting my book. You see, I have about 1,000 Facebook friends. Of those 1,000, probably 100 see my posts, which means my ads/teasers only reach a hundred people. The same hundred over and over. I’m sure they’re getting tired of seeing them, and I’m not making any new fans that way. Enter the telephone game.

How it works is that any of the hundred friends who have read The Glass Ceiling (and liked it), would then tell their Facebook friends, “I just read the most awesome book. You NEED to read it!” Then those friends would tell their friends, and thus, you’ve made a large game of telephone spider-webbing in all directions. It kind of reminds me of a graph you’d see in the case of an epidemic. Of course, this is a happy epidemic, not a zombie apocalypse, world is over, epidemic. It also looks eerily like a pyramid scheme. But we won’t bring that up. (Another epic fail of mine.)

epidemic-world-represents-globalisation-disease-and-infected-100288906

This “telephone game” is what every debut author counts on, especially those that come from a small publishing house (like me) or are self-published. We don’t have our agents tweeting about us ten times a day or a large publishing house pushing our book out to major reviewers. We will only be known by WORD OF MOUTH. And as we’ve seen with many self-published authors, word of mouth works! In fact, it works quite well. It’s just a matter of getting the telephone chain started.

I ask you, friends who have become new fans, to help start the chain. If you like my book, tell people. Your mailman, the waitress, your son’s English teacher, your local librarian, and yes, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads,or whatever social network site you prefer. It all starts with YOU. You’re my front line, hacking and slashing through the millions of other books out there, to get Heart and her friends to the top. To get her story known.

Okay, that may be a tad melodramatic. But I’m a writer. What did you expect?

So do you, my fine knights, accept the quest? Virtual cupcakes for everyone who steps forward! Yay!