Friday, March 2, 2018

New Zyearth Short Story - Golden Guardian - Author Life

Hey everyone! Guess what! I published a new short story!

This is Izzy's introduction short story, called Golden Guardian.

Izzy Gildspine is a member of the Defender Army, hoping to someday earn the title of Golden Guardian. But before she can do that, she must earn her Gem’s specialty magic... and time is running out. So when the Master Guardian himself approaches Izzy and fellow Defender Roscoe Wendigo with a means to activate her Gem, Izzy immediately takes him up on it. But Izzy quickly discovers that forcing a Gem’s activation is no walk in the park - and now her life is at stake, as well as Roscoe’s. Izzy must find the courage and strength to pass this trial and earn her place as a Golden Guardian... before the trial takes her life.

You can buy this story on Amazon here, or get the short story free here, for Kindle or Epub.

Not sure if you should check out this story? Let me give you a preview. Here's the first chapter of Golden Guardian! 


No one truly knows how difficult the life of a soldier is until they choose to become one. The training, the knowledge, the battles, even the social structure. . . no form of media ever successfully paints that life. It’s impossible to understand until you’re in it.
Many people simply can’t handle it. I can’t say I blame them. I chose this life, and there are still times I want to leave it. The pressure to succeed consistently wages war with the feeling of inadequacy. And it’s very easy to feel inadequate in this job. Especially when expectations are high, and you aren’t meeting them.
Problem was, I wasn’t meeting expectations.
And I had to. I was training to be a Golden Guardian. Third highest ranked soldier in the Defender military. I had to meet expectations. There was no other option. Only I didn’t know how.
The Master Guardian did, however. And he was determined to ensure I met expectations.
Nothing could have prepared me for his plan to make that a reality.
The day he took action started out fairly normal. I had taken up residence at a long gray table in the Defender Academy’s main cafeteria, trying to force down a plate of pasta and fruit. The sun glared at me, burning through the golden-brown quills on my head and heating my fur, reflecting its hateful rays at my white Defender uniform.
White. The color for someone who hasn’t yet gotten their Gem specialty. Someone who hasn’t activated their magic yet.
Someone who isn’t meeting expectations.
As I poked at my lunch, the room filled with other Defender students and soldiers. Many still wore the plain black uniforms of a Defender in training, though most of the rookies were still in boot this time of year. Most others wore colors fitting their Gem’s specialty. Teal accents for the elemental users. Navy blue for shielders. White accents for healers.
I glanced over at the healers. They were mainly support, dropped into packs to bolster shielders, elementals, and cloakers, aka “the real soldiers.” Healers were absolutely necessary to make the Defenders work, but they weren’t well respected. No one really thought of them as real soldiers.
I was glad I wasn’t going to be a healer. I was supposed to be an elemental, according to my family’s long pattern of Gem specialties. I couldn’t be a proper Guardian as a healer.
I chewed my lip, turning back to my food. Well. Perhaps that wasn’t entirely true. My father had been a healer and a Guardian. One of the best around in both categories. But he was a fantastic soldier. Strong in mind and body. Sure, I passed the necessary physical tests to be a soldier, but I was no body builder. I needed an element.
I couldn’t be a healer.
But I was taking too long to get my element. I was the only one in the whole room wearing pure white. It was so hard to ignore the stares the others gave me. Me, a future Golden Guardian, still without power.
“Hey, Izzy!”
I turned, perking my catlike ears up, and caught a glimpse of my adoptive brother and partner, Matt Azure. His white, blue-tipped quills and catlike ears bounced on his head as he crossed the room, and his teal accented Defender uniform was hard to ignore. He lightly tossed a tray full of food on the table and pulled up a chair across from me. He grinned. “Mind if I join you?”
I stared at him. Matt had earned his Gem specialty in high school nearly thirty-five years ago, at an age before most people were even bound to their Gems. One of the few benefits of being Black Bound, though Matt would likely argue that it was the only benefit. Far as we were concerned, being Black Bound only came with ridicule and fear from average Zyearthlings and impossible expectations from Defenders. Black Bound individuals were rare, and the benefits and drawbacks of being one were not well understood.
It did mean we had to learn Gem responsibility early. Most Zyearthlings got their Gems at age twenty. Matt had miraculously bound both of us when he was six and I was four after an event in my childhood I’d rather not explore.
Imagine explaining to a four-year-old how to take care of something as precious as a Gem. The magical object their life was now permanently bound to. The whole reason why I could be fifty-five years old and still look twenty, and why I’d live close to four hundred years.
The exact problem keeping me from meeting expectations.
Matt waved a furry white hand in front of my face. “Yoo-hoo. Zyearth to Izzy. You’re spacing out here.”
I shook my head. “Am I? Sorry.”
“What’s got you so broody?” Matt asked, sneaking a bite of pie off his plate. “That’s not like you.”
I shrugged. “You should know.”
Matt swallowed. “Thinking about your powers again.”
I poked at my pasta, but didn’t say anything.
Matt shifted in his chair, his ears turning a soft pink. I couldn’t tell if he was embarrassed or just sorry for me. “You’ll get there, Iz. Just give it time.”
“I’m sick to death of giving it time,” I said, flipping my ears back and crossing my arms. “I’m the only one of my year still wearing white. It’s ridiculous.”
“Well,” Matt said. “Not the only one.” He pointed to the cafeteria’s entrance.
A tall, gray stag with bronze antlers and copper-colored hooves walked into the room and glanced around a moment before heading for the lunch line. Roscoe Wendigo. Just as Matt said, he wore white.
My face grew hot and I turned away, pulling my ears down. “Oh, Draso. He’s not looking at me, is he? Tell me he’s not looking at me.”
Matt grinned and waved at him. I snuck a peek and caught him waving back.
I glared. “You idiot.”
“I think he likes you,” Matt said, leaning his head down.
“Shut up,” I said, though the blush grew from my cheeks to my ears.
“And I mean likes you likes you.”
“Shut up, Matt.”
Matt picked an apple from his tray and bit into it. “I’ll refrain from commenting on my observations about whether or not his feelings are reciprocated.”
“You better or. . . or you’ll regret it,” I snapped at him.
Matt’s grin increased. “Niiiice comeback.”
“Do you have to be such an ass?”
“Ooo, language!” Matt said, waving a finger and tsk, tsk-ing with an exaggerated snobbish look. He lowered his gaze. “Seriously, Iz. Why are you so nervous around him? You’ve known him since high school. We used to hang out all the time.”
“That was. . . before.”
Matt smirked. “Before you realized what a handsome young male he was?”
“Before he became a Captain,” I shot back. “He’s brilliant in everything he does. I’m sure he’ll end up the leader of some top pack once he gets his Gem powers. He’s got clout here.”
“And you’re going to be a Golden Guardian,” Matt replied.
I leaned down, bending one ear back. “Not if my powers never kick in.”
Matt frowned. “Izzy. . .”
“This seat taken?”
I sat straight up and looked to my left.
Roscoe stood there with a tray in his hands, smiling at me. Gosh, that handsome snout. Those big, shining eyes. Those soft, felted ears. That gorgeous voice. . . I clutched my fingers tight against my palm and forced what I hope was a decent smile.
Matt leaned back on his hands. “Not at all! Have a seat, Roscoe.”
I shot Matt a glare.
“Thanks.” He took a seat. I prayed he wouldn’t notice my blushing. “Seems like everyone’s intimidated to sit next to the Golden Guardians, huh?”
“Future Golden Guardians,” I mumbled.
Roscoe shrugged. “All the same to me.” He took a bite of salad. “So, no luck on your powers yet either, huh?”
I frowned. “No. Not for my lack of trying.”
“What power do you want?”
I shook my head. “If only I got to choose.”
“Your family history kind of chose for you already anyway,” Matt said. He turned to Roscoe. “Traditionally Gildspines have been either healers or elementals, and it always skips a generation. Izzy’s up for elemental if history stays true. She even has her dad’s Gem.”
“Nice,” Roscoe said, grinning. “You guys will match well.”
“I dunno,” I said. “Matt’s wind powers allow for so many excellent fart jokes. I doubt mine will do the same.”
Matt rolled his eyes. “Funny.”
Roscoe laughed. “She makes a good point.” He picked a little at his salad. “Though I do wish our powers would come through. Sometimes I feel so useless.”
I frowned. You’re not alone, Roscoe.
“Master Guardian, sir!” someone shouted from the front of the room. “Defenders, attention!”
As one, everyone in the room stood and saluted, a quick sweeping fist across the chest, heels snapped together. We all turned toward the front door.
Master Guardian Lance Tox entered the room. The leader of the Defender military and our country of Zedric. A rare white wolf, sporting ice manipulation and combat skills to match, Lance was probably the greatest Master Guardian ever to walk the halls of the Defender Academy.
For Matt and me, he was part terrifying boss, part doting uncle. We grew up in the Defender Academy, doing pretty much whatever we pleased. Lance had indulged all kinds of behavior that most Defenders probably found scandalous.
Matt secretly told me one time that he thought Lance did that because he wanted us to enjoy our childhoods before we joined the Defenders. The life of a Golden Guardian was extremely difficult.
I think he felt guilty for our parents’ deaths and was trying to make up for them.
All that stopped when we officially entered the Academy though. He was still the doting uncle, but he also made it very clear that he was our boss. Our leader. There was no room for shenanigans anymore.
Lance crossed his arms behind his back and glanced out over the cafeteria through the small glasses resting on his long snout. As he scanned the room, he caught my eye.
I took a deep breath, but said nothing.
“As you were,” Lance said, his voice calming, but commanding. He stepped into the room. Everyone went cautiously back to their previous activities.
And Lance kept his eye on me.
“Oh, hell,” I muttered. “He’s coming this way.”
“Defenders,” Lance said, walking up to our group.
All of us leapt to our feet again in a smart salute and a sharp “Sir!”
Lance nodded. “At ease. Roscoe, Izzy, I was hoping I could have a word with the two of you.”
I exchanged a glance with Roscoe. “Uh, certainly, sir. What about?”
“Let’s take it in my office. If you’ll both follow me.” Lance turned to the door.
Matt perked both ears. “Sir?”
“I’m afraid this is a private matter, Matt,” Lance said. “Give us a moment.”
Matt frowned and glanced at me. “Um. Sure. Yes, sir.”
I offered him a small shrug.
“Thank you for understanding,” Lance said, then led us toward the door. A short walk later and we entered his office.
Small, plush, and old, the office sported comfortable wing-backed chairs, a heavy oak desk and walls lined with bookcases filled to the brim with books, memorabilia, and a handful of small statuary, including a foot-tall figure of our dragon god, Draso. His desk held a wire Gem holder, which he dropped his pure white Gem on, and an assortment of papers and computer tablets. All very neat and tidy. All perfectly organized.
It’s a good thing Lance never saw my room. He’d be scandalized.
Lance took a seat behind the desk as Roscoe and I sat in the dark red chairs.
“I know the two of you are worried that you’re falling behind without having your Gem specialties.”
I took a deep breath.
Lance let a little smile cross his black lips. “How would you like to accelerate your training and get them?”
A shot of adrenaline burst through my spine and made my fur stand on end. I had heard rumors about this before. Purposefully forcing a Gem to activate its powers. I didn’t know much about the idea, but what I did know was. . . dark. It was hard. Grueling. Dangerous. And often those that did it ended up in intense psychological therapy after the fact.
But those were just rumors. Right? Lance wouldn’t actually do that. Not my doting uncle. And how could I pass up the chance to finally get my powers? Even if it was hard, it’d be worth it. I needed them. It was the only way to be a Guardian.
“Um. Yes, sir. Absolutely. I’d love to.”
“As would I,” Roscoe said. “Sir.”
“That’s what I like to hear,” Lance said. His smile faded. “This will not be easy. You know this.”
I nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“But we’re up for the challenge,” Roscoe said for us both.
“Good,” Lance said. “Meet me on Lower Beach tonight at midnight and we’ll get started.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. Roscoe nodded and the two of us turned back toward the door.
“One more thing, Defenders,” Lance said, and we turned toward him. He lowered his gaze. “Please don’t tell anyone. Consider this top secret, okay? I’ll explain more tonight.”
That was ominous. Was I making the right decision? “Um. Of course. Sir.”
“See you both tonight.”
We left the room and a shiver ran up my spine.
Roscoe rested a hand on my shoulder, doubling the buzzing feeling in my body. As if the ominous adrenaline spike wasn’t bad enough. I looked up at him.
He frowned. “You okay?”
I rubbed my arms. “Nervous.”
He squeezed my shoulder. “Same. But we’ll be doing it together. We’ll be fine. And we’ll finally get our powers tonight.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Hopefully.”
He gave me one more smile, then walked off, leaving me in the long hall. I watched him leave, still feeling slightly hot under my fur.
I tilted my head for one more cautious gaze at the door to Lance’s office.
Lance wouldn’t hurt us. I didn’t care how dangerous things might seem. Lance would never put his people in danger. Especially not his future Golden Guardian.
             But the buzzing in my bones wouldn’t stop. 
Get the full story today! 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy 2018 - Meenanful Life

Hey guys!

HAPPY 2018!

May it be a bazillion times better than 2017, because heaven knows 2017 was a massive downer. Ugh.

The worst we experienced was a miscarriage early this year.

The best we experienced was feeling the baby move in my current pregnancy. I'm 23 weeks now, and things are going much more smoothly.

Last year, like pretty much ALL years, I had some outrageous New Year's Resolutions.

This year I have just one resolution.


Love myself. Love my husband.

Love my friends and family.

Love the wonderful people I've recently found online through some awesome communities.

Love my projects, my writing, my artwork, and the improvement I make in all of them.

Love the marginalized.

Love the people who are hated, feared, and put down for being different. Love those that society has shunned for unreasonable reasons. Love those who feel unloved. Love the people God has brought into my life and learn why He brought those people to me. Because there is always a reason.

Love my enemies.

This is always the hardest one. For one, society tells you not to love your enemies. But society believes that saying you love someone means you condone their actions.

I don't. There are a lot of people out there (and I mean A LOT) who have done bad things... things in the name of religion, their God, their jobs, their business, their stakes, their selfishness... greed, hate, misunderstanding, following-the-crowd thinking, whatever.

It hurts watching them do these things. But I can choose to love them without condoning them. Because being filled with hate is not the way to fix things. Hate only begets more hate.

But Love Wins.

It's going to be a tough year. My husband and I are making the difficult decision to move back home, for the sake of the new baby and because of some severe money issues. We're going to be raising a child for the first time, and in a world that often seems on the brink of breaking. All because of the choice to hate. The choice to hurt others to protect yourself. Too many people in power are making these decisions and there's very little we can do about it.

Except love.

So my resolution is to love. It will not be easy and I will mess up a lot. But I'm going to do it anyway.

Good things are worth fighting for. <3

Love to all of you in the new year.

Balancing Joy with Heartbreak - Meenanful Life

Today is a fantastic day. Today I get to share my joy at the news that husband and I are pregnant. Over twenty weeks! We've been trying for a while, so it's great to finally be able to announce it to the world.

Today is also a heartbreaking day. Because this isn't our first pregnancy.

Earlier this year, we had discovered we were pregnant. We were ecstatic, especially since we've been trying for so long. It was kind of a surprise too, which made it even better.

We were planning to announce the pregnancy on my husband's birthday, right around week 13.

But March 5, when we hit week 12, I had a violent and catastrophic miscarriage.

The day started off normal, though I had been having mild cramping all morning. By 2PM I was having violent cramping and knew I needed to get to the hospital. By 2:30 or so, I had one last violent cramp, pushed something out, and then everything stopped.

Everything. Stopped.

The pregnancy symptoms, the extreme pain, the cramping (which turned out later to be minor labor pains) and everything that suggested I had a healthy baby.

I'm thankful that, while cleaning up in the ER, I didn't actually see any evidence of baby. By that time, we had already heard the heartbeat. Already saw baby's limbs moving in the ultrasound. Had already attached ourselves mentally and emotionally to this growing child.

No one tells you what the emotional response of a miscarriage is like. No one. No books, no people, no pregnancy blog, no one.

It's hell.

The doctor had given me a week off of work. I was kind of surprised by it since I felt physically fine. Honestly, I had felt better than I had in weeks. I had pretty horrible morning sickness. It had been like a long, grueling flu that I had just recovered from.

There was guilt there. I knew I shouldn't, but I felt relieved to finally be out of that flu like state. It was... conflicting.

But the doctor didn't give me a week off for physical reasons. It was for emotional reasons.

I fell into a deep depression. I've never felt that before and while I could understand why people did, I never really empathized with them since I had sincerely never felt it.

This time, I felt it.

If I sat for more than a minute or two without something to talk about or to distract me, I started crying. If I saw someone with a young baby, I cried. If I saw a pregnant woman, I cried.

For my husband and me, it wasn't the "big things" that we'd be missing out on. It was the little things. I would never hear the baby's laugh. Their cry. I would never see them smile. Never feel the grip of their tiny hands. Never hold them in my arms while they slept. I wouldn't know their first word or their first crush. I'd never hang an art piece on the fridge or listen while they told me a story about the monster in the closet.

Those opportunities were gone. Completely.

It was true and utter despair.

I tried everything that week to feel "normal" again. I got a haircut. Ate a big meal. Drank coffee for the first time in months. Cleaned the house that had become a tornado zone during the worst of my morning sickness. Graded essays that had been long neglected.

Packed up the few baby things we already had. Baby's first book (Goodnight Moon). Baby's first outfit (knitted pirate costume). Baby's first stuffed toys (Hubby's cleaned stuffed rabbit).

The baby journal was the hardest.

I'm a writer. I kept a journal about my pregnancy experiences. My husband wrote in it too. We went on little trips and pasted pictures in with hilarious commentary about why we're weirdos. We talked about the struggles of being married, along with the successes. We talked about the names we were hoping to give our children.

But writing that last letter.... the letter reflecting on baby's death.... was heart wrenching.

As much as it hurt, I'm glad it happened when it did. Before we knew a gender and a name. Maybe I can feel confident enough to still use one of the names we had picked.

We were intending to give the journal to baby when they were ready for college. Another thing we'll never get to do.

The one thing we didn't pack away was this.

As part of our birth announcement, we were going to post a picture of our growing family. I commissioned a friend to make this lovely watercolor. It's now framed and hanging on our wall among plushies and other art pieces.

It's a memorial now.

It took quite some time to get back to "normal." Even now I still have minor episodes, and I suspect I'll always have a minor episode on the day of the miscarriage and the day the baby was supposed to be born.

But in all actuality, it wasn't all bad.

I have the greatest support network. Friends stuck by me in ways I never even expected. My mother and my mother-in-law were my solid rocks during this time. The secretaries at my work BOTH prayed for me, both at the Christian school and the public school I work at. They worked hard to get me classes for the fall too, when I had been planning to take it off to raise the baby for the first couple of months.

Hubby's work was especially amazing. Joe works for a car dealership. Car dealerships seriously have the worst reputation ever. People think they don't care about their employees or their customers.

Not so with Hendrick group.

When Joe's boss got wind of the fact that I was in ER for the miscarriage, he not only gave Joe permission to go to me, but practically demanded that he do. Joe was obviously very upset, so his boss even offered to have someone from the dealership drive Joe to the hospital. They gave Joe three days off to help recover from the whole thing and the next time I visited the dealership, his boss gave me a huge hug and asked if I was doing okay. He even prayed for us.

Joe seriously works at the best place ever.

The miscarriage was hard. I'd never pretend it wasn't. But it was wonderful to see, truly see, how much we are loved.

Despite the pain, we decided to try again. To keep trying. That in itself has been an emotional roller coaster, and even now, every little cramp, pain, and minor misstep I feel with this pregnancy has me on edge. We are many more weeks than we were during the first miscarriage. But things can still go wrong and I'm nervous.

But it's nice to know that no matter what happens, we can get through it.

One of the ways I've been able to heal through this difficult time is by writing a miscarriage/infertility story with my characters.

Sami Girsougan

It hurts to write and even to read, but it also gives me an outlet. And since I know others out there have struggled with miscarriage and infertility, I hope that this story will help them to heal as well, as we watch Sami go through the emotional roller coaster of this news.

Sami, like me, has a support network. That is so crucial to getting through difficult times.

I'm very glad I have mine.


One thing I noticed when I had my miscarriage is that almost everyone I've told about it has a miscarriage story, from a woman in my mother-in-law's church choir to the nurse who did my last IV. It's a whole lot more common than pregnancy books or doctors tell you.

If you can and if it will help you, share your miscarriage stories below, and talk about your support network.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

I Teach to Change - Teacher Life

I teach to change the world.

My students come to me saying "Nothing influences me."

And I show them their parents.
Their teachers.
Their peers.
Their siblings.
Their bosses.
Their friends.
Their entertainment.

And I say "Everything influences you."

And their eyes open.

My students come to me saying "My way of thinking is always valid."

And I show them their thoughts.
Their overgeneralization.
Their ego and ethnocentrism.
Their "mine is better" thinking.
Their stereotyping.
Their either/or thinking.
Their assumptions.
Their mindless conformity.
Their bias for or against change.
Their confirmation bias.
Their double standards.
Their logical fallacies.

And I say "Everyone has bad ways of thinking."

And I show them mine.

And I show them how I work to fix it.

And they work to fix their own.

And their eyes open.

My students come to me saying "I'm not prejudiced."

And I show them their prejudice.
Their hate for other races.
Their disgust for other religions.
Their ignorance on other genders.
Their accepting of prejudice thoughts.

And I say "Everyone is prejudiced."

And we recognize the prejudice.

And we fight the prejudice.

And their eyes open.

My students come to me saying "The world is broken."

And I show them love.

And I say "You are the ones who will fix it."

And they stare at me.

And they recognize their responsibility.

And their eyes open.


My students come to me saying "I can't do it."

And I show them their work.
Their improvement.
Their growth.
Their determination.
Their goals.
Their reasons.
Their love.
Their justice.
Their hope.
Their future.

And I say "Yes, you can."

And they do it.

And their eyes open.

And the world is changed.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Nightmare Tooth Project - Meenanful Life, Author Life

My greatest fear involves teeth.

Ever since I was a child, I have had this irrational fear that one day, one of my teeth would fall randomly out of my head and I'd be in excruciating pain for the rest of my life.

This is a frequent nightmare for me. Just the other day I dreamed that three of my teeth became horribly loose and I was forced to pull them out, one by one, in pieces, leaving behind their exposed roots, black and rotting in my mouth....


Even just looking at pictures of teeth makes me anxious and disturbed. It has not been fun searching for pictures for this blog entry.

You'd think this would make me obsessed with oral hygiene, but it's had rather the opposite effect.

I do brush my teeth like any normal person, but I definitely fall short at flossing. I'm worried that I'll somehow loosen a crown (this has happened) or a filling (ditto) or that I'll discover some new tooth pain (ditto again).

I pay for this bad habit too, since my dentist visits usually end up dealing with tiny cavities between my teeth. Something that could be fixed with FLOSSING.

But the worst tooth experience of my life was the day I had to get a root canal.

Everyone knows what a root canal is, and everyone has some horror story to share. And I heard every single one of them from work the day before I got mine.

"Oh, you're getting a root canal? My nephew screamed the whole time they did his."

"The only time I hurt worse was when I gave birth."


As you can expect, I entered my dentist's office in near tears the next day.

Now don't get me wrong. Going to the dentist doesn't bother me. For one, I have the best dentist in the world. She's friendly and kind and interested in me as a person, always asking how my family and work is. She's gentle too and refuses to compromise quality. When we did my veneers on my front teeth, she sent the veneer back THREE TIMES because they weren't absolutely PERFECT. Especially since she knew I had a wedding coming up. <3

Perfect teeth for our big day. <3
But thinking about the pain everyone promised, I couldn't concentrate on that. 

My dentist noticed. 

"Feeling nervous, Rachel?" she asked with her slight accent and big grin.

Staring at the drills, the big lights, the creepy dentist chair (I swear dentist chairs evolved from medieval torture devices) and smelling everything LATEX... I admitted to some nervousness. 

The dentist put down her tools and nodded to her assistant, who nodded back and left the room for a moment. 

"You've been coming to me for several years now, haven't you?" she said. 

"Yeah," I said. "I was nervous the first time too, but you made me feel right at home." 

"And you know that my policy is no pain," she continued. "We don't tolerate that here." 

"But isn't a root canal different?" I asked. 

She shook her head. "Everyone thinks it is. And for some dentists, it is different. It's a long process and not one that every doctor is good at. But a good doctor will keep that pain to a minimum, or eliminate it completely. Now tell me," she smiled. "Have you ever felt pain in my office before?"

I didn't think the tiny pinpricks during the numbing process counted so I shook my head.

"Not even with the extractions?" 

I had had two teeth pulled from my head previously by the doctor's brother, an oral surgeon. It was part of the process of fixing my top row of teeth for the wedding. Both extractions were done at once and the only thing I had felt that day was mild pressure on my gums. They even let me hold the teeth afterwords (there's nothing quite like holding a piece of your own head in your hand.)

But there was no pain. I shook my head again. 

"And do you remember that particularly bad cavity that needed to be really deep?"

I did. It was as close to a root canal as I had ever gotten before. But again, no pain. 

"I know this is a new experience," the doctor said. "But I'm going to ask you to trust me, as you have all these years. Can you do that for me?" 

It was hard to say yes, even knowing all that. My fears dictated my reactions. But I said yes. The doctor smiled at me, brought her assistant back in, and got to work. 

Two hours later, someone shook me by the shoulder. I opened my eyes to my doctor hovering over me. She removed her gloves.

"All done!"

I blinked at her. "What?"

"We're finished," she said. "Your husband must appreciate the fact that you don't snore in your sleep."

That's right. I had fallen asleep. I probed the area of the root canal with my tongue and felt no pain, despite the fact that the numbness was wearing off.

"We'll get the permanent crown in next week, once we get the impressions to them," the doctor said. "You did great. Thanks for trusting me."

And I'm glad I did.

Trust is such a crucial theme in my books. Especially trust in difficult times.

In The Stolen Guardian, Ouranos has to put trust in Matt, someone he's believed to be his enemy, when they face a common enemy together.

In both White Assassin and Tanned Hide, Trecheon and Neil have to put trust in each other to get through the calamities they've created for themselves, even when neither quite knows how.

And in my current work in progress, Brother at Arms, trust is absolutely crucial to getting through the events of this story alive.

Most people say that trust is something that's earned. But that's not always true. Sometimes trust is the only thing keeping you going. It's the only way to survive.

And while putting trust in my dentist wasn't a life or death situation (no matter how much I fear my teeth) it was a good reminder that trust is what gets us going throughout the day.

Yes, sometimes you will put trust in someone and they'll let you down. It's a fact of life and a common occurrence.

But the very act of trusting someone, of choosing to put some aspect of your life in their hands, is good. It's an act of faith. And while it's hard and can be painful, it is what ties us together as a species.

Have you ever had to put trust in a situation that made you uncomfortable? How did you react? Share in the comments below! 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Cliches That Your Villain Shouldn't Be If He Wants To Be Respected By Other Villains - Author Life

Being a villain is hard work. All that banter back and forth between the heroes, all the planning to take over the world, all intimidation of your lackeys and certainly all that planning of your secret underground lair.

So it's no wonder that we tend to turn to cliches when we write villains. It's something easy to fall on that people will recognize, so why not do it?

Well, if you don't want your villain to get picked on at the school playground for being unoriginal and boring, it's best if you avoid the following.

1 - Don't go around calling people "fools." 

Literally EVERY CLICHE VILLAIN has done this. Disney is especially well known for this, though Draco Malfoy and even Lord Voldemort himself have defaulted to this somehow-more-evil-than-idiot label.

I don't know what makes the word "fool" somehow an evil thing, but it's so common that I tend to check out as a reader every time I see a villain use it.

Be creative. Use something other than fool. Better yet, make up your own banter rather than being bogged down by someone else's!

2 - Don't have your villain kill/maim/burn/rape/do some other horribly evil thing and say "This is the most fun I've had in years!" or something similar. 

I don't know how many times I've seen this in fiction, but it's a disappointment every time I do.

This is an attempt at showing vs. telling. It's a way for an author to say, "Look at how evil my character is! They're ENJOYING being evil!"

First off, the "enjoying being evil" cliche is way overdone. This is old comic book and children's TV show villainy and not very believable for anyone writing to young adults or older.

If your villain DOES enjoy being evil, you need do to it right. Have them show pleasure with their evil deeds by actions. Maybe they have a sadistic smile, or they shake with a sensual pleasure, or they show a kind of fierce joy in tearing people down.

But having them shout out something a normal person might say while playing mini golf for the first time cheapens the moment.

3 - Don't make an entire race/species/religion/nation evil. 


Let me make things clear. I'm not saying that you CAN'T make your evil people be a single race/religion/species/whatever. It works for a lot of things. War of the Worlds did it, Gears of War did it, and Assassin's Creed did it.

But they modified it.

War of the Worlds has a single race of evil aliens invading Earth. But we don't know anything about the race as a whole. In fact, we learn very little about the group, since they die to disease very early on. This only made the invading part of the race evil. For all we know, there were members of this race on their home planet that were advocating for peace rather than war.

Gears of War has a race of evil, but these were originally humans, grotesquely mutated due to issues created by humanity. Their minds aren't the same as they once were.

Assassin's Creed puts the entire Templar religion against the assassin. But this is an example of extremism. Templars were originally Christian warriors, but they devolved into essentially terrorists and extremists. This doesn't make Christians as a whole evil in this world.

But I have seen so many books where "OMG this race of anthropomorphic lizards are evil and the whole race is decrepit!" that it makes me groan every time I see it. It's a very rare instance that an entire group of people is evil.

On that note, don't make the mistake of trying to avoid this problem by making one person of this race/religion/whatever a good guy and a member of your main character gang, as if one person somehow negates the issue at hand. This is called the "Noble Savage" fallacy. It's a problem that books and movies like The Last of the Mohicans and Dances with Wolves face by trying to single out one small group or one individual as an example but making the whole rest of the race evil. This is the same kind of overgeneralization.

English professors love breaking down the Noble Savage Fallacy.

I should also note that you CAN have your wonderful protags BELIEVE that one race/religion/whatever is evil, since that's common and often expected. But hopefully your story will make it more nuanced than that.

4 - Your villain should have more than just grandiose plans to take over the world. 

Notice I said JUST. It's perfectly fine to have someone that has plans to rule the world (or country, or religion, or culture, whatever). But you have to have a REASON.

Do they have a thirst for power? Think about WHY.
Do they have a hatred for a specific race or religion? Think about WHY.
Do they have some unexplored fear? Some ego problem? A desire to prove themselves?

All of these things are important. MOTIVATION.

But just some random idea that "Well I'm evil so therefore I must want to rule the world" doesn't hold water in a good story. People have villainous ways for a reason.

Before you dive into the whole "My villain wants to rule EVERYTHING" cliche, think about other motivations for the bad things they do.

Probably one of the biggest pieces of advice most writers hear, but often ignore, is "Villains are the hero of their own stories." Your villain's motivation and desires are a big part of your character's drive and story. It's crucial to work it out in a way that makes sense to your readers.

And not one that gets them kicked out of Villain School.

Do you have any other villain cliches that bother you in writing? Share them below!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Zyearth Chronicles, Book II - WIP Chapter One

Greetings Zyearth fans!

I'm getting very close to finishing Zyearth Book II to share with the world... Right now the tentative title is Brothers at Arms and it's shaping up to be a fantastic start.

To get you guys all excited, I thought I'd share an excerpt from the WIP. Here's the opening of the next installment of the Zyearth Chronicles. Enjoy!

The Zyearth Chronicles – Book Two
Brothers At Arms
By R. A. Meenan
Chapter One: Post-Trauma
“Welcome to Fencing 101,” Matthew Azure said, glancing out over his students, as Ouranos of the Athánatos watched him. The Golden Guardian stood on a six-inch-high stage at the front of the room, holding his custom sword, the Firewing, as Ouranos had learned it was called. The quilar ran his fingers over the intricate patterns on the hand guard. His white, blue tipped quills rustled in the subtle gusts from the mechanical air conditioner.
Ouranos sat on a stool near the back of the room, trying to keep a neutral face. His time on Zyearth necessitated that he trade his royal Athánatos garb for a practical Defender novice uniform, a pair of plain black pants and a long sleeved black jacket. The black clothing blended with his own black fur and made him nearly invisible in the dark corner of the exercise classroom.
Cix, a black, blue streaked wolf Captain in the Defender army, and Matt’s sword partner, stood to Matt’s left. He eyed Matt carefully, running his fingertips over the hilt of his own sword. Though Ouranos noticed he also had one eye half trained on his corner of the room. Cix was an ally, to be sure, but the events that led Ouranos to this planet were still fresh in their minds, and murder was not easily forgotten. Ouranos twitched an ear, but kept his face impartial, his emotions under control.
A much easier task now that the Vasilefs lacked the power to bend Ouranos to his will. It was a priceless gift Matt had passed to him that could never fully be repaid.
 “You’ll be learning the basics of swordplay in this class,” Matt told the students. “It can be dangerous, so before we get started, everyone needs to fill out a waiver.” Matt pulled a stack of papers out of his backpack. “Cix, if you wouldn’t mind.”
Cix took the forms from him and passed them out.
Twenty-four students nodded nervously and a few muttered to themselves. They scattered over the soft blue mat covering the floor of the classroom, digging pens out of their bags to fill out the waivers. The dull sounds of footsteps, claw scrapes, and feather rustles danced off the sound-dampening walls.
Matt sheathed his sword, crossed his arms, and took a deep breath, bending one white, blue tipped ear back. He looked tired, unsettled. And Ouranos knew why.
Six months. It had only been six months since the incident with Gaia and the Cast. Not even half a year by the Zyearth calendar.
But Zyearth had already returned to normal, as if the incident had never come to pass. As if the Defender’s labs did not house over two hundred of their comrades, trapped in the stolen, inky form of a Cast. As if the Vasilefs’ victims did not die.
As if Earth, the humans, and his people, did not face war.
Ouranos still trembled at the thought of his time as Gaia, physically and mentally “fused” to the Guardian on stage. The experience carried with it a mix of feelings. His time as Gaia had been both beneficial and destructive. On the one hand, his fusion with Matthew had boosted his confidence and granted him power over his father that he had not known in a century. On the other, hundreds of lives lay ruined at his feet, until the Defenders discovered a way to break the bonds of a Cast.
If the Defenders discovered a way to fix the Cast. Decades of research among his own people, the people who had developed the means for making Cast in the first place, resulted in nothing. The Defenders may be good at their skills, but this was beyond mere science or even magic. His skull pounded thinking about it.
The battle may be won, but the war was far from over, as the saying goes.
Cix held the completed stack of waivers in his hand and bent a blue streaked ear back. He muttered something to Matt, eyeing Ouranos.
Matt glanced at the corner. Ouranos gave him a slight smile. He had asked Matt if he could observe one of his classes, saying that he wanted to get a feel for how a Defender trained. Perhaps he could learn something for his fight against his father, or at the very least, allow himself a temporary distraction from the deeper issues at hand.
But if he had correctly judged Cix’s look, the wolf was not too happy to have Ouranos watching them. Thankfully Matthew had more faith in him.
“Alright everyone, pay attention,” Matt called. The class fell instantly silent and every eye fixated on their teacher. Ouranos perked his ears as well. “Cix and I are going to give a demonstration of swordplay. This is what your final exam will look like.”
Cix drew his own sword and faced Matt with a wolfish smirk. Matt held his sword out. He stared his partner down.
Cix began the engagement, swinging his sword down hard. Matt blocked easily, pushing against Cix’s sword and forcing him to take two steps back. The wolf lifted his sword and swung back. Clang, clang, clang! The swords bit at each other with every swing. Ouranos watched with a deep fascination.
Athánatos did not use swords. Their experience with weapons were limited, in fact, since they were a small tribe of people, not prone toward violence. At least, not until his father instigated violence with the mainland.
Ouranos, however, had been acutely exposed to violence for the last several decades. It was something embedded into his head. Even now as he watched the pair square off, his brain pressed images into his mind’s eye. Every clang flashed some form of violence.
His sister, Melaina, being forcefully transformed into a half-finished Cast by their father.
The stink of blood and death on the Athánatos battlefields while fighting the Vasilefs.
The war on Sol – screaming children, dirt stained red, the cries for mercy.
The Omnir, ruined and broken before him, dying in fits.
The first perfect Cast, formed on Zyearth in a scream so powerful his ears still rang with the memory.
The fusion with Matt, the formation of Gaia, the destruction he caused. Without realizing it, his thoughts drifted beyond the exercise classroom and into that recent past.
He found himself back on the island where he had first landed, the place where he had met Matthew for the first time. And the place where the pair of them had fused into one being. He remembered the confusion, the fear, the pain, and then, their first confrontation with Matthew’s partner, Izzy.
Who are you? Izzy’s voice rang in his head. Her blue eyes, wide with fear. The panicky way she held herself chilled him.
Cix swung hard to Matt’s left side. Matt blocked. Swords met in a horrible clash.
Together, we are Gaia. Ouranos felt the Vasilefs’ in his mind, speaking words he could not control, using Matt’s voice against his will.
Sword clashes, ever louder, ever more violent, crashed through his mind.
I have stolen your Guardian. Would you like to get him back?
Ouranos bent his ears back now and pressed his hands to them, trying to block out the battle. Trying to forget the past.
Clashes, grunts, straining, bangs!
I see the Guardian has some fight left in her. The memories rang in his ear. Too close. Too real. Maybe it’s time I stopped playing.  
Louder, louder, louder, louder!
Do you have any last words? Will you beg for your life?
Everything stopped. The sword clangs ceased and everything fell quiet again. Ouranos opened eyes that he did not remember closing.
Every student had wide eyes trained on him.
Ouranos blinked, slowly pulling his hands off his ears. That final scream. He did that. Out loud. Without even realizing it. He frowned, his ears flushing from fear and embarrassment, and huddled closer on his stool. “I apologize. Forgive me.”
Matt frowned, splaying an ear and eyeing Ouranos. Ouranos simply shook his head and glanced down at the floor. Gradually the students turned their faces away. Matt cleared his throat to command attention.
“Class,” he spoke clearly, steadily, to his credit. “Who won?”
The students exchanged looks with each other. Several mumbled and one or two people threw out vague answers.
Ouranos stared out at the students, picking up nervous glances and worried frowns. Fearful. Uncertain. Several shot looks in his direction. Matt tried to keep his ears perked up, but he just couldn’t.
“We both won,” Cix said, his voice clear and steady. He shot a glance and a forced smile at Matt. The students focused their attention on him.
Matt nodded and followed his example. “That’s correct. Neither of us are hurt. Our weapons are intact. In this Academy, we teach you to fight, but we are designed to protect. If we can avoid a fight, or come away from a fight unhurt, we win. There is no victory in death.”
The Guardian dug into his backpack and pulled out stacks of paper. “For now, let’s just go over the syllabus and get out of here for the day. We’ll start proper fencing next class.” He handed half the stack to Cix and they passed out syllabi.
Matt spent the next half hour explaining the syllabus with occasional interjections from Cix, then he dismissed the class. The students filed out slowly, still tossing glances at Ouranos. Ouranos sat on his stool, doing his best to ignore the stares.
When the last student filed out, Ouranos padded over to the stage and leaned against the wall. “That was some demonstration, Guardian.”
Matt frowned. “You okay?”
Ouranos stared at the floor. “You know the answer. It would be pointless to lie.”
“Maybe you’d like to fill me in on some details,” Matt said.
Ouranos sighed. “As the two of you fought, my memories brought me to one of my previous battles.” He took a heavy breath. “In my mind, I fought Izzy. As Gaia.”
Cix frowned. “Maybe I should leave you two to talk.” He nodded to Matt. “See you both later.” He left the room.
Matt sat on the stage and invited Ouranos to do the same. “So. . . you’re having PTSD episodes?”
Ouranos sat down, then lifted a brow and perked an ear. “I am not familiar with this term.”
“Post-traumatic stress disorder,” Matt said. “After a traumatic episode you might relive the moments. It’s not uncommon.”
Ouranos bent an ear. “The term is fitting.”
“How long has this been going on?”
Ouranos shrugged. “I am unsure. I have been having nightmares for several weeks, but this is the first time that I have experienced this while awake.”
Matt sighed. “We need to go after your father. Finish all this. Then you could start to heal.”
“There are reasons why your Master Guardian has chosen to stay out of this.”
“What reasons?” Matt snarled, startling Ouranos with his sudden anger. “People are in danger. Theron has perfected the Cast. It’s only a matter of time before things start getting out of control.”
“We cannot fight the Cast, Matthew,” Ouranos said. “Not really. We only have temporary ways to keep them at bay. You know that. More than that, your people are not equipped to fight this. You are a small army from a country hardly bigger than my own. Lance will not risk your entire army for something like this. You would not survive.”
Matt scoffed, bending an ear. “So what, we just let the Vasilefs start turning people into Cast and killing left and right?”
“It is not a pretty truth,” Ouranos said. “But until we really understand how to cure the Cast, how can we expect to win? And more than that, I am not the only one who has suffered from the events surrounding Gaia. Your army has faced a terrible event, and has lost a significant portion of itself. Admittedly, by my hand.”
“Our hand,” Matt said.
Ouranos narrowed his eyes. “I have told you many times that you should not hold yourself responsible.”
“There is no room for discussion,” Ouranos said. “What is done is done. The issue now is that your army is not equipped nor ready to tackle the problem at hand.”
Matt sighed, leaning his elbows on his knees. “I promised to help you. To give you an army.”
“You made that promise before I was aware of the size of the army,” Ouranos said. “Or the impact these events would have on it. I cannot, in good conscience, ask for your aid.” 
“Ouranos,” Matt said. “You can’t do this alone.”
Ouranos silently disagreed. The only choice was to do this alone. If only to prevent anymore death at his hand. But he kept silent on the matter.
Matt stood. “We should get you to a therapist. It’ll help with the PTSD episodes.”
Ouranos perked an ear. “What will they do?”
“A therapist talks to you about the past and helps you work out the issues bothering you,” Matt said. He gripped Ouranos’ shoulder. “Let me arrange it, okay? Then when you’re feeling better, we’ll continue this discussion about letting us help.”
“If Lance will allow it.”
“He will, in time,” Matt said. He stretched. “I suppose we have a little time. Theron needs a Gem user to get the residue he needs to make Cast, and there aren’t any Gem users on Earth. His plans will have to be put on hold for now.”
Ouranos raised an ear. “There are no Gem users on Earth?”
Matt shook his head. “Gem bonding died out a long time ago on Earth. There are probably a few unbound Gems floating around, but no one knows how to bind them, and an unbound Gem is just as useless to Theron as a rock.”
“I suppose that is true,” Ouranos said. Some distant part of his mind reminded him of the unbound Gems they had in their own treasuries. Still, Matthew was right. There was no one who could bind them. Perhaps he could relax a little. “I will take you up on that therapist, if you believe it will help.”
“It should,” Matt said. “Let’s go out for lunch in the meantime. I need a distraction.”
A distraction would be nice. “Then let us go.”
As they walked toward the cafeteria, Ouranos thanked Draso that he managed to avoid the sticky issue of the war. But he knew that would not last.
No victory in death, Matthew had said. Perhaps there was some truth to this. But the Vasilefs did not believe this. His victory was in destruction. Genocide. And he would murder everyone that got in his way. Even these new friends that Ouranos had made. Especially these new friends.
Ouranos had an obligation to stop his father. He did not have an obligation to put Matthew and Isabelle, his friends, in danger. He must move forward with this philosophy. He could have no more incidents like Gaia’s fight with Izzy on the island.
He would dedicate himself to protect his friends, and all those the Vasilefs set his eyes on, even if that meant his own death.