Sunday, 18 August 2013

Random Acts of Kindness

The sun was barely peeking over the nearby buildings when I got downtown to wait for my connecting bus. There were four of us at the stop. Myself, as usual, clutching a pen and jotting ideas and dialogue in a notebook; a man staring disinterestedly at the road; and two older woman leaning against a brick wall, smoking and chatting with each other.

A young couple in their early twenties walked up to them. The  man asked if they had a lighter he could borrow and the one of the ladies, wearing a uniform from a national doughnut store chain, reached into her purse and handed it to him. She commented on how glad she was he hadn't asked for a cigarette, she was getting asked all the time and couldn't afford to give them to everyone, she could barely afford them for herself.

The four of them commiserated briefly about the price of smokes and how frequently people asked for them these days then the young couple turned to walk away. They took one step then the man turned back and asked, "Do you play the lottery?"

The woman looked confused, then nodded and agreed that she played when she could. He smiled, told her today was her lucky day, and handed her a crisp new twenty dollar bill, before walking away. She stared after him in astonishment, barely managing to stammer thanks.

I think, when random acts of kindness are mentioned, we end up thinking we can't do much. The little we can offer is just a pittance. After all, when you get right down to it, what could twenty dollars do?

I got on the bus with that lady, who was quite overcome by the money. She was in the last week of her job, going on sick leave in a few days. She's suffering from severe pain caused by bone growths in her knee and just can't handle working eight hours on her feet anymore. All that helps is expensive pain medication. She'd just run out and didn't have enough money to buy her new prescription. That $20 covered the gap.

I don't know how that young man felt when he handed her the money. Hopefully pride that he was able to help but he'll never know how much it meant to her. All he heard was her startled "thanks" before he walked away. It was the people on the bus who discovered how much this meant to her, not him.

That's the thing about random acts of kindness. You don't know. You have no idea what it means to the person you reach out to. It might mean nothing but then again, it might mean the world. It's random. I think the most important part is to reach out and do the best you can with what you have. We're all a candle in the darkness and it's up to us to share our flame.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Leaving Hope

Two blog posts in two days! Umm... that probably won't happen again in a while. I'm almost done the outline for Second Chances, the next book I'm working on, and I'll be busy writing again. But I did promise an update on the book I just wrote. It's now been submitted to an agent, by snail mail, so I won't have any sort of answer for another month at least. The last book I mentioned here was Piece of Mind and I've put that one on the back burner. Maybe I'll go back and work on it again sometime, maybe not.
I started Second Chances and Leaving Hope at the same time, figuring I could switch between the two if I got stuck on a part. I wrote the first chapter in each book then wrote the outline for Leaving Hope and never went back to Second Chances. The books are completely different; Leaving Hope is a young adult fantasy while Second Chances is contemporary fiction. I don't have a synopsis for Second Chances, I haven't quite finished the outline yet, but it's about a middle aged woman named Karen who has her oldest grandson Owen dropped off at her home for "a little while". Karen's daughter disappears, with her other two grandchildren, two days later only to resurface after a decade. The novel is about family ties and forgiveness.
As for Leaving Hope, it's easier to share the synopsis and the first chapter... 

Seventeen year old Aren has a secret that's about to shatter her world. Aren and her friends are half-elven; ostracized by a society that sees them as less than human. Now the mayor of her province has just declared himself king, despite having no royal blood. His goal is to take over the country and claim Avenna's abandoned throne.
His first proclamation declares it treasonous to lie with one of the fae. Any resulting baby is proof of this treason and both the mother and child will die. The fae man Aren slept with hasn't returned in moon turns and her Papa is dying, neither one can help her now.
She turns to her friend Toby, who has his own secret to hide, and begs him to claim her unborn baby as his, setting into motion a chain of events foreseen and manipulated by the fae.
While the king places increasingly stronger restrictions on the half-elven, a new church appears, painting anyone with fae blood as vermin to exterminate.
Now Aren and her friends are tangled in the webs the fae have woven, and trapped by the king's laws and the church. They hope to survive, but can they make it out of Hope alive?
LEAVING HOPE is a 65,000-word young adult fantasy. This is my first novel.

Chapter One

“Papa? What's treason?” I asked as soon as I closed our door. That was the one word I didn't understand on the notice in the town square and without it, nothing else made sense.

“Treason? It's when you go against the king,” he replied then coughed. “Of course you need to have a king for that.”

He chuckled when I flinched. “It's okay Aren, I know what Bobby's calling himself. Smallest province in Avenna and he claims he's king. I could call myself king of this bed just as easily and it would mean as much.”

“Papa,” I said warningly, glancing back at the door. Robert had brought people in for less and with nearly as few witnesses.

“Sorry,” he replied unapologetically then continued, “When King Nicholas was alive, treason was one of the few crimes with a death penalty. I assume that much hasn't changed.”

It felt like my heart dropped into my stomach. I stared at him in horror.

“It's that bad Aren? What is he calling treason?”

“Half-elven babies,” I whispered.

“ All of us or just the babies?” Papa asked worriedly, shifting a bit against his pillow.

“So far just the babies,” I replied, struggling not to touch my stomach. Not that it would make much difference, Papa's gift was seeing the truth. “Any woman who lies with one of the fae is considered to have committed treason. The baby is the proof.”

“Then any woman who finds herself in that situation better find a father for her baby quickly,” he noted.

I nodded then changed the subject. “How are you feeling today?”

He shrugged slightly. “About the same as yesterday,” he lied.

I looked at him critically. He used to glow bright yellow but the glow had dimmed over the last few months to a greyish mustard colour. Now that colour was disappearing too, leaving him fading to white. Mama's colours had faded similarly before she died. I didn't think he'd see midwinter; he certainly wouldn't see spring.

“Why don't you go out for a walk?” he suggested. “I could use a bit of quiet.”

I was about to protest that he wouldn't even hear me then realized he wanted me to do something about my predicament. I kissed him gently on the forehead and slipped outside.

It was autumn now. The air held a mellow warmth but the golden leaves said chill winds weren't too far behind. It had been spring the last time I'd seen Ferrin.

I'd felt odd that day, like I was ready for the whole world to change and take me with it. As if everything was waiting, paused on the edge of anticipation. Ferrin had his wagon parked in a field just outside the village. I'd shown him my carvings, he'd looked at them and promised he had rich buyers who would love them. Once again he'd paid me almost as much as Papa had made doing cabinetry when he was still strong. Then he took my hand and told me he had something else for me, a gift, and led me into the back of his wagon. There was nothing there except a bed, but that was all we needed.

I knew what would come from that afternoon; I didn't know of any woman who'd laid down with one of the fae and hadn't come up expecting. At that point I hadn't cared.

I looked around in surprise and realized I was almost to Toby's house. He was Papa's former apprentice and one of my few friends. He was half-elven like Papa and I but he had a harder gift than both of us combined. He could hear thoughts, which made other people almost as uncomfortable around him as he was around them.

Toby's home was in a patch of woods, just far enough away that he could sleep without hearing everyone's dreams. His house was small but in good repair, although that wasn't a surprise considering his skills at woodworking. I knocked on the door and hoped he'd answer, he wasn't always in the mood for company. Thankfully today he was.

He opened the door and smiled slightly when he saw me. His wheat blond hair was pulled away from his face and the glow around him was almost the same bright blue as his eyes. I eyed the glow critically, it was cleaner and brighter than the last time I'd seen him.

“Nate was over, wasn't he,” I commented. It wasn't a question.

Toby nodded but didn't open the door further or offer to invite me in.

“I'm in trouble, Toby,” I whispered. “I need help.”

He looked down at my stomach then opened the door and gestured inside. Without waiting he turned and stalked to the kitchen, I followed.

“I pumped some water earlier,” he said as he picked up a jug and poured himself a glass. Then he poured me one too.

“Who's the father?” he asked abruptly then blanched. “Ferrin?”

I nodded then took the glass. “I hadn't been worried before. There's never been any danger in raising a half-elven baby.” I sighed, “At least not until now.”

“Aren. There's no way that baby's going to be half-elven,” Toby pointed out gently. “I'm half-elven and Nate's half-elven. You're about as close to fae as any human could manage.” He gestured to my stomach then added, “And that baby will be even closer still.”

I watched him hopefully, knowing he'd pick up my thoughts despite the fact I couldn't articulate them.

“Your Papa stood up for you and I'll stand up for your baby,” he said finally then added, “but I won't marry you and I want you to promise I will be your baby's father no matter what.”

“I promise,” I said firmly, looking into his eyes.

He stared at me for a moment then nodded. “ Then I swear,” he began and everything seemed to pause. Even the birds stopped singing. “I am the true father of your baby. I will not be your husband but I will help raise this baby and will love and care for him.”


Toby's smile was almost wistful. He touched my stomach gently then quickly pulled his hand back. “I can hear his thoughts.”

“You should go,” he added. “It's getting late and your Papa's going to need you soon.”

“Thanks Toby,” I said then headed out.

I was halfway through the woods when the sound of pipes led me off the trail. I followed the music to a small clearing surrounded by scarlet bushes. Nate perched on a fallen tree, a rabbit curled up against one foot. The breeze tousled his curly brown hair and, as he glanced at me over his pipes, the sunlight danced in his green eyes. Toby was right when he said I looked fae but between the two of us I felt Nate looked wilder, like some sort of tree spirit.

“What brings you out here?” he asked curiously.

“Toby,” I replied as I leaned against him. The rabbit looked up at me then proceeded to groom itself. “We're going to have a baby.”

“A baby will be nice,” he replied. “So who's the baby's real father?” I hadn't expected him to think the baby was Toby's.

“Ferrin,” I whispered. He winced and gave me a quick hug.

“Your story might work and some might even believe it,” he mused. “But I don't think Robert will and he's the one who matters the most.”

I shifted to look at him. “Toby was the only one I could ask,” I explained earnestly.

“You could have asked me,” he pointed out.

“Not with Robert as a brother,” I retorted. “He ignores you now but I don't think he would if you had a successor; then he'd see you as a rival. Who else would I ask?”

He shrugged. “What about Dirk? He's quiet and single.”

“Dirk?” I blurted. “There's no way I'd ask him.” The colours around him were less a glow and more a stain. They brought to mind vomit in a mud puddle. Plus he'd know the baby wasn't his. He'd be more likely to turn me in to Robert than stand up for me.

“Does Mari still visit you?” I asked worriedly.

He nodded. “She's been with me for a moon turn now.”

I didn't bother to ask if her mother knew. Chances were she hadn't noticed Mari was gone in the first place.

“Make sure she stays away from Dirk,” I warned. “I know he spends a lot of time with Mari's mother.” Along with most of the males in the village, I thought to myself. “And I've seen the way he looks at her.”

“Where is she now?” I asked, looking around. I couldn't see her anywhere and considering her hair was the same wheat colour as mine and Toby's, it should stand out.

“She's over there,” he gestured vaguely, “Taking a bit of a nap. We were up late last night with a sick foal.”

He stared into the distance, his eyes unfocused. His expression was thoughtful and a bit melancholic.

“How's the foal?” I asked curiously.

He shrugged. “She was doing a bit better this morning, up and nursing from her mother. All I can do is wait and see. I think she ate something she shouldn't have but Robert refused to call in the animal healer.” He picked up a pine cone and threw it at a tree trunk. It hit with a thunk and fell to the ground.

I stared at him in confusion. Robert's horses were the best in the area and worth a fair bit of gold. It didn't make sense for him to ignore her.

“Why won't he call the healer?” I asked curiously.

“He claims that if she's stupid enough to eat something she shouldn't then she probably won't be trainable anyway,” he said then added quietly. “I think he's trying to hurt me.”

A squirrel jumped from a nearby bush to his shoulder. He reached up and petted it absentmindedly. “He doesn't really ignore me,” Nate continued sadly. “He's willing to hurt anyone I care about. But I can't stop caring.”

The squirrel chattered for a second then jumped onto another branch and ran off.

“Is it safe to have Mari stay with you?” I asked worriedly. Robert placed a lot more value on his horses than he would the half-elven daughter of the town whore. “Maybe she could stay with Evelyn?”

“I tried that,” he admitted. “Evelyn feels children belong with their parents and promptly brought her home. Mari almost beat me back to the barn.”

He smiled slightly. “I'm keeping her as hidden as I can,” he assured me.

I looked back to where he'd gestured and still saw nothing. Apparently he was doing a good job. Then I remembered something I'd overheard earlier.

“Did you know there's a bear with cubs in the area?” I asked.

Nate grinned mischievously. “Who do you think is watching her?”

I stared at him and he grinned even wider.

“You have to admit no one could keep her more safe than a bear. She's sleeping with the cubs,” he explained. “They stuffed themselves with blackberries earlier.”

A blue jay swooped by screaming and Nate stood up. “She's awake now,” he said then walked into the woods. I followed.

We walked for several minutes then Nate touched my hand. “Wait here,” he cautioned then stepped into the meadow on his own. A brown bear sat up and watched him.

I looked at the bear and froze. She was huge, at least compared to me. Nate stood in front of her then reached forward and scratched her behind the ear like I'd scratch a dog; she leaned into his hand with evident enjoyment and chuffed.

“Come on Mari,” he said cheerfully and her head popped up from the middle of the pile of sleeping cubs. She scampered across them then climbed Nate like a tree until she was on his back. Her hair was a tangle of knots and her face streaked with blackberry juice, but she was smiling which was a step up from when she'd been at home. Besides, it wasn't like her mother brushed her hair either.

“Did you have a good nap?” he asked her. She nodded then looked over at me and waved.

“She's still not speaking yet?” It was more of an observation than a question. I couldn't remember how old she was, three, maybe four years old; definitely old enough to be speaking though.

Mari tilted her head and watched me curiously. “I've never heard her speak but she talks to Toby,” Nate replied. He pushed back a branch then held it so I could pass too.

“She hears thoughts like him?” I asked. I hoped otherwise, that was a hard gift.

Nate shook his head. His curls brushed against Mari's cheeks and she giggled. “He said her gift is close enough for him to talk to her but it's not the same,” he explained.

We stepped onto the road. The sun was already behind the trees and shadows gathered. It was later than I thought.

“Do you want to come over for dinner?” I asked. “It's going to be very simple, just eggs and toast. Papa's not eating much these days.”

“Thanks for offering but I can't,” Nate said then smiled. “You have no idea how much birds gossip. If one saw me eating eggs it would be spread across the province within the hour. I'd horrify them all.”

He stepped off the road and into a nearby field. “I've got beans soaking at home and I need to get back to milk one of the goats. Nala insists Mari has her milk. I get the impression she feels Mari isn't growing fast enough, which she probably isn't compared to a kid.”

“Okay,” I replied. “I'll see you soon.”

They headed across the field and I hurried home.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Failing at humanity

I read an article yesterday that made me cry. Not a dainty, dab my eyes with a kleenex cry, instead I sobbed on my son's shoulder while he looked down at me in confusion.

It was an article a friend of mine shared on Facebook. I clicked the link and was horrified by the juxtaposition -- a group of friends, all in their late teens, posing for the camera; one with a huge grin. The picture could have been taken anywhere. At the beach, playing soccer, just plain hanging out. Instead they were in a well lit room, surrounding a fellow teenage boy. They're grinning, mugging for the camera. He's crouched on the ground in his underwear, splattered with paint, and clutching a sex toy. Soon they're going to torture him to death, simply because he's gay.

How does this happen? How could they look into the eyes of a fellow human being and see nothing but an object to vent their frustrations? He'd done nothing to them, nothing except merely exist. They're the ones who hunted him down, searched him out on a social network site, and coaxed him into meeting them. I look into their eyes and see no sign of shame or remorse; nothing that says they feel they're doing anything wrong.

Since this happened in Russia, they aren't going to learn what they did is wrong. Putin has ruled that anything positive said about gays is against family values, so even someone saying this teen had done nothing to them, that it was okay for him to simply be himself, could get that person arrested. I'm not nearly naive enough to think this is a random occurrence, or even just in Russia. I know it happens world wide. And this is where we've failed as human kind.

People talk about defending family values. Family? It's been said often enough before, it's us straight people having the majority of kids. These are our children, our siblings, our cousins. This is our family. If people truly want to protect families, they should include all the members. I've got two teenagers. When I gave birth, I vowed to them that I'd always love and protect them. There wasn't a clause in there that said "as long as you grow up to marry someone of the opposite sex and give me grandbabies". That was my choice to marry their father and have kids; they will make their own choices. And the gender(s) you're attracted to isn't a choice at all.

I wish we lived in a world where everyone was brought up with love, kindness, and compassion. I wish we lived in a world with true family values, the ones where you love every member of your family, not just the people who are the same as you. I wish we lived in a world where those teenagers never even bothered to search that boy up on social media because, hey, who cares if he's gay. And I really wish I had some answers, because I'm heartsick of reading about atrocities.