Snippets and Things – December 2019 Round Robin

This month, we have been invited to post a snippet of our work in lieu of our round robin discussions. However, I don’t have anything seasonally appropriate just yet. Instead, I am going to be brazen and shove a rough draft up here.

This is from my current work in progress, which is tentatively titled Every Prayer But One.

I hope everyone has been enjoying the holidays!

It was a noisome building, filled with the insistent barking of animals in their pens and the occasional meow from those more personable cats in residence. The sign over the door read Almost Home Animal Shelter and as Michael stepped over the threshold, he was accosted by the smells so many animals could produce. He rubbed his nose.

One long counter ran the length of the wall to his left and he was reminded at once of a pub; all nicked wood and history, with a small space open so that the attendant could stand behind it. Except that there were large windows here, both open to fight against the lingering smell, and the room was brightly lit.

And there was no bartender.

The wall behind the counter housed another window, this one looking into the room beyond where a tall figure in overalls and rainboots was scrubbing one of the kennels with a long, yellow-bristled brush. Her dark hair was doing its best to escape the bun at the base of her neck, and she glowed from exertion. Canine faces peered out of their gates, all turned to watch the woman’s progress, and he was able to pinpoint the more vocal creatures now, one in particular with a cone wrapped around his neck.

There were no chain-link fences like he’d been expecting, and he loosened the grip on his keys. Each animal was separated by wooden partitions, allowing some privacy and giving the appearance of a small room rather than a kennel, save for the gated doors that allowed access from in the bay and outside. It was not at all like the dreary, sad place he’d seen featured in cartoons as a child and his estimation of the owner rose exponentially.  

“Can I help you?”

He turned. There were three other doors in the building, each leading to kennel bays with paned windows for easy viewing from the front foyer. The freckled blonde standing in the door labeled “Cats” was watching him with a mix of annoyance and curiosity, her eyebrow hiked up as he took his time responding.

They were busy. He should come back another time.

But outside in the parking lot was his dreadfully silent truck and he steeled himself. “My name is Michael York. I called yesterday and was told to stop by…”

The girl’s face underwent a dramatic transformation; one moment annoyed and the next lit with understanding and pity. Michael cleared his throat and glanced away. Eighteen months later and he still wasn’t used to that look; the one that said without speaking that he was a widower, that he was due all consideration and space that polite society had to give.

While he couldn’t say precisely what he would prefer – his wife back from the dead and the last three years erased, possibly – he knew for a fact that he didn’t want either consideration or space.

“The border collie?” the girl asked.

He nodded.

“I’ll go get Sarah.”

Giving a brief thanks, he glanced over his shoulder at the open door to the parking lot. His green truck sat prominent in the nearest space with its windows open to the October air. The border collie in question couldn’t be seen through the windshield, but he knew she was sprawled in the seat, head on her front paws, disinterested in all things.

Fresh grief washed through him and for a heartbeat he struggled to breathe. So many things had changed after Laura died that he hadn’t noticed the pup was in distress. There’d been whining, of course. Days and days of whining and pacing where Delta hunted the house, waiting for Laura to come home.

Heartbreaking, to be sure, and if he was honest with himself there’d been days he almost asked Laura a question, expecting her to be in the next room or something. Her shadow was everywhere in the house, lingering but still somehow gone.

“Mr. York?”

Sarah turned out to be none other than the overall-wearing, brush-wielding woman he’d spied earlier. Her rainboots glistened with soapy water, and she left footprints on the tile as she strode forward, hand outstretched. He took the hand by instinct and shook it, not at all surprised to find her grip firm as she introduced herself.

“I’m Sarah Riley, we spoke on the phone yesterday.”

She had a pleasant face, perhaps too round to be called pretty these days, but her expression was more of concern than pity and Michael felt another knot loosen in his back. At least he would not have to endure condolences from another stranger, no matter how well-meaning.

“Thanks for seeing me on such short notice,” he said as they turned for the door.

“It’s not a problem,” Sarah said. “When was the last time Delta ate?”

He exhaled, pleased to be getting to the heart of his problem so soon. “I got her to take some roast beef by hand last night, but it wasn’t much. I know table scraps aren’t healthy…”

“At least it was something.”

Michael wasn’t certain if he heard censure in her voice or not, and truly he didn’t care. He was at his wits end and had to do something. Laura had rescued the dog at four months old, thinking their active lifestyle was a perfect match for Delta’s high energy. And even after the diagnosis, back when they’d thought Laura could fight her way through the cancer, the dog had been a constant motivator that took them outdoors.

This was her dog; he couldn’t let the creature die.

They stopped at the passenger’s side of his truck and Sarah peered inside. Delta lay just as he’d left her, one blue eye and one brown eye watching the window but otherwise unmoving. She was merle patterned, sable spots peppering white fur, mixing in places to make grey freckles across her muzzle and back. He had an image of her the day Laura brought her home; still young enough that her white legs looked lanky paired with a slender body, and a muzzle shorter than it was now by a good inch, everything in her face clinging to puppy phase. But what caught him then, as it did now, was the way her ears stood only half upright, folding down at the tips so that they danced whenever she walked.

“Well, hello beautiful,” Sarah said, leaning against the door so she could cross her arms on the window frame.

Delta did not seem impressed.

Nonplussed, Sarah continued; “Want to go for a little walk with me?”

Taking that as his cue, Michael opened the door and took Delta’s leash. The dog obliged, albeit slowly, and jumped from the seat. Sarah was already reaching for the leash, cooing at his dog in real admiration, and Michael found himself handing control over to this stranger with a mix of pride and uncertainty. He wanted Delta to get better, but an accusing voice in the back of his head insisted that he should be the one to fix his dog.

Didn’t it say something about his state of mind that he wasn’t capable of working this out on his own?

Still, he watched Sarah take the leash and turn Delta toward the woods. His dog walked sedately next to her, tail drooping in a further display of distress, and he had a pang in his chest at the sight. He couldn’t remember the last time her tail was up, its white tip wagging like a flag as she chased a ball or a frisbee.

“She’ll be all right,” said the freckled woman from before.

She’d managed to walk up while he was distracted, and it was only when she propped a hand on her hip that he noticed the swell of pregnancy under her shirt. Her smile was full of compassion and curiosity, and she nodded out at where Sarah neared the tree line on the other side of the parking lot.

“Sarah’s a bit of an animal whisperer. She’ll find a way to help.”

Michael found some comfort in the girl’s words, even if he didn’t subscribe to the idea of animal whisperer’s in general. Then again, he didn’t have faith in much these days.

He crammed his hands into his pockets and watched as Sarah and Delta disappeared into the autumnal forest. Most of the greenery had bled into burnished shades of orange and red, but here and there was a splash of bright yellow from sugar maples, and there was the occasional pine tree standing defiant against the weather change. Laura would have photographed it.

The thought knifed across his heart and he turned to shut the truck door, perhaps more forcefully than he’d intended. Thankfully, the girl didn’t flinch. Instead, she looked back to the shelter and heaved a sigh. The barking hadn’t ceased, and he could see a few other shapes through the windows, probably more people caring for the animals.

Tall white fences stretched to either side of the building and he realized with a start that there were people out playing fetch with various dogs. None of them were paying him any mind, but he felt somehow exposed, as though everyone were aware of his circumstances and his poor, ailing Delta.

It was ridiculous, of course. These people didn’t know him. They certainly didn’t know Delta, so he put the whole feeling down as a residual effect of the funeral. Too many eyes had followed his every move those first weeks, it was no wonder he was paranoid now.

“Well, those litter pans aren’t going to scoop themselves. I should get back in,” the girl said and took a step to leave. But she paused and gave him another smile. “I’m Lisette, by the way.”

He gave his name again, awkwardly realizing she already knew it from before, and kicked himself. His wits weren’t exactly up to par.

Lisette grinned but thankfully didn’t tease him. Instead, she asked; “When Sarah gets back, could you tell her that the volunteers who were going to fix the food shed cancelled?”

“Food shed?” he asked.

She nodded over at a sad little structure set off to the side of the shelter. Blue tarp was lashed across its roof and he could see one side sagging. That wasn’t going to hold up through winter, make no mistake.

“We’re going to end up fixing it ourselves at this rate,” Lisette said.

“What happened to it?”

Lisette shrugged. “A thunderstorm took down a tree branch, which crashed its way through the roof.”

The last big thunderstorm had been several weeks ago, he knew. Delta hated storms and he’d been forced to wrap her in a special blanket for the night.

He frowned. “How much food did you lose?”

“At least half,” Lisette said, becoming more animated, “But Pastor Annie put the call out that following Sunday and we got a ton of donations. Sarah says we have more now than we did before the shed broke, so that’s good. We put what we could in the attic and the rest is under the tarp.”

“Well, you’re not going to want that tarp through the winter.”

“No kidding.”

They lapsed into a brief silence before Lisette, remembering she had work to do, flashed a smile and hurried back inside. Michael leaned against his truck and watched the rotation of dogs through the yard. Most of the handlers were proficient, giving each animal time to stretch their legs, do their business, and zoom for a ball. There were a few unpracticed hands that interrupted the rhythm, but no one could say the animals here weren’t loved and cared for.

Not that they should stay, of course. For better or worse, this was a kennel and each pet inside deserved a home of their own, but it seemed that Sarah Riley was doing her utmost to keep them happy while they were here.

Maybe his brother hadn’t been off his rocker to send him here after all.

It was some time before Sarah emerged from the woods again, Delta in tow. Michael squinted at them as they approached, trying to see if there was any improvement in his dog’s demeanor, but her tail was still down.

That was to be expected, he coached himself. It had taken a year and a half to get to this point, one meeting with a stranger wasn’t going to miraculously cure the creature. Still, he held his breath and waited for Sarah’s assessment as she delivered Delta to him.

“Well, Mr. York, she’s grieving,” Sarah said and reached down to smooth back Delta’s ears.

Michael ground his teeth. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

She gave him a sharp look, hazel eyes alight with challenge, but seemed to master herself in the next instant. “You said you already took her to the vet and nothing physical was wrong with her?”

“Yes,” he said, wrestling for patience.

They’d been over this on the phone.

She hummed and continued to stroke Delta’s head, who sat quietly beside her. “Did you know, Mr. York, that there are some breeds of dog who love their masters so much that when the two are parted, the dog simply shuts down? They don’t eat, they don’t drink, they just wait to die.”

He looked down at Delta. Her mismatched eyes stared unblinking at the truck door, still disinterested, still lost, and Michael felt his gut clench. “Is that what she’s doing? Waiting to die?”

“If we let her.”

The words were quiet and heavy, delivered with a matter-of-fact tone that held no malice. Michael was grateful for that much. He knew it was his fault that Delta had fallen so far into her depression, he’d practically watched it happen over the course of several months, but Sarah had the grace not to point this out.

Another consideration, he supposed.

He was a widower, who could truly blame him?

Heaven help him, he hated that word; widower.

Clearing his throat, he met Sarah’s patient gaze. “What can we do?”

If she noticed how hoarse he sounded, she didn’t mention it. Her attention switched to Delta and she heaved a little sigh. “I’m sure I don’t need to explain grief to you, Mr. York. It’s not something we can fix, and it’s not going away. But there are some things we can do.”

“Such as?”

“Remind her that she’s not alone.” Sarah rubbed the back of her neck and looked suddenly uncomfortable. “Look, I know this is going to sound weird, but my dog is particularly good at helping others. She seems to sense anxiety and has a way of putting other animals at ease. If you’re willing, I’d like the two dogs to meet.”

“You’re right, that does sound weird.”

They both chuckled and Sarah shrugged, leaving the decision to him.

“Beyond that,” she said, crouching down to give Delta more attention, “you can try canned cat food. It has a stronger smell and might get her to eat a little more. It’s not recommended for the long run, but some food is better than no food.”

Michael regarded his dog, watching the way she endured Sarah’s affections. It wasn’t clear whether Delta appreciated the attention or not, but neither was she snarling for Sarah to stop. She simply did not care, and that, above anything else, made his decision his decision for him.

“When would you like the dogs to meet?”

Take a look at some other snippets from my fellow authors! They are all wonderful human beings and I count myself lucky to be able to participate in this Round Robin every month.

Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham
Marci Baun
Dr. Bob Rich
Anne Stenhouse
A.J. Maguire
Fiona McGier
Beverley Bateman
Diane Bator
Rhobin L Courtright

Connie Vines

Verisimilitude – June Round Robin

To be honest, I use the events of every day happenings in my novels all the time. I thrust unfortunate events like locking one’s keys in the ignition or stabbing one’s hand onto my characters because I find it endlessly entertaining and because it helps unite the reader to my character.

Maybe you’ve never stabbed your hand, but I bet you’ve lost your keys once or twice. Things like this help make the story real. And since I write a lot of science fiction/fantasy, the more I can make people feel like it could be real, the better.

Bigger life events I shy away from. Instead, I allow these life events to help inform my fiction instead of framing it. My mother is still, thankfully, alive, and I hope she remains so for many years to come. But I have a novel where the main character’s mother recently died.

There is the age-old adage to only write what you know, but I find this mostly an excuse not to sit back and unpack the issue with any real depth.

No, I have not lost my mother.

But I know grief. I’ve lived through losses. And while it is not exactly the same, there is a vein of similarity that can be used in my fiction.

Perhaps I will write a novel full of self-reference one day, but I’ll be honest and assure you that I will never admit it.

See what my fellow authors have to say about life events mirrored in their fiction in this month’s round robin conversation.

Victoria Chatham
Skye Taylor
Judith Copek
Dr. Bob Rich
Beverley Bateman
Margaret Fieland
Anne Stenhouse
A.J. Maguire (YOU ARE HERE)
Diane Bator
Fiona McGier
Connie Vines

Rhobin L Courtright

Dear Reader… (May 2019 Round Robin)

Dear Reader,

If you’ve picked up one my novels I hope you are either enjoying it, or loved it so much you have long since finished reading. I understand not every novel is going to be loved by the people who pick it up, but I hope that somewhere in the journey I touched on something familiar.

If you’ve read any of my works, then from my marrow of my bones I hope you walked away with a few things. I hope Trenna’s struggle to balance being a warrior, a wife, and a mother left you feeling capable of doing the same. Just as I hope the love Nelek has for Trenna reminds you that you don’t have to compromise who you are to be loved fully.

If you haven’t read Trenna and Nelek’s journey, they star in the Sedition series put out by Wings ePress.

Jorry and Seach in the Tapped series echo this sort of relationship, where both are soldiers and neither must cow to the other in order to be valued. There’s more to come in that series, but I hope beyond all measure that this story opens a conversation about faith for you. There is a difference between religion and faith, one I have not fully answered for myself yet, but perhaps we can discover it together.

Deviation was a difficult book for me on many levels. It is my hope that if you read it, you walk away with a belief in redemption. Reesa Zimmerman’s struggle to forgive herself touched me in a way I can’t fully articulate, and while there are no further novels planned for her, in my mind I have great hopes for her “happily-ever-after.”

No other character has stuck with me as long as Persona’s Megan Shepherd. I started her story when I was barely twenty and it took a decade before I could complete it. If I could tell you one thing about that novel that always inspires me, it’s how gentle and strong Megan is. Gentleness is the ultimate sign of strength.

The Haunting of Tessa Pines is a love story and a mental health story all in one. It isn’t scheduled for release yet, but when it comes time I will certainly let you know. Without giving any spoilers, I hope readers walk away from this one understanding that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

And finally, The Melody of Bones, which is in its final stages of the drafting process… When you guys finally get a peek at this one, I hope anyone who has ever been broken by a relationship walks away from this book with the realization that they are dragons in human skin, far stronger than even they can fathom.

Thank you, dear Reader, for sharing these worlds with me. You are precious beyond measure to this Writer.

Yours Sincerely,


P.S. Check out what my fellow authors want you to know about their works…

Diane Bator
Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham
Beverley Bateman
A.J. Maguire (YOU ARE HERE)
Fiona McGier
Dr. Bob Rich
Connie Vines
Rhobin Courtright

Prepping for Submission – March Round Robin 2019

I know this goes against the age-old adage not to edit your book as you write, but to keep going until you’re finished and THEN edit but… I totally don’t do that.

Normally, I write the first 3/4 of the book and then go back, edit and take notes on what I’ve got so that I can see what subplots need tied up and what characters I lost in the narrative. Once I reach my stopping point, I have a clear view of what the ending needs to be and move on from there.

Then I have a third draft, which gives me the word count and helps me write the synopsis alongside it.

But I broke my own rules with The Melody of Bones and this newest approach seems to work even better. Before I explain, I should leave a disclaimer that I have a wonderful husband who works and allows me a great deal more time to write than some, so this might not work for you if you can’t block out large periods of time for writing.

He also spoiled me with a super-awesome laptop that has a pen-function so I can take notes directly on the screen instead of constantly printing things out. So keep that in mind too.

Currently I have 3 drafts going on the same novel, all at once.

I got to the 3/4 mark and started my major revision, using the ‘track changes’ portion of my word program so I could go through and review what was going on. At the beginning of my writing time, I track those changes, accepting them and permanently inserting it into the novel, for about three chapters.

This reminds me of what I’ve changed.

After I’ve done at least three chapters – sometimes more, depending on what other work needs doing that day – I start writing the new stuff. I aim for 1500 new words a day, inching my way through that last quarter of the novel.

This is normally where all the BIG action is, and it always takes me a long time to write, which tends to be depressing for a writer. We don’t like it when we feel like we’re slogging through the swamp of sadness.

Which is why, at the end of the day, I take that neat pen/tablet mode and start from the beginning of the novel, highlighting typos and sentences that feel off. These bits will be fixed when I do my 4th draft.

Another recent change I’ve made is that I am writing the synopsis at the same time as the novel. I work on it once a week (on Tuesdays) so that by the time the 4th draft is completed, I should have something palatable for agents/editors.


The synopsis is the great nemesis of the novelist, after all. I’m never quite sure if I’ve nailed it.

See what my fellow authors do to polish their work…

Skye Taylor
Diane Bator
Beverley Bateman
Connie Vines
Anne Stenhouse
A.J. Maguire (YOU ARE HERE)
Dr. Bob Rich
Victoria Chatham
Helena Fairfax
Judith Copek
Rhobin L Courtright

Love and Relationships – February 2019 Round Robin

Not to sound too much like a prude but I blushed my way through my first intimate scene. All I could think was that my mother was going to read this and the next time I see her there will be that long, awkward moment when she tells me she liked the book and then won’t look me in the face.

Which is probably why that scene lasted all of two paragraphs in Sedition. The sequel had a much longer scene, but after Saboteur I came to a place in my writing where I recognized that as much as I enjoy love stories, I did not enjoy explaining what 100% of the adult reading public already knows how to do.

Granted, there is a HUGE market where authors are making bank on steamy scenes. I even read some of them.

Are there boundaries I think shouldn’t be crossed in writing?

Well… That depends on if you’re asking professional-writer-me or happy-reader-me.

Professional-writer-me understands that the moment we censure fiction is the moment we’ve crossed into someone’s freedom. That said, there are things that even romance publishers express as tasteless and wrong, and I agree with them.

Because I don’t want to trigger anyone who may have suffered from trauma, I will leave it at that.

Happy-reader-me skips over steamy scenes.

I just do.

It’s nothing against the writing. If I’ve made it to that scene, it means the relationship in the novel has progressed enough and engaged me enough to keep me going. The steamy-scene is just sort of… obligatory?

I also do not enjoy writing the typical romance novel where strangers meet and grow into lovers. This is probably because I have a general fear of meeting new people – Introverts Unite! – and all my experiences have been full of anxiety and paranoia.


I am a romantic.

My stories are full of characters who love each other, but it is a love that has grown naturally over the course of the story . And honestly, I am more interested in seeing how that love defines the lives of the characters and shapes who they are both as a couple and as individuals.

I like stories about marriages.

Nelek and Trenna, who star in the Sedition Series, are a marriage.

In the Tapped series, Seach and Jorry grew into a romance after many years together.

Cordon and Tessa, who will be in my upcoming novel The Soul Between Us, were married young but military/life pulled them apart. Their story is about mending a bridge.

So where does that leave me in the romance/relationship aspect of storytelling?

I want my readers to love how my characters love each other, and that goes beyond the bedroom. It goes into the sacrifices they make for the other person, the decisions they make as a team, and ultimately the story they have to tell.

I can pretty much guarantee that my intimate scenes will fade to black. They exist because intimacy is a part of every relationship, and without it there would be some serious alarm bells going on for every marriage counselor out there, but sometimes even fictional characters deserve some privacy.

See what my fellow authors have to say about relationships in fiction…

Margaret Fieland
Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham
Beverley Bateman
A.J. Maguire (YOU ARE HERE)
Marci Baun
Dr. Bob Rich
Rhobin L Courtright

Near The End

There’s a moment in every book where you’re so close to the end you can taste it and suddenly you lose all talent you ever possessed.


Gone in an instant.

Or at least, this is what happens to me. It’s different for every writer, but it seems universal that we all come to a point where we realize what hacks we are.

The tension isn’t there. The characters are flat. The setting is nonexistent and we’ve discovered a love of one word that keeps repeating itself every other sentence.

Mine is the word ‘just’ if you’re wondering. He just managed to catch it. She just loved him. If she could just stop using the word just she might be capable of writing something worth reading.

I digress.

My moment of self-loathing always comes near the end of the novel. I’m sure there’s some psychology behind this, like I don’t want the story to end because I’ve spent so many hours commiserating with these characters that I just (see?) can’t let them go.

Or this is when my self-doubt rears its head because the next phase in this process (after editing) is querying and sweet holy banana’s on toast, how I hate querying.

Whatever the reasons, it’s there. And it’s a bear to get through. But if you’re a writer out there and you identify with anything I’ve said in this post, then allow me to stand in solidarity with you.

It sucks, but you’re not alone. Take a deep breath. Eat some ice cream. And let’s get back to work.

Wherein I Forecast 2019 (Writing-wise, of course)

Last week I noted the things that I managed to complete in 2018 – which was a lot and I’m still patting myself on the back for a good year. I recognize that only die-hard fans really care about this stuff, and for those of you out there who count yourselves among this rare breed of reader, let it be known that I love you all and pray you never change.

For those who watch the blog for the writing class updates and other content, this might not be the post for you. And that’s OK!

If, for reasons neither of us can fully explain, the idea of peeking inside an author’s deadline calendar entices you, then I fully welcome you to read on. Otherwise, this is mostly to keep my head on straight through the year.

So, what do I want to accomplish in 2019?

  • A short story every month. These stories will vary in theme and substance and, hopefully, will find their way into the market. Others may find their way onto this site for FREE content.
  • 2nd and 3rd drafts of The Castle of Three Kings completed. And then, of course, start submitting this MG/YA story to places.
  • 2nd and 3rd drafts of The 13th Month completed. Also with the submission process in full swing.
  • Record Enemy Souls into audio to be released in segments for FREE. The hard copy will be available for sale if people don’t want to wait a week to find out what happens.
  • Release the Fact vs. Fiction edition of Tapped at the same time as Enemy Souls.
  • Inmate rough draft. (Camp Nano)
  • Warpath rough draft. (Nano)
  • City of Cemeteries rough draft.

I am sure I’ll get sidetracked by something and replace stuff and/or scrap a project, but for now I’m sticking with this list. I look forward to seeing how much of this I can get done and I hope everyone else has fun in the coming year.