A Hair in the Sunrise

Before the time change started, I had the honor of driving to work during the sunrise. Now, it’s just dark–which is cool in its own way, but I miss the sunrise. There was one in particular that really stuck with me. The clouds that morning zig-zagged across the sky like a tornado. The light of the sun rose behind it in hopeful yellows and orange hues. When the sunlight hit the clouds, they were painted with majestic blues and violets. It was an awe-inspiring sight. I wish I could’ve stopped to take a picture–but that’s hard to do while driving.

The main thing that stuck out that morning was a single line of clouds just off to the right of the magnificent tornado that twisted up the sky. The line had to have been made by a plane that passed through, but it wasn’t very long. It was like God left a tally mark in the sky. It was kind of out-of-place and didn’t quite fit with the rest of the sunrise, but it was still pretty. Just a single line of clouds in a blue-gray hue. It didn’t diminish the beauty of the rest of the sunrise. That’s when I finally realized what it reminded me of.

About a week before seeing this sunrise, I finished a painting–the one featured in this post. I think it turned out alright; however, I wasn’t fully happy with it. You see, my “art studio” is my bedroom and I have a cat with long fur who loves my bedroom and I, myself, also have long hair. So, one of my greatest challenges while painting is making sure none of the fur or hairs that my cat and I leave around the room get on the painting. When painting the sunrise featured in this post, I missed a hair. You can’t see it in the photo of the painting, but if you saw the painting itself, you would notice where the hair was on the canvas. I got the hair off, but the paint had already dried and that hair left its mark. I tried going over it with more paint, but…it’s still there.

As much as I wanted to show off this new painting, I didn’t want anyone to see the hair in it. The painting ended up getting packed away in my closet. Fast forward to the line I saw in the sunrise. It reminded me so much of the hair on my painting and it got me wondering that if a sunrise could still look so beautiful with a “hair” left from an airplane, then maybe my painting wasn’t as bad as I thought.

I mean, it’s the flaws that make us unique, isn’t it?

Into the Woods

Into the woods and down the path
where darkness falls from shadows cast.
Into the woods with tangled trees
and roots reach up to scrape your knees.

Into the woods, a moonlit night.
Beware the ones that fill you with fright.
Into the woods where monsters rave
and ravens watch with hungered gaze.

Into the woods. Run faster now,
Or end up like the slaughtered cow.
Into the woods, bravery is fleeting.
Hear how fast your heart is beating.

Into the woods. Your tail they chase.
Do everything to speed your pace.
Into the woods, a glimmer of hope.
The tree-line’s there to help you cope.

Into the woods. This time you live,
but nightmares are what it gives.
Into the woods and down the path.
Be careful else you face its wrath.

Small Victories

Sometimes, it can be extremely difficult to see the positive side of things. Maybe you think your life isn’t going in any direction or you’ve fallen behind on society’s “ladder of success.” Perhaps, you just feel down and guilty because you’re not getting things done that you want to get done. Work, kids, or other things take up all your time and you’re not able to “be productive” in other ways of life. Maybe you do have the time, but just don’t have the motivation? Well, we’ve all been there.

For me, I haven’t been writing as much as I should. In fact, I’m stuck in one of my stories. No matter which way I write it, it doesn’t seem like it’s ever at its best. It’s my goal to complete this story by the end of the year and I’m stuck worse than a dino in a tar pit. I’ve been taking some distance from it. It was suggested to me to a couple of times to take a break and come back to it, but it’s been weeks and I haven’t even glanced at it…I try to tell myself that it’s okay that I haven’t gotten to it, because in the mean time, I’m trying to query my finished project and I’m also waiting on some feedback. I’m promoting my website, gaining followers on Twitter. And you know what?

It is okay that I haven’t gotten back to my story.

With how busy life is, there’s only so much you can get to in a day. So, you have to enjoy your victories when you get them and I don’t mean the big victories of finishing a book, hooking an agent, landing that dream job, buying a house, losing that extra weight, or anything else that would be greatly celebrated in societies eyes. I mean, the small victories that come with every day: getting a few sentences on the page, sending out a query, gaining experience toward the dream job, interviewing, saving some money, making your child smile, starting a project, continuing your hobby, doing a couple minutes of exercises. Those are the victories that really add up.

A while ago, I wrote a post called “Anything Worth Doing…” You could consider this a continuation of that post. Small victories come with every day and those small victories can add up quickly. Think of it like water dripping out of the faucet. Most can testify that they’re very conscious of their water bill and when you realize that one of your faucets is leaking, you know how that leak will add up. Same goes for my writing, a little bit every day adds up in the long run. You even compare it to exercise: a few minutes here, a few reps there, even a walk down to the end of the street and back–it’s progress. Whatever project, goal, or dream you’re aiming toward will be a lot closer if you remember small victories even on your off days.

If you go to my Art Gallery on this site, you’ll see a picture of four birds with a dogwood flower in the middle. That took me over a year and a half (maybe more) to finish. When I started it, I worked on it for a couple days, got three of the four birds done. Yet, I fell away from it, even packed it up after the paint dried and put the project in the closet. I didn’t get back to it until many months later. The reasons for that vary: I got busy and couldn’t work on it, I lost some motivation to paint, I was working on other projects, but the main one: I was afraid I’d mess up the blue jay. The blue jay was the last bird I did in that painting, before that, I did the house finch and the house finch didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. It’s definitely my least favorite of the four birds. Blue jays are one of my favorite birds, so after how the house finch turned out, I was scared the blue jay wouldn’t be as good as I wanted it to be, and I let that fear lead me into packing up the project. Yet, months later, I was painting a different project–a wall-painting for my niece. I ended up pulling out the four birds again just because I felt guilty that I had couple other projects done and not the four birds. I avoided the blue jay and painted the branches and flowers and touched up the background. All this happened over the course of several days and when I finally started on the blue jay, I only did a little at a time, because I feared my next brush stroke would ruin it. Yet, little by little, that blue jay got done and the painting complete.

Maybe you’re not a painter, but you have some project, some goal you want to start or finish? There’s no reason you can’t start today. All it takes is a few minutes. Even if you do one brush stroke, weave one thread, send one query, do one rep, read one page, practice a few notes, etc. etc. etc. You’re making progress. Don’t quit because you feel guilty or you’re afraid to screw it up, because then it’ll never get done. A project complete is better than a project wasted. So, take those small victories while you can and you’ll see how far you’ll go.

Prince Angelo

For the past few months, I’ve been working at an animal shelter and already I’ve seen a lot of dogs come and go. It’s always a happy day when a dog gets adopted. However, there is one dog in particular that had been at the shelter since before I started. His name is Angelo. He’s a white pitbull and he became our longest resident. He was there for over 250 days (and that’s a long time for one of our dogs).

Being our longest termed dog, Angelo quickly became our most known dog. Everyone would try to promote him so he could get adopted. Volunteers would take him out on walks and field trips. People would donate things just for Angelo (he had a whole tub of personal belongings to go home with him when he got adopted). He definitely had a way of buttering everyone up (I mean, he’s kinda cute, he loves being petted, and he loves being around people and meeting new people. So, of course, everyone is going to love him). Angelo was turning into our shelter’s little prince. He deserves it. As our longest termed dog, he deserves all the spoils. Yet, I have to admit, I was never a big fan of him. Yeah, he deserved all the special treatment and he deserved to be the prince of our shelter, but what grinded my gears the most about him was that he KNEW it. He knew he got special treatment. He expected the special treatment! He had a way of sitting down, wagging his tail and looking at you like: “Now is when you give me the treat.” Every time he entered a room, he acted like he owned it (even peed on many things inside of it). Plus, he is way too smart for his own good.

In my early days at the shelter, I avoided Angelo. I let my co-workers or the volunteers walk him when he needed to get out. He was considered one of our trouble children and would pull on walks or get a little jumpy or demanding for treats. He had a bad habit of not listening to me whenever I took him out and since everyone else loved him so much, I left him to them. My interactions with Angelo was simmered down to feeding him some mornings (he would bark at me when I took too long), and passing out enrichment. To me, Angelo was just a royal butthead.

Couple months later, I was told that I would be required to take a training course at our shelter. A simple: “how to train a dog” course. All new hirers were required to take it. I was looking forward to it. I mean, I always thought I knew how to train a dog, but taking the training course really brought some commands into a new perspective. I was ready to test my skills and see if I could get a dog to learn all sorts of commands in 6 weeks (that’s how long the course was). Everyone was given a dog at random and I was excited to see who mine would be. I had quite a few I was hoping for!

I got Angelo.

Frustration was the first thing I felt with my silent groan. Reasons? Well: 1. I didn’t like him, 2. He’s a royal butt, but mostly: 3. He already knew everything! As our longest termed dog, he got a lot of training from my co-workers, volunteers, and other departments. He knew how to sit, look, wait, lay down, touch, place, and loose-leash walk–all the main requirements for graduating the course! What could I possibly teach him?!

I didn’t complain, though. Everyone wanted Angelo to go through the course so he could get that certificate of graduation because it looks better for him when it comes to potential adopters. Plus, going through the course would give him something to do and it would get him out of the kennel (which dogs can get very stressed in the kennel). I mentioned Angelo’s too smart for his own good. Well, when he gets bored, he starts making bad decisions (he had to be in a jump kennel because he liked to escape). Putting him in training helps avoid those bad decisions, but it also meant that I was stuck with him for 6 weeks.

Angelo has to wear a harness because of his pulling and–sometimes–he could be nice about letting me get it on him. Other times, he was rather impatient and wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to harness him. The routine for class was that I take him outside so he could potty and then we head to the classroom. I’d let him sniff long enough outside so he can determine where he wants to pee (in multiple locations I might add), and when he was done, I tried to encourage him to follow along so we’re not late and we were late quite a few times because he didn’t like to budge from a place he was sniffing. He would even ignore me when I tried to encourage him along with treats.

During class, everyone gets a rug for their dog to learn “place.” Angelo already knew “place,” so he took to that rug right off the bat. I could get him to focus for a good amount of time by just going through all the commands he already knew while everyone else was trying to teach their dogs these commands. Yet, probably thirty minutes into class, Angelo started getting bored. He kept getting distracted by the other dogs. I kept having to up the value of my treats to get him to pay attention and whenever I asked him to lay down on the rug, he wouldn’t get back up again to do anything else. I felt like I had to do a whole song and dance at times just to get him to get up and touch my hand so he could get another treat and keep training. A couple minutes later, he was bored enough that my treats didn’t matter anymore. He was done. He’d lay on the rug and just look around or he’d stare at me like I was going to give him a treat for just laying there. All the while, his whip-like tail is just “thump, thump, thumping,” away on the floor. I tried to get him to get up, but he was comfortable where he was at, and he’d rub it in by stretching out his back legs. I honestly think he was having too much fun making me look like I couldn’t train a dog.

It got to the point where I had to get clever to get Angelo to do what I needed him to do. When we’d leave, I always headed toward a door that in the direction of another dog. Angelo would hope we’d say hi to the other pooch, but I’d divert him out the door. Thankfully, he always got distracted by something else that he didn’t feel bitter about not meeting the other dog. Taking him back to his kennel, I always headed outside so he could potty again if he needed too (if he hadn’t already marked his territory inside the classroom…). I’d be nice and let him sniff around a bit, but I couldn’t let him sniff around too long or else he’d decide that he didn’t want to go the direction I needed him to go. We took this class together in January. It was cold. I hate the cold. When I wanted to go back to the kennel right away, Angelo decided that he didn’t. He’d stop and just stand in place, other times he just laid right down on the cold ground and he wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t even convince him to move for hotdogs! He’d just stare at me like: “We’re not going that way.” Or “I’m not going to follow you, you follow me.” And because I wasn’t about to give into this princely butt, I didn’t budge either. So, we’d both stood there–in the cold–waiting for the other to give in. Thankfully, Angelo would eventually get bored, so he’d always end up following me, but the time it took for him to do that varied.

A couple classes in, I learned that our dogs needed to learn a party trick before they could graduate. It could be “shake,” “speak,” jump through a hoop, etc. And it turns out, Angelo didn’t know a party trick. No one taught him any party tricks, they just taught him the basic requirements. So, imagine my excitement at the thought of teaching my butthead a new trick. I contemplated a few different ones. I could probably get him to learn “speak” pretty easily, but he was already pretty demanding even without barking, I didn’t want to add barking to the mix. Then, I thought he could learn “spin.” Just a simple twirl–a pretty easy thing to teach and it was everyone’s go-to for the party trick. I didn’t want something easy, though. Angelo is an incredibly smart dog! He could learn more than just “spin”. So, I decided on “roll over.” I mean, Angelo already lays down A LOT during our training sessions and he often rolls on his back and rubs against the floor when he’s feeling relaxed, so I thought “roll over” should be easy for him!

It wasn’t.

The next couple of classes, Angelo and I would warm up with the basic commands and then I get him to lay on the rug and I’d try to guide him into rolling over by bringing the treat up around his shoulder. Safe to say: he didn’t like it. He’d lay down on his side and reach for the treat, sometimes he would get on his back, but he mostly just flopped back the other way in discomfort. I tried to treat him every time he made further progress, but after a couple tries, he would start to get frustrated. I’d switch to a command that he knew to get him back on track, then go back to “roll over,” but he wasn’t having it. He’d gnaw at my hand or start lunging at me. One session, he got so worked up that he jumped up at me and caused bruises up and down my arm because he’d hold my arm in his mouth (no pressure, no aggression, just frustration on his part). We ended up having to leave class early that day. I wasn’t helping him any either since I was getting as frustrated as he was (that day, he was being even more of a butthead than usual). It wasn’t a proud day for either of us.

We started running out of classes. I was training Angelo outside of class, but he wasn’t making progress towards “roll over.” I wanted him to graduate. Everyone wanted him to graduate. So, I decided to focus on teaching him “spin” instead. Honestly, I don’t think I’m the one who taught Angelo to spin. One class, he’s not quite getting it, we’re both getting frustrated, and I had to put him up before he figured it out. Throughout the week, I wasn’t able to work with him. So, next class, I’m expecting him to struggle, when he suddenly spins with no issues. I think someone else worked with him on it. I was thankful, now Angelo can graduate, but…I didn’t teach him anything. I just made him do tricks he knew over and over and over again. I tried working on “roll over” with him, but by now, I’ve determined that he just doesn’t like to do it. He got all the way over once and I gave him a bunch of treats for doing it, but I don’t think it clicked in his mind that he got all those treats for rolling over. We tried again and he was getting bored and frustrated and he started demanding treats rather than working for them. I had to put him up before he got himself in trouble.

The day of graduation arrives. Angelo and the other dogs have three tries to prove they can do all the required commands and their party tricks. Everyone goes one at a time and I wanted Angelo to be one of the first ones to test since he starts getting bored after a while and if he gets too bored, he won’t do the tricks. If he doesn’t do the tricks, he won’t graduate. Well…we ended up going last.

One by one, the other dogs go into a separate room to perform for graduation. In the meantime, I’m trying to keep Angelo occupied and interested while trying to keep enough high value treats to use during the test. We go over all the different commands again and again and again. As long as he focused, he could graduate, but I was very concerned that he would bored by the time our turn came around. As I’m working Angelo and the other dogs are slowly moving out of the room, Angelo starts to lose interest in training. I’d let him take breaks and go sniff around our little corner (and not pee in it like he tried too), but there was only so much he could sniff without getting too close to one of the other dogs. Eventually, we’re the last ones in the room and I’m able to give Angelo free reign. We work on loose-leash walking, and I let him move and sniff and I’d stop him when he tried to mark his scent on everything. I was confident that getting his mind off of training for a few minutes would help him refocus once we got into the room for the test.

Our turn finally comes around. I learned that all the other dogs graduated and most of those other dogs started the class only knowing “sit.” Angelo started the class already knowing most of the commands. If he failed now…well…shame on both of us. We begin. The instructor asks for the commands one at a time and Angelo is doing fantastic! He places when I point, he sits, he lays down, he actually GETS UP when I needed him too. The only issue was when I was loose-leash walking him around the room. He’s supposed to stay at my side when we walk, but he kept getting distracted by the different things around the room (and he wanted to say “hi” to everyone in the room). He even peed on a chair before I could stop him. Thankfully, the instructor knows him and knows his antics, so she let it slide, she knows he can loose-leash walk. When the instructor asked for his party trick, Angelo spins (it wasn’t the most graceful, but he did it and that’s all that matters). She then asked about “roll over.” She knew I was trying to teach it to him and she wanted to see how it was coming along. I thought: “Why not? Let’s try it.” I get him down and attempt to get him to roll over. Angelo starts mouthing my hand, he gets partly there, then he flops back to the side. I sigh, he gets up, and the instructor says it’s okay, he’s still graduated. We put a cute little cap on Angelo and take a happy picture together with our certificate. I get one to take home and he gets one added to his file for future adopters to marvel at.

After that, I start taking him back to his kennel. The course was over. We passed. It was almost bittersweet that I wouldn’t be working with him again…ALMOST. On the way back to the kennel, Angelo starts being a royal pain-in-the-butt again. We have another stand-off on which direction to go. When we finally get moving, he wants more treats, jumps at my treat pouch, and when I deny it to him, he moves ahead and starts pulling. By the time I got him back to his kennel, I was thankful the class was over!

I didn’t see him for a long while after that. Our Behavior Team wanted him in their building so they could play him with other dogs and help the other dogs relieve built-up stress. Angelo could be a rough, but tolerant player and that’s what they needed up there. He even loved it up there. He had an indoor/outdoor kennel, so on nice days he’d pull all his blankets and toys outside and just chill in the beautiful weather. I never got to see him, but I wasn’t bothered by it. I was busy and he was still a butt in my eyes. The times he did visit our area, I would say hi, but I always found myself shaking my head at the shelter’s little prince.

Last week, we got some pretty exciting news. Angelo went on a slumber party with a potential adopter and last Friday, the adopter finalized everything. After spending close to a year at our shelter, Angelo was finally getting a forever home! I’ll admit, some of us were skeptical about it. We feared that Angelo would show behaviors later down the road that would get him returned to our shelter, but as of that Friday, he was getting adopted, and the whole shelter was excited.

People from every department showed up to say goodbye to Angelo. The adopters were nice enough to bring him in when they finalized, so all of us could see him one last time. The adopters were a little overwhelmed by all the people, but they shouldn’t be surprised since they know how much Angelo means to the shelter. When Angelo arrived, he went around to greet everyone: his favorite volunteers, the adoption staff, the reception desk (he peed on the toy donation bin), and eventually he worked his way back to me and the three other Canine Care Techs that were working that day. He recognized all four of us and when we crouched down to spoil him with pets, Angelo came straight to me. I’ll admit, it made me feel pretty good that his royal buttness came to me out of the four of us. My co-workers teased about our love/hate relationship. That Angelo has all the love for me and I have all the hate for him (which isn’t true. I don’t hate him. He’s just a butt. They just think I hate him because I complained to them about him A LOT during our class). I just let them tease. It had been a while since I’d seen Angelo and now he was going to be going away forever (hopefully). I just wanted to be there with him without having to train him. He and I get so frustrated with each other during training, that I just wanted to be around him without that. There was a lot of people in the adoption area to say goodbye to Angelo, but we hogged him for a while–I mean, we had every right, we took care of him before the Behavior Team took him. We spoiled him with butt-rubs, kisses, everything he enjoyed. We told him to have a happy life, stay out trouble, we’ll miss you, but don’t come back. It’s bittersweet to see our favorite dogs go to their forever homes, but it hurts even more when they come back for any reason. I hope Angelo doesn’t come back.

Eventually, we did have to stop hogging Angelo. We had to get back to walking the dogs we still had at the shelter. As we’re all getting up to leave, one of my co-workers urges me to show off Angelo’s trick. What was the trick he learned in class? Let’s let everyone see it! I had my treat pouch on me, so I figured, why not? I explained that I tried to teach him “roll over,” but he wasn’t getting it so he learned “spin” instead. Well, I’m thinking there’s no way I’m going to get him to roll over in all the excitement of all these people around him, so let’s try a nice and easy spin. I pull out a treat to get his attention, start with an “Angelo, spin!” I do the motion for the trick…

…and he lays down.

All the frustration I was trying to avoid just starts creeping up on me. In front of all these people, all the different departments, my co-workers, the adopters, Angelo just lays down on the floor when I gave him a command. I couldn’t stop myself from saying: “So, you’re going to be a butt to me one last time, huh?” He just looks at me with a smile on his face and his tail “thump, thumping” away on the floor. That’s when I noticed the way he was laying. He was laying on his right shoulder, the shoulder I always tried to get him to lay on when teaching “roll over.” I figure, why not? Let’s try it. I crouched down, showed him the treat, said: “Angelo, roll over,” and I moved the treat back and over his shoulder.

He rolled over.

He rolled right over! First try. One treat. Right shoulder. Back. Left shoulder. Belly. He did it! I couldn’t believe it! I tossed him a ton of treats and then I lost it. The waterworks wouldn’t be denied any longer. I had to leave the room, Angelo brought me to tears and even now as I reflect on it, it’s still making me cry. Yeah, I know. The Behavior Team probably taught him “roll over” while they had him, but I didn’t consider that then. I just knew that I tried to teach him “roll over,” I didn’t feel successful at teaching him anything, and right then and there, like it’s his parting gift, he rolls over. It took quite a bit for me to pull myself back together. Angelo got under my skin time and time again. I was pretty sure he didn’t like me after all the times we had stand-offs in the cold. Yet, he came right to me that day and he rolled over for me.

After I pulled myself together, I went back to Angelo. I hate goodbyes so I made it quick. I thanked him for everything. I told him to be good and I warned him that I would be ticked if he did something that got him returned. Then, I gave him a kiss, told him I loved him, and said goodbye. As I walked away, I prayed he would have a happy life in his new home.

A lot of dogs come and go through the shelter, but Prince Angelo is not one I’m going to forget.

Terra Kuu

I confess, I play Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) with my brother and a couple friends. I’m that person in the party that always considers the story and every variables involved. I’m also the person who creates the most detailed backstory for my character. Unfortunately, those backstories sometimes aren’t explored since a group will disband or we move on to a different campaign. Long story short: I need to stop making such detailed backstories (but I’m a writer, I can’t help it). I thought I would share one of those backstories with you:

               Terra Kuu the Catfolk was born third of four siblings in the Tribe of Shadowed Woods. Her older brothers were Kuulet and Mallowin and her youngest brother was Suo. At birth, she and her siblings were struck with a terrible illness that took Suo’s life and stole much of Terra Kuu’s kithood. Kuulet was the first to overcome the illness just months after receiving it. He grew out of it stronger and the tribe recognized him as one who would be a brave warrior and protector. At an early age he became one of the sub-chieftains. Mallowin overcame the illness a year after his birth and grew to become a respected healer within the tribe.

               Over-eager to serve the tribe like her brothers, Terra Kuu frequently ignored the orders of her tribe’s healers to stay resting. She would leave camp and attempt to hunt or gather plants–anything to feel useful–but each time she left, her illness overcame her and wipe out her energy. If it hadn’t been for the patrols finding her, she would’ve perished. She was scolded for her foolishness and a guard was placed on her at all times.

               As the years went by, the tribe began to fear the illness Terra Kuu was wrought with as it took the life of Terra Kuu’s mother. Terra Kuu was moved to isolation and for some time her only contact was the tribe’s healer: Hanhi. During this time, Terra Kuu grew bitter toward her brothers and her tribe. From her isolation, she could watch how Kuulet was growing into a skilled and powerful warrior and how Mallowin grew in wisdom and knowledge as he pursued the path of a healer. She couldn’t help but feel forgotten, that her brothers wanted nothing to do with her.

               Terra Kuu’s only friend was her father: Tuhka Rock. During the night, while the tribe slept, Tuhka Rock would sneak Terra Kuu out of the camp and show her the territory, show her skills that the tribe had been known for, but he never pushed her so far that her illness would overcome her again. It was during these nights, Terra Kuu grew stronger and they dared to hope that she would overcome her illness. Yet, one fateful night, Terra Kuu and her father were attacked. Terra Kuu never saw their attacker. Her father sensed it first and ushered her to flee. She ran until her illness brought coughs to her lungs. So, she hid in the hollow of a tree and waited for her father to find her. Terra Kuu waited until the morning’s light breached the trees before venturing out to find her father. She found his body slaughtered.

               Terra Kuu screamed with grief. Her father and only friend was now dead and she had no clue as who or what killed him. Revenge seized her heart. She took an amulet that her father always wore and left her tribe in search of her father’s killer. Yet, she had nothing to go on. There were to tracks, there was no scent, there was nothing but her father’s slaughtered body and Terra Kuu feared that her tribe would think she was the one who murdered him. The only solace she had was knowing that the tribe would give Tuhka Rock the funeral he deserved.

               Having only known the territory of her tribe, Terra Kuu was overwhelmed by the world. She learned much and grew to love the life of an adventurer. Yet, she was wary of everything and everyone she came across, knowing that anything could be her father’s killer. Eventually, Terra Kuu came across a caravan of traveling Kitsune who owned the skills of the ninja. Intrigued by her story and personal mission, the Kitsune welcomed Terra Kuu as a part of their caravan. They taught her the ways of the ninja as well as the Kitsune delight in mischief and trickery. One night, they led her to a small town that was the home of a magic welder. The magic wielder promised that if the caravan eliminated his competition in another village, he would heal Terra Kuu of her illness once and for all. Since the mission mostly benefitted her, Terra Kuu took the lead. In a few short weeks, she was healed and she could hardly believe it.

               Terra Kuu traveled with the caravan for less than a year and she grew to trust in their loyalty and friendship, however everything changed the night they betrayed her.

               Terra Kuu was returning to their campsite after a nightly hunt and the Kitsune immediately attacked her. They chased her from the campsite and threatened her life should she ever return. Terra Kuu escaped with a sole wound across her muzzle that forever scars her face. Confused and hurt by the actions of the caravan, Terra Kuu silently returned to the campsite the next morning…only to find the Kitsune slaughtered and there was no trace of what killed them.

               Angered and grieved, Terra Kuu burned the bodies of the Kitsune. Her mind was set that whoever or whatever killed them was also the same thing that murdered her father. So, she traveled alone, avoiding bonds of friendship in order to be protected from the hurt and pain of loss and betrayal. As she traveled, she searched for any indication that her mystery murderer could be close by, but there was no word of any mysterious deaths or actions of any kind.

               Eventually, Terra Kuu found herself sailing toward an island kingdom in the company of a human rogue that also spoke the language of her people. Intrigued by him, she joined him in his travels and soon found herself a part of the adventurous group called the A-team.

This is Terra’s story all the way up to the point she joined the A-team which is the name my D&D group decided to call our band of adventures. Unfortunately, the group disbanded before Terra Kuu could find her father’s killer. It’s fun to consider what might have been though.

Crystals in the Cold

When’s the last time you stopped and looked at something so small, you have to really peer at it just to see its details? I did that a couple weeks ago. Where I live, we’ve dealt with temperatures below freezing for over a week and even below zero for a few days (Fahrenheit, not Celsius).

The day I’m talking about actually got above zero, but that didn’t mean my old man (truck) wanted to work that day. I didn’t make it to my job. Took all day for the battery to warm up enough just so I could go get gas so I could–hopefully–make it to work the next day. Well, I get outside and it’s snowing (been snowing all day). My truck is in the yard (we had to move it out of the driveway so my family could get their vehicles out). Snow is stacked up around it and of course it’s cold. With how much I don’t like cold, it was safe to say I wasn’t in the best of moods.

I manage to get going and make it to the stoplight leading out of my neighborhood. It’s red, so I stop and when I try to get going again, I kill my truck (its a stick shift, btw). There are cars behind me, so I’m silently praying that my old man will start up again, because I do NOT want to be blocking the road. After two tries, we’re up and going again (yay!). I’m hoping for a quick and easy ride to the gas station and back, but no…every stoplight on my way there turns red. I didn’t kill my truck at any of those other lights, but the anxiety at the thought of being stranded in the middle of the street? Not fun.

Finally, I make it to the gas station and stand out in the cold, feeding my truck. The snow is still falling and they’re the kind of flakes you can actually see, not the fleeting, glittery specks that flick past your nose like dust. Quite a few of them land on the dark windows of my truck and I couldn’t help but take a closer look.

We’ve all made snowflakes out of paper as kids, drawn them on something, created a media image, etc. etc. etc. But, I want to ask: when’s the last time you took a closer look at a real snowflake? They’re beautiful. I’ve always heard growing up that no two snowflakes are alike. I’m not sure that’s proven, but that’s a cool concept. That something so fleeting and so small as a snowflake is as unique as the billions of people on this planet. The flakes I saw reminded me of stars and that was my favorite thing about them. I’m tempted to see if I could paint something where snowflakes and stars could be interchangeable–if that makes any sense.

I felt a lot better after I stopped to admire the detail of tiny snowflakes and I was actually thankful I hit every red light on my way home. It allowed me more time to enjoy the little crystals that fell on my windows. Since then, I’ve tried to see what other tiny details have I been missing in everyday occurrences. Like the woven design of a piece of thread or the patterns in a bird’s feathers. Maybe even the way veins spread through a leaf or how gravel dapples different colors upon the ground?

My point is that there’s wonder even in the tiniest of details. I hope that next time it snows (hopefully it won’t be for a while, I like warm weather), you take a closer look at the little crystals falling from the sky. There’s beauty there if you take the time to see it.

Cheetah’s Sprint

Hidden in the African Savanna a spotted cat stalks; waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. When the young gazelle has strayed too far from its mother, when the old or sick warthog falls too far behind, or when the prey is just close enough you can catch it in a heartbeat the cheetah attacks. Pushing off with tremendous force, every muscle trained and ready, in less than a second the cat reaches high speeds. As it runs it extends each leg with prefect rhythm, stretching its non-retractable claws to grip the ground and send it soaring at its prey, flying as its paws hardly touch the ground. The cheetah’s long tail streams out behind it keeping its balance and allowing the great cat to turn on a moment’s notice. When it’s time for the kill the cheetah takes a mighty leap with its back legs and tackles it’s enemy with its front claws. Right away the cheetah goes for the throat not giving its prey a moment to fight back. The fastest animal on Earth, the mighty cheetah, with speeds racing up to seventy miles an hour, you don’t see this cat until its teeth meet your neck.

This was a writing assignment I did in 2013. I chose to do it over my favorite animal: the elegant cheetah. It’s just a descriptive paragraph of a quick event, portraying every action of movement. Feel free to give it a try.

Fly the Seas

To be the king of the sea
See in the dark depths below
Fly the currents under the ocean

Pass the shark, the piranha, the octopus
Avoid the danger as you glide
To be the king of the sea

The water’s bright, open, and free
The air above tricky and distrusting
Fly the currents under the ocean

Safe and sound in the deep water
Say hello to turtles, dolphins, and starfish
To be the king of the sea

Ride the waves that crash the lands
Pull over the ships that dare cross your waters
Fly the currents of the ocean

Calm still water draw those who thirst
Grant passage to the needy
To be the king of the sea
Fly the currents of the ocean

One Word

Why is it that one word from even a complete stranger has the power to ruin your whole day?

I participated in #SFFpit. For those of you who don’t know what it is: it’s a Twitter event where wannabe authors can pitch their novel to agents. It’s a little bit of a desperate shout into the void, but it can be fun at the same time. All you do is type up a tweet length pitch of your sci-fi/fantasy manuscript, tweet it with the hashtag SFFpit, and hope for the best. You can tweet once every hour for each project. The goal is to gain likes from agents or publishers. If they like your post, that means they want you to query them and you have a shot of getting represented or published. It’s preferred that only agents and publishers like posts. Otherwise, you get the author’s hopes up. If you want to show support for a pitch, retweet or comment, but don’t like.

Why do I bring this up? Well, reading through the instructions of #SFFpit, it sounds easy enough, but it isn’t. You can’t fit a lot into a tweet, so you REALLY have to simplify your work in a way that sounds appealing to everyone. When you have so much packed into a novel like I do, it’s REALLY hard to do (and all the authors say “Amen!”). It took me a while, but I came up with a pitch that I was actually pretty proud of. This is it:

A son of an alchemist is hand-picked as the apprentice to the kingdom’s only mage and is given no reason as to why. When Darkness threatens the land, he must find an ancient artifact to save his loved ones from evil’s corruption.

That was the simplest way I could describe my book without dumbing it down to any cliché. I thought it sounded mysterious. I thought it did a good job hinting at the fact that my book has more too it than those two sentences portrayed. So, with high hopes, I shared that tweet all over Twitter and quite a few people supported me by retweeting and one guy retweeted that it sounded mysterious! That sounded like a victory to me!

Then, came the one word from one random stranger. I scrolled through my notifications, hoping to see a like by agents, but instead, I see someone’s comment on my pitch. One word that has got to be one of my top least favorite words:

Weak

Talk about a shot to the heart. I was appalled, taken aback, shocked, astounded, and every other word in the thesaurus. I lost focus on what I was supposed to be doing that day. You see, all my experiences on Twitter had been encouraging because the writing community is awesome. Then, that stranger comes in and criticizes my work in the worst possible way. Just one word. Nothing else. I worked hard to come up with that pitch! I wanted to get angry. I stalked the guy’s profile and I honestly wasn’t impressed. He didn’t look like a guy that should be taken seriously. I almost responded with a snarky (rude) comment, but I quickly remembered that agents would be seeing this stuff too and that made me panic. What would an agent think if they saw someone commenting “weak” on my post? Would it make them change their minds about liking it? I tried to delete it, but all I could do was hide the comment and I’m not even sure if that hides it from everybody. Then, I made the spiteful and childish decision to block the dude. I hope you understand: this guy’s “weak” comment was the first bad feedback I’ve ever gotten when it comes to promoting my novel on Twitter. I like to think I handled it well enough?

Yet, blocking the dude and hiding his comment didn’t get that word out of my head. The damage was done. I started fretting that maybe the dude was right? Maybe my post is weak? Looking back at it now, it…sadly is. I mean, it’s a trope, right? Common kid is chosen for greatness and has to save the world. Welcome to nearly every YA story out there. You’re probably thinking of three of them right now as you read this or maybe you’re thinking of your own story? My point: a lot of stories follow the same plot line. It’s how we mix it up that makes them special and that’s what I didn’t include in my pitch.

So, I started rewriting it. In query letters, I’ve been told you focus on your main character, get the agent attached to your main character. So, I tried that approach and ended up with this:

The unwanted son of a commoner dreams of proving himself and he gets his shot when Darkness finds an ancient artifact that could destroy the kingdom. If he can steal it, he’d be a hero, but his mistakes place it right in enemy hands. All he loves will perish if he can’t correct his error.

Better, right? Well, I didn’t like it. Still don’t like. Yeah, it kinda ups the stakes more. A poor kid wants to be noticed and his attempt to get noticed ends up putting the entire world in peril. It’s still kind of a common trope if you think about it. Yet, what I don’t like about it is that it doesn’t sound like my story. That doesn’t sound like my main character to me. He’s not a thief. He doesn’t break rules. Yeah, he’s desperate to prove himself, but he wants to do it the right way. I posted that little pitch on Twitter and I didn’t receive any likes from agents, so I decided to reword it again. I decided that my main character might be a little too trope-y for a Twitter pitch so, let’s focus on what the title of my novel aims directly at: the artifact.

A lot of stories have artifacts in them: Lord of the Rings, King Arthur, Sword of Shannara, even the Never-Ending Story has one. Point is: lots of great stories have a “find the artifact and save the world” vibe or even “destroy the artifact and save the world” vibe. Yet, what makes these stories unique is how different the artifacts are from each other or the world these artifacts are placed in. You could have two artifacts that are the exact same in two different stories, but the characters and settings are complete different which allows both stories to be one of a kind.

So, what makes my artifact special and how do I pitch it without spoiling the story? Well, I know how special my artifact is. I don’t think there’s a story out there that has anything like it. I’ve reread the scenes in my novel its involved in so many times because of how much I love it. The tricky part is pitching it. So, that same #SFFpit day, I came up with this:

An ancient artifact forgotten by history holds the fate of the world. When evil finds it, a commoner turned mage must retrieve it. If he can’t control his power and the power of the artifact, this whole world could be swallowed by Darkness.

That sounds pretty cool, right? Forgotten by history means that no one knows this artifact exists and suddenly it’s in the hands of evil. Now, this poor commoner turned mage has to go get it and he has no idea what he’s up against. No idea what this artifact can do, but the fate of the world depends on him getting it back. I’m pretty proud of this new pitch. I plan on using it in future pitch events. I’d love to tell you that this new pitch got a couple agent likes, but…I can’t say if it would’ve or not. You see, I typed this up, posted it on Twitter for the last two hours of the event and it was after the event that a kind gentleman–with pity probably typing his every word–informs me that I used the wrong hashtag. Instead of #SFFpit, I typed #SSFpit. So, agents following the event hashtag would not have been able to see my post…

Long story short: my first #SFFpit did not meet my expectations.

BUT! There was still a victory in the day. “Weak” comment guy forced me to take a good, hard look at my pitch and instead of pouting and crying over a bad review, I’m proud to say I rose above it. Made my pitch better. I mean, if you think about it. One word from a random stranger can only ruin your day if you let it. You can turn it into the building blocks for improvement. You just have to remember to never give up. Especially when you want something as badly as I do.

Moving forward, I used my new pitch in the Twitter #mockpit event. It’s an event where you can post your pitch and other writers will give you feedback on it and you’re encouraged to give feedback on other pitches as well. I got some decent feedback and some good advice. I was warned that my summary–though interesting–was pretty vague and I was encouraged to use my main character’s name. Honestly, that’s hard for me. I’m SUPER protective of my story and my characters so just throwing their names out there is scary. I haven’t even included their names on this website. Yet, when you think about it, there are a thousands of people trying to get published and we’re all throwing our character’s names out there. Some people have super unique names that I would be worried about anyone copying or stealing, but my main character? His name isn’t very unique. It’s actually a bit common if you think about it, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Since it’s common, do I really have to worry about someone stealing it? I mean, there’s a lot of people with this name and a lot of people have the same name in real life, so what does it matter?

Now, this new advice told me to focus back on my main character, describe this evil a little more and why my main character has to struggle to control his own power. In giving me this advice, the person made assumptions on my book (and that’s a rant for another day), and she wasn’t right in those assumptions, so I tweeked my pitch again the best I could. This is what I came up with:

Justin is a commoner chosen as the apprentice to the land’s only mage. It’s great, until monsters find an artifact lost to history. To prove himself, Justin disobeys orders & pursues the artifact…only to send it to a Dark being who wants to control the world.

Now, #Mockpit allows you to post three revisions of your pitch. So, I posted this one on Twitter. However, because there are so many people trying to get recognition by others and not a lot of people providing feedback, my pitch was overlooked. I only received a single like from someone. But that’s better than nothing.

Thinking over it all, it’s funny how one word can lead to so much growth. I’m happy with where my pitch is at and I plan on using it in future events. As for you, whatever you face, whatever words get thrown your way, I hope you use them to your advantage. Words have a lot of power to them, but you get to decide what kind of power.

Writing Prompt: Future Diary

Write a diary entry, dated ten years into the future.

2/09/2031

I had a great day. I did a book signing for the third trilogy in my series. There were so many people who showed up, I almost cried. Mom couldn’t make it this time, she didn’t want to fly all the way to New York, but she’ll be there when we get closer to home. You won’t believe who showed up today, though. An old roleplay buddy! We met for the first time today though we’ve known each other for over twenty years! I didn’t even know it was her. She said she recognized certain things in my novel that reminded her of our old roleplay. She’s the first one to recognize that stuff and I can’t believe we finally met. I took her out to lunch after the signing. I’m so glad she’s doing good. We have plans to meet up again.

I almost can’t believe I have three trilogies out with my series. It’s hard to believe that ten years ago I never thought this would be possible. I had only one novel completed and was struggling to just get representation for it! Now, look at me. I’m a published author, my series is a hit, and I have plenty more stories to tell. I praise God for this. I know I wouldn’t have been able to make it here without him. I remember all those nights I cried for this and now here I am. Guess I should’ve trusted his plan more. It’s funny, if you think about it. All this started because I got upset when my favorite character died in a novel I read in high school. I still haven’t finished that book. It’s hard to find, but I am grateful for it. I’d much rather be sharing my stories, my daydreams to the world than working at…well, working at a vet clinic. I do love animals, but my mind needs to be able to fly and it can’t do that if I’m worrying about medicines all the time.

I should head to bed. I’ve got a busy day tomorrow and I have to get up early to squeeze in some writing time. I made it.

2/09/2021
If you’re going to dream, dream big.