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2019, a smol

Now that I have officially lost a World Fantasy Award, it appears time to post eligibility information for next year’s awards, and–

It really is an endless circle, isn’t it? Didn’t we just do this?

2019 has been an interesting year. It has been the least successful in my “career” when it comes to sales. It has been the most successful year in terms of previous work landing on ballots. Basically, never try to figure out publishing, because nothing makes sense.

Here’s what I did in 2019:

“Kill the Darlings (Silicone Sister Remix)” appeared in Do Not Go Quietly, edited by Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner.

They say Nany Mars is a cunt, and they’re not wrong, but her hands are steady as she severs the last bit of flesh binding the three women together. Nany Mars makes careful stitches, sewing them back into their skins, their solitary skins, where once men had made them into one joined vessel for their pleasures.


It is hard, slow work, and when Nany finishes, she’s dripping sweat down her body, clothes soaked with it, and she sinks against the compound wall, staring up at the slice of sky that’s visible through the broken skylight. She ought to get that fixed, she thinks, but she’ll be gone come morning, and she only came to fix the women. There are so many women to fix.

The Ebon Jackal, from Apokrupha, concluded my Folley & Mallory series of novels. It has two (2) reviews.

Eleanor Folley walked slowly, yet with purpose, through the city market, still not having adjusted to the idea that its glory existed, that she could, and did, walk through its treasures. Everywhere she looked, Waset overflowed with life and activity, though in her mind she could still envision what the city had been in her own time, Luxor and a shadow of its former self. Crumbling into dust, rather than standing firm and sure.
 
Every morning when she woke, she expected to find herself back in her proper place, nineteenth century Paris, under crisp covers with coffee soon to percolate, but through the windows came the sounds of a different city entirely. Of a different time. Every morning it was not Paris that woke her, but New Kingdom Thebes as it would be called, flourishing under the rule of Queen Hatshepsut. It was Homer’s Thebes of the Hundred Gates, only Homer had yet to be born.

And that’s literally all she wrote! A reworked essay of mine appears in The Writer’s Book of Doubt, edited by Aidan Doyle, so maybe you’d also like to consider that as you make your year-end tallies.

Of course, we’ve a month and a half of quality work ahead of us, so don’t forget those stories and creators either.

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Hell of a Ride

When we got the news in April, Beth and I didn’t quite believe it. Shimmer was a Hugo finalist — and after thirteen years, that was a hell of a thing.

But in accordance with prophecy, Uncanny Magazine won for the fourth time, and Shimmer came in last. Those voting numbers will really fuck with your head, no lie. The prophecy also said that the late Gardner Dozois would win the short-form editor category, and he did. I came in last there, too.

One of the hardest things is that everyone suggests you write a speech, in case the impossible happens, in case you win. You spend weeks wondering how you can condense everything that happened in thirteen years into a few moments, because this is it — this is the end for Shimmer, there are no more chances, and how can you convey everything. You cannot.

Here’s the speech I wrote for my short-form editor nomination, in case you wondered how I tried. I started with Audrey Hepburn’s Oscar’s acceptance speech, as one must.

I want to thank everybody who, in these past months and years, have helped, guided, and given me and Shimmer so much. First thank yous to Beth Wodzinski, who took me on as a slush reader thirteen years ago, and then offered me an opportunity to edit. I would not be here without her. The #AHugoForElise hashtag was filled with such kindness and love—my thanks to everyone who was involved, especially Wren Wallis and Maria Haskins—we do so much of our work alone, and it was remarkable to hear how Shimmer impacted readers and our writerly community.

Thank you to my fellow finalists: Neil Clarke, Gardner Dozois, Lee Harris, Julia Rios, Lynne Thomas, and Michael Damien Thomas. You are all changing our community for the better, every day with every story. Thank you, too, to Matt Dovey and Alex Acks for going above and beyond, and being in Dublin to accept the award when I could not be.

Thank you all.

Today is hard, but we pick up and go on. It’s what badgers have done for thirteen years, and I’ve still got a World Fantasy Award to lose!

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Necessary

Near as I can tell, I wrote two things in 2018, which is an all-time low for me. I wrote “Kill Your Darlings (Silicone Sister Remix)” (out now in Do Not Go Quietly) and The Ebon Jackal, the last Folley & Mallory book (also out now).

Last week, I finished a novella. I wrote it without a market in mind; I wrote it just to write it, and that was liberating, as it let me noodle with an idea and see where it went. (It didn’t go where I intended? Where I thought?) But.

I wrote it just to write it.

I had the good damn luck to meet Sara Saab this summer — too briefly, but pancakes were involved — and we had time to talk about writing, and how so often we don’t write just to write. We write with an aim to publish, or we write for an audience. We don’t write for the sake of writing or we don’t write just for ourselves.

And that felt like a heck of a thing. To write something for yourself, because you want to. To take an idea out for a walk and see where it goes.

I don’t know that I will sell this novella, and that’s okay. It would be a nice bonus, I see a couple places it could go, but ultimately, writing the thing — and finishing it — were the goals.

Getting my writer brain back after Shimmer closed has been a heck of a thing, too. Shimmer closed to submissions a year ago (a year ago yesterday!), and I wrapped up my work on it in Januaryish 2019. And after that, I just wanted to lie on the floor.

I’ve spent a lot of that time thinking about writing, and talking about writing. I’ve spent a lot that time editing things that are not Shimmer. There is definitely a learning curve to the entire thing — regaining my creative brain.

Reading drafts from fellow authors I admire has also been vital to this process; seeing how a work comes together, seeing how a person begins. And you’re thinking “Elise! You’ve been publishing for nineteen years! How do you not know how to begin.”

And that’s when I’d just laaaaauuugh because sure, I know how to begin, but also I had to relearn it.

Here’s what I learned: it’s okay to not publish for a while (forever). It’s okay to write something for yourself. It’s okay to write for the sake of writing.

In fact, perhaps it’s necessary. Go finish the thing you haven’t finished. Even if only for yourself.

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The End, Kinda

The last book in my Folley & Mallory series drops today, and perhaps I am having feelings about that, but god forbid we explore those, because it’s all too hard to contemplate; this seems to be my year of endings.

The end! Everything must go!

Dramatic! But, many things have come to an end, so it feels apt.

There are quite a few hundred quotes about endings on Goodreads. By dudes. White dudes who wrote things. What if, instead we think about creation for a breath.

Week of 6/9 in Leo: A very certain type of creation. Is it really ok to just sleep. What if there is only that. Then be ready for it.— Astro Poets (@poetastrologers) June 10, 2019

A very certain type of creation.

A writer who has written a thing, and has closed the chapters on that thing, and is now… Writing the next thing. Writing the next thing in the wake of having read a thing that has convinced me I cannot write the very thing I hope to.

We are always trying to write the next thing.

Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we sleep.

What if there is only that.

My first idea for the F&M books was that they were set in the future — they were Way More Science-Fiction, people from the future heading to the past by Techno Means, to salvage the world they wanted to live in from the dust of a centuries.

That didn’t work out.

My second idea for the F&M books was that they were set in the past — and also the ancient past. That they were about daughters and mothers, and the impossible tangle of Stuff between them. That they were about broken families, and chosen families, and how we can be deceived by the very thing we love so much.

What if there is only that.

These books didn’t achieve all I hoped they would. I will write the next thing. I will begin the agent hunt anew. I will submit the thing, and submit it again. I will write the next thing. I will begin the agent hunt anew. I will submit the thing, and submit it again. Maybe I’m not a novelist. My morning pages wondered if I was done with writing as a whole. But I don’t make such decisions in the wake of disappointment.

I will write the next thing.

We end a thing. We start a thing.

We end. We start again.

What if there is only that.

Then be ready for it.

Ready for adventures in ancient Egypt? Maybe you’ll give my books a peek! Archaeologist Eleanor Folley has searched for the truth about her mother’s disappearance her whole life — but the truth is stranger and weirder than she ever knew. Agent Virgil Mallory seeks answers of his own, but was never quite prepared for those he unexpectedly found in Miss Folley. Dean Smith-Richard claims it’s “Miss Fisher meets Indiana Jones,” and I cannot disagree, so I hope you’ll join Folley and Mallory on their adventures in early-20th century Paris, and ancient Egypt!

The Ebon Jackal: Amazon

The Series: IndieBound | Amazon | B&N

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Doubt

Doubt is a thing every writer struggles with — no matter how famous, no matter how many book awards, nominations, praise, cakes, etc. Your favorite writer has doubted themselves and their work. And probably quite a lot.

My friend Aidan Doyle has assembled a collection of essays about doubt, and he solicited content from other doubtful writers too — me included. (If you didn’t back the Kickstarter, it will be available for sale in July, so stay tuned!)

I’ve been struggling with writing a lot this year, and the reasons are varied, but the result is the same: I doubt every word I put onto the page. I’m trying to draft a new novel and it isn’t going well, Reader.

This past week, I decided I needed to set fire to the first 17k words I’d finished. Oh, they’re fine words and there’s a lot of content and detail that will still end up in this next round, but overall, it’s missing that spark of something. One reader said it needed more stakes, and they were absolutely right. I’m not yet into the hollowed out heart of my heroine, so I’m in the process of figuring out how to get in there.

(Right now, we’re rappelling and we love the sound of the singing rope as we plunge into the dark. Was that a scream??)

I always feel like we don’t talk about this side of writing enough. We see the highlight reel on Twitter and elsewhere, we see the shiny finished books with their beautiful covers; we see everyone signing copies, and talking about their work; we don’t really see everything it took to reach that point. We don’t often see how books are assembled — how it’s just a person and a page. A blank page.

A lot of writing is sitting and listening to the silence.

Part of my journey (is that the word) back into my own writing has been reading a lot of things that (hopefully) bring me joy. Some of that reading has been fan fiction. My writing roots are in fan fiction (X-Files taught me a lot, but my first piece was Star Trek TNG).

Nico‘s writing has also been helping me get back in touch with my voice. That Oscar Isaac poem. Whew. And also a really beautiful piece of Jaime/Brienne fiction, “If Tomorrow.” (Shout out to AO3 for being a Hugo finalist this year!)

I’m also reading When Women Were Birds: Fifty Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams. Mothers, daughters, faith, writing, not-writing, absence and presence, and it was not what I thought it would be. It’s better.

I’m also playing No Man’s Sky, which involves finding planets and scouting them and following clues and discovering outcomes, and it’s a lot like writing. You have an unknown thing, you discover the best way to explore it, you write down what you find.

And repeat.

And repeat.

Kelly Link said writing is terrible, and she’s not wrong.

But it’s also great.

And repeat.

I think.

#doubts

And repeat.

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Do Not Go Quietly

Today is release day for Do Not Go Quietly: An Anthology of Victory in Defiance from Apex Book Company! Go grab your copy, right after you read this interview with E. Catherine Tobler, who is responsible for one of the stories in the anthology.

Edited by Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner!

Elise, thanks for joining us!

Thank you for having me!

This anthology contains a lot of heavy genre hitters — John Hornor Jacobs, Brooke Bolander, Fran Wilde, Dee Warrick, Sarah Pinsker, Meg Elison, and more. How the heck did you get involved?

I heard about the anthology when Apex was running the Kickstarter, and decided to back it like a normal human-shaped being. And then when they had their submission window, I decided to get off my ass and write a story and submit it. Of course, I wrote something really weird and didn’t think the story stood a chance.

Your story, “Kill the Darlings (Silicone Sister Remix)” is…quite a thing. What can you tell us about it?

The story started with the idea of borders and people trying to cross them — notably, the southern border of the US, and the conflicts we’ve had there of late. I thought “a body could lie down right there and make a great wall.” Once I’d turned bodies into two-thousand mile walls, it felt like all bets were off, that I could do anything in that kind of a universe.

The main character, Nany Mars, is, well, a vagina?

Yes. Another aspect of this world is that a lot of the women have been turned into what men think of them. If men think you are only good for sex, perhaps you become a vagina. If men think you are fragile, perhaps you are made of glass. Women are only good for cooking — so perhaps a woman becomes an oven.

This character literally has an oven in her belly, to feed people on demand.

Make me a sandwich, right?

Whew. And the body at the border?

In this story, it is the body of a woman (of course), grown huge and cavernous, to “secure” the border, which, spoiler alert, doesn’t work.

What other kinds of women do we meet in this story? It’s a little bit The Handmaid’s Tale meets Alien because damn, that body horror.

We meet a crew of women who are invested in saving other women — from being used as men and the world at large would use them. Women who are determined to reclaim their bodies. Trans women. What becomes of trans women in this kind of world?

The Handmaid’s Tale was absolutely an influence, but so was The Haunting of Hill House, which maybe sounds weird, but the bodies here are like haunted houses, because they look like one thing, while being something vastly different inside for the person living there. Everyone is a House of Leaves, maybe.

And Alien is also a great comparison, having your body become something you never wanted or intended, based on another’s wishes… Yeah.

Given recent bills banning abortion…

Yeah. I’ve always written about body autonomy, but perhaps now it feels more relevant, though it always has been. Your body is yours, and no one should have the ability to take that away, or govern what you do with it.

Elise, thanks for joining us today.

Thanks for having me, me!

Readers, go buy this book, because these are the stories our world needs right now. Hardcover, paperback, ebook, whatever format is your jam, Apex has you covered!

From the Apex site:

From small acts of defiance to protests that shut down cities, Do Not Go Quietly is an anthology of science fiction and fantasy short stories about those who resist. Within this anthology, we will chronicle the fight for what is just and right, and what that means: from leading revolutions to the simple act of saying “No.”

Resistance can be a small act of everyday defiance. And other times, resistance means massive movements that topple governments and become iconic historical moments. Either way, there is power in these acts, and the contributors in Do Not Go Quietly will harness that power to shake our readers to the core. We are subordinates to a power base that is actively working to solidify its grip on the world. Now is the time to stand up and raise your voice and tell the world that enough is enough!

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Riverland

I didn’t have a sister to share the horror with, but I did have a Riverland, made of books, and dolls, and music, where nothing could hurt me, because even in stories, when something went wrong, there was the hope and opportunity of fixing the thing.

(That may explain why I became a writer.)

Fran Wilde’s Riverland was a hard book to read, but at the same time, I could not put it down, read it in a week. I needed to know that Eleanor and Mike would be okay. And of course, they are. That’s not a spoiler, because you don’t yet know the hows of Riverland, how the sisters come to the river, who they find there, and what they discover in themselves.

I was six and seven, a little older than Mike in this book. I had step-brothers who did not live in the same house. I had a stepfather who was angry all the time. I had a mother who knew how to magic things into wholeness once more until they were broken again. I had a clumsy mutt of a dog who I loved more than anything, because perhaps they were more clumsy and broken than even me, and beside them I could be invisible.

We packed the car when we left. We left because he’d finally hit her one too many times. Because I’d finally seen it happen. If I close my eyes, I can still see it. I have a distinct memory of that drive — I wasn’t scared, because at last things would be better, and I imagined I saw great bison roaming slowly across the dark plains as we drove west. As we came home.

You know home when you get there. Eleanor and Mike know, too. Sometimes home isn’t a building, but a place, a place where you have the time and space to figure yourself out. How you work, and how you live, and how you breathe. Home can be a story, in a book or in a song, or home can be in the places you make for yourself.

We don’t normally tell these stories about girls. We don’t show girls rescuing themselves nearly enough. If I’d had this book as a kid, would it have changed something? Would I have found the strength to say something? Maybe not — at that age, it’s so hard — but seeing someone extract themselves from a similar position would have been like the beam of a lighthouse at night.

In this book, Wilde gives us two strong girls, who become the heroines of their own story, a story they never quite dared to tell, until they were living it. This book may be a hard read, but it is an important one, too.

Recently, I found a letter my mother wrote to her mother, telling her we were coming home, that the marriage hadn’t worked out. She talked about how she married him because she believed I needed a father figure — everyone told her I did. She spoke at length about her failures, that the divorce was her fault — but never said a word about what he had done to her. What she feared he had done to me. (I went to counseling when we came home — faced with gray, cloth dolls, so someone could watch me play and determine if I’d been abused. No, not sexually.)

We don’t tell these stories. But now, maybe with Riverland, we do.

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omg

When I saw the e-mail, I was annoyed. You see, the sender’s name was Nicholas, and the only Nicholas on my mind was the one at work — and it was just too early in the morning to think about work. But I groaned and looked a little more closely.

It was not Nicholas from work.

It was Nicholas Whyte, writing from Ireland. Nicholas Whyte, the 2019 Hugo Administrator.

Nicholas wrote with the news that Shimmer had been nominated in the Semiprozine category. I was still in bed, so stayed there and sobbed for a good while, certain I had read wrong. When I thumbed out of the e-mail, I saw that there was another one. Also from Nicholas. Nicholas, it’s not even 7am here, what could you possibly…

Nicholas was also telling me that I’d been nominated as Best Editor (Short Form). WELL.

Only my pillowcase knows how much I cried. (Here’s the whole list of Hugo awesome!)

o m g

Even as I work on this post, I can’t quite believe it. Surely they miscounted. How could it be? But it is. As writers, we’re supposed to always have the words, but sometimes you stare at that blank page for a long time, wondering if they will ever come. Blinking cursor, blinking cursor…

First, the thank yous, to Matt Dovey, Wren Wallis, Maria Haskins, Alex Acks, Suzan Palumbo, Lindsay Thomas, and Alexis A. Hunter who instigated the #AHugoForElise hashtag and made this a thing people were talking about. If not for that, I’m not sure either I or Shimmer end up on the ballot — but they did, and we did, and I can’t breathe right when I think of all the kind things they said, and the love they all showed me for the work we and I did at Shimmer.

By Wren’s daughter, Murderchild.

Shimmer was the magazine of my heart, but I never expected it to be that. I came to read slush and learn stuff, and then go on my merry way. Only, my merry way turned out to be with Shimmer, and Beth and Mary Robinette, and Sean, and I’m so glad it did. I met so many fabulous people, who taught me about fiction, about this genre we all love, and about myself. I learned what I was capable of, but also what our genre was capable of — and both are pretty damn great.

That hashtag was hard to follow in the beginning. In the early days, I muted it, but then a wise voice said “hey, they love the work you did, enjoy that.” So then that imposter part of my brain said “yeah, this could be it — enjoy what’s there.” I couldn’t allow myself to believe that anything more might happen. And then it did.

For everyone who thought of Shimmer, thank you. For everyone who thought of me, thank you. So much of the work editors do goes unseen and is lost in the rush to get a new issue done and out before we have to do it all over again. Much creative work is done alone, be it editing or writing or drawing, and it is a good and necessary thing that we lift our heads up every now and then and hear everyone who has said “your work matters.”

We heard you. Thank you for honoring everything that Shimmer was.

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Ravens & Writing Desks

Five years ago (!) Rings of Anubis was published by Masque Books. When Masque passed on the sequels, Apokrupha picked the books up, which meant we needed covers and a new design aesthetic, which was terrifying and exciting. When I sent editor Jacob a link to my dream cover artist, I never imagined it would work out as perfectly as it did.

This summer, the final Folley & Mallory book — The Ebon Jackal — shall arrive and with it, another smashing cover from Ravven. Ravven was kind enough to endure an interview from yours truly, because I was curious about her and her work — because she’s made some astonishing covers through the years. While I absolutely want to show you the work she did for The Ebon Jackal, I wanted you to know her better, too! Soon: the reveal of the final Folley & Mallory cover and a preorder link! Now: interview!

You have done the art for best selling authors such as Annie Bellet, Shay Roberts, and Daniel Arenson. How long have you been creating book covers and how did you get started?

I started doing covers back in early 2012, if memory serves. It was a panic decision due to quitting my job as a web developer and designer, mainly building ecommerce sites (which I liked) for a terrible company (which I didn’t). After a week of total panic, I dove into building a portfolio of book cover art and haven’t regretted it at all since!

Did my Folley & Mallory book covers pose any specific challenges for you?

I hardly ever get to do steampunk covers, so it was enormously fun to work on these! Steampunk does require a bit of “frankensteining” (creating a model or a costume from many different images and painting in the rest), and you have to be careful that the overall image doesn’t get too stiff as a result of having many bits of different images composited together. I love the main character’s model, and she was fun to work with.

Are there any artists you take inspiration from?

SO many! I envy and adore Chris McGrath. John Jude Palencar. The old Thomas Canty covers.

Ah! I love John Jude Palencar. Do you have a favorite book cover (that someone else has made, not your own)?

Again, so many – either because of the artist, or because they do something that I’m terrible at, such as stunning typography or symbology/high concept covers. I love the Toby Daye covers for Seanan McGuire, as well as the Dresden series covers – both done by the same artist, Chris McGrath.

Some artists work with ink and paper, others with tablets and pixels. Has technology changed the way you work? Has it made it easier to get what’s in your head onto the cover?

It’s made it easier, certainly. My line drawing skills are poor, so my traditional art pieces were always very stiff. Having access to digital media allowed me to come closer to the image in my mind without being held back by my stupid fingers. Also, graphics tablets have made an enormous difference in the quality of the artwork and I couldn’t work without my Wacom tablet.

You do a lot of different covers—urban fantasy, steampunk, romance; do you have a favorite genre to work in? To read?

I read mainly fantasy, science fiction, and urban fantasy. (I don’t read a lot of the really steamy PNR stuff though.) Science fiction has always been my first love. I enjoy all of the different genres that I work in, although I don’t consider myself to be a very good romance artist because I don’t read in that genre, so it’s more difficult to understand what that audience needs. I love steampunk (that’s also the main type of cosplay that I do).

In addition to being an artist, you’ve also written poetry and fairy tales. Does one form inspire the other for you, or are they wholly separate pursuits?

It’s all escapism, to be honest. I’m someone who has always wished heart and soul for that magic door, the wardrobe in an empty room, the portal to fall through into someplace magical. So both my personal art and the things I write are made of a wish for magic coupled with despair. 🙂

What are your favorite video games? Do games inspire your art?

Same as above – I love gaming and it’s all portal fantasy for me. I mainly play MMOs (you name it, I’ve tried it, but currently mostly FFXIV) due to a sense of permanence. I like feeling as though I can always escape to that world and be someone different whenever I need to.

Do you have a dream cover that you would love to design—either in terms of who the author is, or the kind of story being told?

I’ve said recently that I would love to do a cover with a badass, sexy, older woman on the cover. There are rivers and oceans of books out there (that I do honestly love) with teenage main characters, but as I get older I see fewer and fewer books with people like myself. Although being just a bit younger than Madonna, I certainly don’t feel old or boring or weak…I dream of being that tough, kickass woman in leather.

If you could redesign one book from the last two hundred years, what book would it be and why?

My ultimate dream would be to do covers for Charles de Lint’s Newford books. So, not a single book but a number of them. Many of them have gorgeous covers already, especially the John Jude Palencar covers, so it’s an entirely selfish wish!

Has the world at large over the last year changed the way you approach your work, or has it changed the work that emerges from you?

The world currently is…not great for most people. For a lot of us it’s been pretty bleak and hopeless, and to be honest that is why I love being able to do this. My work is either fantasy/escapism, or tough UF heroines who are fighters. Both are acceptable responses to an increasingly dark world.

What’s next for you? Any upcoming covers you can tease us about?

No covers that I can hint about, but I am working on (slooooowly working on!) ideas for a graphic novel and a tarot set. You’ll hopefully see one or the other in the next decade or so, haha.

Tarot! That would be amazing. Ravven, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, and for all the work you’ve put into the Folley & Mallory covers. You really captured the spirit of the books.

To see more of Ravven’s artwork, please visit her site, www.ravven.com, and if you’re considering self-publishing your books, be sure to find the premade covers she also offers. They’re beautiful and inspiring!

And now, because you’ve been so good, here’s the cover for The Ebon Jackal! In this final book, Folley stares into that abyss and becomes the very thing that stares back at her… Three generations of women come together for one explosive conclusion!

The Ebon Jackal ebook is yours for pre-order, and don’t fret — if you want a paperback for your shelves, that will be along this summer (June 11!). I won’t stop hollering about it, either, so there’s no chance of you forgetting.

None whatsoever. <3

SOON.

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A Horse of a Different Color

This weekend at the grocery store, there was great excitement concerning the penny horse. This is, of course, the mechanical horse at the front of the store that kids can ride for a penny.

Lately, the penny horse hadn’t been looking or running so great. The penny horse had surely lost the use of one leg and the saddle had been lost years before. Its broad nose was worn smooth where once there had been black paint. For a couple weeks, the horse was mostly out of order.

This weekend, there was a new horse at the front of the store. The chestnut coat gleamed, black mane streaming back in the wind as the kids rode and discovered what a smooth and quiet ride was now offered. The saddle was padded and there were reins to flick, and what more does one want for a penny.

I sat near the penny horse while I waited for a friend, and had the chance to talk to the five year old unicorn queen. She wore a silver tulle skirt, with a unicorn sweatshirt, and a plastic pink headband that was shaped into a tiny crown. She was five, she proudly told me, her brother only one, but very capable even so.

“Is this a new horse??” she asked me, because clearly I was the horse authority.

“Oh, I think so,” I said.

Her eyes lit up. “I like this horse,” she said, then showed me the unicorn on her sweatshirt. It was made out of those sequins that you can roll up or down, and they change colors. One way, the unicorn was silver. The other way, the unicorn was pink.

We decided the pink was amazing — pink was her favorite color, and green was her brother’s, and purple is mine, though pink is super close these days because it’s so bright and lovely.

“[Brother] can ride with me, mom,” she kept saying over and over, and when her mom was finally done in line, the brother joined the unicorn queen on the new penny horse. She held him tight, his little legs not yet reaching the metal stirrups. He laughed and flicked the reins and she cuddled him the entire time, insisting it was the best horse ever.

I don’t know why I’m putting this here, other than to keep the memory for myself and share it with whoever may wander by. It made me think of what joy could still be had for a penny; a smooth ride on a new, shiny horse, with someone you love clutched to your chest; a plastic crown balanced on your head, a sequined unicorn waiting to be swept into a new color whenever you wished it.

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