Tuesday, 31 December 2013

'So why do you love Thirty Seconds To Mars so much?'

Well.

Let me break it down for you.


What a time to be alive...

12 hours.

That’s all that remains of 2013.

As I sit here on my bed (which is also a very good desk) scrolling through all the ‘year in review’ type-tweets on Twitter, I can’t help but wonder; what did I do all year?? What have I achieved? What have I learned? What’s with the fascination with the Echelon? (Since we’re asking questions I thought I’d throw that one in there :p) It’s got me feeling all nostalgic (and given me a wicked case of The Feels) so I thought I’d take a look back at my 2013. The highs, the highers, and the highests. Because it’s been a pretty damn good year.

 

And so I present to you, my 2013. Set to lyrics because…





 

…Had to. And you’re welcome.
 


At the end of 2012 I packed up my things and moved across the country to be closer to family. After 7 years of living away from them, it was time to come home. Turns out that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was the first of many awesome things to come.



 


The first awesome thing that happened was SingStar. I know I’ve written about this before, but it needs to feature on this list. It was through SingStar that I discovered the band that would go on to literally change my life. As I write that I can’t help but think ‘has it really only been a year with them?’ It’s actually hard to remember life before them. That’s probably weird, right? :p



 


It’s no secret that I suffered from a hard-core case of the Dark and Twisties for the majority of my life. I was at the stage where I’d just accepted that I was going to be “severely depressed” for the rest of my life, and there was no point in fighting it.

It’s funny how things happen.

Someone* once said that sometimes in order to find yourself, you have to first lose yourself. I couldn’t agree with that more. I had lost myself completely, but through Mars, I found myself again. I fell apart for over a decade, but got back up again. Now I am Bright and Shiny and annoyingly cheerful. Just ask anyone unfortunate enough to follow me on Twitter :p The Girl With Words: Spewing Rainbows Onto Your TL since ’13.  This time last year I would NOT have believed that was possible. 2013, I think I’m in love with you.

*Gee, I wonder who that could have been…



 

 


Through Mars I also met some of the most awesome people on the planet. I have made some of the best friends I’ve ever had, and they’ve been a HUGE contributor to my wonderful year. One of the best parts of this year was getting the opportunity to meet some of them in August. I can honestly say that was one of the best weekends of my life. I freaking heart you guys SO BIG.

 




 



I really mean it when I say Mars changed my life. Besides, you know, helping me finally win my lifelong battle with depression, they were the reason I decided to finally pursue my dream of becoming an author. They make me believe that dreams are possible. They are even the reason that you are reading this blog right now, and that I’ve found the courage to share HEAT with you all. They taught me to be brave, fight for what I believe in and make my dreams my reality. And so I shall.

When my books are finally published (optimism and all that), you’d better believe that they will feature heavily in my acknowledgements. In fact, I’ve already written it. Optimism and all that :p

 





Hmmm. So I don’t know how this post turned out to be solely about Mars. I guess they’ve had a bigger influence on me than I realised! 2013 has honestly been the best year of my life. I went on some awesome trips with my family, spent a blissful girly week with my real-life BFF, adopted the world’s cutest dog and fell in love with life. Sure, there were some low points (even some truly awful points) but this new-improved version of me seems to be much more capable of letting the negative things go and just focusing on the awesome. I like that. I don’t know what 2014 will bring (besides the fact that MARS IS COMING, PEOPLE. MARS. IS .COMING. T-minus 84 days, 4 hours and 47 minutes to go!!), but I have the distinct feeling that it will be awesome. Why? Because I have faith that it will be. And everyone knows that all we need is faith. Faith is all we need.

 
Happy New Year, everyone. I hope 2014 is the year that all your dreams come true :)

 

Xo
 




 

TITLE LYRICS: ‘Do Or Die’ by At This Point I Really Shouldn’t Have To Tell You :p

(As sung during a live show, where Jared likes to mess with the lyrics :3)

 

 

LYRICS:






I'm beginning to feel like a Rap God, Rap God...

Here’s a well-known fact: my favourite thing in the world are books. I know, right? Shocking. But here’s a (possibly) less well-known fact: my other favourite thing in the world is music. I love music so much that it ties for first with my love for books. Note that I’m talking about things here, not people, because we all know who my number one favourite person in the world is…

 

 

My mother.

 

Ha! You all thought I was going to say Jared Leto. Shame on you. Shame. On. You.

 

I have an eclectic taste in music. There isn’t a genre I can say I flat out HATE; I like songs and artists in pretty much all categories. Sure, there are bands I can’t stand, but I like to think I’m pretty open-minded. I even like that one Miley Cyrus song. I’m not really one for rap, but there is one rapper who I think is freaking awesome: Eminem. I’ve been a doing a little bit of research on Eminem for another blog post that I’m working on (coming #soon), and I have to say, I find his story incredibly inspiring and motivating. He faced a lot of adversity and discouragement, but despite it all he kept pursuing his dreams. He never gave up on himself.  I know a lot of people don’t like him for various reasons (language, content, apparent women hate etc etc) but I love a lot of his music. There was a time that I was ashamed to admit this, because when I was a young teen (I’m talking 14 or 15) admitting you liked Eminem was akin to admitting you liked to club baby seals in your spare time. You just didn’t do it. I mean one time the people at church decided to pray for me because I had Cleaning Out My Closet stuck in my head. Yep. (Admittedly my Eminem-love-shame had A LOT to do with the church I was attending at the time, which also had me feeling guilty for reading Harry Potter and doing yoga. Kids, just say no to the Kool-aid, okay??) Even now there are some people who deeply disapprove of my unabashed Eminem love, but unlike my 14 year-old self, I’m not afraid to be myself. And myself happens to think Eminem really IS a Rap God. The man is a lyrical genius. I can’t say I admire him in the same way that I admire (love, adore) certain members of certain other bands (cough)* but he is definitely up there as one of my favourite artists. Case in point: Rap God is a six minute song. The average six minute song contains maybe 200-400 words (based on about 2 minutes of research on A-Z lyrics). Rap God contains 1500. You can’t tell me you aren’t impressed by that.

 


The thing I like the most about Eminem is the way his lyrics tell a story. When I listen to his music I get a very vivid image in my head about what he is rapping about – a skill that I envy as an author**. Granted, it’s not always a pleasant picture (see ’97 Bonnie and Clyde, which may not be pleasant but it IS funny as hell in a very twisted way), but it takes a lot of talent to be able to tell an entire story in lyrical form. The current state of the music industry is a testament to that.

 

I also love the way that he just doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks about him or his music. When it comes to his artistic expression, the only opinion that matters is his own. That’s admirable. How often has the fear of other people’s opinions held you back? I know that if I’m not careful, I can easily become bogged down in the fear of other people’s opinions. What will they think, what will they say, what will become of me?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just not care what other people thought? (Within reason, of course. I’m not suggesting that we should all become selfish individuals who only look out for number one.)

 

So here’s what I propose: let’s take a page out of Eminem’s book and make 2014 the year where we don’t give a damn what other people think about us or our taste in books, music, movies, how we choose to spend our time or anything else. Let’s make it the year where we let our freak flags fly and be who we want to be, whoever that may be. Let’s make it the year where the most important opinion about ourselves is OUR OWN. Let’s make it the year where we all become Rap Gods in our own special way.

Deal?

Deal.

 

TITLE LYRICS: ‘Rap God’ by Eminem. Again! I really love Eminem.

 

*No-one will ever come close to my love for him. Ever.

**So I decided to start calling myself that. Optimism and all that.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

I bully myself ‘cause I make me do what I put my mind to…

Ooo, how novel! I actually have time to sit down and write something! Apologies for my absence; the last few weeks of the term are always absolutely INSANE. As a teacher you are endlessly bombarded with assessments and reports and learning portfolios and marking and record cards and more marking and concert items and more assessments and about a million other things that you are certain you will never finish because you feel a little bit like you are drowning and did you really get through all this last year surely you didn’t because oh my god it’s insane.

But.

Somehow (and you don’t even really know how, but the stack of empty RedBull cans by your bed side gives you a vague idea) you make it to the last day of the year, and you’re so happy you could cry and maybe you do cry a little because you’ve grown to love your class, even that little boy who spent the entire year sitting next to your desk because you couldn’t take your eyes off him for a single second or you’d find the furniture super-glued to the ceiling.

Then.
One day you wake up and you realise that there’s no need to think in enormous run-on sentences because it’s the school holidays and you made it, good grief you made it through the year and it was fun and crazy and insane but it’s over now and you realise that suddenly you can just
 

stop.
 

And breathe.

Because it’s the school holidays, kids.

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate that.

HOORAY!!


Now to be perfectly honest with you all, when I woke up this morning, on this, the glorious first day of the school holidays, I didn’t really feel like writing. I know, right?? Blasphemy! Here I’d spent almost the entire year complaining that I didn’t have enough time to write, and when I finally had the time, I didn’t really want to. That’s typical Girl With Words behaviour, and it’s one of things that annoys me the most about myself. I do my best work under pressure, even if that pressure is just the knowledge that I have more important things to be doing. Take away the pressure, and I flit around aimlessly and unproductively. It’s sick.

However.

I absolutely REFUSE to waste my holidays in this way. I’ve been waiting for this for MONTHS, and while it is deeply tempting to spend the next six weeks devouring books and catching up on all the Mars Porn I missed while I was drowning in school work (and my oh my, how tempting that is), I am going to be productive instead*. I am going to write and I am going to work my ass off, because that’s what it takes to live your dreams, right?

I thought a lot about how I was going to make this happen and avoid getting distracted by The Feels or spending hours reading books that actually made it to the ‘publishing’ stage, and I decided that the best way was to make a list. We all know how my raging case of OCD loves a good list (or several), and making a public list has the added bonus of having to live up to my lofty goals and creating the pressure I require to thrive. Great idea, no?

So, with that in mind, here’s an overview of my holiday goals. Feel free to hold me to them. In fact I encourage it!

·         Edit my synopsis to accommodate for agent requirements;

·         Send out a bazillion more queries;

·         Be rejected a bazillion more times;

·         FINISH the first draft of my WIP** by Jan 31, #NaNoWriMo style: 1667 words a day, baby.

·         Blog more;

·         Read more (including beta-reading for two gorgeous ladies);

·         Enter more writing competitions;

·         Control my Feels Impossible, because I cannot. I. Can. Not.

·         Lose weight for my Meet + Greets with Thirty Seconds To Mars  Whoops, wrong list!


You can do anything you set your mind to. Time to make this dream a reality.

 

 

TITLE LYRICS: ‘Rap God’ by Eminem
 
 

*And then reward myself with the porn because it’s Mars, people.

I cannot.


**Work-in-progress

 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

...In which I discuss why I don’t believe in publicly bashing other authors, celebrities, or people in general.


For the purposes of this post, names have been changed to protect those in question.

(Actually it’s really just to prevent me from becoming a hypocrite by publicly bashing this person in a post in which I talk about all the reasons why you shouldn’t publicly bash a person.)


Recently I have been reading a number of books by a certain author. Let’s call him Bill. Now I’ve read quite a few of Bill’s books, and I’ve absolutely loved every single one. His use of voice (that is, his ability to write in the ‘voice’ of character) is one of the best I’ve ever read, and I find his novels to be close to impossible to put down. I enjoy them so much that I literally get cranky when it’s time to do those annoying thing like go to work or eat or sleep. When I am reading Bill’s books, that’s ALL I want to do.
 

I was quickly developing an author crush on Bill (which is not even slightly romantic – more like a ‘you’re what I want to become’ kind of crush) when one of my friends responded to one of my many gushing tweets about him with some less than flattering news. In her tweet she said she would never read any of Bill’s books because she didn’t like or respect him due to a blog post he wrote where he was rudely and unnecessarily publicly bashing another person – someone who both myself and my friend adore. (Cough). She linked me to the post and as I read it, I felt my burgeoning author crush on Bill slowly diminish until it was completely gone. At first I tried to find a reason for this seemingly unprovoked hate towards this person, but as far as I could tell, there wasn’t one. Not a good one, anyway. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t really matter that Bill had gone on an angry rant over something pretty lame (in my opinion), and reminded myself that we are all human and sometimes we get annoyed by insignificant things. I, for example, am annoyed by Bill’s post. After reading some hilarious comments about Bill and this particular post, I decided to put it aside and get on with reading his fabulous books.

But.

As I began to read, I found that I struggled to connect with the story. What was once funny and engaging became annoying and boring. I knew that Bill’s nasty post was tainting my opinion of the book, but I couldn’t help it. It just wasn’t the same. And so, sadly, after many failed attempts to get back into the story, I had no choice but to put the book aside and pick something else to read.


Now, I imagine quite a few of you are rolling your eyes about this. Can I seriously start disliking an author just because they insulted someone I like (love, adore, admire) – especially when that someone is a celebrity (and therefore not even someone I know personally)? My answer to that is…Yes. Yes I can. Not intentionally of course, but the fact remains that Bill’s unkind post left a bitter taste in my mouth. Not to mention that his post implied that he thought very little of those who happened to – heaven forbid – actually like this person. Maybe you think I’m silly for taking offense to this, but I did. I don’t particularly want to read or support a person who insults others in this manner. Maybe my annoyance will fade over time, but right now, I’m not interested in reading any more of Bill’s novels.


This, ladies and gentleman, is exactly why I don’t believe in publicly mocking or bashing other authors, celebrities or highly recognisable individuals. Or anyone, really. You never know who you may offend, and how it may affect you later in your career. Maybe I’m particularly sensitive to this because being a teacher I could actually lose my job for offending the wrong the person or writing nasty blog posts about others. All it takes is for one person who knows who I am in real life to make a complaint, and goodbye teaching career. This is also why I don’t have Facebook, but that’s slightly off topic. Of course writing is different to teaching in that you probably can’t be fired for offending someone, but you can lose readers or even hurt your chances of landing an agent if you don’t have one yet. These days agents are all over social media, and I can almost guarantee that if they are interested in signing you they will check out your blog, Twitter, Facebook etc to make sure you aren’t crazy pants, and to see if you are the kind of person they’d like to work with. Imagine if the first thing they read is a hate-fuelled post. I’m not so sure that would be a great first impression.


My point is this: You don’t know who is reading your blog. By writing hate posts, you run the risk of giving out the impression that you are a jerk with low impulse control (Yeah, I said this author seems like a jerk…but in all fairness, he was acting like a jerk.) Of course we all have opinions and I’m not in any way saying that we shouldn’t express them, but there are ways to do that without being downright nasty. I would suggest venting in private with people you trust rather than writing a post for the whole world to see, but that’s just my opinion. Or if you really do want to write about it (and I understand that – free therapy!) perhaps you should consider staying away from being overly judgemental and rude. It’s just a thought.
 

And if all else fails, maybe you can consider the age-old advice loved by parents and teachers everywhere: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

THE PROPHECY Blog Tour: An Interview with Erin Albert



Today I have the absolute pleasure of being part of Erin Albert’s blog tour for her debut novel THE PROPHECY. THE PROPHECY is a young adult epic high fantasy, and it is the first in THE FULFILLMENT series. Erin stopped by to answer a few questions about her book, her life, and her favourite bands (because as you know, there's nothing that matters more:p) Enjoy!


 
Hi Erin! Thank you for letting me take part in your tour! So tell us what THE PROPHECY is about.

It’s the story of a girl who is kidnapped by religious fanatics and proclaimed the fulfillment of an ancient peace prophecy. She’s whisked away to marry her greatest enemy. Now, she’s a Vanguard (endowed with superior strength), and he’s an Ethereal (possesses mind control abilities). Their respective countries hate one another with a centuries long passion.  Nothing can go wrong there… ;)

 
 
Sounds awesome! So I read on your blog that you are a pantser [a person who does not outline before beginning to write] (high five, by the way. Who needs outlines?!) Were there any really tricky plot points that you found difficult to resolve?

I typically start with a beginning and *sometimes* an end, and I let the story flow naturally from there. It’s like watching a movie in my mind and recording what I see.  For this series, I ran into a MAJOR stumbling block in the third book. I could not figure out how to make it work, and the characters weren’t helping me out at all. Thankfully, I have my amazing Dream Team at my disposal. I called up Dawn Ward, my creative consultant, and we met at Moe’s Southwestern Grill. Over a bowl of queso, we hashed out the details until we came up with a solution. Yay for good friends and queso to work through any problem!!  ;)

 

Good friends and brain food! What a perfect solution. I also read that you finished writing the entire trilogy in three months. How much time did you then spend editing? My inner editor is NEVER satisfied, so I can’t imagine editing three books at once!

Yes, thanks to Dream Team member Kim Sharp, my time keeper, I finished a chapter a day which made for a whole trilogy in three months. I finished in August, and we (the Dream Team and I) went through rounds and rounds of edits. In December I decided to do a complete overhaul of The Prophecy, and we went through even MORE rounds of edits. It’s funny…I would think for sure we’d gotten it just right when Dream Team members Ginny or Danielle would find just another little something that wasn’t quite right. LOL!  Even now, it’s not what I would consider perfect, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I told a story *exactly* right.
 
 
 
I understand that. It’s more a matter of being ready to let it go, rather than getting it absolutely perfect. If The Prophecy had a soundtrack, which songs would be on it?

I really only have one song that defines this book for me, and it’s “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz. The Dream Team and I have wracked our brains for other songs, but we always come back to this one.


 
And following on from that question, who are your favourite bands? Music is such a huge inspiration to me, so I always want to know the answer to this question :p

Oh, girl, how much time do you have? [I could talk about music all day, so take your time!] I have really eclectic taste in music.  When I’m on a run, I prefer to listen to “angry chick” music like Pink, Kelly Clarkson, and Alanis Morissette. I typically listen to the Pink station on Pandora, so I get a wide variety of songs there. I also love 90’s bands: Hootie and the Blowfish, Matchbox Twenty, Savage Garden, Green Day, REM, Dave Matthews Band, Cranberries and GooGoo Dolls. I’d say right now the most soulful group for me is Evanescence. One of their songs is the basis for book 2 in The Fulfillment Series, tentatively called The Outlanders.

 

Eclectic taste is the best! There’s so many wonderful artists and bands out there. Everyone knows who my favourite band is, but I can safely say that I also love many of the bands you’ve mentioned. Do you write with music on, or do you prefer silence?

When I write, I listen to music. I like the feelings and inspiration songs can provide.  However, when I edit, I must have absolute silence. I have ADD, so I don’t need anything distracting me from the task at hand.

 

I can’t function without music. Although when I edit I tend to choose quieter songs or purely instrumental songs. Who or what are your biggest inspirations?

My biggest writing inspirations are Rick Riordan, George R.R. Martin, Cassandra Clare, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Shakespeare (though he’s technically a playwright).  In terms of life inspiration, I look to my loved ones. We all have a story and a struggle, and I am inspired by the processes and the triumphs I see around me.

  

That's beautiful, and so true. We can find inspiration all around us, if we look closely enough. What has been your biggest learning curve throughout this process?

No adverbs. Apparently I love adverbs, and they are considered a writing “no-no.” I do feel sorry for the poor adverb. The writing world disses them, and now modern language is trying to replace them in every day conversation. 

 

Ah, yes. Those poor little adverbs. I also have a tendency to over use them! They are always the first things to go in my first round of edits. What has been the hardest part for you for so far?

Waiting!! I am an impatient person by nature, and being a writer is all about waiting. I keep thinking one of these days I’ll develop a goodly amount of patience, but it hasn’t happened yet. <taps foot>



Haha, I can understand that! The waiting game isn’t much fun at all. What has been the most exciting part so far?

Interacting with fans and friends and feeling their excitement for me and for my book.  It’s heady.

 

It’s pretty amazing, right? To know that you’ve written something worth reading? :) How long were you querying for before you got to that elusive yes? And can you remember where you were when you realised that your dream had become a reality?

I queried for about six months before I got the elusive “yes.” I’m not sure what the querying process is like for other people, but I got some really great feedback and some soul crushing feedback. Taking all that advice, the good and the bad, I revised The Prophecy and queried again. I received the life changing news about two months into my second set of queries. 

When I got the email saying my book would be published, I was at the pet store buying cat food for my cat, Trinity (yes, from The Matrix—I’m a sci-fi nerd). I literally started screaming and jumping up and down right in the middle of the store. People probably thought I’d lost my mind!  LOL! 



And who could blame you?? I’d be anti-dancing my ASS off :p What do you do when you are not being a literary superstar? (As in, the times outside your designated 3pm – 5pm writing slot)

LOL!  Literary superstar, I love it!  ;)  In my non-writing times, I teach, do fitness training, edit for BookFish books, hang out with friends, tweet, watch TV, and READ!  :)

 

Busy, busy, busy! I’d love to read more. I mean I read A LOT but I wish I had time to just take a few weeks off from life and just read all the books that are on my reading list! Wishful thinking…Speaking of reading, there are some books that I read and think ‘if I had written that I could die happy.’ Are there any books you feel that way about?

Clockwork Princess…hands down.  Best book ending EVER!  Oh, anything related to Percy Jackson or Game of Thrones!  ;)

 

Hmm, I’ve never read Clockwork Princess...I’ll have to look it up! I did enjoy Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief…The movie, I mean. Does that count? Haha. What are some of your favourite books?

My most favourite books from childhood were Charlotte’s Web and Ramona Forever.  Now, I am particularly attached to The Infernal Devices series, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and the Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series. In terms of classics, Romeo and Juliet (though technically a play) and Pride and Prejudice.



Excellent choices. I’ve read Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice so many times that I’m close to being able to quote both word for word :p What are you reading at the moment?

House of Hades by Rick Riodan and Allegiant by Veronica Roth.

 

Divergent is next on my reading list, actually. Seems we have a lot in common! Okay, last question…If you could share one piece of advice for the people out there trying to follow their dreams and pursue a creative life, what would it be?

I would say keep dreaming, keep believing, keep pursuing. 

 

Excellent advice. Thanks so much for stopping by, Erin! THE PROPHECY is out NOW, and you can find it at these retailers:





 

 

Growing up on a small farm in the kingdom of Vanguard, seventeen-year-old Layla Givens lives a deceptively tranquil existence. But her carefully constructed life quickly falls apart when she’s abducted by a religious zealot who proclaims her The Fulfillment of an ancient peace prophecy and whisks her away to marry her greatest enemy.

Wilhelm, Prince of the Ethereals, is reluctant to meet his new bride. He's grown up believing Vanguards are evil, an enemy to fight and fear...not love. Can he set aside his prejudices and work alongside Layla to bring lasting peace after centuries of war?

Nash, a loner who has never fit in, carries a huge secret, one big enough to destroy both kingdoms. When he accidently meets Layla, he’s no longer content to live in the shadows, but he must resist his growing attraction—for her safety and for the longevity of the two kingdoms.

When Nash's secret is revealed, a firestorm sweeps through both realms, with Layla at the center. Now she must choose between duty and desire while the fate of two nations hangs in the balance.

 
 


About Erin

Erin Albert is an author and fitness trainer. Since she picked up Morris the Moose Goes to School at age four, she has been infatuated with the written word. She went on to work as a grammar and writing tutor in college and is still teased by her family and friends for being a member of the "Grammar Police." In her free time, Erin enjoys acting, running, kickboxing, and, of course, reading and writing. 

 



 

You can find Erin:

On Twitter: @ErinAlbertBooks



Erin’s website: www.erinalbertbooks.com
 
 
 
Read on for a preview of Erin Albert's THE PROPHECY...
 
 



“Everything must be taken down.”  A rotund man, with beady black eyes, surveyed the town, disdain in his expression.  While he did not appear distinguishable from the other black and purple clad men, he spoke with authority. “The First Ones and their great Prophecy must be honored properly.” He sniffed, his actions indicating the very existence of Medlin and its occupants offended him.

Layla wondered what this man considered a “proper honoring” of the First Ones.  The First Ones…they’d been dead for centuries, and, as far as Layla could tell, hadn’t done much in life except start a never-ending war.  She knew nothing more about them except that she was to thank them for good things, curse them for bad, and celebrate them on this day.
“That’s Elder Werrick, head of the Ecclesiastics,” whispered Samson, glancing back at Grant.  Layla noticed the look that passed between them.
Grant nodded his assent. “Get her out of here, brother.”
Samson tried to steer Layla away, but she held her position to get a closer look at the man whom her family so feared. She knew they had good reason to worry—her black hair and purple eyes marked her as a Fulfillment candidate, one with the potential to bring about the long awaited peace. But she couldn’t quite bring herself to believe Elder Werrick would notice her on the crowded streets, especially with her eye drops and hood. Could he really be responsible for dragging candidates from their homes, forcing them to undergo strenuous, sometimes gruesome, testing for the sake of the Prophecy?  To Layla, he looked like nothing more than a short, fat, unhappy man.  The very notion that he could strike such fear into the hearts of her people seemed almost laughable…almost. As his gaze swept over the crowd, she glimpsed a sinister undertone that made her shiver.
Waving his pudgy arms at the awaiting townspeople, Werrick commanded, “Take it down.” 
Suddenly, his body stilled and his tiny eyes grew wide.  They briefly connected with Layla’s, narrowing with calculation.  The Elder turned to his nearest black clad companion. 
“Do you feel that?” Layla heard Werrick ask. 
The other man looked skeptical.  “Feel what, Elder?”
Werrick leaned in as the two whispered, stealing furtive glances in her direction.  When the Elder’s companion pointed at Layla, Samson grabbed her arm. She heard his breathing change from rhythmic to jagged as he pulled her away from the men.
“We have to go now.” His urgency spurred her into action.
Grant moved to block them from the Elder’s view.  “Get her away from here, Samson.”
The Elder looked up to see everyone staring at him as if frozen. He repeated his demand, “I said take everything down.”
The townspeople, joined by the Elder’s minion, scampered to remove their decorations, anxious to “properly” celebrate the First Ones.  Their flurry of activity concealed Layla as Samson and Grant escorted her away.  Layla scanned the streets, horrified, as the people of Medlin stripped the town’s center barren.  In no time, everything appeared as it always had, devoid of any celebratory adornments.  She looked up at the sky with its gray clouds lingering overhead.  A bad omen…
On the hill, a safe distance away, Layla watched a group of Ecclesiastics erect a monstrous stage where the donkey races should have occurred.  She heard the braying of the angry animals, harnessed and corralled on the orders of the Elder to avoid interfering with the “true” Day of Dawning celebration. Her ire rose.  Who did they think they were coming in and changing everything? 
An icy, phantom finger traced a frigid line down her spine.  After hearing warning after warning from the Mantars her whole life, Layla knew exactly what the Ecclesiastics could do, what they had done to others in the past.  Maybe Samson and Grant had been right.  Maybe she should never have come, especially today.  Layla turned her back on the town, resolved to go home, to safety. 
“Layla!” Samson’s alarmed tone sliced into her, and she swung around toward him. 
To her horror, two Vanguard soldiers forced Samson to the ground.  She knew just how much strength he possessed, yet he couldn’t free himself. Her hands balled up into fists, shaking with their desire to unleash the full force of their fury.
“Run!” Samson screamed before a soldier’s fist smashed into his face. 
His body stilled.  Panic, coupled with indecision, crippled her.  She should run like Samson commanded, but she couldn’t leave him lying there.  To her relief, Grant ambled toward them, his eyes full of rage. 
“Run!” Grant echoed Samson’s warning.
With a final glance at the two boys who’d been as close to her as brothers, Layla fled.  She flew down the hill, swinging her head from side to side in alarm.  Ecclesiastics swarmed throughout the city, making a clear escape route difficult to discern. 
Terror rose within Layla.  Why hadn’t she listened to her family?  She’d been foolish to believe she could sneak around under the ever-watchful eyes of the Ecclesiastics, and that hubris put Samson and Grant in danger as well.  She choked back a sob. 
“Run,” she whispered. 
Willing her feet to move forward, Layla darted toward the back of the baker’s shop, hoping to take a shortcut through the back alleyway.  She swerved to miss a wooden box and stumbled, arms flailing to right herself. Unfamiliar hands reached out to break her fall.  Once stable, Layla looked up to find Elder Werrick staring down at her.  She screamed but no sound came out of her open mouth. 
“I’ve been looking for you,” he said, a wicked smile on his face. 

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