Wednesday, September 26, 2012

5 Things You Don't Know About Barton Paul Levenson

Welcome our guest today Barton Paul Levenson author of "Year Of The Human"

He's here today to share 5 things you don't know about him.

1. My favorite food is probably steak.

2. My favorite book is... darn it, I like so many. Maybe Robert A.
Heinlein's "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel" (1958).

3. My first car was a Yugo. Never again will I buy a car from a socialist
country. I spent more on that thing in repairs than I did to buy it.

4. I am both a born-again Christian and a liberal Democrat, which seems to
surprise people.

5. I have a degree in physics and do research in habitable planet astronomy.

Throsu planned to go into space, but the Menkti'an teen had no interest in Earth's human inhabitants--until her parents told her they planned to host a human scientist and her teenaged daughter for a year. And that the daughter would stay with Throsu, in Throsu's room!
And very soon, that was the least of her worries.


Also Check out Barton Paul Levenson's author page here:

Friday, September 14, 2012

Chocolate Lovers Unite

Chocolate Lovers Unite!


Today is International Chocolate Day. That’s right, chocolate. I feel like Augustus Gloop in front of the chocolate river. An entire day dedicated to all the chocolate you can devour without that guilt-inducing glare from your health physician (or look of glee from your dentist). Chocolate cakes, chocolate ice creams, fudge, brownies, truffles, chocolate bars, chocolate syrup, the ever versatile chocolate chips, dark chocolate, light chocolate, chocolate covered almonds, cherries, pretzels, chocolate…chocolate… chocolate!!!


I’ll pause while you wipe the drool from your keyboard…


What can’t be made better with chocolate? Nothing that I’ve come across. Ok, maybe eggs or broccoli, but still, most things are better with chocolate. Even those tough situations that life throws at us can either be resolved, or at the least put on hold with chocolate. Had an argument with your bestie? Smooth things over with some decadent chocolate ice cream. Craving a treat on your new diet? Try a chocolate meringue. Missed a birthday? Nothing says “I didn’t truly forget” like a chocolate cake! There’s something about the aroma of baking chocolate that can invigorate any kitchen and brighten any mood.


Blair Nightingale, faced with desperate challenges, discovers the power of baking in Chocolicious by Geraldine Solon. When Blair is overwhelmed by all the challenges she faces, she seeks comfort in baking rich, filled, three-layered chocolate cupcakes that her grandmother once taught her, and soon Blair's life is changed forever.


Hope you enjoy your day of chocolate!

Posted by Tracye Wilhelm
Marketing Director
Solstice Publishing

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

FREE Excerpt!!!

Available at Amazon!
Chapter One



The snow was coming down in blankets covering the ground as quickly as it fell. Rachel Connors sat there in her window sill looking out. The tears rolled down her face, as the thought of going back home haunted her. She hadn't seen her parents in five years, and wasn't completely positive she was making the right decision in going back now. She needed to be near family that year more than ever. Rachel made the decision to keep her medical problems to herself as she needed a break from reality. She knew there was no sense in making her parents worry about her. She would tell them nothing.

The sound of the cab's horn jarred her out of her thoughts. She wiped the tears away and grabbed her bags. She would be staying with her parents until after the holidays. The doctors didn't need to see her until January. How was she supposed to forget everything and enjoy a vacation at a time like that? Rachel sat in the back seat of the cab as it headed to the airport. It would be a long plane ride from Colorado to her parents' Ranch in Tennessee. It was always beautiful at her parents’ ranch, which was about an hour and a half outside of Nashville. They always teased her growing up about being a singer, but she never had any interest in singing. She always wanted to be a talent agent. She wanted to be the one who found the talent, which was exactly what she did. She was very successful at it, until she received a job offer from a ski resort in Aspen. She moved there to be the manager of her friends resort. It was a great escape from reality, and in the process she grew to love her new life. Rachel took a long nap on the plane ride to her parent's house. She had been under a lot of stress lately. It seemed like only minutes after her head hit the pillow when the flight attendant was saying they were landing. She looked around and saw that they were coming onto the runway. She rubbed her eyes and stretched her arms before standing up.

Kyle Landers stood there holding a sign for a woman who he had never met before. How did he get himself into situations like that? He couldn't tell Sue and Tom that he wouldn't go pick up their daughter for them even though he knew he wouldn't like her. He couldn't understand how she could stay gone as many years as she did knowing her parent's missed her. Kyle would do anything for Sue and Tom. They took him in four years ago when he didn't have anywhere else to go. He had no family and no place to go until he got the job on the ranch. He looked back and forth for Rachel. He had never met her but he had seen many pictures over the years.  Kyle decided he didn't want to give some stuck up, too good to come home to her family, up tight woman a ride. He dropped the sign into the trash can and walked out. He would tell Sue and Tom the flight must have been delayed. He felt a little bad lying to them, but he knew that their daughter could use a good lesson on how you treat people. She hadn't treated her parents very well not even visiting over the years. He turned and walked away.

While walking down the aisle, Rachel saw her name written on a sign lying in the trash can.  That was strange since her plane was right on time. Her parents told her a man named Kyle would be picking her up. Where was he? Why didn't he wait?

 She walked out of the airport and tried to catch a cab, but there weren't any in sight. Rachel walked up and down on the side walk with no luck. All the cabs were busy and she wanted to go home. She grabbed her bag and started to walk. Surely somebody would give her a ride within an hour and a half she thought. She made it down to the end of the parking lot when she saw a man getting ready to get into his truck. “Excuse me sir. My name is Rachel Connors. Can you please give me a ride to my family’s ranch? I'll pay for the gas and if you can't take me all the way there, I would be happy with anywhere close.  My ride didn't show up to pick me up and I can't seem to get a cab.”

Kyle shot her a look that let her know he wasn't in the mood to talk. He couldn't believe his luck. Of all the people wanting a ride it had to be the one person he wanted to leave at the airport. “Let's go. I have a lot of work to get done back at the ranch.”

Rachel didn't know what to think. “Okay” she said, as she glanced down at the ground.

She jumped up into his truck not saying a word. Rachel felt a little uncomfortable being with him. Once she got buckled into his truck she looked over at him. “Excuse me, but you haven't even told me your name.”

“Kyle. My name’s Kyle.” He said as he continued to drive.

“Have I done something to offend you? I don't even know you, but you seem to dislike me for some reason.”  She said, as she played with her hands nervously. “Wait a minute. Are you Kyle Landers? The same Kyle Landers that works for my father. Why were you just going to leave me here at the airport? I wasn't late.”

Kyle really didn't want to get into it with her right then, but it was going to be an hour and half ride back to the ranch. He knew he would have to talk to her at some point in time. “Why don't we stop to eat? I haven't had lunch yet.”

Rachel wasn't sure if he was trying to be nice now or if he was just hungry.  “That sounds good to me.” She said even though she was still angry at him for leaving her there.

They drove for another thirty minutes in silence before turning into the parking lot of a small restaurant. Rachel had eaten at that place before and remembered them having good food although she hadn't been eating much of anything lately. She hoped the trip back home would take her mind off her problems, but not bring up bad memories in the process. They walked into the restaurant and found a table in the back away from everyone.

Kyle sat down and picked up a menu without speaking. When the waitress walked by he waved her over to him. “I'll take a cheeseburger, fries and a coke please.”

Rachel saw the waitress look over at her. “I'll take the same. Thanks.” She looked over at Kyle. “How long have you worked for my father?”

“Four years.” He said without adding anything more.

“That's great. My father really needed help after Bobby....... Well never mind. I'm glad my father has you.” She took a sip of her soda trying to hold back the tears as she thought about her brother.

Kyle looked surprised to hear that Tom had somebody else work for him. He hadn't ever heard them talk about anyone else. “Who's Bobby? I've never heard the name before.”

Rachel looked surprised by the question. “Oh, well Bobby was my brother. You would have really liked him. He died six years ago in a car accident.”

“I'm sorry to hear that.” He felt bad for asking now.

The food came and they ate in silence. When they were finished eating they started on their trip back to the ranch once again. Neither of them spoke. Rachel couldn't help but wonder why Kyle seemed to dislike her so much. She had done nothing to him and he didn't know her. How could he make a judgment not to like her that quick? She sat there staring out the window thinking about when she was younger.  She remembered the way her and Bobby would go on long walks exploring the entire ranch or taking the horses out across the range. He would take off across there like he was in a race that he had to win. She could remember staying back watching him go. He feared nothing and embraced life to the fullest. Rachel could feel the tears starting again. She hadn't been home in so long that she had buried the memories deep down. She always thought about Bobby during the holidays, but more so this year. Bobby would have handled the news from the doctors better than she did. Rachel wiped a tear from her eyes.

Kyle glanced over at the saddest person he had ever seen. He was beginning to think maybe he misjudged her. Could she have good reasons for not coming around? Did it have something to do with Bobby? He knew that he didn't know anything about her, but the same time he knew that he wanted to. “Is everything alright?” he asked.

Rachel wiped her eyes and sat up straighter. “I'm fine. Just memories flooding me,” she said with a smile.

Kyle could tell that she didn't really want to talk about it and he wasn't sure that he did either. “It's not much further.” He said as he wished he could take the words back. Of course she knew it wasn't much further. She grew up there. He always got flustered when he got nervous. He stared at the road emotionless as he drove.

Rachel could see her parents’ house coming into view as she got more excited. She couldn't wait to see her mom and dad. It had been a long time since she had seen them. They had visited her two years ago in Colorado, but she just couldn't bear to come back home after Bobby died. She stuck around for about a year after he died and then she had to get out of there. The memories hurt too much. He was not only her brother but also her best friend. She didn't know how to live without him.

The truck stopped and Rachel jumped out as fast as she could. She saw her mother standing on the porch with a smile on her face. Rachel ran to her and threw her arms around her. “I missed you.” she said to her mom.

“I missed you too baby. I'm glad you're home, even if it's only for the holidays.” Sue said to her daughter as she hugged her tighter.

“Where's dad?” Rachel asked as she looked around.

Sue pointed into the house. “He threw his back out again. That's why Kyle had to pick you up.”

“Is he alright now?” she asked as she walked in the house. Looking back at Kyle she said. “Thank you for driving me home.”

Kyle nodded his head. “No problem. I'll talk to you later. I'm sure.”

Rachel walked on into the house to find her father lying on the couch with a heating pad behind his back. “Dad, how are you feeling?”

Tom sat up with a smile. “You made it. I'm glad you're here. How was the trip?”

“It was fine. I don't think Kyle likes me much, but the trip was fine.” she answered.

Tom gave her a smile. “Kyle just takes a little getting used to. He's a good man.”

Rachel visited with her parents for hours sitting in the living room around the fireplace. Her mother had made hot chocolate and apple spiced cake. Her mother always made the best cakes in the world. At least that was what Rachel always thought. She loved the way it felt being home again and almost hated to think about leaving. She decided to go take a nice long hot bubble bath before going to bed. She needed it after the stress that she had been under lately. She planned to get up bright and early to go riding on the ranch. It had been a long time since she had been out on the ranch.

The next day Rachel got up and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt to go riding. She walked up to the stables to pick out her horse. When she walked in she saw Kyle brushing one of the horses.

“Good morning.” she said to him.

Kyle looked up at her. “Hi. Going riding this morning?”

“Yes. It's been awhile. I can't wait. Would you like to go with me?” she asked not knowing where that came from. The words came out of her mouth without thinking.

Kyle didn't know what to say. “Sure. I can go riding with you. Let me saddle up a couple of horses.”

Rachel went over to one of the stalls and started brushing the black stallion. Its coat was shiny and smooth. “This is my horse, buttercup. I haven't ridden her in a while. I'll get her ready for me to ride. If you don't mind?”

“No. Go ahead. I'll saddle up Ranger for me to ride.” He walked over to the brown horse in the last stall and started getting the horse ready.

After a few minutes of getting the horses ready, they headed off across the land. Rachel loved the feel of the wind hitting her in the face as she rode quickly across the fields. She hadn't done that in a really long time. Thoughts of her and Bobby racing their horses flooded her mind as she raced her horse to the back part of the land. She wanted to stop at the creek to let her horse have some water. When she stopped and got off, she looked back to see if Kyle was still there. He was coming up behind her slowly.

“You ride great.” he told her as he jumped off his horse.

Rachel smiled. “I love to ride. I never get a chance to anymore. The only thing I ride is a snowmobile now.” 

She walked over and sat down on a big rock and watched her horse drink from the creek. Glancing up at Kyle she said. “It's okay though. I get paid good money to do what I do.”

“Money isn't everything though. You need family too.” He still wasn't sure why she moved away, but he was starting to think she had reasons, and maybe he was wrong to misjudge her the way he did. He could tell that she loved her family. Why did she leave? He wanted to find out, but didn't want to come right out and ask.

Rachel sighed. “I know and I do miss my family. It was really hard on me after Bobby died. I stuck around for about a year afterwards, but then I had to get out of here. Now it's been all this time and I don't know what has been keeping me away. Now I wish more than ever that I lived here near my parents.”  She looked away with a tear in her eye. She didn't want to cry in front of him, and she didn't want this complete stranger to know anything about her medical problems.

“I'm sorry if I upset you. I didn't mean to do that.” Kyle felt horrible.

Rachel wiped a tear away. “You didn't upset me. I always get emotional around the holidays. More so now than before.”

Kyle didn't know what she meant by that, but he could see a sadness in her eyes. He stood there staring at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was about five foot five inches tall with long brown hair. She couldn't be more than a size six. He couldn't believe that he was looking at her that way. It was only a day ago that he had decided that he didn't like her. Things were changing for him with time. He looked over at her. “I guess you and your brother, Bobby, were close?”

Rachel smiled as the thoughts of Bobby came back to her. “Yes, we were like best friends. We did everything together. It was really hard for me when he died.  We had spent the whole day together that day at a baseball game in Nashville. That night Bobby wanted me to go to the store for him and get him some ice cream, but I was tired and said I didn't want to. He left to go get it himself, and on his way home he was hit by a drunk driver. I can't help but blame myself. If I had went to the store then maybe he would still be here with us. It's my fault that he is dead.” Rachel couldn't stop the tears from falling. They were coming down like rainfall.

Kyle went over to her and took her into his arms. “It's not your fault, Rachel. You can't blame yourself. Is that why you have stayed away so long? If it is then I think you need to come home to your family.”

Rachel wiped the tears away and walked back to her horse. “You don't understand. I can't leave Aspen right now. I have to be there. I wish I could, but I can't” She walked over and got up on her horse. She rode across the land without looking back.

When they got back to the stables she started brushing her horse. Rachel loved that ranch and missed it every day. She would love to move back, but knew she couldn't until the doctors said she could. The waiting for the test and then the results were going to be the hardest thing she had ever had to do. The doctors couldn't get her in for her test until January. Rachel was snapped out of her thoughts by the sound of Kyle walking in with his horse.

“I'm sorry I upset you. Sometimes I put my whole foot in my mouth.” he said as he walked the horse to the stall.

Rachel laughed. “You’re fine. I just get a little emotional sometimes. It's not your fault.”

“How about you let me take you out tomorrow night for dinner to make up for it?” Kyle had no idea where that came from. He was usually a little on the shy side with women.

She looked at him with a little shock in her eyes. “I would love to go out with you tomorrow night, but I can't. My mom and dad are going out of town to the cattle sales, and I promised that I would get some baking done for thanksgiving for her. You are welcome to come over and let me cook you something if you would like. We can watch a movie while the cakes are baking.”

“Sounds good to me.” Kyle said. “I'll see you then.

Rachel couldn't believe she had made a date with him. She barely knew him, but she couldn't help but think how great looking he was. He was six foot tall with sandy blond hair and a great complexion. She could tell that he worked long, hard hours out in the sun. She walked in the house and saw her mom over by the stove cooking. She went over to her and gave her a hug. “Something smells good.”

Sue smiled over at her daughter. “It's beef stew. One of your many favorites.”

Rachel laughed because she loved to eat. She told her mom. “Guess what I'm doing tomorrow night.”

“I have no idea, dear.” Sue answered.

“I'm cooking dinner for Kyle while you’re gone. He asked me out and I told him I had to do the baking for you, but that I would cook him dinner. He said yes.” She seemed to be talking a mile a minute.

Sue hadn't seen her daughter look that excited about anything in a very long time. “I'm glad honey, but I would be careful not to lead him on. You are still leaving at the end of December aren't you?”

“Yes, mother. We won't get serious. It's just one date.” Rachel tried to make herself believe it more than her mother. She went over to the cabinet to get the dishes down to set the table. When she was all done setting them out, she went to get her father for dinner.

They all sat down at the table together to eat. Rachel made small talk with her dad about the ranch and the horses. “How's it going around here lately?”

Tom looked over at his daughter. “Well, I could sure use a good manager to run this ranch. Do you know anyone that can run a whole business, like maybe a huge resort that might be interested in the job?”

Rachel had no idea that her dad wanted her to run the ranch with him. “Dad, I can't believe you are asking me this. I would love to, but I can't right now. I have some stuff that I have to take care of back in Aspen. Hopefully I can get that all taken care of in a few months and then I would love to move back here.

Sue’s face could have lit up the whole room. Happy didn't come close to the way she felt at that very moment. She would do anything to have her daughter back home. “What do you have to take care of?”

Rachel nearly choked on her iced tea. “What? Oh, I just need to give a notice at work. Help train somebody. That could take a few months. Then pack everything that I own and move it here. It might take me some time to get things in order, but I will work on it as quickly as I can.”

After they all finished eating, Rachel went to take a long hot bubble bath. She filled the tub to the top, and then sank down in the steaming hot water. She felt so relaxed for a few minutes. She laid there in the tub, and before she realized what she was doing, her hand reached up and fell on her breast. She couldn't help but touch it, but when she did the tears came flooding from her eyes. The doctors had found the lump in a routine exam. They told her that it may be nothing but they would have to run some blood tests and CT scans. If that didn't give them the results that they wanted then she would have to have a biopsy. Rachel laid there in the bath tub crying until her water went cold on her. She didn't know how long she had been in there but she knew she didn't want to get out.

After what seemed like hours, Rachel got out of the bath tub and dried off. She stood there looking at herself in the mirror for a few minutes before getting dressed. How could somebody as healthy as she had always been be sick now? It didn't make sense, and it didn't seem fair. Was she being punished for something? That was all that she ever thought to herself. She got dressed and crawled into bed. Maybe thinking about spending time with Kyle would help take her mind off things.

Then next morning Rachel woke up to the smell of bacon cooking. She had truly missed being with her family. She usually grabbed something quick and easy for breakfast. It had been a while since she had a nice home cooked meal like the one she smelled downstairs. She threw her robe on and headed down the stairs. When she made it to the bottom she saw Kyle sitting at the table. She turned around and ran back up the stairs as fast as she could. She couldn't let him see her like that. She had to make herself beautiful. She ran over to the dresser and started combing her hair and putting some make up on. She grabbed a red t- shirt and some blue jeans to wear. When she finished getting dressed she walked slowly downstairs. She walked into the kitchen to find only her mother there. Her father and Kyle had already left to get started on the ranch work.

“Didn't I hear voices down here a few minutes ago?” Rachel asked as if she hadn't seen Kyle sitting there.

“Yes, you did. Your father and Kyle already went out to the back field to gather the cattle for tonight’s sale. They will be gone for most of the day. I'm sorry that you missed them.” her mother told her.

“It's no big deal. I was just wondering.” Rachel said as she acted like she wasn't really interested. “I think I'll go into town today and do some sight-seeing. It's been a while since I've been home.”

“That sounds like a great idea, dear.” Sue was glad to see her daughter thinking of it more like home. She had wanted her to move back for many years now.

Rachel spent the whole day in town going from store to store looking around. She went into the music store and spent hours in there. She remembered going there with Bobby many times. It had a new owner now, but everything looked the same. Rachel picked up a couple of CDs to buy. After she left the music store she went into a small general store. The first thing that grabbed her attention was a pink ribbon pin for sale for one dollar to help promote breast cancer awareness. It seemed like she noticed more things like that now then she ever had. Rachel walked past the pin without picking it up. She didn't need any reminders telling her that she could have cancer. It was scary enough thinking about it on her own and knowing that she was going through it alone. Rachel couldn't tell her parents they could lose the only child they had left. She spent the rest of the day in town and then she headed back home. Rachel wanted to say goodbye to her parents before they left for their three day trip. They had asked her if she wanted to go with them, but she didn't want to leave the ranch. It had been too long since she had been back there. Rachel didn't want to think about leaving. She only had six weeks before she had to go back home for her doctor visit. That's when she would get the results to the CT scan and blood work. She didn't understand why the doctors couldn't get the results before the holidays, but they said the lab was overloaded with work and they were way behind. She didn't like it, but she understood.

She pulled into the driveway and saw the cattle trailer hooked up to the back of her father’s truck. She had made it just in time to say goodbye before they left. Rachel walked in and found her mother in the kitchen making notes. “What are you doing mom?”

“I'm making you a list of pies, cakes, and breads that I would like you to make for me while I'm gone. I'll be delivering them to the church when I get back. They are making baskets for needy families.” Sue told her as she handed her the list.

“Wow mom. You have enough stuff on this list to feed the whole state. I'll be busy all night and tomorrow too.” Rachel pretended to be angry, but the whole time she loved every minute of it. She hadn't done any baking in years. She used to love making things with her mom. It was going to be fun being in the kitchen all weekend. She walked over and gave her mom a hug. “I love you. Have a good trip”

“We will. You have a good weekend too.” Sue hugged her daughter and then turned and walked out to the truck.

Rachel went back into the kitchen to try to figure out what she wanted to fix for dinner that night. She wanted it to be perfect for Kyle. She put some chicken breasts in the oven to cook. Then she peeled some potatoes to make mashed potatoes. She cut one of her mom's fresh loaves of bread and put some butter on the table. Rachel had everything almost finished when she heard Kyle pull in. She ran upstairs quickly to spray her favorite perfume on before he walked in. She double checked her hair in the mirror and then walked back to the kitchen.




















Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Football Widow by Tracye Wilhelm

The Football Widow


The football season has officially begun!

Wednesday, Thursday, all day Sunday, Monday; College on Saturday;

The pig-skin; pre-game tailgating; facepaint;

The cheering, the shouting; the crying (you know who you are!), it’s enough to change your McDreamy into drooling couch potato, and you looking for something a little more…interesting… engrossing… and heart palpitating!


If Clay Matthews doesn’t spark your flame, check out the flaming hot Matthews brothers. Dane Matthews wins a feisty bride in a poker game that brings him trouble with his brothers in The Payment. In book two, Jesse Matthews walks away from the love of his life. When she walks back into his life unexpectedly he has to prove to her he won’t repeat The Foolish Decision again. And Jeff finds his life Shaken and Shook up when he rescues beautiful Pinkerton Detective Perry.


For a more passionate experience than being a member of Raider Nation, try the rugged outback of Passion Victoria, Australia. Follow the trials, adventures, and passionate loves of Toni, Nikki, Hailey, Beth, Tash, and Duncan and Alec as they battle haunted pasts, kidnappings, and mobsters. Even with all this heart pounding excitement, they each find love so passionate that it can only be enjoyed in multitudes!


Feeling like you’ve been betrayed and lied to by McDrooly’s semi-permanent obsession of the TV? So to is ex-SEAL under cover operative Jack Sealed In Lies when he is betrayed by his own Deputy Director. Now racing to discover why, he uncovers an assassination attempt on the president elect, and rescues the future love of his life. Unable to remove the betrayal in his life Jack is Captures In Lies when the life of his sister is at stake.


And if you’re looking for a more suspenseful guard than Giants’ Mitch King, read on as CEO giant Mitch Jacobs races to save the world, his company, and the loves of his life in The Mitch Jacob's trilogy. As you follow him Denver to Pakistan, and London, to Bogota, you’ll soon learn that this CEO makes dynamic Executive Executions and it is never Business as Usual!


So if this year’s fantasy draft has left you fantasizing about a different playbook, look for these, and other exciting series’ published by Solstice Publishing to get you through this football season!

Posted by Tracye Wilhelm
Marketing Director
Solstice Publishing

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back To School With Tracye Wilhelm

School, school, here again

Catching up with old friends

Can’t wait to begin


The summer holiday is over. Schools have either started, or will be starting the world over. Having been out of school for some time, I am still thrilled to see all the back-to-school displays in the store.  Call me a geek, but I’ve always loved school. The cooling weather always seemed to spark the excitement of meeting up with old friends, finding new ones, and, much to my parent’s chagrin, deciphering what new troubles I could create.

Elementary school was the most thrilling listening to my friends’ stories about their exciting summer adventures, like Emmie in Bread, Bacon, and the Really Big Fish by Gail Hedrick, The Unexpected Thief by Keith Hardy, and Silly Sock Grandma by Susanna Hargreaves.

Of course there were also the “other” lessons learned in school, the ones not in the lesson plans. Being the tallest and the skinniest kid in school, much like Jacko the Giraffe (by Karen Lewis) had me finding friends in unique company, similar to Royal Ferdinand by Donald Ford, and dealing with adversaries, as Rowan and Fern do in Squirrel Wars by Jane Finch. All in hopes of being the cool kid like Koolura in The Legend of Koolura by Michael Thal, I never quite managed it. I was the kid with the backpack full of extra books because I liked them.

Junior high seemed to be focused solely on being popular. As if being tall and obsessed with books weren’t enough, I now had to contend with pop-bottle glasses. Did I mention the geek reference already? I was a prime target for bullying, and I wish we had our own bully squad like what Jack creates in The Bully Squad by Tony Jacks. My troubles were nothing when compared to those of Mandy in The Trouble With Mandy by Shirley Bigelow DeKelver, or Kate in Linked Through Time by Jessica Tornese. Having to sleep next to a skeleton while worrying about a baby eagle, or waking up back in time in my now-dead aunt’s body definitely top the list of troubles I never had to deal with! And I definitely never dealt with a drag-queen-by-night dad as Sindy Winger does in My Dad's A Drag by Linda Flynn.

Once high school started and I was no longer faced with the troubles of an early teen. We had more somber issues to deal with. Ahh the pressures of still being a “kid” but with adult responsibilities and fun lurking right around the corner. All the life lessons of school culminated at University. It was fun, it was hard, it was exciting, but not nearly as exciting as events at Lanesboro College Active Shooter!

Now that my oldest is starting school I am looking forward to her learning to make new friends, and getting to hear all about their adventures. Maybe she’ll even meet someone with A Cow Named John (by Gail Picado)!
Posted by Tracye Wilhem
Solstice Publishing
Marketing Director

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Chapter One Free: Daughter Of Hauk

Chapter 1
Arwenna closed her gray eyes against the death blow she knew was coming. A cool breeze brushed against her cheek as the blade drove down into her spine. Pain flared through her briefly before her soul was set free. She had a vision of her body crumpling to the ground in front of her companions, and then she felt the pull towards the paradise she believed was waiting for those who led their life honorably. A faint smile of expectation crossed her lips.
The smell of acrid, sulfurous smoke assaulted her nostrils. A dull ache crept into her consciousness as rocks ground their way into her hands and knees. Raising her head in disbelief, she took in the bleak landscape. This is no paradise; this is a hell,she thought. Broken rocks rose up in craggy spires from the parched ground. The perpetual haze of a never-rising sun bathed the cracked earth in an eerie red glow. Stone monuments seemed strewn at random, each bearing the mark of a different deity. Arwenna’s mind reeled as her eyes focused on the tortured figures left hanging from these roughly-hewn altars.
Hands grabbed at her ebony hair, jerking her head up and back. The face in front of her made her eyes bulge in terror. Hooked teeth protruded from the mouth like tusks, curving up towards where a nose should be. Her gray eyes met red ones, the hatred clearly visible.
“You think Silas cares for you, a simple woman?” the creature sneered. “He has deserted you, given you over to us. We will crush your will, , and bring our master forth to rule this world as was meant to be!” A whip was brought down hard against her back. Her knees gave way, the pale flesh rendered open by the sharp rocks she landed on. Her screams of pain were soon drowned out by laughter. Arwenna’s mind searched for a memory, any memory, that she could cling to. Anything to ward off the agony:
The forest gave way to brushland and open fields. The sky was getting darker; it would rain soon. The wind came in from the south, bringing with it the smells of Tanisal and the ocean. Arwenna and her companions crouched behind the brush. They hadn’t expected to find a small army when they set out to find aid. Barek, Senyan and Mialee were somewhere inside the city. Now, they would need to circumvent the army. She glanced to Y’Dürkie and Rhiannon, both ready to attack or defend as necessary.
The scream of an eagle pierced the air. Even the soldiers, barely yards from them, looked up as something fell from the sky. The broken body of her cousin, Lexi, landed close to where Arwenna was concealed. The giant eagle on which she had flown followed, the ground shaking slightly with the impact. Arwenna’s face contorted in rage and grief as she saw Lexi’s body lying so still.  She wanted to run to her, they all did, but dared not give up their location.
There was a rustling behind them. Arwenna looked to each side and saw naked steel pointed at the throats of her and her companions. She had fought with them for too long to risk their deaths. Silently, she gave up her weapon and motioned for the others to do the same. There was a time and place to fight, but this was not it.
Strong hands jerked them to their feet and bound their hands. The men wore the livery of the Paladins of Silas. Arwenna recognized it as the militant arm of the church she belonged to.
What cause do you have to arrest us?” she asked them quietly.
One of them, a youth barely old enough to shave, looked at her briefly. His face openly displayed his dislike for what he had to do. He spoke apologetically. “It’s orders, Holy One. We were told to seek you out and bring you before the Justicar in town.” 
Carts were brought, like rolling jail cells. They were separated quickly. Lexi’s body was thrown onto the back of a horse and her once splendid eagle left on the ground for the vultures. Arwenna looked to the sky, offering up silent prayers for her cousin. There was no answer to her prayers as rain started dripping, mixing with her tears as she curled up into a ball.
The feel of stone scraping across her feet brought her back to consciousness as she was dragged across the rocky landscape. Shattered ruins of stone lay everywhere on the cracked ground. When they finally stopped, she was roughly pulled upright and bound by thick rope to one of the stone altars. A fire was burning nearby. Figures darted about, partially obscured by the smoky flames. They stoked the fire repeatedly, building it until it reached into the perpetual twilight. It did nothing to lessen the cold piercing her skin. The smoke cleared for a moment, and then Arwenna saw nails being tempered in the fire. A plaintive cry escaped her throat as desperation fueled her struggle against the ropes that held her. The creatures laughed at her efforts, stirring the coals even hotter. Another creature joined them, so massive that he blotted out all manner of light. He carried a hammer the size of her head. Biting her lip against what she knew was coming, she redoubled her efforts to free herself when she saw a white hot nail pulled from the fire. A soulful scream escaped her mouth as the first nail drove through her hand and into the stone. She searched her mind for another place, another memory, in which she could escape.
She was back in that cell. Chains snaked from her wrists to the wall. A small beam of light penetrated the darkness of the dungeon, offering a glimmer of hope against the sounds of tortured souls. She had been placed here after her arrest. This was where she would await her trial. She turned her thoughts inward to gain the insight she would need to fight the battle ahead of her.
Footsteps approached, and she heard the sound of keys being searched through. She did nothing but raise her head as the door to her cell creaked open. It took a while for her to focus; it was the Paladin leader, and her eyes widened briefly as she recognized his face.
She watched him closely as he dismissed the guard and set the torch into a sconce on the wall. This man was only interested in what he wanted to hear. There was always something dark and cold about him.
Are you ready to speak the truth now, or are you still determined to lie?” he said in a demanding voice. “I know not how you are able to still lie given the magic we have placed on you. It’s demon magic, I’m certain.” He knelt before her and stared into her eyes. “You don’t have to die here. One word from me and you would be free of those chains.”
And what word would that be, Brother? One that would lead me down a path of darkness? I know in my heart I have done nothing wrong. Those who speak lies are the ones who bring darkness, not me,” She said, mustering all her defiance. “I do not fear death. Silas will take me in. And His justice will be visited on you.”
He straightened himself and jerked Arwenna to her feet, making her wince as he held her arm tightly. He smiled coldly.
Silas? He has deserted you and taken your magic from you. You are nothing but a mere shadow.” He ran a cold finger down her cheek, making her shudder. “Renounce your companions and submit to me and you will live.”
Something deep in Arwenna began to stir, some long-forgotten truth from which she drew strength. She looked at him, seeing the hunger, and stepping back until she touched the wall, spat in his face.
I will never submit to you. I would rather die and answer to Silas before I ever allow you to touch me!”
Roaring in anger, the Paladin strode towards her and grabbed her by the back of her head, forcing her to look at him. “I will break you, in life or in death. And it will be sweet indeed.” He kissed her, giving her an idea of the torment he promised, before throwing her to the ground and leaving her there.
Arwenna awoke again, her hands and feet still throbbing from the red-hot nails. It seemed the pain would last forever. This must truly be Hell. Silas had forsaken her and the tears began to fall down her face; this insight was far more painful than the nails buried in her limbs. Arwenna’s will crumbled as she lost faith. She sought another memory, anything to escape the pain.
The lake shimmered in the morning light, almost blinding Arwenna as she headed to the well near the compound. She hadn’t been here long enough to become used to the beauty of it, although she’d been reprimanded frequently by the head of the Order for staring at it too long.
Sighing, she brought a full bucket to the top of the well. She may have been a full Cleric of the Order, but the local church didn’t care much for her title. She did have her own bed in a corner of the dormitory, which seemed like the only affirmation of her rank. Her days centered around the menial tasks of cleaning, fetching, and cooking as opposed to healing. Brother Rey said he’d soon be instructing her on how to deal with the Undead. She looked forward to those lessons.
Arwenna! Arwenna!” a voice called out to her. Raising her head, she saw a young ward of the Order running toward her. Myra’s skirts were held high, but she still found a way to splash mud on them.
Arwenna, you must come quickly!” Myra paused to regain some of her breath. “Travelers have brought in strangers, five of them. They found them alongside the road not far from here. There’s an elf!”
Myra, you can’t be serious. I’m the only elf around for miles, and I wouldn’t be here if not for the Order. I’m sure you just thought you saw an elf.” Elves preferred wooded areas or riverbanks, not the scrub brush filled hills of a mining community. This was dwarf country.
No, really! It is an elf! And the elders want you to come and help with the healing as quickly as possible!” Her voice didn’t suggest any trickery, and Arwenna wondered how this could be possible.
Here, carry one of these then. I can move faster with just the one.” She shoved one of the buckets of water at Myra before gathering her own skirts and hurrying towards the vicarage.
Arwenna then stopped and put the bucket of water down. She smoothed her skirts and walked through the arched walkway and across the inner courtyard towards the infirmary.
There was more activity than usual, with all of the healers trying to find a way to help. There were not many beds; few who came in need of treatment remained more than an hour. Now all the beds were full. There was a group of travelers speaking with the local watch commander and the head of the Order. Arwenna craned her neck, hoping to get an idea of what was going on. Brother Rey saw her, and called out her presence to Father Morgyn before returning to his patient.
Father Morgyn motioned her over to where he was listening to the traveler relay what they had found. He then excused himself and took her arm, leading her towards another cot.
These people were found about two hours from here, along the road. We’re afraid most won’t make it through the night. However, there is one that we think you should care for. He’s an elf, you see. He will heal better if he is looked after by another elf. You will probably not be able to heal him completely, but just get him stable. And do not touch him if you don’t have to.” His eyes traveled down to the elf lying on the cot.
Arwenna glanced down at her new patient. He was a younger elf, but his hair was gray as if aged, which was very strange. There was a look of pain on his face that ran deeper than the cuts she could see. “What is wrong with him?” She looked back at Father Morgyn.
Father Morgyn spoke low. “He’s been cursed, my daughter. He’s been touched by some great evil. Even now, his insides are being eaten away. I think we can save him, but it will take much effort.”
Arwenna nodded and carefully sat beside the elf. She began the prayers of healing, concentrating on the task at hand.
Myra brought a bowl of cool water and a rag, watching intently. “I wonder what his name is. Brother Rey said he couldn’t tell where he came from.”
I’m sure he’ll tell us when he awakens, Myra,” she answered absently, as she turned her attention to her patient.
The others are all dead or dying, so they won’t be able to tell us. Don’t you think we should give him a name at least?” It seemed very important to her.
Arwenna sighed at Myra’s single-mindedness. “I suppose it may be necessary, Myra. Do you have one in mind already?”
Yup! Senyan Dakar,” Myra nodded, satisfied.
Senyan Dakar it is then,” Arwenna declared. She held out hope that they would not have to use this name for his gravestone.
The elf stirred on the cot, opening his eyes for a moment. Arwenna could see both great intellect and great pain in those eyes before they closed again.
The brightness of the flash brought her back to consciousness. Four creatures stood in front of her, three of which held glowing, barbed whips. The fourth looked at her, with what passed as a grin on its face. “Are you ready to renounce your God, bitch?” 
“Never” she threw the word out with all the defiance she could muster.
The first lashing tore into her flesh. She bit her lip to keep from crying out and searched her mind for another place to go, anywhere but here.
The early morning sunlight stabbed at her eyes.  She had been brought out to the courtyard to have judgment brought upon her. The tracks from the recent rain slid down the white stone walls, as if tearstained. It seemed the world wept for her as well.
There were few spectators; their prosecutors could not afford a proper trial, but she could make out some of her companions. Rhiannon, defiant as ever, and Y’Dürkie, chained and shackled against her mighty rage. Arwenna could imagine how many guards it had taken to subdue her. She forced thoughts of them out of her mind. If they offered to spare them, she may well have been broken. She couldn’t think of them and do what she had to do. Holding her head up proudly, she looked at those in front of her.
Arwenna Shalian, you and your companions stand convicted of treason, thievery, and consorting with demons. Do you have any final words before you are put to death?” the Justicar proclaimed, looking past her at the small crowd of witnesses. The Paladin stood behind him, staring at her, waiting for her to break.
If this is indeed justice, then let it be done. If it is not, we will return and seek justice of our own,” she called out. Y’Dürkie and Rhiannon echoed her words.
The Paladin strode towards Arwenna, grabbed her, and forced her to kneel in front of her companions. “I give you this one last chance. Renounce them or die.” His voice lowered as he spoke in her ear, “Submit to me, and I will spare their lives.”
Arwenna looked at the faces of her companions. Each one of them told her the same thing: death would be preferable to submission.
The Paladin saw this and furiously brought his blade down into Arwenna’s spine. Darkness enveloped her as she heard the dying screams of her friends.