Monday, May 24, 2010

Beep! Beep!

There's a lovely roadrunner pair that hangs around the property at times. The male is on the left -- the one with the crest on his head. A couple of years ago they brought a little one with them when they came visiting, so I'm hoping for another baby soon. And may I just point out I took this picture while sitting at my desk?


While we're on the subject of the view out the window while I'm working, here's another for your vicarious enjoyment. This is part of my free-ranging flock: 2 bantam roosters and 4 standard hens are in this shot.


What's the view from YOUR desk like?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Every Story Has an End

When I think of my father, I think "contradictions". He was a bigot in theory yet tolerant in practice. Not well educated yet someone who loved to learn. Impatient by nature yet capable of the greatest patience of all.

Judged by those small actions which truly define us, it turns out he was a pretty decent guy all in all.

What I remember most is what a devoted caregiver he was to my mother, a "brittle" diabetic confined to the house for several years before she died in 2004. He waited on her tirelessly, indulging her, giving up his own dreams to bring what happiness he could to her final years. They never overtly demonstrated their love in public -- they didn't have to. They proved it to one another, and to me, in quiet ways throughout their 51 years of marriage.

I had already started to look for a place in the country when my mother passed. Dad had already made the decision to sell his memory-laden house, so it was natural to ask if he wanted to move out with me if I could find a suitable property. Both of us recognized we could never live in the same house together -- he was Felix to my Oscar and living in close quarters with my menagerie was not something he was willing to entertain. Luckily, he had a love affair with mobile homes. While some men troll car lots drooling over muscle cars or monster trucks, my dad haunted mobile home and RV dealerships. So when I found land with a house for me and a second area already set up with a couple of RV pads, water, a septic system, and electricity, he picked out his dream home and brought it over a couple of months after I had moved in.

For both of us, it was the best decision we could have made.

I'm a very private person, so I was concerned my dad would be too much in my business living so close by. My dad was a very social person, so he was concerned the pace of life would be too slow and make him age faster. While there was some compromise for both of us, we quickly adjusted, gave each other private space and private time, and learned to agree to disagree on a number of small matters. In return, we both benefited more than we thought we would from the arrangement.

My dad busied himself with building, painting, and repairs. And mowing. He loved to mow, and he kept the original 19 acres nicely manicured. He also developed a love for the beasties and volunteered to do most of the morning cleaning and watering, enjoying the routine of the labor as much as anything. Farm work kept him physically healthy and card games on the computer kept his mind sharp. More than anything, he was afraid to grow old.

He was 76 when he moved here. What I know because he told me regularly is that he never regretted making the move -- not for a single day. Knowing I had a small part in helping to make him happy made me happy. Plus, I got side benefits: my personal "handyman." Aside from keeping up the mowing, he built stalls, wired the barn for electricity, put up cross-fencing, and picked up the feed for the beasts. In fact, he was laying drainpipe to help correct a problem with my septic field when he had a heart attack.

That was just over a year ago. He wound up having a quintuple bypass two days later. If the story ended there, he would have been back on the tractor in just a few weeks. In fact, in my neighborhood, bypasses are almost a rite of passage -- seems just about all the neighbors have had them. But his heart fibrillated a few days after surgery and dislodged a clot that found its way to his brain. The result: a devastating stroke.

He fought hard right after his stroke and made some amazing progress, especially once he came home from a 3-month stay for rehab at a nursing home. That was a dark time for him. He hated the nursing home, even though it was his decision to stay as long as he did, knowing he needed the support they could provide as the doctors worked to get his stroke-induced seizures under control. He came back to his home in September, with a complement of full-time caregivers, home health nurses, and occupational and physical therapists. His left arm and leg were heavily impaired, and he'd lost the left field of vision in both eyes. Not being able to process what little he could see and not being able to read any longer were what grieved him most. Still, he was convinced he would be back on his tractor, driving his truck, and doing the chores by Christmas.

At the beginning of this year, we backed him off 24-hour care to 8-hour care, allowing him a few hours of privacy and independence during the day. His spirits improved, his body was getting stronger, and he had two really good months where things were looking up.

Then he had a second stroke.

The seizures returned, he regressed rapidly and his depression deepened over the next few weeks. As the one-year milestone approached and he found himself nearly back at ground zero, he simply gave up. It was only two weeks after that one-year anniversary that he died, 6 weeks shy of his 82nd birthday.

As we did with my mother, we donated his body to a nearby medical school. He didn't want to be a bother or burden to anyone, so by his request, which I fully support, there was no funeral and no service. His surviving brothers, sister, and friends are scattered about the country unable to travel and facing medical challenges of their own, so a service would have served few people.

I often said if I'd met my dad on the street, we wouldn't have been friends. His politics, interests and attitudes were, in general, not consistent with mine. I was, however, privileged to be his daughter. He left me with a legacy that can only be bequeathed by someone who came by it honestly -- two great life lessons: fierce devotion to family and grace in coping with adversity.

I won't forget.

And I will miss him.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Query Revision 11

Face-Lift 730: The Minion and the Mistress

Dear Famous ePublisher,

I am seeking a publisher for “The Minion and the Mistress”, a fun and fast-paced story of heroic trolls, supernatural mobsters and an unlikely true love. This novella is a romance with fantasy elements, complete at 41,000 words.

Since her earliest childhood when she was kidnapped by fairies, Annith has lived under the protection of Metellus, a minor demon and a small-time crime lord. Metellus rules a pocket of fae-folk hiding in the mortal realm, and he’s always treated Annith as his beloved daughter. Now, though, she’s grown up, rounded out, and Metellus has acquired some wandering hands. His advances turn forceful, and Annith becomes increasingly frantic to escape the only home she’s ever known.

Metellus, fearing she’ll escape him, assigns a massive troll, Ruuk, to be her “bodyguard.” Annith is ready to bash Ruuk’s head in if it will get her away from Metellus, but as she gets to know the soft-spoken troll, she finds he’s kind and funny—sweet even. The seven-foot lug might even be in over his head. He seems to be losing his spirit bit by bit with every job he works for the ruthless Metellus, and she’s worried what’ll be left of her troll if he keeps this up.

But when it comes down to achieving her freedom or saving the troll she’s increasingly come to care for, Annith has to decide if she really will do anything (and sacrifice anyone) to get herself away from Metellus.

Under my pen name XYZ, I recently sold my YA fantasy novel, “XYZ” to XYZ Publishing, and I’ve also got a short story in Whispers Publishing’s upcoming Erotiquick anthology.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,

Comments
 
Overall, I really like this query and the concept of the story as you've presented it. You've got nice voice coming through, especially in P3. The opening paragraph is succinct and well done.

I only have a couple of minor quibbles.

P2: I think giving us "beloved" in one sentence followed by near-rape in the next is too wide a swing. I doubt 40K words gives you time to explore the softer side of Metellus, so maybe don't mention it?

P4: I'm not clear what the conflict is here. She'll save the troll if she remains with Metellus? But won't Ruuk still be working for Metellus and be losing his spirit even more? Or will Metellus kill him?

Also, this paragraph seems to turn the story a bit darker than the "fun and fast-paced" story promised in the first paragraph. I'm going to suggest adding a clever wrapup sentence at the end that points back to the voice in the rest of the query and promises a light ending. You'll note in my revise below that I couldn't come up with one, so I put down some substandard choices as prompts for the witty one YOU'LL come up with ;o)


My Revised Version

Dear Famous ePublisher,

I am seeking a publisher for “The Minion and the Mistress”, a fun and fast-paced story of heroic trolls, supernatural mobsters and an unlikely true love. This novella is a romance with fantasy elements, complete at 41,000 words.

Since her earliest childhood when she was kidnapped by fairies, Annith has lived under the protection of Metellus, a minor demon and small-time crime lord who rules a pocket of fae-folk hiding in the mortal realm. Now that she’s grown up and rounded out, Annith notices Metellus has acquired some wandering hands. When his advances turn forceful, she becomes frantic to escape the only home she’s ever known.

Quick to forestall her flight plans, Metellus assigns a massive troll, Ruuk, to be her “bodyguard.” Annith is ready to bash Ruuk’s head in if it will get her away from Metellus, but as she gets to know the soft-spoken troll, she finds he’s kind and funny—sweet even. The seven-foot lug might even be in over his head working for the ruthless Metellus. He does seem to be losing his spirit bit by bit with every job, and she worries what’ll be left of her troll if he keeps it up.

Annith must decide now if she really will do anything -- and sacrifice anyone -- to get away from Metellus. Because if she makes good on her bid for freedom, Metellus will surely kill the troll as punishment for not stopping her. [Insert clever sentence here.]
  • It's going to take more than a sprinkle of fairy dust to solve this one.
  • Leave it to a simple troll to make things complicated.
  • Demons know how to take a dysfunctional family moment to the extreme.
  • Seems mob families are the same the worlds over.
I recently sold my YA fantasy novel, “XYZ” to XYZ Publishing, and I’ve got a short story in Whispers Publishing’s upcoming Erotiquick anthology.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,
Real Name (w/a Pen Name)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Query Revision 10

Face-Lift 769: Beyond the Dreams

Axia is a gladiator born out of genetic changes, but when she discovers she was created illegally, surviving the arena is no longer her main problem; she now also has to survive freedom.

In a world where death is entertainment, Axia knows only one purpose to her life: fighting to the death. A genetically and physically created gladiator, she has been trained to survive the arena. When she finally wins her freedom, she thinks herself safe from death and ready to embrace life rather than survival. But she discovers some of the alterations in her genes were illegal and part of a secret project.

In an outside world she barely knows anything about, she may be more in danger than in the arena. Her creator comes after her and has one goal: using her for her true purpose, to kill the Ruler of the Universe.

I am seeking your representation for BEYOND THE DREAMS, a young-adult science-fiction novel of 55,000 words.

A complete manuscript is available upon request.

Comments

Axia is a gladiator born out of genetic changes,

This doesn't really say what you mean it to. Her birth was genetically manipulated, perhaps, but she wasn't really 'born out of those changes.'

but when she discovers she was created illegally, surviving the arena is no longer her main problem; she now also has to survive freedom.

There's a bit of a cause-and-effect logic slip here. The discovery itself does not lead to her freedom. Also, once free, surviving the arena is not only not her main problem, it's no longer a problem at all. I think, cleaned up, this is a good start for your hook sentence, but that it can be stronger.

In a world where death is entertainment, Axia knows only one purpose to her life: fighting to the death.

Hmm. Sounds like she fights, dies, is resurrected, fights, dies, comes back, etc. She knows how to kill, not how to die.

A genetically and physically created gladiator, she has been trained to survive the arena.

"physically" isn't your best word choice here. "Trained" gets what you want across just fine.

"genetically created" also isn't precise. We're ALL genetically created.

When she finally wins her freedom, she thinks herself safe from death and ready to embrace life rather than survival.

The reader doesn't know she's a slave until we find out here she wins her freedom.

"rather than survival" needs some finessing as living is surviving.

But she discovers some of the alterations in her genes were illegal and part of a secret project.

In an outside world she barely knows anything about, she may be more in danger than in the arena.

I think you can tease in the hook or at the end, but not so much in the middle -- I would go with a declarative here: "is in more danger" rather than "may be".

Her creator comes after her and has one goal: using her for her true purpose, to kill the Ruler of the Universe.

Let's try something other than "Ruler of the Universe," shall we? Honestly, IMO, this phrase alone will elicit form rejections.

This still seems to be all setup. As indicated by what's written here, your climax seems to be whether her creator will capture her or not. You certainly don't have to "spill the beans" in the query, but I have no idea where this story goes plotwise. Does her creator catch up to her? Does she resist his/her purpose? Is the Ruler a despicable despot or a benevolent dictator? Is she faced with a moral dilemma in killing the Ruler? Or is she quite willing to kill him, it's just HOW she'll do it that's the challenge?

I am seeking your representation for BEYOND THE DREAMS, a young-adult science-fiction novel of 55,000 words.

I'm assuming Axia is still a teenager if this is YA? She wins her freedom as a teen? Where's the return on investment for whoever stuck her in the arena to begin with? I could see a gladiator winning their freedom after years in the arena, but before they're 18? It seems a bit of a plot hole.

A complete manuscript is available upon request.

Here's A Revision Prompt

Since I'm at a loss as to what the real plot is, I used a rather generic one to illustrate how you can get some details in without going over word count. You'll note I have two paragraphs devoted to [made-up] plot because it's that important. Plus, the last plot paragraph also shows that this isn't just a story about fighting and killing, but that there are emotional choices involved, too.

For Axia, a gladiator bred for fighting, surviving the arena was easy; it's freedom that may kill her.

On a world where death is entertainment, 17-year-old Axia knows only one purpose to her life: killing. A genetically engineered gladiator slaved to the State, she has been trained to survive the arena. But when she wins her freedom in a rigged fight, she finds that in the outside world she barely knows anything about, she may be in even more danger.

First comes the kidnapping attempt, a failure that lands her in the hospital where she's tipped that some of the alterations to her genes are illegal ones. Further investigation uncovers a secret project aimed at bringing down the State and giving back control to the citizens: Proletariat geneticists have created a small army of assassins the State has unwittingly trained. Now they want to use their most superb specimen, Axia, to assassinate the caesar.

As a weapon, Axia will need to call on every bit of her enhanced strength, speed and reflexes. But it's her beliefs that are challenged most when she infiltrates the caesar's palace only to discover that the differences in philosophy between the Proletariat and the State may not be so black-and-white as what they first seemed. Faced with the proverbial rock and a hard place, it's up to Axia to decide where her allegiance lies.

I am seeking your representation for BEYOND THE DREAMS, a YA science fiction novel of 55,000 words. A complete manuscript is available upon request.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Query Revision 9

Face-Lift 409: The Beauty's Beast (Renamed)

Dear Benevolent Editor:

“The Beauty’s Beast” is a fantasy romance complete at 80,000 words, which blends elements of Beauty and the Beast with Marie de France’s medieval lai “Bisclavret.” I think it will fit well in your Sweetheart Line of romances.

Lady Kathryn’s father sent her to court to find a husband, but she’s penniless and plain, which doesn’t help matters. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, her frustration and loneliness are eased when the king puts her in charge of the care and comfort of his new pet wolf. Kathryn quickly realizes the beast is more than he seems, for this "wolf" was once Gabriel, the king's favorite knight.

Resolving to do all in her power to restore him, Kathryn is sorely tested as the trials of court and confrontations with those who betrayed Gabriel lead him to stray ever further from his already dwindling humanity. Trapped in his wolf form permanently by his unfaithful wife, Gabriel struggles to fall into the ways of his old life and fights his wolfish urges to maim and kill.

As Gabriel and Kathryn grow to understand and care for one another despite his horrific curse, rumors of an uncanny wolf reach the ears of Gabriel’s wife, Alison, and her unscrupulous new husband, Reynard. Alison suspects that the king’s new pet is her first husband Gabriel in his wolfish aspect. Though her second marriage to Reynard has been far from happy, Alison knows she will need Reynard to quietly dispose of the king’s new pet. For if Gabriel ever regained his human form he could strip them of everything they have schemed so hard to gain.

My YA fantasy novel “XYZ” was recently accepted for publication at XYZ Publishing, and I have a short story in XYZ Publishing’s XYZ Anthology. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,
A Writer

Comments

I've been privileged to read bits of the actual story and I think it has a lot of promise. And retold fairy tales seem to still be hot right not. So let's get those pages requested! It's been awhile since I've seen this query, and I didn't go back to re-read the original versions. This version is basically good, but I think it can be rearranged some and tweaked a bit to strengthen it. My line-by-line reasoning first, then a quick rewrite below.

“The Beauty’s Beast” is a fantasy romance complete at 80,000 words, which blends elements of Beauty and the Beast with Marie de France’s medieval lai “Bisclavret.”

Perhaps "draws on elements of"? "Blends" sounds like you haven't put much of yourself into this work. If the reader knows "Bisclavret", they'll likely know it's a medieval story, and since "lai" has various spellings, you may risk the editor thinking you've misspelled it no matter which spelling you choose.

I think it will fit well in your Sweetheart Line of romances.

You shouldn't need "of romances" since the editor will know what's in their Sweetheart (or whichever imprint) Line already.

Lady Kathryn’s father sent her to court to find a husband, but she’s penniless and plain, which doesn’t help matters. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, her frustration and loneliness are eased when the king puts her in charge of the care and comfort of his new pet wolf.

I think you've condensed her getting to court and finding the wolf quite well here. I do wonder if showing her to be "plain" when the title has "beauty" in it is either irony or if the "beauty" is meant to be what's inside. That's not clear to me.

Kathryn quickly realizes the beast is more than he seems, for this "wolf" was once Gabriel, the king's favorite knight.

This, however, leads me to wonder if Kathryn actually knows the wolf is a man, and does she know that it's Gabriel? And then I'm wondering if the king is the one who cursed him. As written, it seems to implicate the king. Even choosing "and comfort" -- which one doesn't usually associate with a pet in these circumstances -- makes it seem the king is in on it.

Resolving to do all in her power to restore him, Kathryn is sorely tested as the trials of court and confrontations with those who betrayed Gabriel lead him to stray ever further from his already dwindling humanity.

I think there's a better way to phrase this. This sentence starts out with Kathryn being tested and ends with Gabriel's plight. These ideas would work better stated separately.

Trapped in his wolf form permanently by his unfaithful wife, Gabriel struggles to fall into the ways of his old life and fights his wolfish urges to maim and kill.

The "permanently" part makes me question if Gabriel is a werewolf and whether there was ever a temporary time he was a wolf. I think this is the case in the ms, but it only confuses in the query to bring it up just this once in this way.

"struggles to fall into the ways of his old life" is awkward. He struggles to maintain, maybe, but "fall into" sounds negative -- and he wants his old life back.

As Gabriel and Kathryn grow to understand and care for one another despite his horrific curse, rumors of an uncanny wolf reach the ears of Gabriel’s wife, Alison, and her unscrupulous new husband, Reynard.

Alison suspects that the king’s new pet is her first husband Gabriel in his wolfish aspect.

I think this sentence is redundant as we already know the king's new pet is Gabriel in his wolf form and that he was Alison's husband. The reader can easily infer that Alison suspects this when she hears news of the wolf.

Though her second marriage to Reynard has been far from happy, Alison knows she will need Reynard to quietly dispose of the king’s new pet. For if Gabriel ever regained his human form he could strip them of everything they have schemed so hard to gain.

This seems to turn the conflict from Gabriel and Reynard to Alison and Reynard. As written, it sounds like the climax will be Alison finally convincing Reynard to kill Gabriel. I'm also not sure what Alison being unhappy in the marriage adds to the query. Are you intimating she may have a change of heart?

Too, the tension here is a little soft. I think the stakes need to be more explicitly stated and need to draw Kathryn back in here at the end.

My YA fantasy novel “XYZ” was recently accepted for publication at XYZ Publishing, and I have a short story in XYZ Publishing’s XYZ Anthology. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Congrats on the upcoming release!!!! Let EE know when it's near it's release date so we can go pre-order ;o)

Sincerely,
A Writer

My Revised Version

Drawing on the timeless elements of "Beauty and Beast" and Marie de France's "Bisclavret", THE BEAUTY'S BEAST is a fantasy romance complete at 80,000 words. I think it will fit well in your Sweetheart Line.

Lady Kathryn’s father sends her to court to find a husband, but being penniless and disinterested doesn't bode well for her success. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, her frustration and loneliness are eased when the king charges her with the care of his newest acquisition: a wolf he and his hunters have recently captured. What the king doesn't realize is his novelty pet was once Gabriel, his favorite knight, cursed into wolf form by an unfaithful wife.

The beast's too-knowing eyes and the way he understands and responds to her every utterance convinces Kathryn he is more than what he seems. Resolving to restore him, she doesn't count on the greatest obstacle being Gabriel himself. The longer he stays in wolf form and a captive of the court, the harder it is for him to remember his humanity and not give himself over to his wolfish urges to maim and kill.

As Gabriel and Kathryn grow to care for one another despite his horrific curse, rumors of an uncanny wolf reach the ears of Gabriel’s former wife and her unscrupulous new husband, Reynard. Together, they plan to dispose of the king's pet, knowing if Gabriel ever regains his human form he could strip them of everything they have schemed so hard to gain.

Only Kathryn's love and determination stands between Gabriel the wolf and Gabriel the man. But when Reynard and Gabriel meet, will it be enough to keep Gabriel from exacting a brutish revenge that will condemn the wolf to death?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

In Memory of My Dad: June 30, 1928 - May 15, 2010

I will likely post a small tribute later this week.

There are two query revises in the queue that I will also post on Monday and Tuesday.

Right now, I have a lot of phone calls to make...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Query Revision 8

Face-Lift 765: Heartsouls

[Update: I just saw fairyhedgehog's post about the passing of one of EE's Minions: Bevie James. Sad times.]

Dear EE:

Over hundreds of years, the people of Maore divided their society and turned their backs on magic. The races split, and magic died and was forgotten. Now the Argents hold all the power and the more numerous Silvers live as serfs, their contact with Argents restricted.

Until someone rediscovers magic and is prepared to kill to keep it to themselves. The magic of heartsouls requires a pair of soul mates, one Argent and the other Silver. Removing the small population of Argents would eliminate any competition over power. But even the best evil plans seldom work out perfectly.

Fleeing from the first attack on Argents, Marguerite Navarre stumbles into a group of Silvers and unwittingly finds her heartsoul. One of the elite Argents, Marguerite’s life was filled with smug, boring people and endless lectures on duty. Serious and shy, she is now shown a new world by the Silvers, and their freedom fascinates her.

Marguerite is both drawn to and repelled by her soul mate. Jorge is her opposite in every way, from his enormous confidence to his complete lack of scruples. He is a flirt and a tease, hiding behind lies and evasions but, like a bee to a flower, she cannot resist his charm.

As attacks against Argents continue, blame focuses on Silvers. Marguerite is faced with anger from her race for loving Jorge. To remain with him, she must reconcile the races. Together they search for those responsible for murdering the Argents, intending to become weapons against them. To do this, Marguerite must learn the nature of her magic and trust Jorge before time runs out for her and the Argents.

Heartsouls is an epic fantasy with strong elements of romance complete at 140,000 words. It is the first of a series, with the second well on its way.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Comments

I think this version is more clear around the divide of the races, so good job there! However, there are still some sticking points for me. I'll focus on one aspect of the query and let others fill in their reactions on the rest.

The biggest issue I have is that I am still completely in the dark about what magic is and how it works in this world. Having magic seems to be a crux of the story, but other than the fact that two people can produce it, I know nothing about it. Here are some questions that would help me better understand. Are the answers really important to the query? you ask. I would say that a hint at some of the answers at least would show the reader that the story is thought through and hangs together. They would also give me a better flavor of the worldbuilding and help better define the stakes.

[Disclaimer: I also have an unfinished WIP where two soul-bonded people must come together to defeat an evil, so I'm struggling with how much needs to be revealed versus how much can safely be left out as well. :o) My draft query for it is Face-Lift 355, and may provide insight as to why this older work remains a WIP.]

What is the magic? You don't need many words for this, but what philosophy is it based on? Is it healing magic or earth magic? Is it a harmonizing magic that underlies the workings of the world or is it magic that can be called upon at need to wreak destruction?

What does rediscovering magic mean? If it requires heartsouls, is it how the magic works that's rediscovered rather than the magic itself? In this version, it sounds like the person who rediscovered it has it and can wield it. Does this person also have a heartsoul counterpart, too?

Are heartsouls unique? Can there be lots of pairs of heartsouls in this society? Or is there only one chosen pair per generation? If the magic has been forgotten, how do M and J recognize they are heartsouls and are even clued in they may have magic if they do whatever it is they have to produce it?

How does the magic work? What is it M&J must do to produce magic? Simply recognize one another as heartsouls? Join physically in some way? Do they have to be in the same room for the magic to work or can they be half a world away? And if Jorge is scruple-less, does Marguerite have to convince him somehow to actively participate in bringing magic back to the world, or can the magic be wielded by just one half of the bonded pair?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Duck Delight

With two ponds on the property, ducks were inevitable. One pond is natural and quite picturesque with willows and cottonwoods and a small pier. However, there's only a barbed wire fence for protection. The other was dug to provide the dirt used to build the pad for the barn and has no shade trees or other amenities. However, it is in the barn's pasture surrounded by 2x4 mesh nonclimb horse fence, so was the obvious choice for domestic ducks.

Two years ago, just a few months before I got my horses, I purchased three Pekin ducklings from the local Tractor Supply store. Donald Duck and the Afleck duck are examples of Pekins, white with orange bills and orange feet. They hatch out yellow and grow remarkably fast -- just 30 days from a handful of sunny fluff to sleek white duck. Suffice to say they are also remarkably messy. I started them out in a heated 55-gallon aquarium, transferred them to the iguana's cage after a couple of weeks, then to the backyard with a kiddie pool to acclimate, then to the pond and pasture.

Strike one: The pond didn't interest them. They would wade in a bit, but swimming and bathing seemed out the realm of their understanding.

Strike two: While they would sleep fairly close to the house, there was a fence between them and my dogs. Hindsight says I should have anticipated that no matter how tightly fenced the area was, coyotes would dig under the gate at night during a storm when the dogs were not just on the other side of the mesh fence but in the house. In the morning, two of the ducks had been killed and eaten, and the third was absolutely traumatized.

I relocated her to the backyard where the dogs could keep an eye on her. Over the next few months, Duckie Duck and I bonded quite nicely. She would crawl onto my lap, bury her bill in my hand, and beg to be scratched under her wings. I knew she was lonely, though, and I was a poor substitute for her own kind. I looked first to local shelters to see if there were any rescues needing a home and, not finding any, turned again to the retail store for some duckie friends.

I think my dad was more excited than I was to get more ducks. Tractor Supply carries ducklings only a few weeks in the spring, and he haunted the store waiting for their arrival. I wanted 2 more Pekins; he brought back 3 -- plus 3 mallards. It never occurred to him that mallards can fly and might be tempted to migrate come fall, that mallards are only about half the size of Pekins and more susceptible to predators at an early age, or that my backyard isn't really set up to accommodate 7 destructive ducks. Still, they were here and that meant taking lessons learned and doing better by these little guys. Once again Fafnir, the iguana, had company. As the ducklings grew older, they would spend days outside and nights in Fafnir's cage until the time came when I told them, "You're old enough now to stay outside at night with Duckie Duck." At 3:00 that first morning, they sounded the alarm. I rushed out with the dogs and we found 6 ducks cowering in a corner by the house. The 7th, a female mallard, was gone, no doubt plucked up by a hungry owl.

Are you getting the idea predators are the number one reason my hair is turning gray? I want to keep my babies safe, but I also want them happy and free-ranging. I also respect the rights of the predators. All I can do is my best to keep everyone separated. Sometimes, the predators win. I hold no grudges -- they are simply trying to survive like the rest of us. Still it's heartbreaking, as when, a few months later, I found the other female mallard -- a quite gentle soul and the absolute love of the little drake mallard's life -- decapitated right outside the backyard fence in the goat pen where she'd been keeping a secret nest.

The 5 remaining ducks -- 1 male mallard, 1 male Pekin and 3 female Pekins -- outgrew their kiddie pool, denuded much of the yard, and turned the area into a swamp. I had one hope up my sleeve: the horses. Small horses, to be sure, but horses nonetheless, that now occupied the pasture with the pond and could offer protection for the ducks. Certainly with some trepidation I marched the ducks off to the pond one early spring day a couple of months ago and was ecstatic to see they took to the water just like -- well, like the simile says. Even Duckie Duck waddled right in.


The most surprising thing, though, was that when evening came, the ducks instinctively deemanded to return to the backyard. I couldn't be happier with the compromise. We march out to the pond each morning, having to first distract the goats as we work our way through their pen and then distract the horses as we go through the gate into their pasture, and return to the backyard each evening. The extra 10 minutes it takes is more than a fair price to pay for peace of mind -- and the joy of seeing happy ducks in the pond.



Duck Eggs.

Mallards usually lay twice a year for 3 to 4 weeks each time. Mallard eggs are a pale green and about 3/4 the size of a standard chicken egg. Pekins, on the other hand, lay just about year round. Their eggs (on left in picture) are white and about 1.5 times the size of a large chicken egg (on right). I find duck eggs to be rather bland tasting -- they need lots of seasoning when eaten alone, but are perfectly adequate for baking. Some people who are allergic to chicken eggs are able to tolerate duck eggs. For this reason, duck eggs command a relatively high price, up to $1 apiece plus postage if you order online. Mail order is way too much work for me right now and, since I lost contact with the woman who used to buy all my excess duck and chicken eggs (at the bargain price of 10 cents each no matter which), the eggs have been piling up around here. Even the dogs are sick of them. The chicken eggs I can occasionally donate and press on the caregivers, nurses and therapists who come out regularly, but most people are quite leery about trying duck eggs. So I usually recycle the excess by feeding them to the chickens for the extra calcium they provide. The last time I gave up finding a home for the excess, I threw 52 of them to the chickens. I imagined a dollar bill burning each time an egg went splat. But no worries; they're a renewable resource! The three ladies keep churning out about 20 a week.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Out of the Mouths of Babes...

[Note: If my blog is in your feed reader, 1) Thank you!!! and 2) I've reset to allow the full post to appear in feeds (duh). If you're still getting the truncated version, click "Refresh" (in the Google Reader, it's a button right above the post and next to the "Mark all as read" button) and the whole thing should show up now in your reader.]

Why I set myself up to fail with my posting schedule, I don't know. Maybe next week I'll start abiding by it. I actually started writing this post Tuesday while getting my car inspected at lunch in hopes of being only one day late for Miscellaneous Mondays. But sleep studies and doctor appointments and life, oh my, postponed it. So, quite belatedly -- although you wouldn't have known it if I hadn't told you because, really, the topic is a timeless one -- I give you a little perspective on aging.

My 81-year-old father -- who lives in a separate residence on my property and who a year ago had a quintuple bypass followed by a major stroke -- has caregivers 24/7. (Hence the sleep studies and doctor appointments mentioned above.) I was chatting with one of his caregivers about how difficult it is watching the people you love grow old.

The early-20s-something sighed. "Yeah, it really is hard. I hate watching my dad get old." She lowered her voice a bit out of respect. "He's 48, you know."

48.

Old.

I'm perky short, often wear my hair in pigtails and don't have too many wrinkles. I run the little farm, jog a bit and haul around 50-pound bags of feed. I did have breast cancer 9 years ago but it's gone into remission or wherever these things go after being bombarded with enough radiation to power a small utility grid. Otherwise, I'm healthy and don't complain (much) about aches and pains. Overall, I'm lucky to not look or act it, but I am over 48. By a couple of years.

The poor girl apologized all over herself when I broke the news to her.

She has yet to live it down.

I'm not sure I ever will.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Query Revision 7

Face-Lift 729: Forest

Thanks for your help - especially Pheonix! (Ahh, thank YOU, Author) Here's V5...

Dear Editor,

In thirteen-year-old Jesse’s hometown, everyone knows robotic technology was outlawed soon after the apocalypse. Then a post-mortem reveals that a seemingly human girl was actually an android. Fearing another rise of the machines, Jesse’s paranoid community initiates lockdown and begins a widespread hunt for other humanoid robots.

Having known the dead girl, Jesse can’t believe she was anything but human. Even Forest, a strange boy Jesse meets outside the town’s protective walls, thinks the current paranoia is excessive. Sharing that belief, the two make a pact to discover the truth.

Their growing friendship is jeopardized, though, when the mysterious Dr. Frey arrives. Jesse’s instinctive distrust of the man is borne out when the doctor reveals that he’s a scientist specializing in the creation of humanoid robots – and that Jesse himself is one of his creations. But it isn’t Jesse he’s come back for. Dr. Frey claims Forest possesses a dangerous power that must be destroyed – and he plans to make Jesse to do just that.

At 50,000 words, Forest is middle-grade science fiction focused on friendship and the inner humanity shared by all beings, even living machines. Thank you for your consideration of my completed novel.

Sincerely,

Comments

The author has come a long way! S/he has filled in a few gaps in this version that EE's minions and I left for the author in previous comments, and as is, I think it's ready to go off on a first test round to see how it plays to the pros.

I would capitalize the name of the work in the query, but that's not a hard-and-fast rule (few things in query land are!).

If anything trips the rest of you up, please let the author know in the comments.