Fiction

Interview: Literary Classics Award Winner, D. G. Driver

D. G. Driver’s book, No One Needed to Knowwon Silver for Preteen Fiction in the 2017 Literary Classics Book Awards contest! Learn more about this author and her writing below.

Congratulations on your achievement! When did you first start writing?

I began writing very young as a hobby, creating my first picture book stories while still in elementary school. I started writing professionally a couple years after I graduated college, selling my first story to a magazine and having my first play produced in 1994.

What’s the target age group for your books?

I primarily write middle grade and young adult novels. The majority of my readers tend to be kids in middle school. No One Needed to Know is targeted at kids 8-13.

What inspired your award-winning book?

No One Needed to Know is based loosely on my own experience as a younger sibling of a brother with Developmental Disabilities. My brother is four years older than me and was starting high school when I was in 6th grade. He wasn’t diagnosed as Autistic, because that wasn’t a well-known disorder back then. We figured it out later on. Still, my brother and I were great friends and played together a lot. When I was reaching puberty, I became less interested in playing pretend or having adventures, and that’s when it dawned on me that my much older brother should have stopped wanting to play that way years earlier. I based the novel on this turning point in my life and also on the bullying that my brother and I both dealt with as kids.

Describe one of your characters with a cliché or a famous quote.

“I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is” Forrest Gump – works a little for Donald, Heidi’s brother. He’s a true sweetheart.

Do you have plans to, or have you already, released audio editions of your books?

I would like to do an audiobook, but I haven’t made any solid effort in that direction yet. I welcome all the suggestions.

Who would you cast as the voice actor for your main character?

I don’t really follow any audiobook narrators. If I were to find a studio here in Nashville to record it, I might hire my daughter who is 16 and a talented actress. I think she would sound great as Heidi.

Do you illustrate your own books?

My book isn’t illustrated, but I did the cover myself. I found an image from stock art for Heidi. Then I ran it through a program to make it look like a drawing instead of a photo. I used a background image of the iconic Autism puzzle pieces and changed the color to a more muted tone. The book takes place in the fall at school, so I wanted the puzzle pieces to appear a little like falling leaves. I put it all together on Canva.

Who are some of your favorite YA and/or children’s book authors?

I have many and the list grows. I have to admit I was inspired to write by Judy Blume and Louise Fitzhugh (Harriet the Spy – my favorite book in 6th grade). Current authors that blow me away consistently are my Nashville SCBWI friends: Tracy Barrett, Ruta Sepetys, Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, and Sharon Cameron, (among others).

Do you have any quirky writing habits?

Not really. When I’m really under a deadline, I have to get away from the internet, so sometimes I’ll drive somewhere and write at a park or in my car, so I don’t have the option of going online.

How do you balance writing with book promotion and everything else there is to do in life?

It’s very difficult. I have a full-time job as a teacher, and I’m a parent and wife. Writing time is precious. I tend to do promotion stuff on weeknight evenings after work (and sneak in a tweet or two during the day at work), and I do my writing in sprints on the weekends. For this reason I’m a little slower than most indie authors at getting new work out.

Do you have anything special you’d like to say to your readers or fellow award-winning authors?

Congratulations to all the 2017 winners. It takes a lot of courage and determination to write a book and then just a smidge more to enter a contest. I think an award for a book is a nice validation for hard work and effort. I hope for readers, it is seen as a marker that these books are worth their time. For my part, I feel certain that if the issues of bullying and special needs are dear to your heart, you will enjoy the story and message of No One Needed to Know.

Author Bio

D. G. Driver likes to write about diverse people dealing with social or environmental issues, but she likes to include a touch of fantasy or fun, too. She primarily writes middle grade and young adult fiction. She is the award-winning author of the YA eco-fiction series The Juniper Sawfeather Novels, which includes Cry of the Sea, Whisper of the Woods, and Echo of the Cliffs. She has stories in a variety of anthologies, and her newest book is a middle grade story about bullying and Autism awareness called No One Needed to Know. When she isn’t writing, she is teaching, performing in a local community theater musical, or probably watching TV.

Connect with D. G. Driver on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, Goodreads, and her website.

Award-Winning Book

Heidi was trying to keep a secret. Her brother, Donald, is 16 and Autistic. She has always loved playing with him, but now she’s 11 and her life is changing. She’s embarrassed to have Donald around and tries not to tell anyone about him. High school boys bully him. When the kids at her school find out about him, she starts getting bullied, too. It’s not fair. No one seems to understand what she’s going through.

But Heidi needs to understand, too. She can’t change her brother, but she can change how she feels about him, and she can get people to see why her brother is special.

“Author D.G. Driver’s No One Needed to Know touches on many of the issues encountered by siblings of special needs kids. A book which will appeal to a broad audience, readers of all ages will appreciate Heidi’s story.” Literary Classics Book Awards

This book is available on Amazon (print ed.) and the Schoolwide Inc. Zing! Digital Library (ebook ed.). Learn more at www.dgdriver.com/no-one-needed-to-know.html.

Read more about the 2017 Literary Classics Book Awards contest winners on my Interviews page and the Literary Classics website.

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Interview: Literary Classics Award Winner, Danielle A. Vann

Two of Vann’s novels won awards in the 2017 Literary Classics Book Awards contest! The Whizbang Machine, Book 1, won Silver in Preteen (11+), and Tunney’s Curse, Book 2, won Gold, also in Preteen.

Congratulations on your achievement! When did you first start writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a child—seriously! I was the kid that stayed up all night reading and writing. I started writing intensely in high school. I had an English teacher that pushed me to write more, be better, focus. She submitted one of my pieces to a contest called Wings of Freedom. It won and was displayed in the White House and then the later in the halls of Congress. It inspired me to keep writing. I selected journalism in college so that I could write daily. I knew that being an author was ultimately where I would finish my professional career. Roughly ten years ago I shifted my focus and started to write for the commercial market. Since then, I have five traditionally published books to my credit.

What’s the target age group for your books?

I’ve been very fortunate to not be stuck in a genre. I have two children’s picture books series, a non-fiction Christian book with friend and celebrity carpenter, Brandon Russell, and then the Young Adult series, The Whizbang Machine, book 1 and The Whizbang Machine, Tunney’s Curse, Book 2, that placed silver and gold in the CLC awards. I’m the mother of three children ranging in ages from 12 ½ to 5. I began to notice that my older daughters were struggling to find engaging, clean series for their age groups. I wrote The Whizbang series free of sexual content, extreme violence, etc. I wanted to give them a book they could read without being exposed to questionable behaviors. I too wanted it to be a series that children from ages 10 to college level could read as a part of classroom materials.

What inspired your award-winning books?

This is an easy one, and honestly something I like to refer to as serendipity.

One month before I was given the pleasure of signing my contract with the Waldorf Publishing team, my dear friend Erin snapped a photograph of an old Royal typewriter, seated in a beautiful tan and maroon case, which her family had been gifted. Knowing my affinity for antiques, especially those that deal with writing and literary works, she sent me a text one early Sunday morning with the words, “Look at what David’s father gave us.”

I hadn’t yet made my way out of bed as it was still very early. Hearing the familiar chime of my phone, I wondered who was texting me at that time. As the photo came through, with it came the idea for the first book. I sprang from bed and began outlining. Unbeknownst to Erin, that single photo became my muse. In honor of this gift, her oldest daughter became the basis for the character of Elizabeth Yale. The rest of the series has honestly taken on a life of its own. I write as it comes and once I start, it’s impossible to get the characters to stop finding their through my fingertips.

Describe one of your characters with a cliché or a famous quote.

Oh, I’m cringing but it’s true: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!” HA!

Elizabeth Yale tries to get out of the drama, but well, sadly, she’s a drama magnet.

Do you have plans to, or have you already, released audio editions of your book(s)?

I’m very lucky to have had Audible buy into the rights for Book 1 and Book 2 very early in the game. In fact, they were sold before book 2 was nothing more than a single chapter. The Whizbang Machine is available on Audible.com and it is also can be purchased in physical copy through Audible, Barnes and Noble, Target, and other select retailers. We are hopeful that Audible will continue supporting the Whizbang series and buy into book 3 and 4 soon.

Who would you cast as the voice actor for your main character?

Bailey Carr is my voice actor for book 1 and book 2. She is an INCREDIBLE! She has many award-winning books to her credit. Working with her is easy and pleasurable. The exciting part is both Whizbang books are full of Dutch words as they are set in Leiden, the Netherlands. She has been amazing to make sure she brings to the table all she can in the way of correct pronunciation and inflection. Truly, Bailey is a star in her own right.

Who are some of your favorite YA and/or children’s book authors?

One of my favorite writers is Garth Stein. He is amazing. He brings a simplicity to the page that I would be so lucky to employ. I can’t help but marvel at his talent. My favorite book of his is called, The Art of Racing in the Rain. I loved the fact that they moved it over into YA and republished it. The minute they did I purchased a copy for my oldest daughter and forced her to read it. I’m happy to say she loved it as much I do and did.

Clearly, there are so many other masters of the craft such as J.K. Rowling. I love that she refuses to back down from long, somewhat complicated text and gives it her all. Readers, whether reluctant or not, are pulled into her spell. That, to me, is her true gift of magic.

Lastly, I’m a fan of Ridley Pearson. His Kingdom Keepers series is something I’ve read with my children. They eat up everything he writes. He, too, works to keep the scenes clean and accessible to the young and old. That is something we need more these days. I’m no prude, mind you, but I do believe in the magical time of childhood. There is plenty of time to muck it up later, both in life and in fiction.

Do you have any quirky writing habits?

Actually no. I don’t think so. I am a straight from the book kind of girl. I work from a detailed outline. I stick to deadlines. I love quiet and no music while writing. If I am not feeling it, I walk away and come back. End of story. Kind of boring if you ask me. The scene is all the noise I need. Oh, I guess I do bounce my legs like I’m running a timed marathon when the action is happening. That’s quirky, I guess.

How do you balance writing with book promotion and everything else there is to do in life?

Oh boy, this is the million dollar questions, isn’t it?! Well, since I’m traditionally published the weight of promotion doesn’t fall directly on my shoulders. I have a wonderful team that backs what I do. Don’t get me wrong, I do a ton of my own. I write in the morning between 5 a.m. and roughly 10 a.m. every single day except for Sunday. I work for a publisher as the marketing specialist so I do my day job after that, and make sure I’m available to my family when and where they need me. That is, if I’m not traveling. However, they have been very lucky to travel with me as well.

Do you have anything special you’d like to say to your readers or fellow award-winning authors?

Absolutely! To the readers, thank you! I truly know that without someone to read my work what I do is meaningless. Truly, it is. I am always thrilled to hear from readers. I love it when they attend my events and speak about different scenes or even about the impact one of my books had on them. That truly is amazing to me. Oftentimes I feel that they know my work better than I know it! And for that, I’m so grateful. I welcome anyone to reach out through my social media sites and open a productive and positive conversation.

To my fellow award-winning authors, CONGRATS! Congrats! I recently was in Paris at another awards ceremony and while I was speaking I was able to say something that I truly believe in. And that is, writing is the intersection of determination and passion. I didn’t say talent and luck. I said determination and passion. Because, you see, I believe that once you have placed your intention and goals on what you love, passion sparks talent and luck is nothing but hard work in the making.

Author Bio and Award-Winning Books

Danielle A. Vann started her career as a television news writer at the tender age of 18. With a passion for writing Vann committed to learning every aspect of the newsroom as she worked her way up to reporter and anchor within two short years. After graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma she took an anchor position in Louisiana. Her career as a reporter and anchor earned her an Associate Press Award. Her book genres span a wide-range from children’s books with two highly reviewed series, award-winning YA fiction, and five star non-fiction title. Danielle lives in Texas with her husband and three children.

Connect with Vann on Twitter, Facebook, and her website.

After years of running from his tragic past, Jack Yale books a flight home. With him is a typewriter that is intended to be a gift for his granddaughter, Elizabeth. The minute Elizabeth’s fingers cradle the large black and cream keys the machine responses: popping, sizzling, and roaring to life with a Whiz-Whiz-BANG!

Elizabeth quickly discovers the typewriter has powers beyond anything she has ever seen. The more she types, the more the machine spells out guarded secrets. Each secret leads them deeper into a haunted past. Each secret must be revealed in order to set history straight and remove a curse that has been on their family for centuries.

To solve the mystery, Elizabeth Yale, alongside Jack, will have to crack the code of the Whizbang Machine. What they find challenges their most basic assumptions of their family, the history of the typewriter, and even Elizabeth’s father’s death. The ultimate goal is to remove the curse. The question is: will Jack and Elizabeth be able to carry out their mission?

“The Whizbang Machine is an incredibly suspenseful book which will have readers of all ages eagerly turning pages with enthusiasm as they wait to see what will become of Elizabeth and her eccentric grandfather, Jack.” Literary Classics Book Awards

Amazon ~ Target ~ Barnes&Noble

“The Whizbang Machine, Tunney’s Curse” finds Elizabeth Yale clinging to life. Her plan to save the Whizbang machine has backfired. As her grandfather, Jack, feverishly works to save her, the Whizbang factory begins to topple down around them. Narrowly escaping, the pair realizes the Whizbang machine is missing. Jack and Elizabeth must follow the clues Elizabeth’s deceased father, Jesse, left behind to unravel the secrets of Tunney’s Curse and stop it once and for all. This must be done before Elizabeth’s mother’s 40th birthday—which is mere days away. As they dig, they are sent on a wild chase into the dark underbelly of the Netherlands, into the city’s canals looking for a sunken ship, and through the private chambers of a Queen. Each new secret exposed only deepens the mystery of Jack and Elizabeth’s family’s past. The ultimate questions remain: will they gather the clues and stop the curse in time? Or will someone fall to the curse once and for all?

“Recommended for home and school libraries, The Whizbang Machine: Tunney’s Curse is a dynamic fantasy adventure with mystery, action, suspense and intrigue.” Literary Classics Book Awards

Amazon ~ Target ~ Barnes&Noble

Read more about the 2017 Literary Classics Book Awards contest winners on my Interviews page and the Literary Classics website.

Interview: Literary Classics Award Winner, Luke T. Harrington

Author, Luke T. Harrington, won three awards in the 2017 Literary Classics Book Awards contest! His novel, Ophelia, Alive (A Ghost Story), took Gold in High School Horror/Paranormal, and Silver in both High School Mystery/Thriller and College Horror/Paranormal.

Congratulations on your achievement! When did you first start writing?

Probably before I could technically “write.” I think my mom still has some of the construction-paper-and-crayon “books” I “wrote” as a kid—which, if memory serves, were mostly about me defeating alien invasions. She promised to embarrass me in front of all my high school girlfriends with them, but I’m not sure she ever made good on that threat. As far as I’m concerned, they’re still a ticking time bomb—my mom could still blackmail me with them at any moment.

I really didn’t get serious about writing until a few years ago, though—right around the time my first child was born and I realized I’d probably never be a pop star. (There was a whole quarter-life crisis involving a failed American Idol audition, which…the less said about that, the better.)

What’s the target age group for your book?

In my mind, I was writing my book for an adult-ish audience, but despite that, my good friend best-selling author K.B. Hoyle (name drop!) encouraged me to submit it to Literary Classics, who gave it two votes for “high school” and one for “college.”

I’d personally recommend it for a college audience, since that’s the life stage my main character, Ophelia, is at, and the themes are pretty “adult.” Mature high school audiences could probably handle it, though—my mom (there she is again!) donated a few copies to some high school libraries, and no one’s shown up at my door with torches and pitchforks yet, so I guess that’s a good sign.

What inspired your award-winning book?

Ophelia, Alive is a novel about how “the killer” might be lurking within each of us, which is a question that’s been gnawing at me for a long time. I’ve long been fascinated by stories of “homicidal somnambulists”—people who go through their lives as normal, upstanding citizens, but then, one night, just get up and commit a murder or three in their sleep. Assuming the stories are true, are those people really different from conscious, deliberate killers? And are any of us? Or are we all just waiting to have that particular “switch” flipped?

What inspired me most directly, though, was an article I read about a stop-smoking pill called Chantix. It’s a psychoactive drug that, for most people, just prevents them from enjoying cigarettes; for a handful of people, though, it triggers symptoms analogous to paranoid schizophrenia. It kind of blew my mind—both that it exists and that it’s FDA-approved—and it seemed like way too good of an idea for a story to pass up.

Then I threw in some ghosts and Shakespeare. And poop jokes. Every good novel needs poop jokes.

Describe one of your characters with a cliché or a famous quote.

“Poor Ophelia / Divided from herself and her fair judgment, / Without the which we are pictures, or mere beasts.” —Gertrude, Hamlet Act IV Scene 5

Do you have plans to, or have you already, released an audio edition of your book?

That’s the sort of thing I’d love to do, but my publisher would have to give the greenlight to it. Actually, I’d love to just record the audiobook myself (“record an audiobook” is def on the ol’ bucket list), but my narrator is female, so…eh. No one wants to listen to twenty hours of me trying to sound convincingly female.

Who would you cast as the voice actor for your main character?

I’m going to say Kristen Stewart, mainly because I just watched Personal Shopper (another good ghost story), and her performance in that was beautifully understated. Also because I’m sure there’s a ton of money to be made off of Twilight fans.

Who are some of your favorite YA and/or children’s book authors?

Louis Sachar is the one who immediately comes to mind here. He was essentially the author I grew up with, and who grew up with me—he got me early as a kid with his wacky Wayside School books, but my jaw dropped when I read his thoughtful coming-of-age novel Holes as a high school student. Sachar taught me, indirectly, that it’s possible to be funny while still pursuing insight and depth.

Do you have any quirky writing habits?

I only type by smacking my laptop keyboard with a dead fish.

But for real, not really, I guess? I get up before sunrise to write every day, and I use my kitchen island as my desk. Are those things weird? They’re kind of weird.

How do you balance writing with book promotion and everything else there is to do in life?

I have no clue. I was hoping you’d tell me.

Do you have anything special you’d like to say to your readers or fellow award-winning authors?

You all should buy a Nintendo Switch. Those things are more fun than an explosion of rainbows and puppies.

(Chess’s Ed. Note: Remember the line above about being funny while pursuing insight and depth? Yeah, me too. Pretty sure it applies here.)

Author Bio

In addition to three Literary Classics medals, Luke T. Harrington’s debut novel, OPHELIA, ALIVE (A GHOST STORY) also snagged itself an Independent Publisher Book Award for horror. Luke’s writing has also appeared in publications such as Cracked, BuzzFeed, Christianity Today, and also the back of a napkin once.

Luke lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with his wife and two young daughters, where he’s a stay-at-home dad, a freelance editor, and basically a pro at Nintendo Switch.

Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Award-Winning Book

Trapped in the fifth circle of state university hell…
…flat broke…
…and then the bodies start piling up.


I should have sensed something wrong when my mortician sister offered me a job. And I should have known something was up when she talked me into taking those pills. At the very least, the hallucinations should have been a red flag.

But now, here I am, standing over a half-eaten corpse.

I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming.

“Horror meets literary fiction in this unique novel in which Shakespeare, Poe, and the like join efforts to create a surreal montage of thoughtful introspection.” Literary Classics Book Awards

This book is available on Amazon.

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Interview: Literary Classics Award Winner, Rebecca Hammond Yager

Author Rebecca Hammond Yager received the Literary Classics Words On Wings Book Award for her YA novel, Beauty & the Beast. Words on Wings is one of the contest’s Top Honors awards, given to extraordinary young adult fiction. Beauty & the Beast also won Gold in High School Romance.

Congratulations on your achievements! When did you first start writing?

Thank you! I first started writing around age 8, dipping my toes into poetry first before discovering novel writing at age 11. But I’ve been telling stories pretty much since I learned to speak. My mom always said I was alarmingly quiet at first, not starting off with all the typical baby words, and that when I finally started talking, it was in complete sentences. And once I was forming sentences, I was telling stories.

What’s the target age group for your books?

Beauty & the Beast is… I don’t know…12 and up? I think of it as for all ages really.

My first novel, Winds Cove, a YA mystery published in 2004, was also about the same, maybe for ages 10 and up. I think, or at least I hope, that my books are crafted well enough that they can’t be outgrown. My future books, several in the works but none finished yet, will be for teens and some for perhaps a slightly older audience though not because they’ll be inaccessible to teen audiences, more because the heroines will start to range more in age.

What inspired your award-winning book?

This is perhaps a longer answer than you were looking for, but here goes:

I dine on fairytales almost daily. They are not the only things I read—I love all kinds of Fantasy, Supernatural, Murder Mystery, some Horror, as well as Science Fiction/Science Fantasy—but I obsessively collect fairytales. Fairytales were my introduction to the Fantasy genre, and some of my earliest memories are my mom reading me fairytales before tucking me in at night. I can still hear her voice in the cadence of the words in one particular version of Cinderella, and I’m on the hunt for the particular version of Sleeping Beauty she read to me which I have not ever come across since. That’s a long way of saying fairytales are important to me. They’re literally woven into the fabric of my imagination. So in the midst of all the writing projects I have going, I’ve always wanted to squeeze some fairytale retellings in as well.

I had a vague idea, a lifetime or two ago, about a story centering around a cursed black lion. I knew immediately it was a Beauty and the Beast type of story, although I didn’t know how closely it would mirror its source. And then my ideas regarding the noble, raven-furred lion were lost to my piles and stacks and mountains of notebooks as other story ideas threw themselves in my path. I never forgot him. But his story has been stuck on the back burner ever since. Growing up with Madame Beaumont’s 1756 “Beauty and the Beast” and of course Disney’s enchanted retelling, I was utterly unprepared for Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s 140-page original version, The Story of the Beauty and the Beast, published in 1740, sixteen years before Madame Beaumont severely condensed it into the tale commonly found in fairytale collections. Moreover, I didn’t even know Villeneuve’s version existed until I stumbled across it on Amazon and realized Beaumont, so often credited as the inventor of the tale, was in fact only a reinventor like Disney and everyone else. While I completely understand why Beaumont chose to streamline the rambling story so much, I was simultaneously thrilled and dismayed to discover that the version I knew was only half the story. Beauty’s heritage and backstory had been shorn away and have now been all but obliterated from common knowledge. I was mesmerized in particular by Villeneuve’s Fairy Realm, a kingdom in the air belonging to a fairy race with their own laws, their own hierarchy, their own customs, and which fit so seamlessly within a fairytale world I was already constructing involving a Sky Kingdom and a race of Fae creatures. I also immediately felt I owed it to Beauty to finally get her story out there—or at least my version of it. I read and watched every version of BATB I could get my hands on, marinating in the story and seemingly infinite interpretations of it. Villeneuve’s & Beaumont’s versions of BATB, and the Brothers Grimm “Singing, Soaring Lark” were together the wellspring for my own reimagining. The three greatest influences for my inspiration aside from the fairytales themselves would have to be Jean Cocteau’s beguiling and eerie cinematic adaption released in 1946, the 2014 visual feast directed by Christophe Gans, and Hilary Knight’s magnificently illustrated 1990 rendition, all of which had me falling in love with the story over and over again each time I read or watched them. It is my hope, among many other hopes, that someday people will be as swept off their feet by my reimagining as I was about theirs.

Describe one of your characters with a cliché or a famous quote.

The Beast – “The eyes are the windows to the soul.”

Do you have plans to, or have you already, released audio editions of your books?

I have not. To be honest, I haven’t even thought about it. Hmmm…

Who would you cast as the voice actor for your main character?

Are we talking dream voice castings here? For the Beast it would be Liam McIntyre. I think he’d be smashing in a live action film adaptation too, but the reason I thought of him for the role was first and foremost for his delicious voice. Manu Bennett would be pretty spectacular too. If we’re talking reality then…. I have no idea. I have a friend who’s an actress who I would probably beg and plead to read for Beauty.

Do you illustrate your own books? If not, how did you find your illustrator?

My book doesn’t have illustrations but I did do the cover art myself. All the photography as well as the graphic design to put it all together. I did a fair bit of photography on the side before my allergies to the vulture sun forced me into a more vampiric nocturnal lifestyle.

Who are some of your favorite YA and/or children’s book authors?

Alexander Key for middle grade/YA. His books were my gateway to science fiction, and he captures a marvelous sense of wonder of the Universe while still seeing it as both broken and beautiful. It doesn’t matter how old I get or how many times I read them, his books haunt me and inspire me and sweep me away to this day.

For children’s books, there are probably too many to name but thinking in terms of picture books I would say Jan Pienkowski, Hilary Knight, the Sisters Johnstone, and Kinuko Craft are the ones I specifically look out for. I’m aware that they are all illustrators but some of them do their own writing, and while Kinuko Craft does not, her paintings make me want to fall inside her stories. In fact, she is one of my writing inspirations even though she’s not a writer—she is a master storyteller through her art, and I like to think of my writing as word painting. Even though I use a different medium, I want to tell stories the way she does. She’s fantastically brilliant.

Do you have any quirky writing habits?

I don’t know if they’re quirky—they all seem pretty normal to me anyway, lol. I write inside and outside, at the zoo or the lake or the park when I can find a shady spot, but most of the time I’m holed up in my house, surrounded by plants and animals and stacks of books as I write. I stare into space for days, weeks, even years, mulling and meditating over my ideas and letting them marinate in my imagination. I outline my stories usually halfway through writing them, which perhaps is one of my less practical habits. I also tend to write out of order, writing whichever scene overwhelms me when I pick up my pen and then stitching all the scenes together afterward. I’m trying to break myself of that habit actually since it makes for a lot of extra work toward the end.

I like to surround myself with things that inspire me specifically in the tone of whatever it is that I’m writing. For Beauty & the Beast, for example, I bought up every vintage version of Beauty & the Beast I could stretch my tiny paycheck to accommodate as well as a few lion statues, a pewter pegasus, and along with a pewter castle I’ve had for years that inspired the castle in the story, I would literally surround myself with them, the books open to my favorite illustrations and carefully overlapping each other in artistic piles, the lions and castle etc perched all around me while I wrote so that every time I glanced up my eye would fall on something beautiful and magical, my rescued cats and dogs in fuzzy heaps around me, with youtube enchanted forest videos playing in the background. It’s in those quiet, creative moments that I’m overwhelmed by the fact that no matter how little money I’m making, the writer’s life can be intensely beautiful.

Oh, oh! I don’t know if this is a habit exactly, but while I never ever put real people in my stories, myself included, I do give real animals cameos and roles. My stories always have animal characters as well as human ones, and they’re often inspired by or based on specific animals I have known. It’s sort of my way of imparting a slice of immortality on them. Beauty & the Beast contained 4 animal characters inspired by real life animals.

How do you balance writing with book promotion and everything else there is to do in life?

Book promotion is brand, spanking new to me so I’ll have to get back to you on that one. As far as the balance in my life between writing and keeping up a home and rescuing as many animals as possible, I’m afraid the housekeeping is what tends to fall by the wayside, lol. I’m still working on finding the right balance to be productive AND healthy AND have a clean house. It’s a challenge. My husband is very patient, although I am frequently banned from the kitchen due to my tendency to novel-plot and wander off to parts unknown while handling knives or using the stove.

Do you have anything special you’d like to say to your readers or fellow award-winning authors?

To writers—just write. The hardest part for me is gluing my rear to a chair long enough to be productive because I’m so easily distracted. So to writers like me, just write.

To my readers—thank you for getting swept away by my story. I hope I can sweep you away many many more times.

To all readers—Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like reading fiction is a waste of time. Fiction and Fantasy and Beauty have tremendous value. Savor beauty. Revel in it. It’s a treasure that can be anywhere and everywhere, and yet we can never have too much of it in our lives.

Author Bio

Rebecca Hammond Yager grew up in the bewitching realm of Vermont. She has a degree in creative writing and a lifetime love of monsters and beasts. When her nose isn’t in a book, her head is firmly in the clouds where all dreamy heads ought to be. She now lives in South Carolina with a menagerie of beasts and her handsome, longsuffering husband where she obsessively collects fairytales, devours fantasy and science fiction, and rescues animals.

Connect with her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Award-Winning Book

Winner of the 2017 WORDS ON WINGS Award, Literary Classics’ Top Honors Award for Young Adult Fiction

A young woman sacrifices herself to save her father and enters a moonlit kingdom of beasts on the borders of Faerie, overrun by thorns and roses, haunted by memories, and ruled by lions. To have any hope of seeing her family again, Beauty must unravel the riddle of the Beast and dispel the shadows of her own past in this lush and vivid reimagining of the timeless fairytale.

Those who yearn for poignant prose and vibrant imagery will no doubt delight in Yager’s brilliant representation of this timeless classic. Literary Classics Book Awards

This book is available on Amazon.

Read more about the 2017 Literary Classics Book Awards contest winners on my Interviews page and the Literary Classics website.

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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 31 Locked

Darker Stars Beta Cover“Is there really no cure?” I sniffled, rifling through pages. “There has to be a cure.”

I sat in the library, with notebooks, volumes, papers, and all the journals I could find, many of which Grandpa Plaka had written in, scattered about me. Father must have had the journal with the cure. Why would he hide it from us?

“Looking for something?”

I spun around to see Javis’s outline in the doorway, his hand pressed against the jamb.

“I…um.”

“What’s wrong, Silvie?”

“Nothing—I—”

“Don’t worry,” he said, smiling. “The suggestions given at the Clock Tower will work, though I don’t agree the baglamas should be kept hidden. We’ve heard the stories about Susana and the Fire Falls. This is just another chapter. Courage and good will prevail, like they always do.”

I grimaced. “I hope you’re right.”

“Come on, you’re not getting scared now, are you?”

Sighing, I shook my head. I considered telling him about the Occlusion, wondering whether he knew how sick he was. That I’d felt it—the darkness in him—again, at the Clock Tower after he’d collapsed.

“Then, what’s the problem?” he asked. “You look as if there’s something worse to worry about.”

I sucked in a breath. I was sure Father would fill the role of World Builder on our mission, anyway. I couldn’t stand Javis holding a false hope, or worse yet, that he wouldn’t recover from his illness.

“I’m worried about you,” I said.

He entered the room and nudged one of the notebooks on the floor with his toe. “Me? Why?”

“Obviously because of what happened at the Clock Tower. How long have you been feeling like this?”

“I’m not feeling anything at all, honestly. At least not until it hits me, then afterward.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like I told you before, when I fell over in the bathroom, I didn’t feel it coming. Everything disappeared into whiteness, accompanied by a sudden weakness, like I was empty.”

“You have no way of knowing when or where it will happen again?”

He frowned and shook his head. “Father had a couple doctors examine me. They think it’s something I’ll grow out of.” He slapped his ribs with his hands. “I’m fine now, see. Nothing to worry about.”

A huff escaped my lips.

“Is that what this is about?” He grinned at the floor and gathered papers into a stack. “Are you trying to heal me?”

My stomach twisted. “I’d do this for anyone, especially you.”

“You have enough to do right now, Silvie. You don’t need to worry about me. The doctors who saw me are the best of the best. They’re probably right—whatever’s happening will work itself out and go away.”

“But it won’t,” I blurted, my voice rising. “This is more serious than they know. Mother said—”

“What did your mother say?”

Javis and I froze. We glanced over our shoulders to the doorway. Father stood there, clenching and unclenching his jaw.

I breathed in and out, steadying my heartbeat. “Where is Grandpa Plaka’s journal?” I said. “The one where he wrote about Occlusions.”

“Occlusions?” whispered Javis. “What’s that?”

“Answer my question first,” boomed Father. “What did your mother say?”

“I told a past version of her about Javis falling ill,” I began, shakily. “When I reached out to heal Javis, I felt a darkness there, something I hadn’t noticed in anyone else before. It was there again, at the Clock Tower, only darker…stronger. Like the Occlusion had grown.”

Javis’s head snapped toward me, his jaw slackened.

“Mother had sensed this darkness in others,” I continued. “But she couldn’t tell me much about it. She said Grandpa Plaka studied Occlusions and was interested in a cure.”

“Is this what’s wrong with me?” Javis sunk in on himself and pinched his shoulders upward, then shuddered as if he were disgusted by his own body. “Father, why didn’t anyone tell me?”

“I’m not convinced you have an Occlusion,” Father replied.

“Then why are you hiding the journal?” I said. “If you don’t think that’s what’s making Javis sick, why won’t you give it to me?”

“I’m not hiding anything, Silvie. The journal is on my desk at the hospital. I’m sure you’ll find very little of interest there.” He turned and walked away, with steps as icy and rigid as his voice.

“He’s angry,” I said, stating the obvious.

“But you haven’t done anything wrong!”

“I know. But I don’t think he’s angry with me.” I placed a hand on my brother’s shoulder to still his agitation. “Father is angry with himself.”

“For what?”

“By now, he must have come to the same conclusion I have. That he’s responsible for your illness. Mother told me Occlusions tend to be found in those whose travel talents have been repressed. You rarely get to use your World Building talent.”

Javis’s face had blossomed to a deep shade of red by the time I finished explaining. He tugged at his shirt. “So there’s this thing inside of me, feasting on the erosion of my travel talent? And you’re saying there’s no cure?”

I almost snorted at how much he sounded like Grandpa Plaka. “There’s no known cure, as far as Mother and Father are concerned. I haven’t seen the journal yet. Father may be right that there’s nothing in there that will help. But I have a theory.”

I bit my lip and carefully gathered the remaining books on the floor and set them back on the shelf, leaving Javis to pace back and forth behind me. I knew there was a question on the tip of his tongue. He may have been waiting for me to continue, to tell him my theory. But I wasn’t sure I could fully articulate an explanation in words. It was more of a feeling, an amorphous thought too high level to make sense, even if the solution itself was simple.

Footsteps behind me halted. Followed by the thick plop of a cushion. I looked back to where Javis sat in front of the fireplace with his head in his hands.

“What do I need to do to fix this?” he said, finally.

“You’ll need to trust me when the time comes,” I said. “Your World Building talent wants to be released. Something important needs to be unlocked. To be set free.”

Want to be among the first to read the final chapters of Darker Stars? Sign up for my Early Reader List here.

I’ve been posting chapter updates, mostly copy edits and clarifications, to the table of contents, but I’ve reached a point where I need to consider major rewrites to bring home the ending. Thank you for your patience and continued support during this stage of editing.

If you’re new to this story, read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here. If you’d rather wait until the book has been published, please join my main newsletter to get a message when Darker Stars releases.

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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 30

Darker Stars Beta CoverSloe hugged Raven goodnight, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Silvie. He envied her ownership of travel objects; first, the baglamas, and now she had a pair of travel glasses like the pair her father, Valcas, used. From what Sloe saw, it could have been the same pair he’d seen Valcas wearing.

He sighed, wishing he could obtain an unofficial travel object for Raven, for her protection. Those without travel talents could at least use unofficial objects. The travel talents he and Silvie had were in addition to the ability to travel through time and space. The TSTA still regulated travel, though its control over unofficial objects had weakened and the line between what was official—such as a commissioned travel vehicle—and what was not, had blurred over time.

Sloe pressed a hand to the exit portal in Aboreal that would take him home to the Clock Tower. A one-way portal that led to a single, specific destination.

If he had a travel object like those Silvie had, he could have gone directly to her by conducting a search. The limits to his Time Keeper portal talent aggravated him. His talent was nothing without the Clock Tower, which acted as a bridge, an in-between. The realization hit him with a force that made him see stars: like his father, he was bound to the Clock Tower.

But those men…the cloaked men. What were they? It was as if their travel talent had mutated, evolved in a surprising new way. They weren’t bound to the Clock Tower. Their portals had a different, sinister quality. Sloe wasn’t sure he could defeat it. At least, not without help.

Sloe arrived at the Clock Tower; he clung to it for the span of a breath before reaching for the portal to Edgar. When the teardrop glowed, he pushed forward and slipped through.

The stars of Edgar gave off a light, a shade of blue so deep it could have been mistaken for black. Yet, the center of each star blazed white. His shoelaces reflected that light, causing them to appear brighter than they should have been.

Expecting Silvie hadn’t gone back to work that night, after her visit to Aboreal, he crept up to the Halls’ home and knocked on the door. He stood in silence, hoping Silvie would open the door so he wouldn’t have to explain his arrival to anyone else. When no one answered, he considered letting himself in.

Sloe reached out a hand, but left it hanging mid-air. I can’t, he thought. Not again.

He didn’t know how late it was, or how long ago everyone had gone to bed. He gave up for the night, mentally scolding himself for traveling there in the first place, and moved toward the hospital, then to the exit portal behind it.

Careful to keep his bright shoelaces hidden beneath the flowers as much as possible, his thoughts shifted back to the idea of travel objects. Silvie and her family could be somewhere else, for all he knew. She could be anywhere.

There were too many doors, too many portals, to step through to reach her.

In his mind, her method of travel was far more direct.

Maybe she’s right about stopping the cloaked men. His lips bowed into a guilty frown. I need her help, even though I betrayed her.

***

Sloe left the Clock Tower early the next morning. He found Silvie at the hospital making her rounds. The way she whistled and talked to herself and the recovering Lost made him smile. Until she noticed him lurking in a corner and caught his eye.

Her lips dropped open.

He pressed his palms forward. “I’m sure I’m the last person you expected to see here, but I’ve been thinking about what you said before leaving Aboreal. And you’re right. We must stop them.”

Silvie rested both fists on her hips, a motion so slow and cautious, Sloe swallowed several times before continuing. “I’m willing to do my part—whatever it takes to fix what I’ve done.”

“Of course I’m right,” Silvie snapped, spinning the world back to a regular speed.

After a glance down both sides of the hallway, Silvie gripped Sloe’s wrist and pulled him into a broom closet. “We need to talk. Now.”

Sloe caught his breath and forced back an awkward laugh. His forehead nearly touched Silvie’s. He tilted his head back, but it didn’t do much to hide how close they were inside the cramped room. He inhaled. Uncomfortably close.

“I have an idea,” Silvie whispered. “But we’ll have to run it by my father first.”

Sloe raised his eyebrows, then nodded.

“And we’ll need to tell your parents, too.”

“What? No!”

Silvie clamped her hand over his mouth. His eyes widened.

“You said you were willing to do your part, whatever it takes. This is your part, Sloe. You got us into this mess, so you don’t get to be picky about the plans for getting us out.”

“Mmm…kay, fine,” he mumbled beneath her fingers.

She let go as if he’d bit her, then frowned. “I traveled to the past to visit someone I trust, and I told her about our situation.”

“Who? When?”

“Don’t worry about it. She’s a silhouette in the past; she won’t tell anyone. She won’t even remember I went to visit.”

Something in Sloe’s stomach twisted at Silvie’s frown. She rubbed her eyes. One finger grazed the edge of her brow, smudging away its edge.

Sloe winced. His fingers twitched to smooth the edge of her opposite eyebrow to see if that would disappear, too.

“Anyway,” she said, redirecting his thoughts. “Moth—um, she suggested we combine our travel talents to stop the cloaked men. All last night and this morning, I’ve been thinking about how to do that. We’ll need to trap them. I have some ideas for how each of us can help, but we need more input, from my father and your parents to form a plan.”

Sloe clenched and unclenched his jaw, biting back another plea to keep his parents out of the matter. But he’d promised, and Silvie was right. Things had gone too far. They were in too deep. And, yet, hope shined in Silvie’s eyes, a hope that there was a way out.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s hear what your father has to say.”

***

Sloe lowered his head, his chin brushing against arms crushed against his chest. He was certain he wouldn’t have his bedroom door back anytime soon, not as long as he lived at the Clock Tower.

“So what you and your friends are saying, Son, is that the dreadful man who showed up here uninvited—the one in the cloak—was someone you’d met before?”

Nick towered over Sloe, next to the invisible portal behind their home. The talk with Valcas at the hospital had gone more smoothly than Sloe expected. Filling his parents in on the situation, on the other hand, was as nightmarish as he thought it would be.

Sloe swallowed. “Yes, I knew who he was.”

“And you didn’t think it wise to mention this before now?”

Valcas kicked up dust as he moved from his inspection of the ground where the portal sat and placed a hand on Sloe’s shoulder. “I expect he didn’t want to worry you or your family if he thought he had everything under control.”

“But he didn’t have everything under control, Valcas!” Ivory scowled. “Our son stole from your family and put both of your children in danger. They could have been killed. Raven could have died. Do you know what the death of an Aborealian would have meant for us?”

“We would have been ruined,” Nick added in a chilled voice. His gaze fell on Sloe. “We should have dealt with this when you and Raven first returned with your injuries.”

“It’s too late for that,” said Valcas. “You are welcome to discipline your son as you see fit, later. For now we must deal with what we have before us. The cloaked men will not be able to recover the baglamas where it’s currently hidden, but they will destroy us and our children in their race to find it. Should they fail, the man for whom they’re retrieving the instrument will either send someone else or come after it himself.”

Silvie grimaced each time the adults used the word children.

“How do we catch them first?” she asked.

“Yeah, and assuming we caught them, how do we keep them from escaping?” Sloe looked from his father to Valcas. “The cloaked men have travel talents different than what we’ve seen before; it’s as if the Time Keeper’s ability to open and unlock portals has evolved or mutated. These men can build portals as well as World Builders can build worlds. That means they can build their own escape.”

Valcas brought a fist to his lips and murmured something to himself. When he exhaled, his lips quirked to the side, forming a smirk. He answered loud enough for all to hear. “The trap need not be too big. It could be a small world just starting out. We’ll need to find something to lure them there, and only leave enough room for them and the world’s inherent entrance and exit portals—both of which could be locked by a Time Keeper.”

Ivory shrugged. “I supposed that could work. Could we put them in a cage or something to make it a little less difficult to squeeze in one of their own portal creations?”

“It will depend on how much time we have, but a trap could be built within the trap.”

“That’s so meta.” Ivory grinned, causing Sloe and Silvie to share the slightest of eye rolls.

“What do we use as bait?” asked Nick. “How exactly do we lure them to this new world?”

Silvie took a long look at Raven before answering. “I was thinking we show them what they want. Plant what we want to lead them there.”

Shivering, Raven shrunk into Sloe’s open arm.

“Not you, Raven,” said Silvie. “The baglamas.”

Ivory shook her head. “That’s sweet, hon, but Plaka left that for you. The baglamas should be kept safely locked away.”

Silvie sighed and turned to her brother, her lips already parted as if she were about to say something.

“Javis!” she gasped. “What’s wrong?”

He stood with one hand pressed against the tower, his other hand clutched at his chest. His knees shook and sagged beneath him.

“The white… I don’t… I don’t know.”

Valcas’s face paled to a sickening shade of white. In a swift motion he lunged forward and caught Javis as he collapsed, his hands cradling the young man’s head an inch above the ground. He exhaled. “Silvie?”

“I’m already here.”

“Oh, Valcas, will he be okay?”

Valcas squinted up at Ivory and the group of faces surrounding him and his family. “We need to get Javis home—to the hospital right away,” he answered. “We’ll continue our discussion later. I’ll be in contact soon.”

“I can whip up a batch of healing broth—”

“No.”

Valcas swallowed. In a tone less harsh he added, “Thank you, Ivory, but that won’t be necessary. Once Silvie gets him in a slightly better state, we’re traveling home.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 31, to be posted July 11. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 27 Heartbreak

Darker Stars Beta CoverJavis and I stood with our mouths gaping.

I turned to my brother and frowned. “What did the hooded man—the one with eyes like Eurig’s—say to you?” I had trouble getting out the words without shaking.

“He said ‘You can thank the Time Keeper for your pain.’”

My fingers clenched. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Javis eyed me warily, then shook his head.

“They came here to make us distrust Sloe,” I said, crossing my arms. “Let’s go to the Clock Tower, the way we’d planned, and we’ll prove they’re wrong.”

He stared, his lips twisted in a frown. Without taking his eyes off me he bent down and fished his travel glasses out of the flowers. He slipped them back inside his pocket and turned toward the house.

“Javis…” I caught up to him in three strides. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m not going.”

“Why?”

“Those men came here specifically for the baglamas. If they know Sloe, then Sloe probably knows them, too. They could be working together.”

Tears stung my eyes. I clasped my hand around my own pair of travel glasses. “Then I’ll go alone and find out for myself.”

“Fine,” he said through clenched teeth. “But if you’re not home before I go to bed tonight, I have no choice but to tell Father where you went.”

“You’re going to tell on me? What are you—a child?”

“No, not a child, Silvie,” he said, his eyes warming. “I’m worried you may be falling into a trap.”

My lower lip quivered, more at his accusation than his warmth. He was my brother, but he was abandoning me on my quest to find the truth. I couldn’t help but think this had something to do with the darkness I’d sensed in him. I had no proof, but I wondered whether it was affecting his mind. Yet, he smiled as if he truly cared about me, and with the same cocky confidence I’d always seen in him.

I shoved past Javis and stepped up; my feet stomped against the path. I slipped the travel glasses over my eyes, and ran, ignoring my brother’s cries that I stop, hoping when I removed the dark lenses, I’d have arrived at Sloe’s home, the Clock Tower.

When the white light faded, my gut dropped with the sensation of falling. Haven’t I already arrived? Or am I up in the air? My legs bent at the knees as my feet hit the ground. The crackle and tear of hardened soil was accompanied by a jingling sound that reminded me of bells chiming from the bedroom doors of the recovering Lost. Only, louder.

I placed a hand to my forehead and looked up. A mangled mess of clockwork and timepieces towered above me, swaying and banging together. I expected gears and flecks of paint to spray down at me, but they didn’t.

I stayed low to the ground until the rumblings subsided, then removed my travel glasses. I stood and brushed a velvety gray-brown soil from my legs before stepping forward, toward the tower.

“So, this is where Sloe lives,” I murmured.

The mossy scent of soil was not unpleasant, but it didn’t embrace the comfort and cheerfulness of the flowers at home. While the Clock Tower itself was impressive, the grounds around it, even the purple sky, were lonely and barren.

As I wandered, absorbing my new surroundings, curious how the portals on the Clock Tower worked, a door creaked open from the base of the tower.

“Hello?” called out a familiar voice.

“Ivory! Hi!”

The woman with white hair tilted her head to the side. Her eyes widened. “Silvie Hall?”

“Sorry for dropping by uninvited, but I was wondering…” Warmth filled my cheeks. “Is Sloe here?”

I expected Ivory to chuckle at my embarrassment, or at least ask questions about why I would want to see her son. But the tightness in her lips and the wariness in her eyes suggested something else.

“I’m sorry, hon, but he’s not here right now. I came out here thinking he’d returned early.”

“Oh,” I exhaled, my gut twisting. “Is he all right?”

“Yes.” She smiled. “There’s no need to worry. Would you like to come inside for something warm to drink?”

I looked down; I hadn’t realized I’d been rubbing my palms across my arms. Edgar’s golden suns, along with their warmth, were missing in Sloe’s world.

“Thank you, but I should get going. It was nice to see you.”

Ivory creased a brow. “Are you sure? I don’t know how long he’ll be gone, but you’re welcome to stay here and wait for him, if you like.”

I blinked. “Did he go out for a quick errand?”

“Not exactly. Honestly, I’m not sure how long he’ll be gone, but you’re welcome anyway.”

I smiled at that. “Thanks again for your kindness. I should go.”

“I’ll tell him you stopped by.”

“Um, okay.”

“Safe travels, Silvie. Send your father my best.”

“I will.”

Ivory nodded before closing the Clock Tower door.

More nervous to find and see Sloe than when I’d left Edgar, I slipped on the travel glasses. This time, before running, I didn’t focus on Sloe’s home. I thought of his dark hair and purple eyes, and the way he smiled at me when I last saw him.

I searched specifically for him, regardless of where and when he was.

***

I caught a glimpse of violet-blue sky before grounding. Blades of grass tickled my nose while I waited for the rumblings to subside.

The air sang to me. I knew this place, and I’d visited before.

I felt the world’s history in my blood and in my bones.

Aboreal.

What is Sloe doing in Aboreal?

I pushed up from the ground and shrugged. My grandmother Sable was gone, but it was possible Sloe had grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who still lived here. I wondered whether I had cousins in Aboreal, too.

My feet padded across a thick lawn. I’d traveled directly to Sloe, so I knew he must be close. What I didn’t know was whether he was alone.

Heat flooded my cheeks. How am I supposed to explain to his family why I’m here? The questions I needed to ask Sloe were personal. I hadn’t worked out exactly what I was going to say. Hey, Sloe, how’s it going? Did you, um, steal my baglamas and hand it over to creepy men wearing cloaks who gave it to an even creepier guy in a tunic? It sounded ridiculous.

And, then, what if he answered yes?

I paused mid-step to breathe, hoping it would loosen the twisting in my stomach. If Mother or Grandpa Plaka were alive, they could have calmed me instantly. But who heals the healer when you’re the only one left?

Shaking my head, I stepped forward and bit back additional self-pity. This was something I needed to face, alone. I would simply ask Sloe to step away for a moment while I asked him my questions. If he appeared genuinely confused, then I could believe he had nothing to do with it. If he admitted to taking the baglamas and being involved with the cloaked men, that’s something I would deal with when the time came.

I wandered onto a street, lined with houses on both sides. As I approached a home of brick and stone, the hairs at the back of my neck lifted. The male voice that swept through the air belonged to Sloe. I couldn’t make out individual words, but the tone in his voice cautioned me that he was speaking to someone else.

I crept along the side of the house, to where I imagined there would be a backyard.

“I don’t know, Raven,” said Sloe. His voice was low and cracked on the last word. Raven?

Frowning, I leaned forward and peered around the wall’s corner.

Sloe sat on a bench, his shoulders hunched over and elbows resting on his knees. Dark locks fell across his cheekbones. And a hand rested on his shoulder.

Lumps formed in my throat.

A young woman sat across from him. Her black hair twisted in a loop above her head, but she was bowed forward so her forehead rested against his. Certain there was an explanation for this, I wondered whether she was a healer, too.

Sloe was thinner than when I’d last seen him, his cheeks more hollow, like he’d been sick. Reaching out, I could feel hurt there, pain. Was that why he hadn’t visited me again—because he was sick? I could have helped him. He knew I was a healer. Why was he visiting her, Raven, instead?

I leaned forward, wondering what could have happened to make Sloe seem so broken, then nearly jolted out of my skin when Raven placed her hand in his.

“I still think you should tell Silvie,” she said, looking up.

My mouth dropped open at the sound of my name. There was a brightness in her eyes, a kindness there buried in the darkness. How did she know about me? Tell me what?

“I can’t tell her I took the baglamas.”

“Why haven’t you done that yet? What are you waiting for? Unless—” Raven’s face crumpled, though I couldn’t imagine why. He’d betrayed me. I waited for his reason.

“She’d never forgive me—not only for what I’ve done, but for what I’ll need to do again.”

Something rubbed against my leg and mewed. I yelped, and glared at a feline creature, white as snow, before looking up and pressing my hand to my mouth.

Two pairs of eyes darted in my direction.

There was no going back. I crossed my arms and stepped forward from my hiding space in the shadows.

“It was you?” I spat.

Shock sizzled in Sloe’s eyes. His lips began to tremble. “Silvie, I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to find out this way.”

“From the sound of it, you didn’t want me to find out in any way.”

Raven’s lips were pulled back from her teeth. Her scowl was one of horror and embarrassment instead of shock.

She narrowed her eyes. “You were eavesdropping on us!” she said, finally, after a thorough inspection of my outfit and hair.

“I was looking for Sloe,” I explained. “I traveled here to find him, and I found way more than I expected.”

I shook so badly, I didn’t know whether I wanted to cry or wring his neck. He helped the man in the tunic? He stole the baglamas? And he planned to help them take it from me again?

I wanted an explanation, but I was so disgusted I couldn’t look at him. The rip in my heart tore through my trust more than anything. And to top it off, here he was on a date with some Aborelian who seemed to know all about it! Someone he’d never mentioned to me.

But I had a surprise for him, too.

“I got it back the first time,” I said. “The baglamas has been hidden somewhere that cannot be easily accessed, so don’t bother trying to steal it again. The man in the tunic is not happy. I imagine he’ll be looking for you, so expect to refund whatever he gave you.”

Sloe raised his palms and yanked himself up from the bench. This earned a grump from Raven whose hand he’d dropped in order to do that.

“Silvie, let me explain.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 28, to be posted July 1. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

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The Call to Search Everywhen is a Literary Classics FINALIST!

My time travel books are competing for a Literary Classics award in the YA series category. This book awards competition focuses on children’s and young adult literature, and I am so happy to be included in it.

Final results to be announced July 1! View all the finalists here.

Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 23 Discord

Darker Stars Beta CoverFootsteps jolted me awake.

I bolted to a sitting position and stretched against the cramping in my back and neck.

My eyes focused on a face grinning down at me, through the bars of my cell. The man in the tunic patted Eurig’s head. His smile was upside down from my viewpoint. Drowsily, I goggled for clues as to what made him so pleased with himself.

Pain flashed across my cheeks along with a scowl I couldn’t hold back. Tucked beneath the folds of his opposite sleeve was my baglamas.

“Good morning, children,” he said, glancing back and forth between my cell and Javis’s. “I was hoping we could get along better today.”

He pulled the instrument from his arm and held it out to me. “I brought entertainment.”

Then, as if he couldn’t get any creepier, he slipped the baglamas through the bars of my cell. His grin widened. “Do you play?”

I cradled the baglamas in my hands and stared at it. I wanted to crush it against my chest, to play music, and to travel…to a place far away from here. I wanted to go home and journey the worlds with Javis and Sloe and Father. And then travel back in time to visit Mother—to tell her about our adventures, to see her smile when she learned how happy we were, even though we missed her and wished she’d been with us during each and every moment.

But I couldn’t.

The man in the tunic looked at me expectantly, the same way I must have appeared to one of the recovering Lost when I couldn’t quite figure out what they were thinking or needed in a given moment.

He curled his fingers around the cell bars. “Play the instrument.”

I continued to hold the baglamas, stupidly, as if I didn’t know what it was, then trailed a finger across its strings. My touch made the strings buzz with a soft, tinkling sound, nothing fancy, but it sounded better than what I’d heard the man in the tunic play. Unfortunately, this made him grin again.

Play ugly music, ugly notes, I thought to myself. After taking into consideration his thick, stubby fingers, I plucked a string with two of mine. The string responded with a tart, sassy plink. Motivated to continue, I set aside everything I’d learned about music—all my training—and threw it out the window. I told my fingers to forget, to be temporary idiots attached to my hands. Then cringed at the resulting chaos.

I might have been better at making the baglamas sound bad than the man in the tunic did. Grandpa Plaka was probably rolling in his grave, or at least pressing his hands to his ears. I could only imagine what Javis was thinking in the next cell over.

“Stop,” said the man in the tunic, clearly convinced I had no idea what I was doing.

That’s when he realized his mistake.

I sat in my cell. He stood on the other side, with the bars between us. And I was left holding the baglamas.

He reach out a hand. “Return the instrument to me.”

I shook my head, and pressed the baglamas to my chest. I was trying to look stubborn, but I wasn’t sure he understood. So, I started playing again, this time as if I were truly enjoying making all the horrible sounds with the strings.

“I said stop,” he growled.

My fingers paused above the strings.

As much as I wanted to gage Eurig’s reaction, I did my best to avoid looking at her for fear of meeting her glowing eyes. I didn’t want the dog’s words in my head. She probably would have told me to hand over the baglamas, too.

But now that I’d laid my hands on it, I couldn’t give it up. The man in the tunic wasn’t going to get it back without a fight.

I stood up from my seated position and raised my knee. With both hands, I held the baglamas in front of me and pulled it down, quickly, pretending I intended to break it in half.

“No!”

I stopped, with the instrument just barely brushing my kneecap. Despite myself, I smirked. He’d understood my message: If I couldn’t keep the baglamas, then he wasn’t going to get it either. What he didn’t know was that, in my opinion, the worlds would be better off without such a powerful instrument in his hands.

“Come, Eurig. Let’s have her keep it for a while. She’ll eventually grow tired of the toy.”

He turned to the guard. “I’ll send other men, to take the instrument from her and to bring the boy to me. We may have better luck with the boy, alone.”

The guard nodded without taking his eyes off me.

I sniffed at him and retreated to the back corner in the cell, then slipped the travel glasses over my eyes. “Javis,” I whispered.

His face appeared against the all-white background. He said nothing, but his eyebrows were raised.

“The hallway that runs along the cells is long enough for us to gain enough momentum to travel.”

I detected the slightest nod from him. I interpreted his silence to mean his guard was keeping a close watch on him.

Coughing to disguise some of my words, I added, “When our cells are opened, we’ll need to run. But we’ll need to split up. I’ll run to the left with my travel glasses, and you’ll need to go to the right, with yours.”

Javis’s lips tightened; he released a breath. “Okay,” he coughed.

We sat in silence, staring at each other. His face was pinched, reflecting the same tension I was certain he saw in me. Sorry for having dragged him into this mess, I longed to reach out, into our connection through the travel glasses, and calm him.

Instead, I flexed, loosening my ankles and knees, ready to pounce when the cell door opened.

The cloaked men announced their arrival with the clack of boot heels and the rattling of metal, like chains being dragged across the floor. My back and shoulders trembled.

“Ready?” I whispered.

“Yes.”

I closed my eyes and shook the image of Javis from my mind.

Peering up over the glasses, to where I could better see in the dim light, I glared at a cloaked man who was already twisting a key inside the lock. I stretched my neck, searching for the man in the tunic, but he and Eurig were not there.

Another man passed by my cell; with him, the grating of metal intensified. My gaze lowered to his shoes. One of his ankles was cuffed. A chain of iron spheres and bells that didn’t ring dangled from the cuff and scratched along the floor.

I noticed a similar cuff attached to the man who’d unlocked my door and was walking toward me. Even the guards are prisoners here, I worried. Then smiled. The cuff added a limp to the man’s gait that slowed him down almost as much as the man in the tunic.

I squeezed the baglamas to me and focused on home, on Edgar, opening a search using the travel glasses. The baglamas would have taken too long to ready for travel. I also didn’t want the guards to know how it worked.

The guard sneered and reached for me. I dodged his arm and twisted past him to where I could see the metal tails of his ankle cuff. I gave the chains a sharp kick. Pain pulsed through my foot as he wobbled and spun around. His lips opened as the realization set in as to what I’d done.

He was off balance. I didn’t wait to see whether he would topple over.

I burst through the cell door. Tensing at the crashing thud behind me, I caught a glimpse of Javis running down the other side of the hallway.

I set my jaw against the pain and sprinted in the opposite direction.

***

Tears stung my eyes when the bright light faded. I coughed a lungful of air. I’d been breathing so hard the flowers’ fragrance had overwhelmed me.

“Javis?” I wheezed.

“Over here.”

I steadied my palms and grounded without looking up. I breathed evenly, allowing my heartbeat to slow and throb in sync with the pain in my foot. Javis was with me and the baglamas was safe, for now.

“We’ll need to tell Father,” I said, my voice barely audible over the rumbling. “The man in the tunic will be back for the baglamas. He’ll track us down—he probably already knows where we live.” I swallowed a lump in my throat. “We’ll need to hide it someplace safe.”

Gritting my teeth, I tested my foot’s ability to bear my weight. The pain hit so sharply I couldn’t bite back a groan. I fell to the ground.

“What happened to you?”

“I wasn’t sure I could outrun the guard, even with the cuff,” I said. “So I kicked his chain.”

Javis shook his head and snorted. With both hands, he pulled me up and slung my arm over his shoulders.

“Thanks. The chain was heavier…and harder…than I thought it would be.” I rolled my eyes as I tried to explain myself.

“Running on the injured foot probably didn’t help,” he said. “Let’s get you to the hospital. We can talk to Father about the baglamas while we find out whether you broke anything.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 24, to be posted June 17. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 21 Capture

Darker Stars Beta CoverWe grounded to the soothing fragrance of flowers. It would have been difficult not to, seeing as our arms, legs, and faces were buried in them.

“What was that?” Javis was wild-eyed as he brushed pollen from the legs of his pants.

“I don’t know, but we have to go back. Let’s give it a day or two,” I said, pacing. “I need to think this through.”

“A day or two? I don’t trust that man, and we have no idea what type of time scheme his world has.”

“Okay, fine. We’ll go back tomorrow, the same time we left today, if possible. That will give us some idea of the day cycle there; and if it’s around the same time when we get there, we may get to see him outside again. Maybe one of us can distract him long enough to leave behind the baglamas, and the other can grab it. Then we can both transport home using our own pairs of travel glasses.”

“That plan makes more sense than anything else I’ve seen today.” Javis tapped at his head with a fist. “Or heard. How do we get past the dog?”

“You heard it, too? The voice telling us to leave?”

His scowl was replaced with an expression that reeked of I told you so. “That man was talking to the dog, responding to her whimpers and the words she put inside his head. I knew it!”

I huffed, leaving him standing there, ankle-deep in flowers, as I stepped up onto the path. He followed me, mumbling about how smart he was or something. I didn’t know because I’d stopped paying attention.

There was a group of people standing in front of the hospital. I pushed through to find two of the recovering Lost, with tears streaming down their faces, pounding at the door.

I pulled the nearest recovering Lost, a girl named Maya, into my arm as I rifled through my pockets for my key. She yelped when she recognized me, and then fell into a fit of loud, wet sobs.

“What happened?”

“He pushed us out. He—he said we should wait until you return.”

The lock clicked when I turned the key. I held the door open. Javis caught up to me once everyone had scrambled inside.

“Who said that, Maya? Who can’t deal with you anymore?”

“Valcas, I mean…Mr. Hall.”

The spaces behind my eyes burned with the information. How could he?

I placed my hands on the girl’s shoulders and held her out at arms-length. “Explain.”

“Curt and I had scheduled visitors…”

I nodded, acknowledging that the visitors must be the other people who’d been standing outside with the recovering Lost.

“You and Javis weren’t here, so we went to Mr. Hall’s office to check in our visitors. He sent us outside and told us to wait for you.”

Javis and I exchanged a glance.

“But afterwards, I remembered I left my sketchpad in my room, and I wanted to show my drawings to my brother. I tried to go back in to get it.” Her lower lip quivered. “But the door was locked.”

With the baglamas momentarily forgotten, I stormed through the hallway, with Javis at my heels. Father’s door was closed. I peppered the door with loud, angry knocks.

“Come in,” he called from inside the room.

I threw open the door and placed a hand on my hip. “Why did you send two of the recovering Lost and their visitors outside?”

He didn’t bother looking up from his papers. “I was busy, and it is a beautiful day. The flowers and suns help your mood, Silvie. Why shouldn’t they help theirs too?”

I hadn’t expected such a reasonable answer. He didn’t seem upset at all. If anything, he was eerily calm, and his words disarmed me. I dropped my hand from my hip and looked to Javis for help.

“After everyone went outside, one of the recovering Lost tried to get back inside, but she couldn’t.” Javis worked his jaw, as if he wasn’t sure how to raise such a serious accusation against Father. “The door was locked.”

Father looked up from his papers, finally, and gave Javis his full attention. “What do you mean the door was locked?”

“Silvie used her key to let everyone back inside. So, you mean you didn’t do it?”

I winced at Father’s tightly set lips. His eyes were filled with astonishment and pain.

“Of course not,” he said.

“Oh,” Javis said, his voice weak. I would have to thank him for putting himself out there, later. “Then that means…”

Father sat back in his chair and squeezed the bridge of his nose. “The hospital’s security has been breached.”

Javis and I checked in on each of the residents while Father initiated a flurry of activity, which involved inspections of both the house and the hospital and the installation of replacement locks on the doors.

When no one suspicious was found on the premises, Father handed me and Javis new keys. I bit my lip, unable to handle the disappointed look he gave us. I couldn’t believe I’d thought Father had locked out the recovering Lost. I’d been so taken back by what we found when we returned to Edgar. Not to mention my state of mind after our attempt to find my baglamas. Still, I was ashamed I’d let these events make me mistrust Father. He’d done nothing to deserve that.

***

Javis and I attempted to retrieve the baglamas the next day, before my morning shift.

I removed the travel glasses from my face to better see our surroundings. I couldn’t decipher any noise over the rumblings that announced our arrival. But by the time we’d finished grounding, a shriek erupted that made my skin crawl and tingle all over.

My gut reaction was to help someone who was in pain.

Javis held me back. “Silvie, no. Remember what the man in the tunic said about no one coming to visit him.”

“I know but—”

“Let’s check it out, carefully. Maybe he’s out for a walk…” He frowned. “In the dark with his creepy dog.”

“Then why would he be screaming?”

My question was answered a moment later when Javis and I stumbled upon the man and his dog. We’d been circling backwards, staying covered behind trees and looking through them, instead of behind us. When we backed up, something caught my foot and I flew backwards, landing on my butt.

The shrieking started again, only now it was right in front of me.

Javis ran to my side and pulled me up and away from the man in the tunic who was lying on his back. He rocked back and forth and pushed at the ground with his arms, struggling to get up. His feet wobbled up and down in front of him, without bending at the knees.

Eurig, his dog, sat at his side. She turned to Javis and me, catching both of us with her glowing eyes, and whimpered.

Your earthquake made him fall. You should not have returned.

She broke eye contact with us more quickly than she had during our last visit. As soon as I regained my wits, I pulled Javis out to an open space where we could run.

“Our earthquake?” I mumbled. “She must mean the impact of our arrival.”

“Yup, let’s bail. We’ll come back at a better time, if such a thing exists.”

“Call for help, Eurig!” the man yelled. “Make sure someone catches them!”

I shuddered at the wolfish howl that followed, a deep grow that swelled an octave higher before scooping back down again.

“Okay, here,” I said, indicating the open space before us with plenty of room to gain momentum for travel.

I slipped on the travel glasses and squeezed Javis’s hand.

We made it three steps before a half dozen men wearing tunics closed in on us and pulled us to the ground. I clawed at them with my fingernails, kicking at them as they tied my hands behind my back. Pain flashed behind my eyes. They’d nearly dislocated my shoulders in the process.

Three of the men dragged me and three dragged Javis through the gate and into the house. Without the brightness of the world’s moon, it took me a moment to adjust to the lack of light inside the house. Flames from torches flickered along the walls, mingling with the light from above—chandeliers filled with lit candles.

The men said nothing to us the entire time, even when they dropped us on the floor in front of a chaise lounge. I wriggled my shoulders to relieve the stiffness that had set in since my hands had been tied. I looked up and scowled. The man in the tunic lifted his head from a pillow and rolled to his side, resting his weight on a propped up arm.

Eurig sat next to him, curled up in a sleeping position, her eyes closed.

“Thank you, men,” said the man in the tunic. “I have something to say to our visitors, and then you will move them to a cell.”

The men grunted and stepped backward in a single file behind us, blocking the only exit I could find in the room.

I pulled at the binding around my hands, a material that had the silkiness of ribbon and the strength of rope. A cell?

The man in the tunic grinned at us. “My home has experienced unlikely weather conditions as of late. I felt the rumblings of an earthquake yesterday evening. Eurig and I went out for a walk this evening to be nearer, should the phenomenon repeat itself.” He grinned widely, showing us his full set of teeth. “And sure enough, it did.”

I bit my lip, frantically trying to figure how to get out of there. He hadn’t asked us a question, and I had nothing to say to him, so I kept my mouth shut. Javis sat with his legs crossed next to me, shaking.

“How did you arrive here?” the man in the tunic said, his eyes pinning me to the ground.

“We traveled,” I choked out.

A flicker of surprise shone in his eyes. “Using what method?”

Javis shot me a pointed look, but it wasn’t necessary. I had no intention of telling our captor about the travel glasses. Or that I knew anything about the baglamas.

“My men have ways of making you answer, children,” he warned. He shifted his weight back slightly.

I glared at him.

“Surely you two are able to speak. Eurig, we heard them outside when the girl tripped over me, didn’t we?”

The dog opened her eyes and tilted her head toward him. I couldn’t see the moon-glow in her eyes from where I sat when she let out a soft whimper.

“Eurig agrees with me, children. She says you can speak.”

My lips pulled into a frown. I hadn’t heard Eurig say anything. I hadn’t heard her words inside my head. But I had heard her whimper. Did Eurig have to be looking at a specific person, capturing them with her eyes, to be able to drop words in their head?

Javis and I exchanged a worried glance.

“I tire of waiting. Take them away.”

The men along the wall rushed forward, breaking out of their single file like marching band members scattering in different directions. Half of the men surrounded me, while the other half surrounded Javis. I don’t know why so many of them were necessary given our hands were tied behind our backs.

One of the men lifted me up in his arms and slung me over his back, with his companions flanking his sides. The more I kicked, the more he pinned my legs to his chest. But I didn’t yell out. I bit my tongue. The man in the tunic did not deserve my words.

Javis appeared not to be doing much better than I was. He was younger than me, but larger and stronger. Two of the men, both a head taller than him, had grabbed him beneath his armpits and were dragging him so that when he kicked, they lifted him up higher, leaving his legs to flail in the air.

Before we left the room, Eurig’s glowing eyes locked with mine. Her whimper was low and gritty, more of a growl.

I told you to leave. You should not have returned.

The man in the tunic stroked her head. “What’s wrong, my pet?”

She broke her gaze from mine and leaned into his petting before curling back into her sleeping position.

The men dragged Javis and me to separate cells, instead of the one cell the man in the tunic had warned us about.

“We’ll untie you,” one of the men said, his lips close to my ear. “But you should fear no less. We can rewrap your wrist as quickly as we did the last time,” he warned.

I twisted my face in horror at the sound of his voice. It was as if he literally gargled broken glass. I’d heard that expression before and thought I had an idea of what it meant, but now I had a real life audio-visual. His words undulated between low and high-pitched sounds, with the awful texture of sandpaper.

He stepped back and laughed at my reaction. “The punishments here are cruel,” he said, rubbing a hand across his throat. Then he clenched his jaw and sneered, as if he didn’t find the joke funny anymore.

His companion kept his strong grip around me while the man with the garbled voice untied and pulled at my bindings. The third man stood guard near the cell’s door, careful to allow himself and his companions to exit while leaving me trapped inside. The guard stayed behind and pressed his back against the opposite wall.

I shook out my arms and rubbed my wrists as I paced back and forth along the cell floor.

I looked out through the bars of the left front corner of my cell, noticing a man in a tunic who stood watching roughly ten feet away from where my guard stood across the wall in front of me.

I took this to mean that our cells were side by side. But I couldn’t see Javis because of the heavy wall between us. I also guessed his cell had metal bars in front like mine.

My teeth gnashed together.

The men had deprived us of being able to communicate in whispers, gestures, and glances. If we had something to say, we had to speak loudly enough for everyone to hear us, including those men who’d stayed behind and stood guard outside our cells.

I blinked at my guard.

He locked his gaze on me. This turned into a staring contest that continued until I began to feel uncomfortable. I switched to averting my eyes every time he caught me looking at him.

I slipped the travel glasses over my eyes and snickered, knowing the lenses were so dark the guard wouldn’t be able to tell whether I was looking at him or not.

“Silvie?”

I blinked and the guard faded from view, replaced by an all-white background. Javis’s face appeared like a cardboard cutout against it.

“Silvie,” he whispered.

“Excellent idea to call me using your pair of travel glasses,” I said, keeping my voice level at a low murmur.

“You too,” he said. “I was hoping you’d think of this, eventually.”

My lips pressed into a guilty grin. I shrugged. I didn’t want to tell him the real reason I was wearing the travel glasses, and the fewer words the guard overheard the better.

I retreated to the deepest corner of the cell and pressed my back to the wall and rested my cheek on my hand so the guard no longer had a head-on view of my lips moving. I hoped he’d think I was sick of our awkward staring contest. I leaned back slightly in an attempt to look like I was trying to get into a comfortable enough position to fall asleep.

“There isn’t enough room in my cell to gain the momentum needed for travel,” said Javis, his lips barely moving.

I peered up, over the glasses, briefly, to gain a sense of how high the cell was—to judge whether we could gain vertical momentum as opposed to running horizontally. The ceiling was no higher than the track on the upper level gymnasium. Even that wasn’t high enough for me to risk dropping to my death before the travel glasses ported me home.

“It’s not high enough, either,” I said. “Not that there’s anything in here I could use to get up there.”

“So what do we do? How do we get out of here?”

“We’ll have to wait until the doors open. Maybe then we’ll figure something out.”

“But we’ll be outnumbered.”

I cringed. He was right. The man in the tunic had too many of his lackeys on us. There was no use trying to mess with the cell door with our guards staring at us, either.

My guard cleared his throat.

“We should stop now, before they suspect something,” I said.

Javis tilted his head in a barely perceptible nod before letting out a huge yawn.

The skin above my eyes twisted. Oh shoot. My painted on eyebrows were probably smeared off by now. I rubbed my eyes anyway, taking Javis’s hint that we should look like we were falling asleep. He didn’t have to be so obvious, though.

He and the white background faded, leaving my cell feeling darker than before.

I left the travel glasses on my face and closed my eyes.

Continue the adventure with Chapter 22, to be posted June 10. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.