Sunday, July 31, 2016

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

"You know what I did after I wrote my first novel? I shut up and wrote twenty-three more." ~ Michael Connelly

Source: Wikipedia and

Michael Connelly, born on July 21, 1945, in Philadelphia, PA, is an American author of detective novels and other crime fiction, notably those featuring LAPD Detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch and criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller. 

This week on Writing from the Peak

August 1       Letter from the Editor   Donnell Ann Bell

August 3       The Writing Coach   Deb McLeod

August 5       Pikes Peak Writers August Events

Friday, July 29, 2016

Sweet Success Celebrates Shannon Lawrence and Sound Advice

Bloodbond Magazine is pleased to present a short story by Shannon Lawrence, “Sound Advice,” (adult horror), published by Alban Lake Publishing, May 2016. It is available online at Alban Lake Publishers:

A family trip becomes a night of terror when they venture through skinwalker territory in the middle of the night. 

A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in anthologies and magazines, including Under the Bed, Devolution Z, and The Deep Dark Woods. When she's not writing, she's hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there's always a place to hide a body or birth a monster. Find her at

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Planning a Writing Retreat

In the fast-paced times we live in, it's especially difficult to carve out those precious hours we need to do our writing. I've advocated "stolen moments" before, which is where you write when you can. It doesn't matter if it's just twenty minutes, those twenty minutes are precious.

However, it's wonderful to be able to dedicate two, three, maybe even four hours to cranking out words, edits or outlines. Those times are rare for most of us, but the amount of stuff done (when not on Facebook) can be amazing.

What would you do if you had an entire day to write? What about a long weekend? Think of the wonders that can be created! I don't think I need to expound further on the benefits of getting two or three days of solid writing time so I'm going to tell you how to pull it off. 

This is where writing retreats come into play. A writing retreat occurs when you literally retreat from the real world, isolate yourself from job, family, (maybe) the Internet, and the worldly concerns of being a social being.

There are several phases to organizing a writing retreat.


A vast majority of writing retreats are done in a group setting to help split the costs of getting a place to stay in a relatively remote area. I've seen retreats as large as twenty people and as small as four. The sweet spot seems to be right around eight to ten folks. Fewer than that, the price point can rise beyond affordability. More than that leads to logistical nightmares. Look to your critique group for folks to run away with.

Once you know who is going, dates need to be set where everyone can make it.

Next, set a budget. Figure out what individuals can pay for renting a cabin in the middle of nowhere. This will let you know what the group can afford.

After you know the who and when, you need to determine the where. This is the rough part. Communicate with your group and find a city or three where folks would like to spend a relaxing (yet productive!) weekend.


There are loads of options for renting properties for a long weekend, and this can be overwhelming. For my critique group's recent retreat, I took the lead and found a dozen places (some in Breckenridge and some in Estes Park, our agreed upon cities). I took the details of each location and plugged them into the spreadsheet on Google Drive, then asked each person to rate (scale: 1-10) each location. The top two scoring locations were then presented to the group and we picked one.

How did I find a dozen properties to review and rate? The Internet! There are quite a few websites where property owners will do short term leases for folks like you looking to organize a writing retreat. Some of these sites include:
Once we found a place, I arranged the rental, which was a pretty simple process. I won't detail it here because I'm certain each rental property has their own process/procedures.

One caveat I want to bring up: The security deposit. There are logistics around splitting this between the group members, then getting the returned deposit back to the members. To make this easier on everyone, I decided that I'd directly pay the security deposit and keep it when it was returned. This worked out well for our group and made things easier on me in the long run. Yes, there are financial risks associated with this approach, but I know and trust everyone I had along with me, so didn't worry about it too much.

On Location

What do you do when you're "on location" at the retreat? 

Write, of course. Or edit. Or outline. Or brainstorm. Or research. Or whatever floats your writerly boat.

The key things to determine are food,drink, quiet times/rooms, and social times.

We did a two-part approach for food. We decided that Friday and Saturday nights would be social times around meals and that we'd run into Estes Park for a restaurant meal. This did raise the price some, but it was well worth it to get away from the keyboard for a couple of hours.

For quiet time/rooms, we decided the public areas would be quiet for  Friday afternoon, all-day Saturday, and Sunday morning. Everyone respected this quiet time, and it's amazing how much energy can fill up an almost perfectly quiet room. There were brief conversations, but it was limited to group-impacting questions. Things like turning on the A/C, asking if anyone needed a drink while on the way to the fridge, etc.

We also agreed that the times after returning from our evening meals would be social time in the public areas. After a full day of brain-melting edits or cranking out thousands of words, we all knew we'd need a break. Getting this downtime is vital to keep energy levels up for when it's time to write. The human mind and body can only do so much in a day.

Clean Up

When it's time to leave, do the fellow who ponied up the security deposit a favor. Clean up. You don't have to spit shine every surface, but most rentals have guidelines on what needs to be taken care of and how to do it. It's pretty minimal, to be honest. Take out the trash. don't make the beds (so they know which ones were used and need to be laundered). Clean up spills. Throw the dishes into the dishwasher. Stuff like that. It's not the wilderness, so you don't have to leave it as you found it, but be nice to the cleaning staff and the owners.


After a retreat, it's time to head back home. Do so gradually. My favorite way of doing this involves a long drive. Keep the distance from home base reasonable, which will allow you to relax and smoothly slide back into the real world of responsibilities.

Another decompression approach is to have a "going away" breakfast or brunch for the group. I usually do this after we're out of the cabin and on the road back home. Picking a place to eat near the retreat is ideal. This is where everyone talks about his or her weekend accomplishments. Even if the accomplishments aren't as high as some hoped, applause and congratulations are in order for each person's efforts.


I highly recommend going on a writing retreat every 12-18 months to refresh your writing batteries and help remind you why you chose this very difficult endeavor. Even though my last retreat finished up in June, I'm really looking forward to the next one coming my way.

J.T. Evans writes fantasy novels. He also dabbles with science fiction and horror short stories. He is the president of Pikes Peak Writers. When not writing, he secures computers at the Day Job, homebrews great beers, spends time with his family, and plays way too many card/board/role-playing games.

Monday, July 25, 2016

I Think I've Read This Before

By: Donnell Ann Bell

I’m judging a contest. I love judging. It truly gives me a taste of what storylines are out there, and, in effect I get a glimpse of what editors and agents are seeing. Also, I’m judging some really, really great entries. So that should be an acknowledgement that there are some great upcoming authors in our future.
I also realize that there are romance tropes that are automatically accepted, and I love secret baby stories, the billionaire playboy who meets the girl next door and more. But something that is bothering me is the acceptance of something other than trope. The overabundance of cliché. Frankly, in every one I read it seemed like I’d read it before.
For instance:
That licking lip thing. It reminds me of Marlo Thomas in THAT GIRL. In that long ago series, Ann Marie (Marlo Thomas), an aspiring actress, is at a party and her manager tells her to mingle, and while you’re at it, “Wet your lips, baby. Wet your lips.” She goes around the room licking her lips. The manager points her out to a director, or some such individual, who looks at Ann and her darting tongue, and says, “Oh, right. The thirsty one.”
I’ve never got that image out of my head when a character wets her lips to attract a hero. Which reminds me, I need to try this with my husband and see if it works. (I’ll keep you posted.)
Coffee as sludge. I’m judging romantic suspense, and I kid you not, every single entry has had a terrible coffee reference. Fellow authors, this shows me that we need to stretch. Find a cop who drinks tea perhaps, or some coffee connoisseur who prides himself on making the best cup of coffee ever. Or a boss who outlaws coffee until someone can make a decent cup.
Sound familiar?
The facial hair reference. I’m guilty as the next person on this. I love the bad boy look, and don’t know how to get around it. With the exception that if a cop stops you, or a detective comes to your door, he’s probably going to be close-shaven. (I know, lets fall in love with his aftershave ;)) Or his dimples!
Forgive my facetiousness, please. I truly have had some creative and exceptional entries and many I’ve scored high. But I hate the idea of these fabulous stories being rejected or diminished because they take on words or ideas of authors who used it when the phrasing  was still fresh and creative writing.
As authors we need to work hard to make each story our own. Do clichés yank you out of the story? Cliche: Do you get the impression you've read this before?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

“I have always been more afraid of a pen, a bottle of ink and a sheet of paper than of a sword or a pistol. Alexandre Dumas
Source: & Wikipedia 

Alexandre Dumas July 24, 1802 – Dec 5, 1870 adopted the last name "Dumas" from his grandmother, a former Haitian slave. Dumas established himself as one of the most popular authors in France, known for plays and historical adventure novels such as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

This Week on Writing from the Peak

July 25           I Think I’ve Read This Before by Donnell Ann Bell

July 27           Planning a Writing Retreat by J.T. Evans

July 29          Sweet Success Celebrates Shannon Lawrence

Friday, July 22, 2016

Sweet Success Celebrates Shannon Lawrence & Grandmother's Leather Sofa

By: Kathie Scrimgeour

“Grandma’s Leather Sofa,” a memoir flash fiction by Shannon Lawrence, was published April 24, 2016 as part of the journal entitled, Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things (MG, YA, Adult, -ISBN trade paperback: 978-1-68073-058-6, -ISBN hardcover: 978-1-68073-057-9, 151 pages), by E&GJ Press. Ember is a beautifully illustrated semiannual journal of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction for all age groups.  It is available at: E&GJ Press:

My grandmother was dying, and she asked my mother and I to take her home. She didn't want to die in the hospital. This is a short creative memoir of one of the nights I sat up with her.

A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in anthologies and magazines, including Under the Bed, Devolution Z, and The Deep Dark Woods. When she's not writing, she's hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there's always a place to hide a body or birth a monster. Find her at

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

By Any Other Name

By: Darby Karchut

What’s in a character’s name? Well, a heck of a lot, really. The perfect name expands your imaginary universe and helps establish the character’s personality. It can be obvious or subtle. For many writers, including myself, characters do not become “alive” until they bear the perfect handle. That holds true for readers, too.

Here are some things to think about when choosing names for your characters:

Respect Your Genre

This is especially important in fantasy and sci-fi and historical fiction. Culturally-inspired names add another layer to your world building and helps ground your work in a real place and time, even if your book is fantastical in nature. And just as period costumes, manners, and vocabulary set the tone for your historical novel, so, too, can the proper name.

If your novel is inspired by legends from other cultures, this is fairly easy to do. Since my middle grade series, The Adventures of Finn MacCullen, is based on the Irish legend of The Boyhood Deeds of Finn McCool, I took the Gaelic spelling of Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhail) and Anglicized it to Finn MacCullen. A tried-and-true practice within the fantasy genre, but it is still an effective technique, especially for younger readers who are coming across this stuff for the first time.

Another tip: Use the name to reveal about the character’s essence. In my YA series, Griffin Rising, the hero is a teen guardian angel named Griffin. I gave him that name for two reasons: One, it means “Strong in Faith.” Two, it begins with a hard consonant (more on the actual sounds of names later). The challenge for you as the writer is to find a clever way to weave background tidbits about the name(s) into the story. Some readers will skip over this kind of geekery. Others will eat it up. Sprinkle it in judiciously.

J.K. Rowling, in her Harry Potter series, did a wonderful job taking roots words (many which had a Latin or Greek origin – just screams English boarding school, does it not?) and creating spot on names. For example: Serverus (severe), Albus (white), Draco (dragon). She also used alliteration (Rowena Ravenclaw, Salazar Slytherin, Helga Hufflepuff, etc.) but beware—too much of a clever thing is too clever by half.

Age Appropriate

Is the name appropriate for the age of your character? Check the baby names lists for the year your character was born, not the time period they are living through in your story. For most part, a woman born in the 1950s would have a different name than a teen girl born in the early 2000s.

A New Twist

That said, you might want to make your character stand out by giving them an unusual name (perhaps an old family name). In Stone’s Heart, Stonewall Wheeler is a modern-day farrier living in western Colorado. His son is Beau. Good, solid cowboy-ish monikers, and a tip of the hat to Civil War aficionados, to boot.   

Music to the Ears

Say your characters’ names aloud. How do they “feel” when you say them aloud? A hard consonant (B, D, G, T, etc.) can project strength or power. Softer vowels (A, M, N, O, etc.) might indicate a gentler personality. Sibilant sounds (S, Z, sometimes P or Th) can go either way. One of my characters from The Stag Lord is Shay Doyle. She is a shield maiden, as well as her clan’s healer. So, I chose the softer-sounding ‘ay’ in Shay and paired it with the hard consonant of ‘d’ in Doyle to show both her sides: healer and warrior. Soft and hard.

Ready for something subtle? Take Game of Thrones’ Ned Stark. The name starts off with a softer sound of ‘n’ (a family man, Ol’ Ned was), then it ends in a hard, clipped consonant. The ‘k’ sounds like the snap of a dire wolf’s jaws. Yeah, yeah. I’m stretching it, but you get my point.

Mind Your ABCs

Make sure none of your characters have similar names: Ken/Ben. Mac/Max. Casey/Kaci/Cassie/Kelsey. Olive/Olivia. Jim/Jem. Readers will get frustrated having to pause to figure out who’s who, especially at the beginning of the story.

One way to avoid this is to make sure your main characters’ names start with a different first letter. A lot of readers only skim the first few letters of a name. You want your readers turning pages, not slowing to remember if Mike was the romantic lead or was it Mitch?

I admit that the geek in me takes great joy in researching and selecting just the right name for my characters. It helps me understand who they are, why they are the way they are, and what they want out of life. I hope these thoughts help you, too, in your writing adventure.

Now, if folks would just stop calling me Darcy instead of Darby…

About the Author: Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter.  A native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy writing for children, teens, and adults. She is represented by Amanda Rutter at Red Sofa Literary.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pikes Peak Writers Advice Column: Dear Annie

Dear Annie:

Why do my metaphors and similes go splat? My critique group claims they simply are not working. I thought they were clever. What’s wrong?

Not So Clever

Dear Not So Clever:

You might be right. Your metaphors may be astute, but ask yourself whether the comparison you’ve created does what you want it to do. Are your metaphors appropriate for the mood, the setting, and the character involved? Having an eight-year-old girl note that her teacher dresses like a prostitute may perfectly describe the teacher, but would this little girl have the background to make that observation? Similarly, would Harry Potter compare Ron Weasley’s flaming red hair to that of Anne of Green Gables? If you construct your metaphor to be appropriate as well as descriptive, you’ll accomplish your purpose while avoiding slippery banana peels, too. Oops! Splat!

Dear Annie:

My story is complete but the word count is less than expected for my genre. How can I fix that without ruining my plot structure?

Coming Up Short in Manitou Springs

Dear Coming Up Short:

Have you developed each goal, motive, and conflict well? A careful analysis can prompt a writer to create an entire new chapter. Maybe there is a relevant aspect to the personality of your main character, for example, that you have not yet fully defined. Added words may be required throughout the manuscript to accomplish this. Or you may need an additional scene to demonstrate clearly this side to his personality. Also check that all plot points are adequately developed and that they demonstrate their relevance to the main goal of the protagonist.

Warning: be sure that you’re enhancing an appropriate element to the story and not simply padding to accomplish a certain word count.

Dear Annie:

My critics say that I hammer home the same emotions and motivations in the main character as she moves through the story. How can I be sure that I’m not being tedious and overdoing this? I don’t care to bore my reader.

Hoping to Thrill

Dear Hoping to Thrill:

To interest a reader, characters need to be complex and multi-layered. While protagonists have one main goal, achieving that goal should involve complications in the plot which inspire growth and reveal the intricacies of their motivations. Don’t forget that subplots which run concurrently to the main plot also demonstrate the character’s minor goals and reveal breadth of personality. Including subplots deepens your story and necessarily increases word count though that should be a secondary objective.

Dear Annie:

I’ve written five novels without a problem. Now I feel tapped out, devoid of inspiration. I’ve heard that every writer has one good novel in him/her. Guess I had five. Any suggestions?


Throwing in the Towel in Grand Junction

Dear Throwing:

Whoa. Sounds like you need some serious R ’n R. If you could accomplish this uncommon feat five times, you can surely do it again. Think of a cause that arouses your passion or that makes your blood pressure soar. Go for a long leisurely hike in a quiet natural setting and let your mind massage that issue or subject. Put zero pressure on yourself. If you don’t get an inkling of an idea, try again tomorrow. This process may take a week or two, but chances are, the potential theme will present itself as though from a deep Godlike voice descending from the clear blue sky overhead.

Once you formulate a concept, identify a theme, and establish a goal for the main character, sit down and write. The very act of writing should lead your mind in surprisingly creative directions. If writing a detailed outline is your stumbling block, skip it. Let the creativity flow. If you get off course, you can always rewrite. On the other hand, if your characters are guiding you in this alternate direction, take their counsel.

Dear Annie:

Do you ever run out of questions for your article?

Just Wondering in Colorado Springs

Dear Wondering:

Not yet. But write to me at with your suggestions. I will answer serious questions, and maybe some funny ones, to the best of my ability. Your writing is of utmost importance to me because it is important to you.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

~ Ms. Annie

About the Author:  Dear Annie is the pseudonym for Ann S. Hill. After hearing the call to write in her thirties, Ann set the ambition aside while life happened. Now that she has retired from her career as a dentist and her children are adults, she is seriously attacking that parked ambition. She spends significant time on her true passion and has recently completed her second novel. Her first novel, Wait for Me, was a finalist in the Zebulon, Pikes Peak Writers Contest. She has written several short stories. In the meantime, she remains a voracious reader and film aficionado. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

“When I first started writing, I was in advertising at the time, I was doing most of my writing on weekends. I had studied most of the other series heroes and I figured it would be fun for mine to be different and put him in and around water. So I dreamed up Dirk Pitt.” 

Source: Google and Wikipedia

 Clive Eric Cussler (born July 15, 1931 in Aurora, Illinois) is an American adventure novelist and marine archaeologist. His thriller novels, many featuring the character Dirk Pitt, have reached The New York Times fiction best-seller list more than seventeen times. Cussler is the founder and chairman of the real-life National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA).

This week on Writing from the Peak:

July 18                  Dear Annie PPW’s Writer Advice Column

July 20                  By Any Other Name by Darby Karchut

July 22                  Sweet Success Celebrates Shannon Lawrence

Friday, July 15, 2016

Shannon Lawrence, Sweet Success and Once Upon a Scream

Shannon Lawrence is enjoying another Sweet Success with the publication of her short story, “The Black Undeath” in Once Upon A Scream, (adult horror/fairy tale, ISBN13: 978-1530529513, 280 pages), by on April 23, 2016. It is available at Amazon and Createspace:
Amazon: Amazon

One Upon a Scream is an anthology filled with everything that goes bump day or night. “There was a tradition of telling tales with elements of the fantastic along with the frightful. Adults and children alike took heed not to go into the deep, dark woods, treat a stranger poorly, or make a deal with someone- or something-without regard for the consequences. Be careful of what you wish for; you just might get it. From wish-granting trolls, to plague curses, and evil enchantresses, these tales will have you hiding under the covers in hopes they don't find you. So lock your doors, shutter your windows, and get ready to SCREAM.”

“The Black Undeath” is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. An illness, combining the bubonic plague and leprosy, has struck the royal family, infecting their infant son. Can the mysterious little man really help, or does he have ulterior motives? 

Shannon is a fan of all things fantastical and frightening, she writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in anthologies and magazines, including Under the Bed, Devolution Z, and The Deep Dark Woods. When she's not writing, she's hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there's always a place to hide a body or birth a monster.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

By: J.T. Evans 

I think the #1 question most writers dread is, "Where do you get your ideas?" The main problem with this question is that some of aren't sure. Sometimes an idea leaps unbidden into our head. Other times, we'll hear a phrase or lyric, and it will inspire creative thought. Getting ideas is one of those things that seems to come naturally to most writers.

However, there are times when the ideas won't flow. Sometimes, you're working on a novel and get stuck. Sometimes, you're trying to start a short story, but the ideas won't flow the way you want.

I used to be part of an improv writing group (one I'd love to resurrect). When we're given a whopping five or ten minutes to write on an idea, there needs to be some form of direction. I call this a "creative compass." There needs to be some target to attempt to hit. Sitting someone down and telling them, "Write a short story" isn't much help at all. If you give them a genre to go with, that helps some, but most genre definitions are so broad, it's not much of a direction. This is where idea tokens come into play.

In my improv writing bag (yeah, I have a whole bag dedicated to it), I have loads of dice and cards inside to assist me in generating idea tokens. They are invaluable to me when coming up with story ideas, character quirks, genres, and other random ideas I use to feed my brain before writing a story.

These tokens can be created very fast. As an exercise, I decided to create 12 idea tokens for 52 short stories. This was part of my writing goal for 2016, so in late December, I sat down one night with the goal of creating 52 story ideas so I could start writing in January. It took me about three hours of work (and cataloging the ideas on a spreadsheet) to create the 624 idea tokens I needed for the 52 stories. 

That's a little over three idea tokens created each minute. I went a little overboard with the 12 per story because I generally only need three to four for starting my engine on a short story. This means, in about a minute, you can use randomizers like cards and dice to create the tokens you need to run with a short story… or maybe the opening of a novel!

I use quite a few different tools on creating these idea tokens. My favorite is Rory's Story Cubes. There are also some great games that can be utilized for creating idea tokens. Some of them are Once Upon A Time, 99 Chances, and Dixit

There are also some wonderful, writer-centric, products out there to assist you with getting that creative spark. These include Writer Emergency Pack, Storymatic, Story Forge Cards, or you can even use homemade index cards with genres written on them.

There are quite a few digital tools for iPads (and probably Android as well, but I own an iPad, so that's where my experience lies). The ones I own are Brainstormer, Rory's Story Cubes (again, but on my iPad), Writer's Dice, Writer's Lists, and Story Spark.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of randomizers on the market. If you're interested in stretching your boundaries as a writer, or just need a fresh idea or three, I highly recommend you check out the products I've listed above to see what you can find that will ignite your passion for writing.

If you have some favorite tools for idea creation, please drop them our way in the comments below.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Forty Minutes to Reach the Bridge

By: Natalia Brothers

I confess: I’m obsessed with spooky, atmospheric settings. When I travel, I’m on lookout for places full of eerie charm, intensity that would stir my imagination and inspire a new story. One of such spots is a pastoral village where I spent my childhood summers.

The settlement has changed over the years. A new highway slashed the sprawling fields behind the gardens. Beavers moved in, built dams, altering the flow of the river, and disappeared, leaving behind dozens of downed willows.

But other things remain the same. In May, nightingales’ intricate whistles fill the night and the orange full moon peeks through the birches before beginning a hurried journey across the black sky. The cemetery on top of a hill grows, but its crawling edge doesn’t affect the aura that lingers under ancient lindens, where the rusted fences guard abandoned graves, and forget-me-nots and lily-of-the-valleys are lovely against the thick carpet of moss.

An avid photographer, my childhood friend Olga wants pictures of the church in the soft light of the setting sun. Alex, my cousin, gives us a ride on his lovingly restored 1976 motorcycle. The old machine grumbles and sputters but makes it uphill. Alex offers to wait and bring us home. We ask if he’d like to join us on a walk. He glances at the graveyard and shakes his head.

He knows what kind of stories I tell. He doesn’t understand why my genre is dark fantasy. I smile. He’s proud I took the picture for my book cover on one of our motorcycle rides.

Our homes are just across the river, but I warn Olga that the rains have damaged the bridge. We have forty minutes to reach it before dark. If we don’t make it, we’re in trouble: there are no shortcuts through the overgrown meadows peppered with hidden waterholes, curtesy of the beavers. And I’m not ready to walk back through the cemetery long after sunset. Thin trails zigzag among the plots, some of which are well maintained but others neglected. It’s easy to end up in a dead end between fences.

Alex leaves. As Olga and I take pictures, the approaching dusk changes the quaint atmosphere. The shrubs, heavy with moisture after a recent shower, and blue columbines blooming by a tiny abandoned house seem too quiet. Someone dumped discarded wreaths onto the dilapidated porch. I check my watch. Olga turns off her camera.

We leave the church yard, cross a stream, and enter the labyrinth of graves.

“Fifteen minutes till darkness,” I tell Olga. “We must hurry.”

Except, we lose our way. We left the main trail too early, took a wrong turn, and now every path we try leads us to an older part of the cemetery, under the canopy of the old lindens, away from the bridge. It’s hard to see the deep-green ground. I trip over a border stone of a forsaken grave and realize I’m still wearing my dark glasses. Olga giggles nervously. She looks around. “I know where we are,” she says and points at another grave. I recognize the picture. We used to play together when we were children. Olga and I bow our heads and stand in silence. Then she leads me out of the maze.

We pause on the hilltop, the darkening sky and the cemetery behind us, the river below, and the vast fields ahead, framed by a forest on the horizon. The slope under our feet is covered with lupines that will soon burst in bloom. In a week, the landscape will look like a colorful painting.

It’s nearly dark when we reach the bridge. We tread carefully on the rickety structure.

I’m a dark fantasy writer. I better take more pictures.

About the Author:  Born in Moscow, Natalia grew up with the romance and magic of Russian fairy tales. She never imagined that one day she’d be swept off her feet by an American Marine. An engineer-physicist-chemist, Natalia realized that the powder metallurgy might not be her true calling when on a moonless summer night she was spooked by cries of a loon in a fog-wrapped meadow. What if, a writer’s unrelenting muse, took hold of her. Two of her passions define her being. Natalia is an orchid expert and she writes dark fantasy.