Category Archives: Authors – Debbie Mumford
get to know Debbie Mumford
I’m proud to announce that WDM Publishing has released my alter-ego’s first SPUN YARNS collection: GHOSTS AND GHOULIES! Just in time for Halloween, too :D
Spooky, supernatural stories for younger readers. This collection of five short stories includes a ghost story (“Lilah’s Ghost”), two urban fantasy tales (“Demon Daze” and “School Daze”), and two stories of dragons and faeries (“Deirdre’s Dragon” and “Lexie’s Choice”).
Ghosts and Ghoulies and Dragons, Oh My!
I thought I’d do a bit of blatant self-promotion this week :D
Each of my writing personae has a collection of short stories scheduled for release within the next month! Here’s what you should be watching for:
Tales of Tomorrow by Debbie Mumford will feature four science fiction stories. From first contact to interstellar travel, these tales will carry you into the great beyond!
Scheduled for an early October release, Deb Logan’s Ghosts and Ghoulies, a collection of five haunting tales for younger readers, will be available just in time for Halloween! And a second collection is already in the works for Halloween 2015!
I’ve been doing some research / study on originality in fiction. Remembering the conventional wisdom that there are only so many plots in the world, and all of them have been done many times…and by the masters, how do contemporary writers have a hope of writing original, unique works?
One persistent response is “voice”, that elusive element that marks your work as your own. Something that an individual writer often can’t recognize in their own work, but that others read and say, “Oh. Of course. That’s a Deb Logan story.”
But more than voice, where does originality reside? Is it in a gimmick? Some little detail that no one else has thought of that an author can build their plot (which has been done before…and by the masters) around?
I decided to look at three of my favorite series and see what insights I could gain. Each of these three has a distinct gimmick…but is that the answer to their uniqueness? Let’s see.
- Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – Colfer built an entire series of eight middle grade fantasy novels around an imaginative bit of word play: leprechaun = LEP Recon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance). I love that … wish I’d thought of it first *lol* I heard Colfer speak once and he revealed another bit about why this series is so original: he based the main character, Artemis Fowl—who begins the series as a 12-year-old criminal mastermind—on his older brother, thereby pulling in Colfer’s own emotional history. It’s a delightful series with a great character arc leavened with lots of age-appropriate humor.
- Storm Front by Jim Butcher – The first book of Butcher’s Dresden Files series introduces us to Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, a contemporary wizard living and working in Chicago. It’s the little touches that really make Harry unique – the fact that he advertises in the yellow pages under “W for Wizard”; his sidekick and helper, Bob, is a disembodied spirit who lives in a skull and loves romance novels; his cat, with the nondescript name of Mister; and eventually his dog, Mouse, a gentle giant with magic of his own – a Tibetan Temple dog (Foo dog). All through this series Butcher creates memorable and unique characters, giving them a life of their own while breaking traditional stereotypes. (His vampires are truly terrifying…and completely original.)
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – this series could be described as time-travel romance, but you’d be limiting its scope. Diana’s gimmick is that Claire Randall, a nurse who has just survived WWII, is sucked back in time through a circle of Scottish standing stones. Doesn’t sound all that original, but her characterization is amazing. Diana writes really LONG novels, and there are eight in this series (so far) all centering on the passionate love of ONE couple: Claire and Jamie. I don’t know many writers capable of keeping me interested in the life and love of a single couple over that many words, but she pulls it off. Plus, her main characters jump from being in their late 20’s in the first book, to nearing 50 in the 2nd, and the relationship remains just as intense.
Interesting. A good gimmick is great to start the ideas flowing (LEP-Recon; Wizard for hire; time-travel), but what makes the story original ultimately is the depth of characterization and the author’s own emotional history woven into those characters. All of these books have characters that I love as well as characters that I love to hate.
Each of these writers has created characters so real, that I feel like I know them … and not just the heroes. Even the secondary characters have personalities so distinct that I can recognize them from dialogue alone.
Which leads me to conclude that originality, uniqueness, memorability, isn’t a function of the gimmick or the plot as much as it is a by-product of characters so real they leap off the page and drag you into their lives, loves, and adventures.
What do you think? What makes your favorite books memorable for you?
I’ve been thinking about genre recently. The genres I prefer to read…and the genres I choose to write.
I know the defining characteristics of genre. I can tell the difference between fantasy, science fiction, and mystery. I can even tell when they overlap (I’ve been reading a very good series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch which melds science fiction with mystery. If you haven’t met Retrieval Artist Miles Flint, I highly recommend you do so quickly :D ), but where in the story does genre reside?
Let’s look at the bare bones of a story: A character – in a setting – with a problem.
What part of that equation represents genre? I’m going to posit that genre resides in the setting.
The character has to be relatable to the reader, someone the reader can identify with and care about. Even if the character is an alien, s/he has to have enough “humanity” to allow the reader inside his/her skin. So, genre doesn’t reside in character.
The problem also has to be relatable. Something the reader understands and can identify with. So no matter the genre, the problem must be of a common enough nature to allow the reader to care whether or not the character solves it. Nope, the problem (plot) doesn’t represent genre.
Setting is where genre resides. Science fiction settings are vastly different from fantasy settings. Mysteries can take place in a sci-fi or fantasy setting, but then they aren’t classified as mysteries (unless the setting is so minimally sci-fi as to make it almost invisible – JD Robb’s “In Death” series fits this bill).
Romance is character-centric with the essential element residing in relationship, but romance also transcends all the genres. You name a genre, and there’s a romance sub-genre covering it.
So, setting, and how the character understands and interacts with the setting, is where genre resides.
In order to write science fiction, an author doesn’t have to be a scientist. S/he just needs to imagine a rich enough world (setting) for the reader to know that the characters don’t live on our planet / in our time / or within our current understanding of the physical universe.
Back to the bones of story: A character the reader can identify with (thereby gaining access to the story) – in a setting (which determines the genre) – with a problem (which defines the plot).
What do you think?
My publisher recently launched a new Imprint: Spun Yarns.
Spun Yarns features collections of short stories, from flash fiction to romance to science fiction.
I thought I’d celebrate my first Spun Yarns collection, LOVE IN A FLASH, by sharing one of its stories. Enjoy!
LOVE IN A FLASH
by Debbie Mumford
Audience: Romance | Sweet | Short Stories
A collection of romantic Flash fiction stories—complete tales told in less than a thousand words. Each of these seven jewels presents the exhilaration of budding romance. Experience the thrill of discovery with Love in a Flash!
The Eyes Have It
Amy Davidson forced herself to look away from Brett Rawlings’ beautiful, dark eyes. Lord, have mercy, she thought as she bent to adjust his riding helmet. It’s a good thing you’re only five. I could lose myself in eyes like those.
“Will you be observing his session today, Mrs. O’Rourke?” Amy worked as a therapist for a therapeutic riding center in New York’s Central Park. She loved her job and on a beautiful spring day like this, her heart fairly sang!
The grey-haired governess shook her head. “No, I’m just dropping him off on my way to the airport.” She smiled, a dreamy expression softening her no-nonsense gaze, “I’m off to visit my newest granddaughter. Born just two days ago in Baltimore.”
“How exciting! Will you be gone long?”
“I’m taking a month off. This is Lisa’s first child. She and Ben begged me to come and stay.” She glanced at her wristwatch. “I’ve got to run. I’m not sure whether Mr. Rawlings will pick Brett up, or the temporary nanny. But whichever, you’ll know you can release him by their code word: Hopsalot.”
Mrs. O’Rourke laughed. “A remnant of Mr. Rawlings’ childhood.” She stooped to kiss Brett’s cheek. “Be good, young man. I’ll see you in a month.” With a cheery wave, she disappeared into her white minivan and drove away.
“Well, Brett, it looks like it’s just you and me today.” Amy leaned down and unfastened the myriad straps that held Brett’s twisted body upright in his padded wheelchair.
The little boy smiled, his liquid brown eyes sparkling with anticipation. Amy loved those eyes, a gift, she felt sure, from his deceased mother. Brett’s medical records told a sad story; his delivery had been complicated, robbing him of his mother while leaving him with Cerebral Palsy.
Though she knew she shouldn’t have favorites, Brett held a special place in Amy’s heart. She blessed the day she’d decided to blend her physical therapy degree with her Montana-ranch-girl love of horses. However, her best decision (much to her parents’ chagrin) had been to leave the Big Sky country and move to New York City. If she hadn’t, she’d never have met this precious child. On the other hand, despite her love of the City’s vibrant pulse, she often despaired of finding a man who would share her country-bred values; family must always come first.
“Today’s the day, Brett,” she said, hoisting the little boy out of his chair and into her arms. “Today we get to leave the arena and follow a bridle path into the park.”
Brett didn’t answer, Amy had never heard him speak, but his eyes glowed with excitement as she lifted him onto Molly’s saddle and adjusted the supporting harness.
Molly turned her head as far as the cross-ties allowed and neighed a greeting to her small rider. The sorrel standardbred appeared too tall for the slight child, but Amy knew the mare’s placid disposition made her the perfect mount for Brett’s first foray into the open air.
Once Brett was securely seated, Amy moved to Molly’s head, released the cross-ties, and holding her bridle in one hand and lead in the other, led the mare from the stable. Glorious sunshine assaulted her eyes and she glanced up to be sure Brett’s helmet provided adequate protection as his eyes adjusted. His smile outshone the sun as he gazed happily around. The special saddle provided adequate support for his spinal column, but didn’t prevent his head from jerking from side to side as he took in his new surroundings.
Satisfied as to his safety and comfort, Amy led the horse slowly across the street and down the block and a half to Central Park. Her dark brown hair, tied up in a pony tail, swept her shoulders as she walked. She wore comfortable hiking boots, jeans, a white twill shirt and a red windbreaker emblazoned with the Center’s logo. When she reached the trailhead for the bridle path, she pulled Molly to a stop and stepped back to check on Brett.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
He grinned lopsidedly, and slowly blinked those gorgeous eyes once, and then stared at her with glittering anticipation. A clear “yes.”
“All right, then. Here we go!” She clucked to Molly and they set off on the two mile beginner’s loop.
After Brett’s ride, Amy held him with his back against her chest; her left arm supported his weight while tucked in the curve behind his knees, while her right arm held him firmly across his chest. They approached Molly’s nose. The big sorrel snuffled his honey-blond hair, released now from his riding helmet, and softly lipped his clenched fist. His attempt to relax his grip telegraphed itself through Amy’s body; she held her breath, willing him to accomplish this feat. Slowly his fingers opened revealing a slightly sweaty peppermint.
Molly accepted the tribute with gentle lips, and Brett breathed a contented sigh.
“Very nice, Brett,” Amy praised. “Molly loves peppermints. You’ve just made her day.”
Amy turned to find a tall, healthy, adult version of Brett watching them from behind mirrored sunglasses.
Brett’s exclamation surprised Amy, but left no doubt as to the man’s identity. A huge grin wreathed his features as he stepped forward and relieved Amy of her burden.
“Hey there, big boy! Have you had a good time?”
The obvious love in his voice tugged at Amy’s heart. She’d worried occasionally about her favorite client, having only met his governess. No more. Father and son had a tangible bond.
When he finished arranging Brett in his wheelchair, Mr. Rawlings straightened and turned to Amy with an outstretched hand.
“David Rawlings,” he said, shaking her hand in a firm, but pleasant grip. “You must be Amy. Mrs. O’Rourke raves about you, and I can tell Brett likes you, too.”
Amy stammered something unintelligible, but David Rawlings kept right on talking.
“If I’d known you had such a sweet smile, I’d have dropped by sooner.” An infectious grin destroyed any condescension the words might have held. He swept his sunglasses off and added, “Oh, and the password is ‘Hopsalot,’” in a conspiratorial whisper.
Amy found herself gazing into the most gorgeous pair of eyes she’d ever seen. Brett’s father’s eyes were deep chocolate pools, heralds of an honest and forthright character.
“Lord, have mercy,” she murmured, as a flutter of possibility tingled down her spine.
Change is one of those catch-22 elements. We all dislike it, but we all need it.
Without its stimulation we settle into cozy habits, establish comfort zones, and fight tooth-and-toenail to stay inside them…despite the fact that comfort zones rapidly disintegrate into ruts. And NO ONE wants to admit they’re in a rut.
The fact is, much as change disturbs us, it’s a necessary part of life. Without change we fall into stagnation, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go there.
Why am I blathering on about change? I recently spent a little over a week with my daughter and her family watching them step into the deep end of a major life change. I flew across the continental USA to stay with my preschool grandkids so that my daughter could accompany her husband to a job fair specifically designed for military officers who are exiting the service.
Lots of change in store for that young family, but when they emerge from the turmoil of indecision, the upheaval of moving who-knows-where, they’ll have a new stability, a new family dynamic. Daddy will not be missing from the little ones’ lives for months at a time. It will be a good change, but at the moment, their lives are filled with anxiety and the discomfort that change brings.
Closer to home, I’ve been thinking about my experiences in an anthology workshop I attended in late February. Everyone who participated had the opportunity to submit stories for six anthologies. Each story had to be written specifically for the workshop, and we were given limited time to create them (about a week per story). This was to ensure that we didn’t have time to edit out what makes our stories uniquely our own, that the editors experienced our authentic voices.
Six stories in six weeks in six different genres. It was a frightening experience, but at the same time, exhilarating. Five of the genres were ones I’ve never attempted to write – talk about blasting past your comfort zone! The last one was young adult. Ahhh! At last…my genre.
I only sold one of the stories. You guessed it: the YA. My voice and skills are established there. I know what I’m doing.
Was it worth it to move out of my comfort zone and attempt to write in those unfamiliar genres? You bet! I received feedback on each of those stories from six professional editors. I learned an incredible amount about my own strengths and weaknesses, and, even though those stories weren’t accepted for these particular anthologies, I discovered that I have a flair for writing mysteries and steampunk :D Thrillers and gambling fiction — not so much, but at least I know the basics of where I fell down.
Change can be unsettling, even downright uncomfortable, but when you emerge on the other side you discover new strengths and gain additional knowledge that will inform the rest of your life. So let me encourage you to step beyond your comfort zone every now and then. After all, you don’t want to let those ruts get so deep you can’t even peer over the top.
Remember: Change is good!
This week I’m pleased to introduce you to one of my favorite indie writers…who also happens to be one of my very best *real life* friends: Juliet Nordeen. Julie is a wonderful writer, a fabulous friend, and all-around awesome person. Take it away, Julie!
I am a child of the 80s who misses big hair, anthemic rock’n’roll songs, and The Muppets. I have been blessed with a kind father, a high-school sweetheart worth marrying, and more good friends than I ever hoped for. For fun I hang out with canines, design and make quilts, and I bake anything with a recipe containing flour and sugar…and then run my butt off at the gym so I don’t wind up carrying the calories around for the rest of my life. My writing has been published in a couple of obscure websites and anthologies to some very kind words from both readers and professional “book-tearer-aparters,” also known as critics. I’ve decided on the self-publishing route for my work because I don’t fit so well into the established paths of life. And I’m impatient.
Why did you become an author? Was it a childhood dream?
In grade school I did dream of becoming an author. In Mrs. Hepler’s fifth grade class I won a Young Authors classroom contest. I wrote “the best short story” for which I was to be awarded a day in the city with real writers, learning about the whole process of writing and publishing books. Unfortunately, for reasons probably having to do with inadequate parental support, I got bumped from that excursion and that was the beginning of being derailed from my dream.
My detour widened when the teachers at my middle school decided that I had great talents in math and science and challenged me to accelerated classes in those subjects. That lead to many tears and lots of teeth gnashing before my brain decided to get on board and make sense of things like “story problems” and “letters used inside math equations.” Though I do not regret earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering, I did whine and complain a lot during my engineering career about how I wanted to be a writer. About once a year I would vomit out the first few chapters of a book and naively (and stupidly) send those off to the biggest publishers I’d ever heard of. They were each nice enough to acknowledge me with a rejection.
Thankfully, about twelve years ago, the universe offered me an amazing opportunity to stop working for pay and learn the craft of writing. I was smart enough to see the gift and seize it. I’ve learned amazing things, met wonderful people, and made progress toward my dream.
Oh, wait…you asked why I’m an author. Silly me. That’s an easy answer. I’m an author because there’s this voice in my head, her name is ArtChi, and she keeps telling me stories…she absolutely will not shut up. And I’m so very glad about that. Also because I believe books are the best escape from reality, ever.
What’s your greatest obstacle in writing?
I would chock it up to lack of confidence. Every once in a while I get negative thoughts in my head that interfere with my ability to create work that I’d be willing to share with others. I think it happens when my Internal Editor gets too strong and muzzles ArtChi. I have to be very careful when I provide/accept critique of fiction or do actual editing-for-pay because it’s very easy for me to get caught up in “knowing the right thing,” which is very different from taking the kinds of chances that lead to the creation of stories.
I find that there’s a fine line between “Affect the Reader” which is my goal when conveying the stories ArtChi tells me, and “Don’t Throw the Reader Out of the Story” which is what my Internal Editor is trying to prevent. Some days it works out, some days it doesn’t. But on great days, the ones where someone I’ve never met says something nice about my work, I do my best to use those compliments to build the virtual cinder block walls of a small, comfy office with an imaginary locking steel door to throw my Internal Editor into…until I need to let it out to write a synopsis or marketing blurb.
What makes the world of your novel different from ours?
My novel is an Urban Fantasy, so it has an aspect of realistic magic involved. I’m not saying that there isn’t magic in our world, because I believe there is, though my story’s magic is that Faeries are real and they like to mess about in the lives of human beings. And I’m not talking about little flitty things that come and tend to the garden when you’re distracted, perhaps talking to the mailman. My Faeries are full-sized, cunning, smart, deadly, and highly addictive for any human lucky (or unlucky) enough to discover their sexual side.
What was the most exciting thing happening when you wrote your novel?
In my novel world? Okay, that’d be when my main character, Bailey Faye Michaels, discovers that she has a Faery mother and as a result, the power to speak telepathically with anyone she chooses. Lots of people at once, even, if that’s what the situation calls for. A telepathic conference call, if you will. The exciting turn for me in drafting the novel was when I realized that Bailey can use those telepathic skills to do more than communicate; she is capable of defending herself by invading and influencing the mind of dangerous folks. Telepathy as defense, pretty exciting.
If we’re talking about the real world…I’m oblivious, I was buried in the writing. *grin*
Who is your favorite Indie author?
I gotta have two here. I’m a recent fan of Rob Cornell’s and have been a long-term fan of Debbie Mumford/Deb Logan’s.
Who is your favorite traditionally published author?
I tend to go in phases. Right now I’d have to say Robert J. Sawyer. That man is a frickin’ genius. He writes hard Science Fiction novels based on fantastic premises. I just finished “Triggers” in which he explores the possibility of sharing a whole life’s memories with another human being and what that might mean if the memories you’re sharing come from the leader of the free world. I wouldn’t have gone to the same places he did with a premise like that, but that’s why I read. To take my mind places it wouldn’t go on its own.
If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?
I would live someplace with warmer weather. And I will, someday, but for now the Pacific Northwest is home. Heck, if I wait long enough the warmer weather might just come to me. Though I suppose Global Warming won’t do anything for the tilt of the Earth’s axis, so we’ll be warmer here but still lacking daylight a few months a year.
Thanks, Julie. And thanks for the plug *grin*
And now…what you’ve all been waiting for: a look at Julie’s work!
Juliet Nordeen’s Current books:
For Bailey Faye Michaels — Rockabilly drummer, fierce friend, and bedpost-notch collector — making a life-saving deal with a Faery could not have gone more sideways. Ignoring the usual Faery Godmother playbook, hauntingly beautiful Laume “rescues” the other four members of Bailey’s band, holding them hostage until Bailey completes her end of the bargain: reuniting a foster child, Hannah, with her addict father. Faeries and Faery magic complicate everything as Bailey uncovers her own ties to Faery, the destructive force of Faery-addiction, and the unyielding power of Mab, Queen of the Winter Faeries. With help from the queen’s own Winter Knight and an unexpected new human love-interest, Bailey fights a battle to rescue her best friends, her phamily, that no one but her intends for her to win…
When Lara Guthrie gets the opportunity to drive one race in the top tier of stock car racing, she thinks she’s reached the pole position of her life: a great job, a wonderful fiancé in Nate Rickert, and a real chance for a car of her own to drive. But when Lara passes out during the post-race celebration, and finds out she’s pregnant, it’s like her whole world is spinning out of control.
Mom is a Dirty Word is available from:
Short Story: Canine Agent Rocky Arnold vs. The Evil Alliance in Fiction River 9: Fantastic Detectives (edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch)
Moon Crowned Darlin’ (Bailey Michaels, Book 2), coming through all e-distributors in electronic and paperback in July 2014
DeAnna Knippling drinks a lot of tea, but she’s not fussy about it, because that would be rude. She likes horror movies but tends to jump excessively and squeak. She thinks the epitome of ghost stories were the Brits at the turn of the century, more specifically E.F. Benson, although she’s not fond of the Mapp & Lucia books, which strikes her as a shame. She grew up on Tom Baker and the peacock death cry of the Mystery! series and had a cat named Cheshire Cat. It wasn’t until later that she discovered Edward Gorey, and felt both delighted and as though someone had been hiding something from her for years. You can find her at http://www.WonderlandPress.com.
Why did you become an author? Was it a childhood dream?
Actually my childhood dream was to be Crystal Gayle, the country singer with six-foot-long hair. I wandered quite a bit before I decided I would be a fiction writer, actually – first it was poetry, then plays. Then, finally, I acknowledged that mostly what I did in my spare time was read SF/F/H short stories and novels and I should try writing some of those.
While I was going to high school and college there was this huge bias against genre novels, and it felt like I was making a major stand against the establishment. “I will write…genre!!! I will entertain!!!”
Truly you get some funny notions going on when you’re that age.
What’s your greatest obstacle in writing?
Getting over the fact that there’s so much to learn. It doesn’t sound like it should be traumatic, but it is. I learn something new…and suddenly EVERYTHING I’VE EVER WRITTEN UP TO THAT POINT IS HORRIBLE. I go into this black despair. Fortunately I’ve got it down to like a day of despair before I bounce back again, so I can study people like Stephen King and not feel like I’ve wasted the last decade of my life for more than a couple of hours.
What makes the world of your novel different from ours?
I was going to say “zombies,” but that’s not really it. I live in the U.S. in modern times, and that world is Victorian England, which I think is more of a difference than zombies themselves would be. Today, a zombie plague, we’d all freak out be all over the phones and the Internet about it; Pat Robertson would no doubt tell us that the plague was because of sinners, and a bunch of people would put up a meme making fun of it. Whereas the Victorians, I’m convinced, would be all, “The worst sort of chaps are returning from the dead. Quite an issue for the current administration, don’t you think? These crumpets are quite nice, Hartley, do let Cook know.” We’re much more expressive and responsive now, for better or worse.
What was the most exciting thing happening when you wrote your novel?
This entire novel has been pervaded by a sense of both excitement and doom. The research has been AMAZING, though. The entire time I was writing it, I was running around and going “DID YOU KNOW ABOUT ALICE AND QUEEN VICTORIA’S SON?!?” and things like that. Total geekery.
Who is your favorite Indie author?
Anne Elliot. She’s my friend in real life, so I was kind of going, “Oh, well, I’ll read her book for her and say nice things, blah blah blah.” No. It turns out that she writes these perfect little teen romances, which sounds trite because of the way we’ve been encouraged to think of such things, but they’re just little miracles of character and plotting and pacing. You walk out of them going, “Wait wait, my headache is cured and tomorrow will be a good day.”
Who is your favorite traditionally published author?
Living? Uh…Right now, Mark Lawrence. Very dark high fantasy.
If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?
Travel more. For some reason I have this hangup where I love doing it but I’m constantly talking myself out of it. Have you seen that Kids in the Hall sketch about not putting salt in your eye? Here’s my self-talk:
“I want to travel. Oh, travel is expensive, I shouldn’t travel, I don’t deserve to travel, IF YOU TRAVEL YOU WILL BETRAY EVERYTHING YOU EVER LOVED.”
I’m an introvert. Can you tell?
Thanks for chatting with us, DeAnna. And now, what you’ve all been waiting for…information on DeAnna’s latest release!
With the invention of a serum that prevents most people infected with the zombie sickness from becoming raving cannibals, Victorian society finds itself in need of more standards: to separate the infected from the whole, to control when and how the infected can come into contact with the pure, to establish legal contracts, precedence, employment, and more, with regards to the walking dead.
The very backbone of the British Empire is its standards.
The middle daughter of the Dean of Christ Church in Oxford, Alice Liddell, finds a certain lack of charm in the standards she must follow, with increasing strictness, day after day. Wild and rebellious, she battles her father’s cold discipline, her mother’s striving to hide her middle-class origins, and the hollow madness of the world around her, in which the teetering Empire desperately pretends that nothing is, in fact, the matter.
Enter Mr. Charles Dodgson: one of the chaste Dons of Oxford, married to his mathematics. He charms Alice and her sisters, often taking them on walks and boat rides (chaperoned, of course), and telling them jokes and stories. He is twenty-four when he first meets them.
And he is dead.
Turned in a tragic accident at Rugby, Charles uses the serum to keep him from the ordinary sort of madness that affects zombies.
But it doesn’t affect the elegant madness of his brain.
And one day, as he sees Alice struggle against the chains that constrict her, chains so similar to his own…
…one of his playful stories becomes something more.
And to all … sweet Christmas Dreams!
The mermaid on the sign beckoned to Carrie. The young woman glanced away and rubbed her eyes, determined to walk on, but her feet remained glued to the snow-dusted sidewalk. Her gaze drifted back to the mermaid.
There! She did it again. A trick of the light? Carrie sighed, yanked the door open and stepped inside. No sense fighting it; she had to know what a beckoning mermaid sold.
Christmas shopping was usually the highlight of her season, but this year the sucking sound carried all the way to China. She shied from celebration now that Frank had deserted her. A depressing vision of her ex-fiancé locked in another woman’s arms floated through her mind. She rejected the thought and turned her attention to the mermaid’s lair.
The shop’s dim interior resonated with Carrie’s gloomy mood. Moving carefully through aisles crowded with knick-knacks from a bygone era, she gazed about for other customers. As far as she could tell, not another living soul disturbed the murky quiet of the little store.
Well, she thought, at least it’s not blaring Christmas Muzak.
For the first time in her twenty-five years, Carrie faced a Christmas alone, and that fact grated enough without the constant irritation of alternately cheerful and maudlin music. She sighed again—a long, breathy exhalation filled with bitter defeat. Being depressed at Christmas sucked.
She wandered through dimly lit aisles searching…for what? Despite the indistinct lighting, she noted the fine layer of dust coating each item. Disappointed, she headed for the door. The beckoning mermaid had led her astray; this mausoleum held nothing for her.
“Perhaps I can be of service.”
Carrie wheeled to find a gnarled old man standing in the tight corner between two large displays. Since she occupied the center of the only navigable path, she wondered where he’d come from. The ancient frock coat covering his small frame looked like it belonged in a museum, the wrinkles on his face so exaggerated he might have been made up for the stage.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” she said. “I’m just window shopping; not looking for anything special.”
“But the mermaid invited you in,” he said, his eyes sparkling with secret knowledge.
She jumped. “What do you mean?”
“This shop isn’t open for business—hasn’t been for years,” he answered, flicking dust from a piece of antique lace. “Yet you walked right in. She called you, didn’t she? She knows your heart.”
Carrie’s pulse pounded in her temple and her vision blurred. She refused to faint in a deserted store, alone with an obvious maniac. Carefully, she edged away, backing toward the door.
“Tell me, Miss Maxwell,” he said, his voice soft, almost crooning. “Tell me what you seek.”
The sound of her name on this strange man’s lips panicked her. Carrie turned and bolted for the door. She raced through a maze of dolls and books and lace-trimmed linens. She ran too far; the shop wasn’t that large. Confused, she stopped to get her bearings. She didn’t see the door, but she did see the gnarled little man; he waited a few paces away beside a wicker doll carriage.
He cocked his head of unkempt white hair and peered at her from beneath grizzled eyebrows.
“Don’t be frightened, Carrie. The mermaid and I, we mean you no harm.” His words gentled her, his tone calmed and reassured. “Be at ease, my child.”
Carrie relaxed, and why not? Kismet worked in odd ways. A mermaid beckoned, a wizened man guided, a treasured secret bubbled to the surface.
“Tell me what you seek, Carrie. Tell me your heart’s desire. What brought you out into winter’s harsh grasp so close to the Christ Child’s birth?”
His words cajoled…hypnotized…created a peaceful trance. Carrie fell headlong into his spell.
“I want to be loved,” she whispered. “I want a home of my own, with a husband who loves me, who’s loyal and true, and children, someday.”
Warmth spread through her body, flooded her soul with peace. Just beyond a display of hand-painted china, she could almost see the man of her dreams; a fleeting impression of a long, dark overcoat hiding a trim physique, a mischievous smile and a playful wink. She blinked, rubbed her eyes hoping to improve their focus, but when she looked again, he was gone.
The gnarled little man chuckled, reclaiming her attention. “Yes,” he said, “the mermaid always knows.”
He patted Carrie’s arm and guided her to the door, now plainly visible a few yards to her right.
“He’s waiting for you, Carrie,” he said as he opened the door. His words quivered in the blast of cold night air. “When you meet him…remember.” The door closed behind her.
Carrie roused with a convulsive shiver and blinked. She stood on the sidewalk before an abandoned store with filthy windows. The cracked and peeling sign above the door showed a bedraggled mermaid. She frowned, and wondered why she’d stopped here. Nothing to see in this grimy window.
Whatever. A sense of buoyant expectation filled her soul, her mood lighter than it had been in weeks. Frank’s desertion no longer mattered. He belonged to another existence. Let that other woman worry about the callous, disloyal jerk. Carrie deserved better.
She ambled down the sidewalk toward well-lit shops and scurrying pedestrians, her heart singing. Christmas was just a few days away, and she had gifts to buy for people she loved. She strolled past a brightly lit window displaying a colorful electric train chugging around a snow-capped mountain. The detail of the scene delighted her, but not enough to stop her forward motion. She walked straight into an unsuspecting man.
“Excuse me,” she cried, as he dropped his packages to catch her arms and hold her steady on her feet. “I’m so sorry!”
“Not a problem,” he replied in a firm, deep voice. “Nothing breakable in those bags.” He bent to retrieve his packages, his long, wool overcoat brushing the snowy sidewalk.
When he straightened, Carrie gazed up into sea-blue eyes set in a rugged face framed by snow-dusted dark hair.
He smiled and winked.
…And memory flooded Carrie’s soul.
Radiant warmth buoyed her as she held out her hand to the man of her dreams. “I’m Carrie Maxwell,” she said, suppressing a nervous giggle. “Tell me, have you met any mermaids recently?”
“Christmas Dreams” copyright © 2013 by Debbie Mumford
Let’s face it, I’m still a child at heart! One of my favorite childhood activities (aside from reading!) was coloring. Inside the lines, outside the lines, without lines: who needs limits? Pretty colors, the tactile feel of sweeping a crayon across paper, the joy of creation! I was never an artist, but I loved my colorful playtime.
I’m no different as an adult, but my tools have changed. I rarely grab paper and crayons these days, but I do enjoy the sheer playfulness of creating cover art :D Pretty pictures, interesting fonts, layout and design. All combine to give my muse a break from words while encouraging her creativity.
Here are some recent efforts. Not sure if they’re finished yet, but I do intend to refresh several of my books in the new year :D