Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Free Range Peas: Holiday Word Association

Due to the holiday week, we're doing something a little wild, a little random, a little non-committal, but mostly we're feeling the freedom of Pea-dom. Enjoy the little word association we passed around during a recent critique group meeting and behold the first installment of Free Range Peas. Can you guess the order we went in?

tea, cookies, monster, mash, potatoes, gravy, train, thought, memory, board, game, sport, bottle, blonde, hair, band, mate, sex, hair, razor, sharp, thing, animal, magnetism, earth, shaker, salt, Angelia Jolie, lips, Rocky Horror Picture Show, fishnet stockings, A Christmas Story, BB gun, ouch, Band-Aid, hospital, gown, ball, bounce, dryer sheet, laundry, work, book, ninja peas

Happy Holidays to all! And have a terrific New Year. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming in January.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Guest Pod: Reader Interview - Andrea Beard

Andrea Beard, 20 year old Junior at Mizzou, majoring in Accounting.

Hi all!! I'm back! {and butting in front of M this week to post}.
For our first reader interview, I chose my sister. While she and I have many differences, we have one very important thing in common {aside from our DNA}: our love of books.

Now, as a writer it might be obvious why I would foster a love for the written word. But what about an accounting major deep in the college experience? What number-loving party-goer has time for such a solitary {and right-brained} activity as reading? Well, I've always said that my sister was smart. And while sometimes I'm referring to her being a smart ass, there's no denying the girl is intelligent. So, in my personal opinion, the fact that she's smart is why she's a reader. And I don't mean nerdy smart. In fact, I think you'd put her in the category of "cool" smart. As in, she'll put you in your place without the "popular girl" snobbery, but rather by saying something clever that illustrates how much smarter she is than you. And more often than not, illustrates how much more she's read than you, too. But that's just my opinion. So, read on, and form one for yourself. {But I'm right}.

Okay, Andi. We'll start off simple. What do you read?
        Books. Obviously.
*laughs*... *deadpans*... now seriously.
        Oh, fine. *grins* I read mostly Young Adult or Sci-Fi. But I really like things based on true stories and real people. I don't know if they're actually factual, but... *shrugs*... And I read whatever you say is good, too. {By you she means me}. And books from lists of what to read before I die -- just to say I've read them.
Good reasoning! *laughs* So... why do you read?
        Because I'm not illiterate. *chuckles* Even though I can't spell *she adds under her breath*
Funny! ...And true *I add under my breath* 
Now the non-smartass answer, please? Why do you read -- what do you want from a book you choose?
        I want a completely different reality. I want to be transported to different worlds but have it all still be completely possible. I want a book I'm going to still think about, years after reading it, for no reason.
I like that. That's a good reason. So then, what are your favorite books of all time? The ones you still find yourself thinking about afterward?
        I really like the Maze Runner, Narnia, the 7 Realms, Stephen King's Everything's Eventual, and His Dark Materials. But I love the Hunger Games trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and my very favorite book(s) of all time: Harry Potter!
*nods in approval* Okay, so what makes Harry Potter your favorite ever?
        More than any other book, I can enter my own world and completely feel the emotions of each character. 
I know exactly what you mean! I also take on the emotions of the characters of the books I read.
        Yeah. And by the way, DON'T try and talk to me while I'm reading the Order of the Phoenix. I get really defiant and pissy! 
*chuckles knowingly*
        Hard to imagine, I know. No really -- more than usual. Someone should warn my boyfriend.
*laughs* Order of the Phoenix is my favorite book in the series. And I get the same way! {Thankfully, I've learned to control it when real life butts in while I'm reading}. 
I miss those books. I think it's time for me to read them again... again. Ha. How many times would you say you've re-read the Harry Potter series?
        The first four, well over ten times. The last three, probably eight or nine times.
So when you do decide to venture out and find something new to read, where do you go? What route -- if one were to lose you in the bookstore -- would you say you generally take?
        YA first, which is usually by the Children's section, so sometimes I'll go look for authors I know there. Then, over to the books on war, then usually over to the Sci-Fi/ Fantasy section. After that I wander around and look for really pretty books.
*laughs* That sounds like mine! Minus the section on war. Though, I usually get distracted by the discount/gifty books at the front first! ...*looks at word count*... well, I should wrap this up. I'll leave our audience with my favorite question: How important is reading in your life?
        Reading is my life. I can't imagine life without reading. That would be a very boring life indeed.***
Well said! Thanks very much for agreeing to be interviewed! {Not that you could say no. I'm your sister, after all *wink*} 

Next week... well, I'm not actually sure... so... get ready for a surprise! In the meantime, have a happy holidays!! Peas out!

***I received the following text from my sister post-posting, and I told her I'd add it to the interview, so here it is {with autocorrect accidents fixed, because I'm a nice sister}:

"Looking back at your questions I realized I didn't fully answer the last one. Where reading ranks in my life, somewhere between water and food. I would rather read than eat but they tell me I wouldn't survive without eating. And the why {which I edited out because she didn't answer it... to be fair, I texted her early tuesday morning - right before posting - for the last question, knowing she would be sleeping in...} would be because the real world isn't nearly as exciting as the ones I create in my head and I can live the lives of other people, know their thoughts and emotions, and know that real or fictional I'm not the only one to think or feel those things."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pick a Pea: Jeannie - What is Urban Fantasy?

We're one Pea short this week and next. (No, that isn't a euphemism to say we're insane...although it could be.) A is off visiting family so M and I are picking up the slack and hosting Pick A Pea posts! Basically, this is when we get to post anything and everything about whatever topic we choose. Recycling old posts from other blogs is also fair game. I mention this because that's precisely what I'm doing this week: recycling.

I posted the following articles "What is Urban Fantasy?" about a year ago on my personal blog, Wayward Muses and Shiny Objects, which is no longer being updated but has tons of posts on a variety of subjects so feel free to check out the archives. If you're familiar with the urban fantasy genre, you know it isn't easy to define. Everyone has their own opinions of what makes urban fantasy and what kicks a book over to the paranormal romance aisle or horror or mystery or whatever. Here is my take on the subject:

What is urban fantasy?

Urban fantasy is often defined as having supernatural/paranormal elements layered over our recognizable modern or near-future world. The setting is a large city such as Los Angeles, New Orleans, or St. Louis. Often the main character is female and the story is told in first person point of view. The story can have elements pulled from other genres such as science fiction, mystery, horror, and romance and woven together in a cohesive manner with varying degrees of emphasis placed on each of these genre elements. Primarily, the plot will consist of a mystery to be solved or a problem to be corrected before some great calamity strikes. Romance, if present, is usually a secondary plot. Character and story arcs often carry for multiple books. These are "The Rules" of urban fantasy.

We could spend hours if not days debating the finer points of what is or isn't urban fantasy. That is time we could spend doing more productive things, like writing the next book in a series or even the first book in a new series. For me, the definition hinges on the romance and if it's the main focus of the story or not because it's the easiest way to separate urban fantasy from its cousin, paranormal romance.

Where did it begin?

Most "experts" will point to the initial release of Laurell K. Hamilton's GUILTY PLEASURES (Book 1 in the Anita Blake series) in the early 1990s as the beginning of the genre's mass appeal to readers. However, I believe Anne Rice's INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE would also qualify as an early example of urban fantasy, even though the point of view character is male and much of the story is told as Louis's memories, the actual "interview" takes place modern times.

However, one could make a strong argument for finding urban fantasy's roots in the Romantic Movement in works such as Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN, Bram Stoker's DRACULA, Charles Dickens's A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and Edgar Allan Poe's MASK OF THE RED DEATH, to name a few. You're probably thinking to yourself "But these are classics! How can they be urban fantasy?" The answer is simple: At the time they were written, they were set in the modern era, in urban centers, and carried an element of the supernatural. Time moves forward but the written word doesn't. It's fixed on the page.

Pinpointing the start of urban fantasy is difficult and open for debate. Suffice it to say the genre has steadily gained popularity is now one of the most widely read genres because of its broad appeal to readers of other genres.

What are some common elements?

The most common element is the supernatural. Whether the supernatural takes the form of vampires, werewolves, fairies, zombies, aliens, shapeshifters, or something else isn't set in stone. Nearly any creature can make an appearance in urban fantasy.

What is the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance?

The two share 90% of their genre DNA. However, the main differences are this: Urban fantasy focuses on an issue outside of a romantic relationship between two characters. Paranormal romance focuses on a romantic relationship between two characters and how outside forces affect that relationship. The best litmus test to determine if a story is urban fantasy or paranormal romance is to ask the following question: "If the romance between Character A and Character B were removed, would the plot still stand as a viable storyline?" If the answer is "yes," chances are good it's urban fantasy. If the answer is "no," it's most likely paranormal romance.

Okay, so that covers the basics of urban fantasy. Are we clear on what is and isn't urban fantasy? We've all got "The Rules" firmly fixed in our minds? Good.

Now forget everything I just said.


Because it's fiction. When Mary Shelley wrote FRANKENSTEIN, she wasn't concerned with a genre. She wanted to write a ghost story. She wanted to write fiction.

You want to write urban fantasy with a male protagonist? Do it. The "rule" that says you must have a female protagonist hasn't stopped Jim Butcher, nor did it stop Mary Shelley.

You want to write urban fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic world? Do it. Stacia Kane's Downside Ghosts series is a wonderful example of the broken "rule" that says it has to be a modern day or near future setting. You can even write a story set in the past. Edgar Allan Poe did. THE MASK OF THE RED DEATH uses the backdrop of the Black Plague for its setting even though Poe was writing in the 1800s, long after the plague had all but disappeared.

You want to write urban fantasy set in a small town? Do it. Look no further than the popularity of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series to see that small towns can be just as intriguing as large metropolitan areas. Charles Dickens's London wasn't the sprawling urban center it is today. Yes, it was still a large city but reading that story has the feel of being set in a smaller London.

You want to write urban fantasy with multiple character view points? Do it. Faith Hunter's Rogue Mage series began with BLOODRING and featured both first and third person points of view. Bram Stoker's DRACULA has multiple points of view and each is necessary to convey the story. This is important: The story dictates its needs. If it can be told from one character's point of view, great. However, if more than one is required, don't sweat it. There is no actual "rule" that says you can't have more than one.

My point is this: Urban fantasy is a label used to identify where a book falls in the publishing spectrum. At the end of the day, it's fiction. Aside from the basic rules of writing, such as grammar, spelling, and the structure of story, there are no rules. Some of the best fiction ever written has broken "The Rules." Urban fantasy as a genre has broken rules from Day One and it will continue to do so. In fact it'll be necessary for the next generation of urban fantasy writers to break even more rules.

Will we see urban fantasy set on distance worlds and trekking through the stars? I think so.

Will we see urban fantasy set in the Roman era with gladiators battling werewolves for the entertainment of thousands? It's possible.

This is fiction and in fiction, anything is possible.

Tune in next week for M's Pick A Pea! Until then...

Peas out.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Game Pod: Dissection - Manuscript Edits Revealed

Editing a manuscript is hard work, even more so than writing the first draft. When you’re writing that first draft, you’re in the creative zone. Ideas are popping up left and right. Things are happening and you’re watching the events of the book unfold before your eyes. It’s fun.

But as much fun as the first draft can be, editing can be a nightmare. You’re literally taking apart this beautiful, perfect (in your eyes) creation and cobbling it back together like some kind of freakish Frankenstein’s monster. Will it be hideous or will some rich, handsome movie star want to take it out as his latest arm candy? These questions will plague your mind, your dreams, and eventually consume every ounce of your thought processes until you are left drained like last week’s special at the zombie all-you-can-eat buffet.

To illustrate the hell that can be editing (and to show how those quirky little typos can slip in the final product), I’m offering up a sample of BLOOD LAW. I’ve given a passage to Alexis and Michelle, and they have edited it as if it were a new project. (And, yes, we are this thorough and brutally honest every week when we meet.) They’re providing their overall comments and any additional notes can be found on the actual pages.

{click images to view larger}

From March 2009, when BLOOD LAW was still titled “Crimson Swan” and the editing process had just started. This version {above} isn’t the first first draft but it’s pretty darn close.

 {click images to view larger}

Most of my overall comments are generally short. I say what I liked, what was working for me, and what wasn't working if there's any overarching issues I don't address in my edits. Otherwise, the margin notes pretty much explain any concerns. As you can see, I write whatever I'm thinking at the time of the edit, so I mostly reserve overall comments for the more positive feedback. Unless Jeannie has specifically asked for feedback on something {plot, emotions, action, whatever}. My overall comments for this would be: "Great start! Really intriguing relationship. Varik has some minor POV issues at the start but otherwise he felt believable. Alex seems like she is trying to be stronger than she is. I like that. Reminds me of me. The banter is great between them, too! Can't wait to read more!"

{click images to view larger}

Overall comments:
I really like the character development and conflict shown in these pages. This section does a lot for cultivating some great tension between Varik and Alex. However, there are some places where I felt too distanced from Varik's internal thought. This section is in his POV -- therefore needs to be grounded there every step of the way. I showed places where internal thought, reactions, or a bit more description of what Varik is seeing and thinking that could really pull this into sharper focus. I also felt there were a few places that paragraph breaks could speed up the pacing of the dialog and internal thought. People tend to digest more quickly what they're reading with visual cues. I think this could help in these pages. Lastly, there were some environmental, spacial details that seemed extraneous. I struck these out. Sometimes too many specific details can get your reader trying to figure out where everyone is standing versus what's actually happening in the scene. Overall, great passage and makes me want to know why Varik and Alex are so feisty toward each other.

While Alexis and Michelle were not actually included in this stage of this book, they have been in other works. You won't necessarily see their advice/edits taken into consideration, therefore, in the coming section. But know that this is where they would have been involved, and have been involved in other works.

I’m providing edited versions of the same scene from various points along the publication road. The first being from March 2009, shown above.

After my editor provided feedback, comments, and suggestions, I made some changes and resubmitted it to her. She came back with more comments and suggestions. I sent my changes in August.  A few weeks later, my editor asked for a few minor tweaks and my final revision was submitted in October.

At this point, I’d finished the major revision and now it was time for the copyeditor to step in and make everything cohesive and coherent. Copyeditors are lifesavers. They catch the small typos, the plot holes that may have been overlooked due to the extensive revisions, and make everything pretty. Of course, the pages may not look so pretty during this process, but believe me, it’s for the good of all.

Once the copyeditor is done, the first pass of typeset page proofs are sent for author review. Small changes can be made, such as correcting typos, omitted or added words, etc. This is when the manuscript starts to look like an actual book. It’s also the last chance the author has to make changes.

The final stage, or second pass, is the last chance the publisher (not the author) has to make very minor changes before everything goes to print. If it’s not fixed at this point, well…that’s when readers get to play Spot the Typo.

And that, dear readers, is how the Ninja Peas operate as a writing group and how a manuscript becomes a book. It’s a long, arduous journey and before the book reaches the shelf, authors are often wondering why they chose to start the journey. But then once the book is in the hands of readers and we hear from people across the globe that they enjoyed the words we committed to the page, that makes all the pain go away.

Peas out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Peas in the Pages: Neal Shusterman's Unwind

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

     This is one of those books that reached me via word of mouth, borrowed from a friend. If I'd seen it on the shelves of the chain-bookstores, the memory didn't stick. But there's no unsticking Unwind from your memory once you've read it. And here's why: To put it plainly... the premise is awesome
     The idea that a child can be unwound -- "retroactively aborted" so not "technically" ending life {the explanation of all that is quite something} -- at any time between the ages of thirteen and eighteen... It was fascinating and horrifying. {Not the only bit of fascinatingly horrifying concepts to crop up in this book, either... *the Clappers, she references with a shiver*}.
The three main characters, Connor, Risa and Lev, all have widely different journeys to take through this book, yet the cause for those journeys is the same: the Unwinding. The characters add greatly to the book's already rich depth. Their stories: as unique and individual as the characters themselves. The plot: weaving, twisting, and downright enthralling. The directions Shusterman takes you are unexpected and breath-caught-in-your-throat exciting. It is, in this voracious reader's opinion, a standout. One that sticks with you long after you've put it down. It's easily one of my favorite and oft-recommended {in the same breath as Hunger Games} books. 
     Next time you're perusing the bookshelves, take notice. Pick it up. Read the first chapter. I dare you to put it down and be able to forget it. 
     {But not actually. Read the whole thing. It's worth it. Besides, you won't be able to put it down}.

     Unwind by Neal Shusterman is a book that took me by surprise. It is a high stakes dystopic adventure that left me wanting to inform everyone I know that they have to read this book. Shusterman paints a picture of a post pro-life and pro-choice society where parents not only abandon unwanted children at birth, but they sign their rights away to children who are troubled or troublesome and tithe their tenth born children as a gesture of faith. Published in 2007, Unwind remains a fresh voice in the current over-crowded dystopic market. To say it is a favorite young adult book would be understating the point. It is one of my top five favorite books of any genre and of all time. 
     The protagonist Conner is an immediately empathetic character--a runaway set to be unwound by his own parents in this not-so-distant alternate future where, by law, parents may retroactively abort their children between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. Those contracted for unwinding will have their body parts and organs bought and/or distributed. Conner's strong narrative is intertwined with the voices of Risa and Lev, kids from very different circumstances than Conner's own. Risa doesn't exhibit the extraordinary skills required of the perfection-seeking adoptive parent pool at the orphanage. Lev was born to his family with the intent of being unwound as a tithe. Running from the authority, Conner's life intersects with Risa's and Lev's during a highway accident that propels the three of them on an thrilling, page-turning, and thought-provoking adventure. In a stroke of genius by Shusterman (and my favorite element of the book) thier stories are joined by an incredibly effective floating fourth point-of-view that represents the collective--informing, entertaining, allowing the reader to experience unwinding, and resonating far after the last page is turned. 
     I can't stay objective or rave enough about Unwind. And I'm over word count so I'll just say one last thing, read it.

      This will come as no surprise, and if it does then you don't know me very well, but I love to read. I'm not an elitist when it comes to books. I'm a card-toting omnivore. I'm willing to read anything that can grab and hold my attention for more than twenty pages. (Yes, I said twenty pages. If a story hasn't given me some kernel of "Wow, this could be really good" by then, I usually drop it for the next book in line. Sad, but true.) There are books I can remember reading from years ago with the same sort of fondness that one has for cupcakes. You know what I mean, the Warm Fuzzies, the "Oh, yeah. That was good. Wish I could find that again" kind of feeling. 
     But there are few books that stick with me for very long. Most fade over a few days or even months. Only a handful lingers like ghosts in an attic. Books such as Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN, Oscar Wilde's THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, Elizabeth George Speare's THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, and most recently, Neal Shusterman's UNWIND.
I'm not going to give you a rundown of UNWIND's plot. That can easily be found on countless sites around the internet. No, I want to tell you why this book has earned a place on my Keeper shelf. (And, by the way, I own two copies of it--one in e-book form, which I read originally, and a hardcover edition for the actual Keeper shelf. Only a handful of books receive this multiple copy honor, but that's a different matter. Moving on...) 
     Aside from the great storytelling, masterful character arcs, and thought-provoking plot, UNWIND has something few books today can claim: resonance. A deep, rich, yet subtle element that draws the reader closer, lulls them with a siren's song, and while they're distracted, it worms its way into their brains and carves out a forever home. Resonance in fiction tears at your heart, makes you rethink your world, makes you identify with each character and every plot shift. Shusterman does that beautifully in UNWIND. 
     When I finished reading--no, devouring the story of Connor, Risa, and Lev, I felt as though I'd been with these teens every step of their journey. I identified with their isolation, their desperation, their desires, their triumphs and sacrifices. Whether I'd personally dealt with similar feelings was irrelevant. Shusterman made me feel theirs and their emotions became mine. 
     This is resonance. 
     This is the indefinable element that every author strives to capture, concentrate, and weave through their stories. 
     This is why I always recommend UNWIND to anyone who asks me "Have you read any good books lately?" Yes, I've read others since reading UNWIND, but none have made a forever home on my Keeper shelf.

     Next week, another joint pea effort. Game Pod: Destruction...er...I mean...Dissection. *grin* What does that mean? You'll have to return next week to see!

     Peas Out.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Guest Pod: Writer Blog - J. G. Walker

Honorary Pea J. G. Walker has the floor. 
Welcome him beloved imaginary readers... open thy arms with Pea Love!

     Being part of a writing group can be a harrowing experience. No matter how seasoned a writer you are, it’s already difficult to put your work out there, whether it’s with people you know or complete strangers, and knowing that you’re likely going to hear things you won’t like doesn’t make it any easier. 
     Sometimes, people can be downright brutal with others’ work. I’m not talking firm, constructive criticism here; you can get used to that, and frankly, as a writer, you need to. No, this is blood and guts, take no prisoners behavior. These folks say nasty, mean things. Whether it’s because they shouldn’t be awake past six p.m., they received one too many rejection slips from The New Yorker, or that they subsist on the tears of distraught critique victims, it’s hard to say. But it hurts. 
     In creative writing programs they call this phenomenon the “shark tank,” and it can make you want to hide your head in a bucket. It’s not quite as bad when it happens in “real world” writing groups, since you can leap from your chair and run for the hills, but it’s still tough. 
     However, despite everything I’ve just written, I will add that taking part in a writing group can also be the best experience of your writing life. It can help you gain new perspective on your work, see it through someone else’s eyes, and give you that most valuable gift of all: honest feedback from people who speak a similar language. Even a bad group can help you, but when you find people you can really relate to, who seem to know your writing as well as you do, then you have it made.
Alexis, Gary, Jeannie and Michelle's cup of coffee
     That was my experience with the Ninja Peas—Jeannie, Michelle, and Alexis. I discovered this was a group of people who not only knew their craft but actually enjoyed it. And when it came time to discuss work, I also found out that each of them came at critiquing from a slightly different angle. One might zero in on plot issues, for example, while another might point out issues with choreography, the physical space of the story. This is one of the best things that can happen, by the way, and if you’re lucky, you can add your own dimension to the mix.    
     We’d all been through writing programs, so that helped, but it also didn’t hurt that we shared eclectic reading and writing interests. Bring up a book or author and chances were good someone else—if not everyone—had read it. Capital L literature, science fiction, mysteries, fantasy, young adult…you get the idea. 
     Then I did something selfish and uncalled for by moving to Colorado. Sure, we still keep up through social media and e-mail, but it’s not the same. I don’t get to hang out with the Peas at Panera, laugh at the jokes, listen to writing conference stories, compare books, and overdose on Dr. Pepper. Well, I suppose I could still do that last one, but what would be the point? People would stare. 
     I predict that one day I’ll be the Pete Best of the Ninja Peas. Sure, they didn’t kick me out like the Beatles did Best. No, I left of my own accord. But I’ve no doubt I’ll one day pick up a newspaper and find out that those three have done something really awesome, like getting a sweet HBO miniseries deal for the novel they co-wrote. 
     Why did I leave? I’ll ask myself. 
     And I’ll tell people that I used to be a Ninja Pea. 
     But you know they won’t believe me. 
     Your own writing group experience can go any of a thousand directions, but there’s no way to find out other than jumping in. Sure, you can sit on the sidelines, watch other people get the critique, but until you actually ante up and put your baby on the table, you’ll never know. 
     And here’s the thing: if you don’t try, there’s no telling what you’ll miss. 
     From a practical standpoint, it will help your writing, which in turn improves your chances of publication. But if you’re one who writes first of all for the sheer joy of creating something new, and you run across a group of people who share that sentiment—or even just one person, for that matter—you can’t afford to let it go. 

J.G. Walker is a writer, editor, and writing coach who lives with his wife in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His fiction and nonfiction have been featured in such publications as Oracle Fine Arts Review, Lullwater Review, and Aoife’s Kiss. Walker is currently trying to create the impression that he is at work on his third novel, Visitation: A Novel of Death and Inconvenience. To find out more, check him out at www.courtstreetliterary.com or www.jgwalker.net 
Next week,  all three Peas will be In The Pages with their first book club book review.  You've been warned!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Game Pod: Creation - Photo Flash Fiction

This week we have a writing game. From the photo below {thanks to the super-talented & gracious Marcus, aka @architectm on Instagram, for letting us borrow!} each Pea will write a 300 word story. 
{300, M. 300. Actually, for you: 250. That should keep you at 325}. **

    Darby stepped onto the brick road, taking one final look back. The stables beyond the fence were as she’d left them. The scent of horses, hay, and his cologne clung to her flannel shirt, both comforting and torturing. She quelled her tears. He didn’t deserve them. Nor would he care if she shed any.

    The world before her today held too much beauty. It wasn’t fair.

    She’d loved the idea of it--the world he’d built them. Now, with him gone, there was nothing left for her. He’d told her they’d grow old together--raise a family. Instead, he left her with his dream. When he walked away, she found she didn’t want any of it.

    Darby blinked him away in one angry flash. Yet something inside her searched for a reason to stay. It wouldn’t last. Nothing lasted.

    Looking down the hill from where she’d come, she found the view too idyllic. The verdant pasture held too much promise. Rusting gold, the trees were dressed in a beauty that was meant to fade. The scent of decay lingered and would only thicken in the crisp autumn air.

    Illusion stood outside the stable yard nipping at the tall grass--oblivious to all that had changed. For a brief moment Darby felt a pang of guilt. But she’d left everything in order. Illusion would learn to live without her.

    She thought about how she’d caught them. The smudge of lipstick on his collar; the smell of perfume she'd left in their bed. The lies. Darby had been blind. Finding her husband’s and sister’s intertwined naked bodies behind hay bales was simply too cliché.

    She turned, facing the road. No tears--not for them.

    Darby placed the gun barrel to her head and pulled the trigger a third time.

    {294 words, thank you very much!}

The Wall

    All he saw was gray.

    He strode along the path to the field and wondered what it must be like to live in a world of color. Would the sourness of the breeze blowing past the barn instead smell sweet? Would the grass yield to his step instead of crunch beneath his boots? Would the faint sunlight poking through the iron-like clouds burn?

    A lone horse stared at him with dull eyes. He climbed the fence surrounding the field. The clouds shifted and a tree’s shadow darkened his vision, making him shiver. He reached the Wall.

    Rough bricks scraped his fingers and palms as he climbed. His boots slipped and his knees shrieked their bloody misery. He pulled himself over the edge and dropped to the ground.

    Grass soundlessly fell beneath his step. Sweetness drifted on the wind. Sunshine burned his cheeks. He looked to the sky.

    All he saw was gray.

Leap of Faith

     I stare, transfixed by the vivid countryside. Every detail, palpable. The one place They haven't found -- haven't ruined. My escape.

     Ramshackle barns -- benign, welcoming -- peek over trees in autumn bloom. The scent of damp wood. The chill of the wind a promise of winter approaching. Yet the lush, vibrant grass somehow retains summer's warmth. It calls to me.

     I steady my feet on the worn brick ledge, ready to thrust myself into freedom.

     "Come," it whispers. "Sink your feet into my blades."

     I rock backward, my heart in  my throat, as the countryside jerks, sputters. The landscape tears away, revealing a world leached of softness and color, consumed by sticky warmth.

     The sky goes black. Gleaming metal replaces foliage. Soft edges sharpen, razor thin. Hard edges hum, lethal, electrified. The tang of metal, sweat, blood saturates the still, heavy air. If I step off now I'll meet with the bite of the blades -- skin giving way, warm blood gushing, tissue parting, bones splitting...

     I scream.

     The sound morphs into the twitter of a bird, fleeing the fields that are suddenly back in front of me. Everything is once again soft, bright...

     But not safe.

     They found a way in. My mind is Theirs now.

     I slump. How foolish I was to believe -- to hope of escaping the pain. It is a part of me. They made sure of that.

     They're good, letting me get this far, leaving me to teeter on the precipice while They dig ever further -- twisting memories, dredging pain, associating experiences, feelings, memory with something malignant. I'm weak. Malleable. Under Their control...

     Unless I jump.

     I won't survive. Wherever I am, it isn't here, inches from freedom. I see what They let me see. This ledge... it's no gentle drop. I'll freefall. Plunge to my death...

     But it would be freedom, even if painful in the end. The fall would be something, at least.

     With a grating scream of metal the world shifts again -- hot, sharp, dangerous.

     I push off.

     The air flexes. Time drags. I close my eyes and breathe in a life free of pain. Free of Them.

     I hit ground.

     I stumble, but land -- on my feet -- in a virescent field. The pain lingers, faintly. I drop to my knees and look to the peaceful sky, watching the storm clouds recede.
**{This is where I stick my foot in my mouth. Because I'm the only one who went over the allotted word count. 396. Luckily, we stayed under the group total, so thanks for picking up my slack, J & M!}

Having flashed readers with our fiction, one might then ask, what could possibly be in store for readers next week? Guest Pod with honorary pea Gary Walker! It has been assured that he will make words. Those words will undoubtedly be glorious. Until then. Peas out.