Ten Things About The 2016 Holiday Season That Uplift And Inspire Us

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As far as years go, there’s no denying that 2016 has been a real humdinger.

A good friend recently told me that she felt like she’d experienced more ups and downs than a yo-yo on an elevator and was just praying she’d make it to Christmas with her sanity intact.

We can all relate, right?

Seriously. Here are just a few of the things on our extensive list of 2016 peaks and valleys, and this list barely scratches the surface:

  • A startlingly long list of celebrities passed on, including Aton Yelchin (Star Trek’s Chekov), David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, and Gene Wilder.
  • We witnessed the highs and lows of the Summer Olympics in Rio—everything from the US winning 121 medals total (many thanks to Micheal Phelps) to the Phelps Face phenomenon going viral and the health and safety concerns over the Zika Virus.

So, with all of that behind us—and thankfully so—it’s the time of year where we all pack up our emotional baggage, slap on our 2016 travel sticker as a memento, and move on to the Holidays.

Ah, yes, the Holidays (woohoo)!

From the end of October through December, you start to notice all the signs that the Holiday season is here once again. With it comes a wealth of opportunities to stoke the creative fires that dwindled or burned out under the weight of the year’s stressors, responsibilities, etc.

From the silly to the sentimental, here’s my Top Ten List of Things About The 2016 Holiday Season That Uplift And Inspire Us:

  1.  Toe-tapping music: Sleigh bells ring, jingle, and rock. Santa Baby puts something swanky under the tree for you. Rudolph gets that big promotion from Santa, and we all rock around the Christmas tree.
  2.  Nostalgia: Remember the excitement of waking up at an obscene hour of the morning, running to the tree, and weighing and shaking the brightly colored, bow-bedecked packages in your pajamas? That one box was so big—it just had to be something special!
  3.  Peace on Earth, Good Will To Men: In a year when party lines ended up in every sandbox, and rhetoric became a big, bad duel conducted with mouth-pistols at fifty paces, this is the good news. All that self-righteous, me-me-me-and-mine stuff doesn’t belong to the Holiday Season. It’s time we man and woman up, and put aside our differences to celebrate love, tolerance, and fellowship with humankind.
  4.  Weather: Folks that live in the Southern climes (like myself here in Southern California’s Inland Empire) look forward to finally wearing a sweater. Many in the Northern climes, and mountains, and those traveling in that direction look forward to skiing, snowboarding, and hitting someone obnoxious in the face with a snowball.
  5.   Food: Whether it’s cakes, pies, and cookies or turkey, ham, green bean casseroles, Waldorf salad, and cranberry dressing, we all have our favorites this time of year. We’re going to eat at least some of them and maybe doze off in a great big recliner by the fire afterward.
  6.   Family get-togethers: It’s the time of year to reconnect with those who know you better than anyone and love you in spite of it. Grandmas, grandpas, moms and dads, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, even cousins and extended family—whether you see them in person, call to chat, or reminisce over fond memories of the loved ones who have gone, they are all with us in one way or another.
  7.  Seeing old friends: Your best friend from high school, your beer-drinking buddies from college, the kid you went to summer school with, or friends you once shared a daily commute with on the train back when you worked for XYZ company. There’s always someone to reconnect with, sharing stories and laughter, and remembering what you loved about them—and still do.
  8.  Capturing memories: It just wouldn’t be the Holidays without all those photos and videos you take and share on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit and more. Happiness is contagious, and we all do our best to share and spread it.
  9.  Best of 2016 recap: Don’t forget all the TV shows, movies, and music—you get that last chance to revisit everything you loved and hated, in Technicolor, one last time.
  10. New Beginnings: New Years rings in a fresh start, complete with all the lessons you learned in 2016 behind you. You will most likely make a few resolutions—lose weight, get a job or a promotion, take up a team sport, write that novel, etc. There are plenty of things you to put on the list, but don’t forget the most important things:  Laugh more. Love more. Worry less.

And don’t forget to spread the love by sharing all the things that uplift and inspire you with others this Holiday season!

All Hail The Grammar Fiend Plus Free Online Resources To Improve Your Writing And Self-Editing

We all have that one friend who is an avid reader and a bit of a grammar fiend, right? He or she is the one prone to point out (while skimming through an e-book) things like this:

Do you pay attention to them or roll your eyes and get on with your life?

If you’re a self-published author or a writer who is not an English major submitting any portion of your manuscript in the hopes an agent or publisher will want to read more, the answer is more important than you think.

Before I go any further, let me acknowledge something. Yes, there are talented copy editors out there, and you can pay one (if you wish and your budget allows), but that’s not the purpose of this blog post. It’s about being better equipped for success on your own. Not so coincidentally, that’s also the cheaper route.

You will notice there are links in the grammar fiend statements above that take you to resources, including grammarly.com, which is a favorite of mine for editing. I also love grammarbook.com for general rules of punctuation, grammar, and syntax—when in doubt, check it out.

Now, for grammar fiend illustrative purposes, I’ve written a before (A) and after (B) sample below. I want you to picture an agent picking them up from their slush pile or a person who paid for an e-book reading one vs. the other:

A) “Dot! Come take a look at this.”

Paul’s voice bounced off of the rust, and wreckage of old vehicles in the corridor. It soared high to rattle the rest of the broken skyscrapers still towering like the skeletons of dinosaurs above them.

“Your yelling,” Dot hissed at her brother. She was worried he was going to bring what was left of the world crashing down on them.

“Fine,” he replied in a stage whisper, running his hand through a patch off wavy, jet black hair. It was still streaked brown with dirt from crawling through tunnels and ditches to check there rattraps earlier in the morning. “Now, come and see this.”

B) “Dot,” Paul shouted. “Take a look at this!”

His voice bounced off the rust and wreckage of antique vehicles in the corridor. The sound soared, rattling the broken skyscrapers that towered like dinosaur skeletons above them.

“You’re yelling,” Dot hissed, worried the remnants of the world might come crashing down on them.

“Fine,” he stage-whispered, running a hand through his jet-black hair. It was streaked with dirt from crawling through tunnels and ditches to check their rat traps earlier that morning. “Come and see.”

Is B easier to read than A?

Does it look more professional to you?

Are you starting to think that fewer words can convey more meaning and see some of the silly little mistakes (like missing dialogue tags) we often overlook as writers?

Does what you see here make you think about taking a second look at something you’ve written?

Note: If you’re not certain why something was changed or want to learn more, I encourage you not just to ask me but use resources like Grammarly, Grammar Book, and copy editing blogs for tips. When in doubt, never shy away from Googling your question (like “Should I use off of or off?”) to find the right answer.

Your writing is your creative baby, right? You’ve spent so much time giving birth to it, already. Why risk it dying in a slush pile or the hands of a potential reviewer because of preventable errors?

Next time you sit down to write or edit that manuscript, remember that there are free resources out there to help you—and they’re only a question away.

*As the usual reminder, none of the aforementioned websites, companies, etc. have paid me—monetarily or otherwise. This is just me sharing my experiences and opinions.*
 

Why Vocabulary Matters When You Talk About Your Fiction

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If you’ve had any involvement with marketing or sales, you’ve probably heard the term WIFM before. If not, that’s okay. It will be easy for you to remember going forward because it’s based on a principle of which, no matter how giving and selfless you may be, your subconscious is already very familiar.

So, what is WIFM?


WIFM is an acronym for What’s In it For Me. 


It’s the cardinal assumption you should always work with when you’re developing a tagline or a pitch for anything. People need to know what’s in it for them—what the value of this thing you’re talking about is and how it is new, different, better, fulfilling, etc.

Now, let me ask you something:

Are you a fiction writer, aspiring or otherwise?


Yes?


Great. How do you sell talents? In other words, when people ask you—or you talk about—that book/story you’re working on, what do you tell them?

  • Do you dive right into the plot? “It’s about this guy who makes a series of mistakes that lead him on an adventure that takes place in another universe and…” OR “It’s about this girl who falls in love with her the guy next door, only the guy next door is a firefighter who lost his first love in a…”
  • Do you define the genre? (It’s a science fiction/ romance/ YA, etc.)
  • Do you compare it to other popular works out there? (“It’s like Fifty Shades/ Harry Potter/ The Girl On the Train/ The Whistler.”)

Think about what you typically say about your work and then ask yourself one simple question:

Have I said something that intrigues them and defines a benefit of choosing my work over other options in 3 or 4 brief sentences (roughly a paragraph)?

Here are some things to consider:

  • We live in the age of click-bait and YouTube—assume everyone has a short attention span.
  • No one wants to listen to you regurgitate plot—be specific, concise, and confident. 
  • If they want to know more, let them ask you for it.

Here’s an example of some information you should be prepared to provide anyone who asks in a brief paragraph/ statement about your work—and, yes, I encourage you to draft one and revisit and revise it from time to time.

  1. What’s your genre and the overall message—ex: love conquers all, we can overcome our prejudices, you can’t keep a good man down, space exploration may open us up to untold dangers, etc.?
  2. What’s unique about your protagonist/antagonist and your story compared to others in the marketplace?—It’s okay to draw one or two comparisons here, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot by saying it’s just like XYZ bestseller. 
  3. What has changed from beginning to end—a lesson is learned, perceptions changed, etc.—because something should have changed whether it’s internal (emotional, physical) or external (the world, circumstances, etc.).
  4. Why, in a nutshell, is it hilarious/heartwarming/informative/enlightening, etc.?

You believe in your work, after all—now, it’s time to make others do the same. Don’t be afraid to market yourself. 

Lastly, mind your descriptors and don’t be afraid to Google synonyms and even pay attention to any ad campaigns you’ve seen that made a lasting impression. As silly as it sounds, ads for other (non-book) things may still help you find those words that stand out and excite people more than others. At the very least, it’ll start those creative gears churning in your head.

Here are some examples of weak vs. stronger vocabulary:

  • It’s a good story vs. It’s a contemporary adventure.
  • It promotes self-reflection vs. It’s an introspective tale.

Note: Do not go overboard with unnecessarily grandiloquent terminology in your discourse. (See what I did there?) People will most likely be of the opinion that you are a pompous ass trying to impress them with big words. They may also wonder if you actually know the meaning(s).

Free E-Book Conversion: Good News For Indie Authors on A Budget

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Friends, Citizens, and Indie Authors—the holidays are upon us! Black Friday is right around the corner, soon to be followed by Santa and reindeer. Those cheery Christmas songs and Holiday ads are already popping up online and at that shopping mall around the corner. And, unfortunately, for most Independent Authors, it’s visions of finances—not sugarplums—that dance in our heads.

So, you’re an author, or you want to be one.

You have a story you’re dying to share with the world, right? You’re probably thinking e-book because there are no printing costs and everybody owns an e-reader these days. But you also possess a list of unavoidable things already tying up your purse strings or wallet this time of year:

  • Credit card bills.
  • Gifts for family members.
  • Gifts for friends.
  • Secret Santa.
  • Hotel stays.
  • Car rental.
  • Plane tickets.

You may be one of those people who, like I once did, believes you have to pay a service for e-book conversion to get it on sites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. Trust me, you’re not alone—folks are making income off that misconception. Google the topic (e-book conversion) and I guarantee that you’ll find online services happy to charge you anywhere from $49 to $300 or so just to convert your novel into ebook format for you.

 Repeat after me: “Aww. That’s so sweet of you, random service. Thanks for taking my hard-earned money.”

If you are in the ranks of the group above, I’ve got some potentially good news for you—you can stop saying thank you.

Ever heard of Calibre e-book management? Here’s how it defines itself:

Calibre is a free and open source e-book library management application developed by users of e-books for users of e-books. It has a cornucopia of features divided into the following main categories:

  • Library Management
  • E-book conversion
  • Syncing to e-book reader devices
  • Downloading news from the web and converting it into e-book form
  • Comprehensive e-book viewer
  • Content server for online access to your book collection
  • E-book editor for the major e-book formats.”


You noticed the second bullet point, right?

E-book conversion!!!!!!!!

It is a free downloadable application—you can also make a donation of whatever you can afford (a few bucks is a nice gesture, for the record). It also converts to a broad range of formats for you, though I only mention a few here.

It took me a little time playing around with it, at first, because I’m the dummy who likes to skim through online tutorials rather than reading themI eventually decided on what I like (at the moment) for my pre-conversion Microsoft Word .docx settings.

As for document specs:

I have found that a regular 8.5 x 11 .docx (but not .doc—for some reason, the software can’t convert it) document with margins formatted for 1″top, 1″ bottom, 1.25″ left, 1.25″ right, 0″ gutter, 0.5″ header, 0.5″ footer  works pretty well. (See the example below) when I convert to .mobi (Kindle) and .epub (Nook & iBooks) in Calibre:

                                                      DOCUMENT MARGINS

 I also tend to prefer wider spacing for paragraphs, so I mostly use 8-10 pt spacing before and after and 1.5 line spacing (see the example below) for shorter works, but that is by no means the only way to go.

PARAGRAPH (Indents & Spacing)

Note: What you see in the snapshots above are my preferences, not necessarily yours. I encourage you to check out NookPress, KDP Amazon, or even Google formatting e-books or formatting margins for .mobi, epub, etc. in ___(whatever program you use—Word, etc.) and see what you get.

Now, as for Calibre:

  • You download it.
  • Open it up and choose the “Add a book” option.
  • Add your edited, formatted .docx (or other) document, add front matter (cover image, etc. if you already have it—I’ll probably get into cover design in a later blog, but you can look up all kinds of YouTube tutorials on it, too).
  •  Once your document has loaded, choose “convert books.” Note: I believe it is recommended to convert to epub (Nook/iBooks compatible) before .mobi (Kindle compatible file).

I also find it helps if you have an epub or Mobi compatible device. Since the conversion is instant, you can then open it in your reader (w/Amazon Kinde, you may have to email it to the email associated w/ your Kindle device and open it as a “Doc.”) and check it out for yourself. 


Huge benefits of converting yourself:

  • It keeps that hard-earned money in your pocket.
  • Mistakes you (or your editor) didn’t catch in the original formatting sometimes leap out at you when you read it in the new, e-book format.
  • It’s an excellent way to send review copies at no cost (as opposed to paying to gift a copy through a vendor site).

Note: This blog post is just for fun and is meant to share my personal experiences and opinion in the writing arena. It is not intended as specific advice (take it or leave it as you like), and I have received no compensation—monetary or otherwise—from Calibre in return for this post. To the best of my knowledge, they have no idea I even exist, and they’re probably not the only free conversion service app out there, so feel free to do your homework and compare.

Twittermagedon

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So, if you haven’t heard yet, which means you probably live under a rock (which might even be close to MY rock), the East Coast server responsible for the Twitterverse, Netflix, Spotify, etc was attacked  today. Apparently, repeatedly.

While I do not condone such shenanigans, I felt what will most certainly be a COMPLETELY inaccurate depiction of the perps was called for:

SOON

…May your Blog Kung Fu be strong today, kiddos.

Love,

Me

 

P.S. This is a fun, free Halloween read: 

devil-may-care-ad

Mondays—paraphrasing Joyce Kilmer

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13778299_s

I think that I shall never spy.
A poem lovely as a Sunday night.

Then Monday comes along to test.
The good intentions in my head.

Got a list of things to do today.
But all I can think to do is pray…

For the patience not to kill these folks.
Calm down. It was only (sort of) a joke.

Seriously.
It’s not like I’m totally crazed.

(I’ve got too much to do today.)

I suppose that I should just be grateful.
It’s only Mondays that feel this hateful.

The Drifters: Devil May Care—Excerpt

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“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

-Jack Kerouac, On The Road

  

This is  a sample from the first chapter of the short story I released for Halloween. It’s a fun free read w/a tip of the hat to Voodoo via a fallen Seraph who dated Papa Legba and a slightly twisted look at the traditional forces of good & evil—God and Lucifer. Lucifer’s half-human son Deverell is featured on the cover. The e-book is available for free download on All Romance Ebooks (PDF, ePub, Mobi), iBooks, and NookBook.Devil May Care Ad.png

 Written content Copyright ©2016 Jennifer Fales All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

When Ada Marcus was alive, she told people that she sometimes saw two stately figures coming from the smog-stained walls of the overpass at night. Most of them just called her crazy. The fact she was awake at that hour was no wonder—regardless of earmuffs and box fans, the grand old dame never managed to sleep well once the cars started rolling through.

The woman didn’t know what she even saw, at first. They weren’t people, exactly—they were more and less than that, ominous beings consumed by extraordinary wanderlust. She was never sure if they were dead or alive but figured, since they seemed inordinately restless, that it was somewhere in between. Eventually, she came up with a name for them.

Those dirty Drifters.

Of course, there was only one person, her granddaughter Hazel, who knew the senior citizen well enough not to think she was crazy. Hazel figured she was fibbing—telling cautionary tales out of desperation. She knew Ada wanted her discontented little Hazel to settle down with a local boy across town just as she had done, not restlessly dive into the gaping maw of a great big, boundless world.

The legend of the Drifters disappeared after Ada died, becoming one more forgotten bedtime story. Right up until the eve of her twenty-first birthday, quite close to Halloween, when Hazel’s mother somewhat impolitely asked her to clean Ada’s sprawling Victorian. Her mom had decided to keep the place as a rental property, and the most recent tenants, who were seemingly reliable with decent credit scores, had flown the coop two days prior. The poor little doves thought the neighborhood too dicey and loud for an upwardly mobile young couple—all in all, not surprising.

It probably was.

As for Hazel, she saw something that surprised her. It was right at a quarter to one, just as she was cleaning several fingerprint smudges from one side of the glass in the canted bay window overlooking the street. Two individuals—a pale young man, in a black suit and tie, with and an elegant dark-skinned woman in a white dress and matching silk headscarf—stepped out of a dirty concrete wall together. They did it as if it were nothing unusual and strolled across the intersection, heading in the direction of the house.

Hazel immediately recognized them as Drifters, and Gran had been partially right about them. They were strange, yes, with an air of magic, but they looked nice, not filthy, and she didn’t think they meant any harm. Not after the male made eye contact with her. Something about the look they shared suggested he knew her. Although that seemed impossible, her body still tingled at the thought, from the top of her tumbledown chestnut hair all the way down to her toes.

Being an adventurous soul, she took his glance as permission to follow. Grabbing her green velvet jacket and worn brown boots—despite the fact Gran would have said don’t do it had she still been around—Hazel reset the alarm and locked the front door. Confident all was well with the house, she shoved its old brass key in her pocket, slipping down the steps and onto the sidewalk behind them…

The Tale Of The Bea Hind (A Ridiculous Story)

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 *The Tale of The Bea Hind (A Ridiculous Story) Copyright © 2016 by Jennifer Fales

12492221 - young deer

image 12492221 used w/permission ©regina555 | 123rf.com

 

There once was a wild, comely maiden with hair red as roses and eyes keen and brown as the bark of the wise oak tree. Her name was Beatrice Greeves. The Beatrice part had been chosen by her handsome father, Barlow, in fond memory a mother she never knew. Sadly, the original Beatrice died during childbirth. In later years, as young Beatrice grew into a buzzing hive of rebellious energy, very much unlike the gentle woman he had married, Barlow simply called her Bea.

Aside from being quite the strapping widower, Barlow happened to be a merchant of reasonable acclaim. His reputation for trading in moderate wines, decent spices, and pretty good fabrics preceded him in nearly three-quarters of the cities to which he traveled—and gained his entrance into quite a few bed chambers. Late one spring afternoon—spring was nearly everyone’s favorite season back then—as he traveled home from the latest Faire, with his wooden cart and remaining wares, Barlow happened upon an ancient, knob-kneed druid in the forest

“You’re in luck,” handsome Barlow crowed to the old goat in desperate need of new robes, “for I’m certain I have what you need, and I’ll be happy to provide it for the proper coin.”

“I’m no lord or lady,” the druid replied, pointing out his surroundings. “I haven’t a pound, shilling, or pence, but I do…”

“You haven’t the money—I haven’t the time!” Barlow, who was too far in his cups and in growing need of a chamber pot, announced and staggered on his way.

“You can’t just walk away from me,” the druid gurgled. “You flapdoodle! I swear by my butter-teeth, I’ll curse your whole family!”

Had his brain been less ale-addled, Barlow might have paid better attention to that sort of thing. But it wasn’t, so Barlow hurled back, “Go ahead! I have only one daughter,” and, again, continued on his merry way.

The druid, who was several centuries old and full of all sorts of piss and vinegar, huffed and puffed. Then, he proceeded to gather his herbs and his gumption. When the gathering was through, he fashioned a powerful curse—one that rhymed because all the best spells and curses do:

“For the hapless child

Of this fickle merchant

I craft a curse most queer.

May the rest of her days

As they wax and wain

Endure in the guise of a deer.

Not just any deer; no

But the huntsman’s prize

With barely time to sleep

And the only cure

For this darling doe:

Life inside the King’s keep.”

Back at the Greeves’ cozy thatched cottage, on the outskirts of the woods, young Bea performed her fortnightly ablutions with water from the well. She donned her white chemise and brushed her flowing hair a hundred times in preparation for bed.

As she brushed, Bea made up songs of protest. She sang about the following in a lovely soprano: Housework was incredibly demeaning to women, and marriage was a means of enslaving them. Also, it was a well-known fact that sexual congress was mostly about the men these days. For the last stanza, Bea trilled in her crystal clear voice that it was high time for women’s political, social, and economic equality and added a soulful “feudalism buggers all; sodomize the Establishment” for dramatic emphasis.

Bea wandered to an itchy straw mattress with a hideous quilt after the mandatory making of a sweet maiden’s evening merriment was through. Society might be able to make her sing, but she’d be damned—most likely, she probably already was—before regurgitating the sundry and frivolous words of a bobble-headed saddle-goose!

As for the unsightly quilt, Beatrice Number One’s mother, whom Barlow described as a large, rump-faced harpy who lost one leg in a tavern fight, had knitted the covering long ago. The old woman cursed like the devil himself and possessed not a single stitch of knitting prowess. The paltry cover was a nasty piece of craftsmanship, indeed, yet Barlow had labeled it an heirloom—something Bea must pass on to her child someday—and refused to replace it. Bea glared at the thing as she sank to her knees and clasped her hands together in angelic repose.

“Lady of the Forest,” the fair maiden earnestly beseeched as she had every night since learning how to use words, “please save me from this dreadful, ordinary life with my dull and insensitive pickle of a father. And may I never have a child to whom I must pass on this blight of a blanket. Blessings to all in the world this night. Amen.”

Bea crawled beneath her driggledy-draggledy mess of a quilt with a yawn, pulling it up to the tip of an irrepressibly sonnet-worthy chin. As she drifted off to sleep, she wondered what life must be like for the female creatures of the forest. They never swept a man’s floors, cooked his dinners, or made his bed; it sounded positively lovely.

As his daughter drifted off to sleep, Barlow Greeves parked his horse and cart in their small hay-scented barn and stumbled for the front door. He reached into his pocket, squeezing the weight of his coin-heavy pouch for reassurance, and thought of all the new and exotic wenches it would allow him to bed.

He also felt a moment of guilt over the druid. The old man had been insulted, yes, which was too bad. But a merchant never, ever violated the rules of commerce. It was the kind of thing that could ruin a man’s reputation—and that, after all, was everything.

Bea’s father swung open the door to his cottage and stepped through, looking over at his daughter on her mattress by the window. Bea loved him too much to put the thick wooden bar in place, blocking his entrance, though her temperament invariably made her threaten to do so. She was forever hurling accusations of leaving her to rot while he rode on his palfrey through the civilized world, his cart full of wares, buggering anything with a skirt and a pulse.

It was the vilest of slander, insulting and hurtful. Barlow took great care to exercise the utmost discretion in choosing partners for his indiscretions. But his child, like the rest of her sex, had been born feather-headed and stubborn. What kind of father would he be, risking his beautiful Bea’s exposure to the rutting beasts and charlatans (aside from himself) at the Faire?

Awash in moonlight cascading from the window, his daughter’s eyes were clamped tightly in sleep. Much to Barlow’s horror, the orbs beneath began shifting and shaking, violently, to and fro as he watched. Bea’s breathing, expelled through her delicate rosebud of a mouth, changed from soft snoring to frightened panting, and her button nose blackened and broadened, turning velvety and full.

Not only did Bea’s nose change; her entire face narrowed, her hair melting downward into it. Her ears rose, elongating into tufted points that jutted out from the tip of her head, and her cheeks swam high to sharpen the angles of her face. Bea’s eyes slanted sideways and upward, the slope of her nose shooting down to form a peak just above her mouth. All the while, her body contorted and quivered beneath the horrid-looking quilt.

When his daughter finally laid still again, her widened eyes staring up at him, Barlow stooped down and removed the covering. The doe she had become wriggled out of her nightshift and leaped from the mattress, landing with a flick of an ear and the clatter of hooves. She looked down at her long, spindly legs in amazement, then up at her father’s face.

“Right, then,” she said. “I have no hands to work the door—would you mind?”

“But,” her father responded with a slow blink, “you’re a deer.”

“Yes,” Bea answered wholeheartedly, “I most definitely am—and anyone with sense knows deer do not belong indoors.”

“But,” he said, “who will sweep the floors, cook my dinners, and make my bed?”

“Someone with hands?” she suggested.  “It looks like you’ve got two of your own there so…problem solved!”

“This is horrible,” Barlow frowned, not really listening because that was always a flaw where his daughter was concerned, “and it’s all my fault. I insulted a Druid, and now he has cursed you.”

“It’s no big deal,” she assured him. “Now, about that door…”

But Barlow refused to touch the door that night. Instead, he assured her as he stumbled off to his goose-feathered mattress that he would set off on an errand in the morning. After a good night’s sleep—because drunk riding was dangerous and a man might hurt himself and others in the forest—he was going find that awful druid and make things right again.

The Bea Hind paced, at first, in agitation as she listened to him snore. Then she chewed on the ugly quilt. The thing tasted awful and proved indestructible. After that, she too slumbered and dreamed of wide, open skies and row after row of crunchy acorns stretched out as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately, she also ate the straw in her mattress.

In the morning, Barlow, who was a little upset over all the mattress eating, closed the door behind him and left. Bea, quite depressed with the unfairness of her situation, sang to lift her spirits. She sang songs of protest about the oppression of women, and deer in captivity, and how nobody was willing to give a magical doe a break these days.

Now, it just so happened that a young man recently ejected from the king’s grounds due to his desire to found a union for the ethical treatment of left-handed hunters was wandering nearby. Wandering was a strong term, really; he was breaking into the merchant’s barn to pilfer goods and sell them in the marketplace near the castle. As he explained to Bea, whose singing impressed him, he intended to sell them for just enough coinage to replace his confiscated hunting gear.

“That’s very noble of you,” Bea said, impressed by the fact that that the young robber wasn’t her father. “Let me out and I’ll give you my blessing to take what you like.”

“Thank you,” the young man said, tossing all his noble intentions to the wayside. The king would surely trade a fortune for a magical red (singing) doe for his treasured daughter! “I couldn’t help but notice—you trilled the words so eloquently in your exquisite song of protest—that you never get to go anywhere. Would you come to the marketplace, with me, in search of adventure?”

“Oh, yes! Yes! A thousand times, yes!” Bea shrieked, jumping in circles and pawing at the ground in her excitement.The young man and the Bea Hind ventured out on their journey, with a few things in the young man’s hands and a few small items (nothing too bothersome) strapped to Bea’s back. As they traveled back through the forest, they met an amphibian. It was a rather unpleasant and green, yelling at them about how lucky they were to have so much tasty meat proportionally distributed across their great big bodies.

The young man and the Bea Hind ventured out on their journey, with a few things in the young man’s hands and a few small items (nothing too bothersome) strapped to Bea’s back. As they traveled back through the forest, they met an amphibian. It was a rather unpleasant and green, yelling at them about how lucky they were to have so much tasty meat proportionally distributed across their great big bodies.

“No one will ever want me for me,” the frog sobbed in conclusion, “it’s just these blasted, gorgeous legs of mine. For heaven’s sake, I’m disproportionate; can’t you see how morbidly unfair that is? I deserve to be built like the rest of you!”

Bea rolled her eyes and informed the frog that: A) He was wallowing there, in the warm muck and mire, in a false sense of entitlement. B) He would never know what it was like to spend eighteen years as free labor for an ungrateful merchant. Sure, someone might eat his legs, but it just wasn’t the same magnitude of suffering at all.

“It’s very small of him not to see your pain,” the young huntsman-turned-robber agreed. He shook his head sadly as they left the frog behind them in the lush, damp heart of the forest.

Meanwhile, the merchant who rode forth that morning to find the druid still in search of suitable vestments had followed him into the marketplace nearest the king’s keep. It was the self-same marketplace to which the Bea Hind and the young robber huntsman were heading with the merchant’s things. And, by some odd twist of magic, fate, or luck, the king and his daughter, who had seen but seven springs in her lifetime, also happened to be there that day.

“Good Greetings, Sir Druid!” Barlow tied up his horse and hailed the gnarled man publicly.

“I find no good in anxious greetings,” the druid said dryly, raising an eyebrow. “Why do you follow me like a huntsman after prey?”

“I follow for the sake of my daughter, Bea,” Barlow answered. “Lift this curse, I beg you.”

“You should have asked in the forest last night,” the Druid responded. “Instead, you walked away.”

“I was…” Barlow began.

“An ass?” The druid suggested.

“Inebriated,” Barlow said.

“An inebriated ass, then,” the druid amended the statement for him.

“…Yes.” Barlow conceded.

“And what will you give me, Ass?” the druid queried.

“My thanks and gratitude,” Barlow said.

“No robe, then,” the druid muttered, shaking his head. “still an ass.”

“Why should a merchant give a man, who has no coin to pay for it, a robe?” Barlow asked.

“Why should a druid un-curse a man’s offspring, when given no robe for incentive?” The druid replied.

At this point, the dissent had drawn a crowd of flour-coated baker’s wives, two blood-dotted butchers, and several gypsies. There was also a great, sweaty blacksmith with hands the size and smell of well-fed country hams; the others stood at a distance from him.

“Father!” a voice called from the left of the blacksmith. “What are you doing here?”

“What am I doing here? What are you doing here, you ungrateful child, when I left you, at home, inside?” Barlow replied, staring back at the red doe with much less surprise than the crowd.

“Fie on you, you bloody, callous monster!” the huntsman replied. “I liberated Bea from domestic enslavement beneath your roof!”

“That’s not a bee, that’s a deer!” someone muttered. “He’s obviously daft.”

“Of course, he is,” someone else replied, “That’s the one, you know—the huntsman that tried to unionize.

“She’s not all you liberated,” the druid remarked with a squinted eye. “You don’t happen to have a robe over there, do you, thief?”

“No.” The huntsman didn’t bother to deny it. “Why?”

“To lift the curse for her father, of course.”

“No—you mustn’t!” Bea cried.

“But who will sweep the floors, cook my dinners, and make my bed?” Barlow still wasn’t sold on the whole self-sufficiency thing.

“I don’t care,” the doe answered. “If you’re so concerned, find yourself a sodding wife!”

“Ah,” the druid said, “that explains the rest of it.”

“Father,” a child’s voice reached them from a distance, “isn’t that the left-handed, ungrateful huntsman—the one who attempted to unionize?”

“See. I told you!” Someone hissed in the crowd.

“It looks like him, Astraea,” the King, who had named his daughter after the Greek word for justice because he wanted her to be exceptionally wise, agreed.

The small girl took a deep breath and spit out excitedly, “Didn’t the druid just accuse him of thievery? And the merchant accused the druid of cursing his daughter? And the thief accused the merchant of enslavement? And the merchant accused the daughter of ungratefulness?”

“That’s what it sounded like, sweetheart,” the King told his daughter, patting her on the head.

“Then we must do something!” the daughter insisted.

“What would you like me to do?” the King asked. “Kill them all?”

“Heavens, no.” The girl, being the only one still young enough for sense, looked appalled. “Those are the actions of a tyrant. It would never do. Lock them up in the keep and I shall decide upon a reasonable outcome.”

“Fine,” the King answered, much to the disappointment of the bloodthirsty locals in the marketplace. “Guards, seize these four and haul them to the keep!”

So the four travelers found themselves trapped behind bars together in the belly of the King’s keep. The druid blamed the merchant and complained of the draft through his tattered robes. The thief blamed the King for denying his petition for unionization and ousting him. The merchant blamed the druid for the curse and his daughter for being ungrateful.

Bea, who had changed into a naked girl the moment she entered the keep, did her best to cover all her naughty bits. As she did so, she sang a lovely song of protest about blaming everyone but herself and how her tantalizing nudity was a form of exploitation, deliberately engineered by a conspiracy between the druid and the shamefully androcentric, patriarchal royalty. She added an obligatory “and feudalism buggers all” at the end, but even the guard agreed it felt like she was just mailing it in.

At the same time, the King’s daughter, quite excited to have her first case to try, was doing her best to restore logic to the situation by compiling a pro et contra list. As she explained to a curious guard, that was Latin. It meant she was essentially weighing the positive and negative effects of her taking any particular course of action. Her ultimate goal was to set an example via her own behavior, putting the interests of others first, which, she said, was something no adult seemed concerned with doing these days.

“But sweetie,” the King said, peering over his child’s tiny shoulder at her desk and paper, “that’s practically unheard of—why aren’t you using the what dost be in it for mine own self approach?

“Because, Father,” Astraea replied sweetly, using her ink-dipped quill to add popular opinion to the contra list, “unreasonable bias and blind self-interest are what buggered the four of them up so royally in the first place.”

“Of course,” the King said, “but that’s just what we do, dear. It’s the way people are, and it always will be.”

“But what of reason and respect?”she asked.

“Oh, I think you’ll discover they all find their own ideas perfectly reasonable and invite others to respect them, loudly and routinely,” the King answered.

“I fear I must ask you to leave now,” Astraea replied as she patted her father’s enormous, ring-bedecked hand. “It is time for your wee, daft child to ponder things minus your irreplaceable wisdom and council.”

“It’s all for the best,” the King said. “I have courtesans in need of use. Otherwise, I’m just throwing the people’s tax money away. Those girls don’t work for free, you know. Nobody does—except for the merchant’s daughter, I suppose.”

“So be it,” Astraea responded, happy at the prospect of a few hours peace. “Merry Swiving, Father—and my gratitude again for your council.”

Princess Astraea drafted a long, complicated list and, afterward, read through it, considering her father’s words. Why must it all be so difficult? The merchant’s daughter thought she worked for nothing all those years, but, in truth, she hadn’t.

Beggars pleaded for alms in the street—with a roof over her head, food to cook, and a bed to make, Bea suffered no such fate. Barlow had sought not to imprison her, but to protect her. Albeit, most likely, from men like himself. The druid tended to the forest, preserving the sanctity and magic of the space the merchant wandered home through every evening. And even the thief had once been a huntsman, eliminating threats to the villagers’ livestock, and putting food on the king’s own table?

“So much here has been taken for granted,” the Princess mused—and that’s when the answer came to her. Of course! She would alter the purpose and course of their lives, making them see beyond themselves.

The next morning, she went to the keep with the guards and her father and the following joyous proclamation was read:

“Yea and verily, ye in captivity, by the infinite wisdom of the crown, the young Princess Astraea decrees all your lives shall be spared upon the sole condition of the swapping of a year’s time. In such time, the Druid and shall be Merchant, The Huntsman shall be the Daughter, and the Merchant shall be the Druid, and the Daughter Shall be the Huntsman.”

There was a brief moment of silence—a processing of sorts—before the four captives responded.

“This is heinously unfair! A blatant miscarriage of justice!” the druid cried, his sandaled feet kicking dust onto the hem of his robe as he fretted and paced to and fro. “What of the taxes leveraged on my business? The crown would defeat me before I begin! How do you expect me to survive? ”

“Insensitive bull shite!” The merchant followed behind him, howling and shaking his fist, “Those taxes are valid and should be rendered unto me for I am the caretaker of a forest that suffers injury! You trample it every day beneath the weight of your cart, and your heels and, yet, do you offer me no recompense? NO, and NEVER!”

“Fie on you all!” the huntsman cried. “Take advantage of me this way? Strip me and deny me my rights, will you? All of you idiots blind to my suffering while I toil for you, day after day, year after year—with nary a ‘thanks’ in return. It’s a travesty; I tell you! Inexcusable!”

“What?” Bea shrieked in disbelief, still covering herself. “Have you all gone mad? Surely any man not struck with idiocy would see the direst of all cruelties has been visited upon me? Denied my trade by the crown itself! I shall devise a song of protest wherein I express the depth, breadth, and height of my incomparable suffering and misery!”

“I hate to say I told you so,” the King said as he looked down at his young daughter, thinking how polished and pretty she was in all that fine linen, “but it’s the way of the adult world, Astraea.”

“Very well, Father,” Astraea shuddered and turned away, thinking of that far off dreadful day when she, too, must become an adult. “Do what you will for why should I care? I’m off to play games with the small and the sensible, far away from these braying asses, while I still may.”

 

*Note: Bea Hind is pronounced as behind and, yes, the story is about people making asses of themselves.