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As I branch out on my writing tree, I thought it was time I began a blog for my YA/middle reader markets. Here I will post samples of my stories and accept your positive remarks. Thanks for finding me!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Preview: COLT BUCHANAN and the WEATHER WALKERS

Robots. Gadgets. Evil scientists. Precocious kids. These felt like the ideal ingredients for the start of what I hope will be a series. When a young boy’s parents are kidnapped by a mysterious gang that attacks on tornadoes, he is rescued by agents of a secret organization that will help him and other children reunite their separated families. Before that can happen, however, will the boy and his friends be able to defeat the Weather Walkers in their most violent attack?

Below is an excerpt from the novel.


UPDATE: Colt is no longer for sale. :(
If any publishers are interested in reviving Colt, you may reach me at
jacktheauthor@gmail.com .


ONE

Randall Buchanan urged his horse to gallop faster than she had ever done before. Stealing glances over his shoulder, he watched the prairie duster whip its tail across the dry, sandy desert as it chased him.

And it was chasing him. Randall Buchanan had no doubt about that: The cyclone cut a trench two feet deep behind him in a zigzag line headed straight for him and his horse.

Looking forward, he saw the ghostly gray puffs of smoke coming from his house just below the next rise. Jenny would be making supper right about then but it would be a supper that would go cold. He leaned forward and patted the horse’s neck and willed her to go as fast as she could. He would have only seconds to spare once he got to the house. He reached down to the switch on the side of the saddle and pushed it forward. The horse responded to the extra help from the metal and mesh leggings Randall Buchanan had dressed her in for that day’s experimental ride.
A cloud of sand blew up in front of them. A second prairie duster joined the pursuit. The sudden burst blinded Randall. He fell from his horse and felt her tumbling along with him. He braced for the crushing blow from her weight but it never came. As soon as the sand cloud dissipated, he saw her off to his right. The metal exoskeleton he had equipped her with had protected her from breaking any bones when she flipped.

He whistled over the rush of wind from the two twisters howling around them. She turned, recognizing his call. The horse shook off its confusion and came for Randall, who raised his hands and caught the bell of the saddle with one hand and drew up the reign with the other all as he pulled himself up on the back of the horse. It was going to take more than a couple of novice twisters to stop him from getting to his home and family.

Randall Buchanan leaned forward once more and patted the horse on the neck in the same spot he had earlier. The mighty animal lowered her head and pushed through the rising curtains of sand. Even through the muted view, both Randall and the horse appeared to navigate with ease up to the split log house he’d built with his own hands.

He didn’t have time to tie her off nor put her in the pole barn to protect her from the whirlwind of grit. The horse seemed to sense this and snorted, then whinnied as if telling him to go in and mind for his family. As he went into the house, he turned to push the door closed just as two swirling clouds of sand enveloped the horse. Within seconds it reduced the mechanized beast to a pile of scrap.

Pushing the heavy brass door shut, he smashed his elbow into the wall. A small panel appeared. Randall threw up two switches and spun a wheel. The walls hissed; outside, the steam from the jets disguised as knotholes mixed with the swirling sand creating clumps of light brown clay that fell to the ground in heavy plops.

“Randall? What is it?” Jenny asked. She stood in front of the Ben Franklin stove, lifting a boiling kettle of stew from the flat lid.

“Get Colt into the cellar,” he said. His eyes must have told his wife the rest. She set the heavy pot back on the hot stove and went up into the loft to get their son. He wrapped his hands around the pegs they more often than not used to hang up coats and shawls and pulled back in the opposite direction from where they stood. The brass reinforcement bar hidden behind the wooden walls slid into a locking position securing the door, at least for the time being.

Randall moved quickly around the room while his wife moved backwards down the wooden ladder. Colt, his son, watched wide-eyed over his shoulder, directing his mother, who was only a couple of rungs from the floor, to be careful. Even in such a moment of adversity, Colt thought only of his mother and not himself. Randall had to smile.

A peppering of sand pellets rattled the glass in the windows. Randall yanked up on the lower window pane, revealing a shiny copper shade. He held the shade in place with brass clasps. With the windows secured, there was now another task for Randall Buchanan to undertake. Regardless of the outcome of what was about to take place, this task was probably the most important of all.

Buchanan went to the Ben Franklin stove. From the mantle above the fireplace, he took a small brass ball and inserted it into the stovepipe through a swinging door on the shaft. He closed the door and turned away. There was a small hiss and then the ball rocketed up through the pipe. With any luck, once it reached the outdoor air the gas pellets would propel it the distance to those who could assist them.

“Father, do you need help?” Colt asked.

“I got it here, buddy,” Randall said. He looked at his son and tried to smile to reassure him.

“Colt, come here,” his mother said.

Jenny Buchanan stood halfway out of the hatch that led into the cellar. It wasn‟t much of a room, less than half of the size of the small house. Still, it would conceal Colt from the twisters outside, which is why the cellar had been added in the first place. Dr. Wanderer had said it was a silly precaution, that Anvil Smith would never be able to locate Randall and his family.
But Dr. Wanderer had been wrong before.

Randall watched his son disappear below the wooden floor panels. Jenny blew a kiss down to their son and dropped the hatch down. She worked her finger into a knot hole and slid the plank it was in across the top. Even over the roar of the wild wind outside there was an audible click.
“You should be down below with Colt,” Randall Buchanan said.

Jenny shook her head. Tears ran down her cheeks. “The best I can do for him is help you fight off the Weather Walkers.”

Randall Buchanan had never been so proud. He hugged his wife.

They each ran to a different corner of their cabin and each of them turned a large brass flywheel in a clockwise direction. Large brass poles slowly rose up from the floor. A great brass ball was attached to each. When the ball reached the roof, Randall and Jenny Buchanan turned another flywheel on the wall. Above them two holes big enough to let the brass rod pass through appeared. Sand began to pour in like it was seeping through the bottom of a sieve. They went back to turning the flywheels on the wall until the poles rose up through the hatches above them. Randall slid a small brass ring up to the ceiling and twisted them into place sealing off the gaps and blocking the rushing sand.

Randall hurried over to the potbelly stove. He pushed on the wall and it spun. The stove disappeared into a nook and in its place was a great steam engine already heating up from the fire in the stove. He pulled on a lever jutting up from the floor. The engine coughed and wheezed. He returned the lever to its starting position and began to pump up and down on an accordion air blower. Jenny poured water from the ice box tray into the cistern, adding more fuel to the water already boiling inside. Randall went back and pulled on the lever once more. This time the engine sprung to life.

Randall could smell the ozone crackling around them. The static charges generated from the steam engine began to pulsate up and down the copper rods. High above them the charge arced between the brass knobs.

Randall moved to the center of the room and pulled down on a dangling length of rope. A small apparatus with a brass and glass eye piece slid as he pulled. He put one eye to it and peered through. He could now see the twisters approaching from the south, which was odd since most weather patterns always came in from the west. Randall pulled away from the eye piece and looked at his wife.

“Go to the engine,” he said. “When I tell you to, squeeze that spring activated handle above the engine.”

“What will it do?” Jenny asked.

“If it works as Dr. Wanderer theorized, it should release a bolt of energy that should disrupt the cyclones.”

Jenny smiled. “There’s a lot of should and not a lot of would.”

Randall smiled back. “We’ll get through this, Jen.”

“I know.”

A long, howling gust of wind rattled the roof beams. Randall cupped his hands around the eye piece. As he walked around in a circle inside the house, a larger lens above the house spun in a similar direction. He counted two from the south, one from the east. The largest came at them from the northwest. It was, without a doubt, Anvil Smith.

Randall Buchanan calculated the probabilities in his head. He knew there wouldn’t be enough of a charge in the dynamos above the house to knock out Anvil’s cyclone. It would be difficult to knock out the two coming at them from the south. They could, theoretically, take out
one cyclone rider and damage the second, but they would still be attacked from three sides. The best bet would be to take out the one from the east. It still wouldn’t stop the attack but it would be enough to send a message to Anvil Smith and the Weather Walkers that there would be a fight on their hands.

Randall Buchanan turned to the east. He took one hand away from the eye piece and held it up in the air. “Get ready, Jenny,” he said. “When I drop my hand, squeeze the grip and pull back on the lever.” He kept one eye on the scene outside and the other one tightly closed. He counted in his head as he listened to the charge build and crackle above him. As the smaller twister drew within a hundred feet, he dropped his hand and yelled, “Now!”

He heard the click of the handle as Jenny squeezed it, then heard the pressure valve release as she pulled it back. Above him a great burst of static electricity rippled through the dusty, sand filled sky. It looked like a great snake streaking at the tornado spinning across the prairie. When the bolt of electricity hit the twister, it exploded it into a great ball of dust. An egg shaped capsule big enough to hold one man tumbled out of the sky and bounced across the plains. The large circular fans on either side of the egg broke off sending the spinning blades off in opposite directions. To Randall they looked like toppled windmills rolling through the dust.

Randall turned to his wife. He wanted to tell her how successful they had just been. He looked into her tear filled eyes. There was just enough time for him to cross the room to her and take her in his arms before the remaining cyclones converged on the house.

When the dust settled, both Randall and Jenny Buchanan were gone.

And they would remain that way for a very long time.

Preview: Stumptoad

Stumptoad was an idea I carried for quite a while. It started off as a picture book but the story became so engaging I expanded it. Later, during the edits, it looked like it would be a picture again. Eventually my editor and a friend of hers in the middle reader chapter book world helped me to finalize the story. Below is an excerpt.











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CHAPTER ONE

Stumptoad at Home


Stumptoad loved the stone house he built and spent sunny days inside it for the sun bothered his eyes and irritated his mottled skin. When he did go out on bright, sunny days, he pulled on a large, floppy hat with a wide brim to protect his eyes. He wore a long, brown coat he crafted from a bolt of lightweight fabric he felt like he had always owned, a magical material that never seemed to run out no matter how much he used. When it rained, he danced outdoors and splashed his long, wide, web-toed feet in the puddles around his yard.
He would sometimes hear the happy calls of villagers across the Rolling Meadows on the opposite side of the Crusted Swamp from where his stone house sat. He would peer out from behind his thick drapes to see families tossing feather rings above the billowy grass or flying paper diamonds against the blue sky so high in the air they appeared like glittering shadows.
Stumptoad’s smile would curl up at the ends of his thin white lips just before it drooped into a sad smile beneath each flat, pressed back ear.
Travelers often approached his home to ask for directions only to run away in fear when he opened his creaking door, perhaps confusing him with some of the other inhabitants that lived beyond the beyond where Stumptoad lived. Stumptoad knew of their existence, but like the villagers who avoided him, Stumptoad avoided those beasts that stomped or slithered or paddled or hovered. He was caught between two worlds, shunned by one and frightened by the other.
When he was younger, it upset Stumptoad when the villagers or travelers ran away, but as he grew older, he toyed with the lost passers-by and laughed when he scared them off.
But the truth was, Stumptoad was lonely. He was not a part of the villagers. Nor were the villagers a part of him. Stumptoad was the end of a time that had begun long ago. Sometimes he had dreams of others from that time but as far as he knew, he was the only one of his kind still in existence, which added to his loneliness.
On a drizzly autumn afternoon, Stumptoad stood on the muddy edge of a leech pond raking out the juiciest leeches for his dinner when, quite by accident, a visitor on horseback stopped behind him.
“Excuse me?”
Stumptoad ignored the call of the woman thinking she was a lost traveler speaking to a passing villager. He was used to eavesdropping in these situations. Stumptoad raked up two very long and thick leeches. He bent his curving back forward and picked up each leech, depositing each one after the other into a soggy leather pouch hanging off his belt.
“Excuse me, is there someone there?”
Stumptoad hesitated with his leech rake in his hand. He slowly turned his head, as he was accustomed to doing when he worked outside, making certain to not surprise a stranger with a quick snap. There was no fun in it for Stumptoad if the passerby hurried away before Stumptoad could set the trap and surprise the unsuspecting journeyer.
Stumptoad made a gasping croak. His large dark watery eyes grew larger.
Sitting high on a horse was a beautiful, blindfolded young maiden.
“Curse this horse. Every time it stops I think it’s found the prince.”
Stumptoad’s mouth rippled along the long, thin white lines that were his lips. He tried to find his voice but all that came out were light puffs of leech breath. He puckered and whispered, “Prince?”
The maiden’s nose wrinkled. “Hello?”
Stumptoad held the comb end of the leech rake up near his face and peered at the maiden through the slits, hiding as though the maiden could see him from behind her blindfold. “Hello,” he croaked, making his voice softer than usual.
The maiden on the horse relaxed and smiled. “I think my horse may have lost its way and wandered into the Crusted Swamp. It’s hard for me to tell where I am, actually, as I have to ride with this blindfold over my eyes. I am searching for the village of Hickling where I am to meet the prince I am to marry, although I am not to lay eyes upon him until the day of our wedding, hence the blindfold I must wear. Have you heard of Prince Tilbert of Hickling?”
Stumptoad’s mouth parted and closed and parted and closed until at last he said in his deep, echoing voice, “I am he.” Admittedly, Stumptoad was a bit perplexed. By now, most people who stumbled upon him had run away. He was a diminutive creature, not quite human, but also not exactly a beast. His mottled back was forever curved forward like that of a toad. It rolled forward whether he stood on a dirt path or he sat on a moss-covered rock. Yet his baldhead would be perfectly normal to anyone looking at him from behind.
When he turned, however, his large, watery, dark eyes would blink at whoever stared upon him. His huge nostrils would flare outward on each exhale or pinch inward on each inhale around the hump of a snout. The skin beneath his jaw sagged. His lips were thin white lines nearly stretching from flat, pressed back ear to flat, pressed back ear.
Long, spindly fingers grew out from his palms.
Wide flat swim flippers feet jutted out beneath his bent legs.
A sticky stretched tongue occasionally zipped out to snatch hovering no-seeums or lap up leeches.
Yet this visitor, this beautiful stranger, remained upon her horse, smiling at him, Stumptoad, thinking he was Prince Tilbert of Hickling.
“Well, it’s me, silly Tilly,” she said. “Hilary, and I am to be your Princess.”