Sunday, August 30, 2009

Show Me Your Blurbs

Hey all, I thought it would be fun today to do one of two things:

A)Post the back cover blurb for the book you're reading
B)Post the back cover blurb for the book you're writing

Now, not everyone is a writer here, so this would be a great place to share the sort of books you DO love to read, and why. Those of us who are writers and haven't written a back cover blurb, reading those posted by others will help you craft your own—and when you share, we'll all get a gander at what you've got going on.

For Writers:

If you're just now writing your own back cover blurb (or summary paragraph for a query letter) there's a quick easy trick to help you get the ball rolling:

The 3 C's

Character, Conflict and Conclusion

A grieving Cinderella does her best to embrace her step-mother and sisters, but when she catches the eye of the prince and falls in love, she comes to understand the only family she'll ever have is with him.

Okay, not so hot—but it's great at boiling a story down to it's basic elements and themes, which really helps when working on that blurb.

So okay, let's see your Blurbs! ;)

I'll post one from the book I'm reading:

Others by James Herbert:

"Nicholas Dismas is a Private Investigator, but like no other that has gone before him. He carries a secret about himself to which not even he has the answer... He is hired to find a missing baby. One that was taken away at birth... Or was it? His investigation takes him to a mysteriously located place called Perfect Rest. It is supposed to be a nursing home for the elderly... But is it? Here Dismas will discover the dark secret of the Others. And in an astonishing and spectacular finale he will resolve the enigma of his own existence."


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Writing Workshop: Perfecting Your Pace part 3

I hope you enjoyed the exercise. We'll move on to discuss how to apply these concepts to your work in progress and delve a bit into the peaks of a story.

Perfecting Your Pace 3:

The purpose of using the emotional theme of anticipation in the exercise was deliberate. It is a perfect example of a typical valley. Had I suggested the theme of anger or love, this moment could take place at anytime. Through anticipation, we can study the basic aspects of infusing activity and pertinent thoughts into what might be a scene that slowed the pace instead of sweeping toward the next peak.

The key factor in any valley is creating a sense of danger, threat, or obstacle to the protagonist's ultimate goal. Should the valley simply be 'down time', it will encourage the reader to 'put down' the book. Pace is all about keeping the reader turning the page. Asking an imaginary reader what she would like to see next can be enormously helpful in deciding what should come between the peaks.

I've not spoken much about peaks, as I feel we instinctively write those much easier than the valleys. Also, without the strong depth of the valley, the peaks don't seem quite as high. Once these are in place, you'll begin to feel the impact of the peaks more.

I mentioned before that a peak is more about the external conflict or plot, and less about the inner journey. This doesn't mean that there is no impact on the inner journey. When analyzing peaks of famous works, however, the inner journey is less important as compared to the external plot in almost every case (aside from the final, climatic moment.)

For instance:

Scarlet O'Hara delivers a baby while Atlanta burns. Her inner journey is shown very well without hardly any mention throughout. It isn't until they escape from Atlanta that the inner journey takes center stage. It is during the valley of the escape, where she meets Rhett Butler, that we see her emotional and internal response to the peak. Does this mean delivering the baby was not emotionally intense? Not at all. It merely means that in the heat of the peak, there is no room for Scarlet to stop and evaluate her thoughts and feelings.

Romeo and Juliet is an interesting example because the external and internal plot are both romance, however, if you look at the external subplot of the feuding families, you'll notice that each of the scenes related to this battle-while intensely emotional in the moment-have a much stronger impact on the emotional journeys of both characters during the valleys. The eventual demise of Tibalt is a crucial moment-yet it does not impact the romance until the deed is completed. In other words, Romeo does not stop to contemplate Juliet's feelings during sword play, he is in fact, wreaking vengeance for Mercutio's death.

When reaching the final, climatic moment, we see the internal and external journeys converging in an explosive, emotionally charged way. The moment when Cinderella places both slippers on her feet and the Prince becomes hers is a deeply emotional triumph over the wicked stepmother and stepsisters. The moment when Buttercup and Westley defeat Prince Humperdinck by challenging him "to the pain." And a cinematic reference, from "A Knight's Tale", when Will defeats Count Adhemar as his father (brought by Jocelyn) hears the crowd call his boy, "Sir William."

All the above are highly emotional peaks where there is little need to explain the full impact of the events on the inner journey, but which resonate deeply within the audience just the same. Because, as has been discussed, the valleys have all conveyed the nuances of humanity the characters have struggled to overcome or embrace.

Now, using the sensations and the knowledge you gained from doing this exercise, return to your work in progress and check the valleys for emotion and action. Strengthen anything you feel needs to be layered with the reaction or lesson of the preceding peak on the internal journey and when you're all done, evaluate the impact it has on the next peak. The task as a novelist is not easy-your job is to make the reader fear the characters will never reach that moment through the suspense created by the pacing tricks we've discussed.

I hope you've enjoyed the workshop and our time together. I open this up for further discussion and will answer any questions you may have!

Have a wonderful day!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Writing Workshop: Perfecting Your Pace Part2/Exercise

Perfecting Your Pace 2: Exercise

Most of our discussion so far has been about the peak and the descent. Today we'll discuss how to create a page-turning valley. As a mentor for aspiring authors, I've found the single hardest aspect of the craft is making those down times not just relevant, but also exciting. A simple trick any author can use is to assign the valley an emotional theme. Whichever character the scene is written in, hero, heroine, or villain, the emotion you choose should be strong and relevant to that character's journey.

Possible combinations:

For early in the work:
Hero: His inner journey may be to learn patience: show him impatient. Emotion:
Heroine: Her inner journey may be to better handle stress: show her stressed.
Emotion: Anxiety
Villain: His inner journey may be to embrace his darker side: show him resisting. Emotion: Regret

For later in the work:
Same Hero: Show his patience sorely tested. Emotion: Fortitude
Same Heroine: Show her stress levels rising to the breaking point. Emotion:
Appropriate anger
Same Villain: Show him relenting to his darker side: Malice

Once you've decided (and this may be instinctual) which strong emotion needs to be most prevalent in the scene, begin crafting or rewriting to bring that emotion to the fore. Readers are most interested how the processing of information affects the character at any given moment. As in yesterday's
example, a reader will be eager to discover how the heroine responds to winning the divorce, as much as they wanted to know if she won in court or not.


Using the assigned emotional theme and as many of the following items as you can, create an active Valley scene where your character is constantly moving, thinking or speaking if you choose to use more than one character. You can write anything you want, as long as the protagonist is involved (physically) with all the items in the list and it follows the given theme.

Emotional Theme: Anticipation


Should you make a discovery during the process or have any questions, please feel free to share! Tomorrow we'll discuss the ascent and how to apply these concepts to your work in progress.

Enjoy your day!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Workshop: Perfecting Your Pace: Part 1

I've decided to pull up an old workshop I wrote about four years ago. I hope you find this helpful!

Perfecting Your Pace Part 1

by J.R Turner

Pacing isn't just about slowing down in certain spots and speeding up in others. It's not just about the length of sentences and paragraphs. Pacing isn't just about giving the reader a chance to breathe or getting them to turn the pages faster. The idea behind great pacing is to keep the reader turning ALL the pages ALL the way through the book.

We've all heard talk about peaks and valleys. Peaks: the climatic moments, turning points, black/darkest moment, and grand finale. Valleys: the descent from a climax, a breather, and the ascent toward the next peak. This is a legitimate way to explain pacing, but it's a visual model that doesn't show the importance of each aspect.

A deeply moving scene is not always a valley, but every valley should be deeply moving for the reader. A valley isn't the characters sitting down to eat because you suddenly realized they must be starving. A valley isn't the characters brushing their teeth because you realized they have to kiss someone. And a
valley isn't a scene where the protagonist is shopping for food, clothing, or an essential item because you realized they needed this item. These are segues, or transitions.

A valley is a dinner where the characters explore their own depths to learn the truth about themselves and about what the plot has made them see. A valley is a character brushing their teeth AND thinking about the person they want to kiss and how that person has changed them. A valley is a scene where the shopping is used as a tool for the character to avoid, confront, or debate the current obstacles in their path.

In other words, it has real meaning and moves the plot forward.

Peaks, of course, are all the scenes, both physical and emotional, where your character is forced to confront an obstacle. Whether the physical is overt or not, these moments generally show much more activity. Emotionally, the characters feel extremes-it is not always a deep feeling-but an 'in the moment'
feeling. Many times, after a peak, there is need for a valley scene where the feelings can be analyzed and used to decide the next course of action

There is only one time that the peak of a story must carry emotional depth, and that is at the climax. Until then, the peaks have intense, emotional impact at the moment, but the depth isn't realized until the valley. At the climatic peak, both occur in the same moment.

How to implement these peaks and valleys is another matter all together. This is where the peaks and valley's visual is really elegant. The rise of suspense toward the confrontation, the fall out after the confrontation, are easily seen in this visual. The only difference between fiction and true life is the characters should never, ever be allowed to rest.

As you build suspense (both physical and emotional) you must keep the pressure on. If you find you're writing something and you're bored with it, then the reader will be too. If you find that you're writing in a description or dialogue that doesn't confront the obstacle, then it might be better paraphrased or
deleted entirely.

This is where transitions come in handy. Transitions are those moments when the character finally reaches the top of the peak (having overcome the obstacle) and stands there for a moment, breathing in the fresh air and preparing to descend. Or conversely, where they've come to the point of taking action and begin to climb.

The descent is trickier to handle than the climb, simply because it's not so important how the character comes down, as how they'll handle going back up again for the next obstacle. A descent can trick an author into slower prose, into getting to that valley too quickly, or skipping the descent entirely. While
this may not be a bad thing at times, it is most often when the hook for the next peak gets overlooked-and when we inadvertently offer the reader a chance to close the book and return to their regular lives.

The trick with descents is to decide how fast or slow they need to be.


1) Pam won in court and will get the house, the car, and alimony from her ex-husband. (This is her peak)

2) She watches the courtroom empty and considers how she feels (This is the transition)

3) On the way home, she pulls the car over, hyperventilating. She can't believe she's free.

4) When she gets home, she discovers he's already called to threaten her.

5) She accepts the next phone call and reminds him of the restraining order.(This is the end of the transition and takes us into the valley.)

6) She decides to take measures to protect herself (This is the valley-preparing for the next obstacle.)

Through those six passages, you can see how logic and plot play a major role in deciding how fast or slow the descent should be. Sentences #3, #4 and #5 are how fast the descent works for this plot. Notice there are tangible, plot related events on the way down. Sentence #6, shows what happens in the valley as a direct result of the peak. Each plot will have it's own pace.

The single most important aspect of pacing, however, is writing for the reader. Instincts alone can't dictate to us what our readers will want to see next, though it is very important. It's equally important that we read the books our target audience reads now. This greatly improves are ability to understand what our instincts are actually saying to us.

Eating, sleeping, dressing, traveling (for the most part) are not elements that keep the reader wanting to see what happens next. They don't flip eagerly through to see what the character will wear to clean her house or go jogging. They're not real interested if she decides to have pancakes or cereal for breakfast. These are story adjectives, and like in sentence structure, if you use too many adjectives and not enough verbs or nouns, the sentence becomes shallow, flowery, and only a good example of purple prose.

Review your work for any descents that don't directly relate to the plot of the novel. Ask your characters what events, directly reflective of their personalities, they take next. If you find there is need for a change, it may not be necessary to scrap what actually occurs, but to add to it-to make it relevant and layer in hooks for the following valley and peak.

In the next part, we'll discuss how to hook the descent, valley, and ascent for the peaks of your story, as well as an exercise to offer some hands on experience in perfecting your pace. If you have questions, please feel free to ask. Enjoy your day!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Musings: Tolerance and What it Means to You

I went back through the archives of a group I once belonged to and found a little something I wrote I thought might be interesting to explore:

What is the Purpose of Tolerance?

To allow the coexistence of other living things in a non-hostile environment in such a way as is beneficial to other living things in said environment.

In other words:

It's not merely a begrudging acquiescence (a passive hostility) of that 'others' existence, but rather an interested and sincere acceptance of the other, including their differences; a recognition of that other's well-being as vital to the growth and the harmony of the environment.

What is NOT the purpose of tolerance:

To allow non-beneficial or hostile entities to create disharmony or negatively influence an environment from a non-reciprocated level of acceptance in which the negative entity seeks to spread INtolerance of those existing in the environment.

In other words:

Tolerating genocide, hate speech and the like are not the acts of a tolerant person, but to paraphrase a quote I recently read, they are an act of cowardice.

That's how I see it in my view ;) What's yours?


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Saturday Serial#8 No Mercy At Crystal Castle

Episode #8: No Mercy At Crystal Castle

When last we saw Julie, she had arrived at Crystal Castle and discovered that the woman pretending to be her grandmother was no other than Merciless, the evil woman intent on stealing the throne...

Digel barked furiously. Nona's beautiful face shred and split, revealing that of a bat. Mercy's cackling filled darkened the gleam of the sparkling throne.

"You can't be crowned!" I shouted. "Only my grandma can!"

Mercy pointed one evil claw at me. "Seize her!"

I ran toward the stairs. Tears fell and turned to crystal and clattered to the castle floor. Digel cried out and I turned back. I needed to escape, but I wouldn't leave him.

Three crystal guards joined the other two. Digel wriggled under a massive clear boot.

"Let him go!"

Mercy laughed. "Come to me, girl, or his bones will be crushed."

Fists clenched, I took three steps. "What have you done with my grandma?"

Fine robes dragged behind her as she stepped around the altar. "I always planned to reunite all of you. Once the crown is mine, I'll erase your bloodline forever."

Two large doors opened slowly. Children, dressed in the jungle garments from Inti's village, cold and shivering, filed out in four lines. The last of the sun revealed knotty ropes they pulled over their thin shoulders. Attached to the end of those ropes, a huge iron cage on crystal wheels rolled from the shadows.

Nona lay curled in the center, curly hair draped across her face.

"Grandma!" I yelled. When I tried to go to her, two crystal guards grasped my arms. Through the warm coat, the iciness of their grip chilled me.

She rose, pushing her hair aside. "Julie?"

"I'm so sorry, Grandma. I wanted to help." I wished I could have been smart enough to save her.

"Listen to me, darling." She rose to her knees as the children halted. Her slim white fingers went round the iron bars. "You did everything right."

"Quiet!" Mercy shouted. "I gave no one permission to speak."

The bat-faced hag snapped her fingers and a guard brought her a velvet box. "It's time to begin the ceremony. The sun is gone."

From the box, Mercy lifted a silver dagger, the handle covered in rubies. A new guard lifted the crown gently on its velvet pillow. He stood to one side of the throne and returned to his statue self.

"Bring her to me," Mercy ordered those holding me.

I kicked and fought, but they didn't feel pain. I did though, and they held me so tight, I swore bones shifted. They forced me onto the altar and one held me at the shoulders, the other gripped my ankles.

I glared. "You won't get away with this. I know you won't. Inti won't let you."

"Such courage and bravery!" She mocked, laughing. "Child, you are no match for even the Monboys, or the Wiramen. Do you think you stand a chance against me?"

She lifted the dagger high and began muttering. Above her, the sky turned brilliant purple with night stars. A full moon sped overhead so fast, it freaked me out.

I worked my hand inside my messenger bag, praying to find a letter with a rhyme to end this, or at least allow me to get away and free Digel, who whined now and again, and Grandma who I couldn't see from my angle. I closed my eyes, terrified of the glowing dagger above my head.

"She belongs to me, Mercy." A woman called from the back of the room. A very familiar woman.

"Mom?" I croaked and tried to see past the guard.

Mercy grinned. "You're too late."

Mom said, "Crystal Castle Glass Guard protect…"

"NO!" Mercy shouted.

My fingers found the dagger in my bag and I gripped it tightly in my hands.

Grandma leant her voice to Mom's and together they finished, "Royal relations with love and respect!"

The guards released me. Mercy brought the dagger down in a desperate move to cut out my heart before I could get away. At the same moment I buried mine deep in her stomach. She staggered back with a strangled cry as I rolled off the altar.


She raced to me, dressed beautifully, her long blond hair curled and swaying around us as we hugged. Digel rubbed against my legs. Mercy fell, her clawed fingers grasping the knife in her belly. The children cheered.

"I'm so glad you're okay," Mom said, kissing the top of my head and holding me out so she could look me over. "You are okay, aren't you?"

I nodded.

"You brought the letters?"

I nodded again.

"Good," Grandma said from the cage. "Read the red one, sweetheart. Send Mercy back."

I didn't take time with the knotted ribbon and the paper crumpled as I yanked it off and turned to where Mercy had fallen. She wasn't there. I gasped. A huge weight landed on me and we slid across the floor.

Mom yelled, "No!"

The clatter of crystal boots was nearly drowned by Mercy's shriek as she clawed at my head. Before I could do much more than protect myself, she howled in outraged pain.

Inti stood, surrounded by his warriors and the guards, a crystal spear in his strong arms, and Mercy on the other end, skewered through her back.

"Now!" Grandma yelled. "Read it now!"

I stood quickly, trying to smooth the paper. The first line, blurred from getting wet, was unreadable and I scowled at the rest. I knew this poem! I remembered all the nights in Grandma's yard when she, Mom and I had recited this over and over again. They started it for me. I joined in and we sang the words in perfect harmony:

Down and down the witch shall go,
Round and round she will spin
Until only love and peace flow,
For evil and hatred can never win.

Her screams faded with every verse until only a few insects swirled where her body had been. Then they too flickered, sparked and went out. The children cheered again, hugging each other. Inti and his warriors embraced them.

Mom whispered something into the lock on the cage and it opened. She winked at me. "I've got a lot to teach you."

Two crystal guards held Grandma's hands and she stepped down to hug me She smelled like always, my grandma, my Nona.

"When you died, I though I'd never see you again," I sobbed.

"I know," Grandma whispered, catching a few of my tears. "I'm here. Stop crying now. I think you've enough diamonds here to pay for college."

Mom chuckled and held out three in the palm of her hand. "She's not the only one who missed you."

We stood together and I asked, "Why didn't you tell me about Grandma?"

"Oh sweetheart," she sighed. "I wanted to protect you from Mercy and I wanted you to have a normal life for as long as you could. It's part of our training, to understand grief. You don't know how badly I wanted to tell you. I knew how much pain you felt. I went through the same thing when my father died."

"Is Grandpa here?"

Grandma said sadly, "No honey, only we women continue on here. Our husbands are mortals. "

This was a lot to consider but a huge moonbeam lit the castle and we were surrounded by rainbows. Awe filled everyone's expression.

Mom said softly, "Time to finish the ceremony."

My smile fell. "Do you really have to cut my heart out?"

Grandma chuckled, "Of course not, silly. You love me. You could never have loved Merciless, therefore, she had to steal your heart."

"Come along, Julie." Mom held her hand out.

Grandma sat on the throne and Mom picked up the crown. She handed it to me and when my fingers touched the golden metal, the jewels pulsed with my heart. I glanced at Mom in surprise.

"The youngest must crown the next in line. Only your heart can decide whether or not Nona has learned and earned her rightful place as Queen."

Grandma smiled and bowed to let me place the crown on her head. When I did, the missing heart in the center pulled in the moonbeam rainbows and filled the gap. The colors hardened and became a ruby of the deepest red.

She straightened and grinned as all of use cheered.

Mom wrapped an arm around my shoulders. I said, "I want to stay here forever, Mom. I don't want to go back home."

Grandma said, "You have to return to train. Each year now, you'll take over mastering the directions and have a long and loving life with your family."

"It's our destiny," Mom said. "And you've already the strongest we've ever seen."

That made me wonder. "Where's Great-grandma, then?"

"When I passed," Grandma said, "My mother went on to the next dimension. Her time here prepared her to move on. And so it will be with your mother, and with you, and with your daughter."

Inti interrupted. "Thank you, all of you, for returning the children of my village to us. They have spoken of the Queen keeping them warm and safe."

Queen Nona said, "It was the least I could do for all your help, Inti. You are a fine warrior and I'll order your return swiftly to spare the children further hardship."

"Can we go with them, Mom?" I asked, eager to see those ladies hug their children again.

"No, I'm afraid your dad is likely terrified we've both disappeared for good. We need to go back, and quickly. Especially before he can sell the house."

"We're not selling grandmother's house?" I asked elated.

She shook her head. "No. Your father wanted to, but destiny strangely made it so we can live there forever."

I grinned. "Strangely."

She hugged me and I closed my eyes. A chill wind made me shiver and I felt the world slide sideways. Mom said, "Oh, I almost forgot to tell you."

When I opened my eyes, we were back at the graveyard beneath a full moon, standing beside Grandma's grave. Surprised, I regretted not giving Grandma one last hug and kiss goodbye, but I figured I'd see her soon anyway. Right now I wanted to know what Mom forgot to tell me. "What?"

"You're going to have a new baby sister."

While I smiled, something deep inside me turned icy. In the back of my mind, I heard Mercy's evil cackle.

The End

Thank you for reading Letter's to the Fifth Direction!

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Saturday Serial#7: To Grandma's Castle We Go

Episode #7: To Grandma's Castle We Go
by Bella Vida and J.R. Turner

When last we saw Julie, Inti stood in the snow, surrounded by snarling wolves...

Inti's men commanded their horses into defensive positions. The wolves bared massive canine teeth, yellow eyes glowing as they snarled and growled. Heads slung low, the six slunk toward Inti. The warriors raised their weapons and I gripped my spear.

A loud howl broke the silence, followed by another and another. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled and I did my best not to scream, to be brave and not show fear as I turned and looked back. A dozen more wolves stood in the snow behind us. These weren't the beautiful beasts at the zoo back home, but fearsome creatures with snapping jaws.

Two warriors blocked the wolves from the front, giving Inti time to jump on his horse. Digel barked madly at first, then leapt onto my horse, startling the big animal. I crouched low over him, wrapping my free arm around his warm tummy.

A wolf leapt and bit a meaty chunk out of the nearest warrior's leg. I threw my spear and it pierced the wolf's side, but the scent of blood brought its brothers on us. They attacked horses and warrior alike.

Inti yelled, "Move!" and slapped the back of my horse.

I held tight to Digel and the reins, flanked by a man and a woman warrior, as my horse raced far into the forest, into the darkness.

We rode for hours until the sun sank just below the tops of the trees. Exhausted and thirsty, to my relief, the guards halted us when we came on a small stream. We let the horses drink while Digel and I shared apples and bread from my messenger bag.

"How far away is Crystal Castle?" I asked.

He didn't understand but from his hand gestures I guessed we were supposed to wait for the others to join us. Side by side, Digel and I drank from the shallow stream. I hoped Inti and the others were okay and kept glancing back to where we had come out of the forest, hoping for sign of them.

Digel brought me a stick and I smiled. "Want to play?"

He yipped and wagged his tail. Always trying to cheer me up, I thought and threw the stick. He brought it right back and we did this until a cry from the air startled me. After the Wiramen, I'm not a huge fan of birds.

The lady warrior whistled to a hawk, who called back. The exchange went on for another few seconds and I watched amazed. Then both warriors gestured for me to get back on my horse. I wanted to protest, to say we had to wait for Inti, but from their worried faces, I decided not to try. One of these days I would teach them my language or learn theirs, this lack of communication sucked.

At the end of the forest, glowing green hills lead into a valley and beyond that, the towers and spires of a castle rose to the clouds.

"It's Crystal Castle!" I yelled with excitement and pointed.

Their eyes widened with horror.

My shout gave us away. I covered my mouth, "Oh no."

A shriek carried from the forest on a gust of wind.

"What was that?" I whispered.

The horses nickered and whinnied, uneasily clomping in the shallow water. From the blackness between the trees, a shadow moved. A mad scream hurt my ears as a wailing face flew at me. I ducked so low, I slid off my horse. The shadow looped back, screaming horridly and I ran, icy water soaking my boots. Ahead more shadows lurked in the trees, their faces pale and filled with soulless agony.

The male warrior halted my headlong dash. Digel went by, barking at the shadow until it returned to the forest. He growled low and though they moved from trunk to trunk, they didn't come back out again.

The lady warrior whistled again and a white owl flew out of the pines. She secured a note to its leg and set the big bird off again. I watched it go, shocked to see the beautiful white feathers turn into the leathery large wings of a bat as it headed for Crystal Castle.

"We are almost there," Inti said behind me.

"Inti!" I spun and returned his happy smile. We were reunited again, his men behind him. "The castle is just down this path. Are you ready?"

"Yes," I said happily and mounted my horse. Together we all rode, Digel trotting eagerly beside us. Just as the sun began to set, we reached the dazzling Crystal Castle lit by thousands of golden rays.

Ecstatic, I hurried off my horse and burst through the outer wooden doors. "Grandma! Grandma! I'm here!"

The wide foyer had the shiniest floors I've ever seen. Two large doors stood on opposite sides of a wide staircase. I ran up the stairs as fast I could. The second floor lay open to the cold air, no walls, just large archways and columns. Across the black and white tiles, a golden jeweled throne sat high above an ornate altar where a sparkling crown rested on velvet.

"Grandma!" I shouted with delight.

She stood, young and beautiful, wearing wonderful robes. At the altar, she said, "Darling, you made it. Just in time. The ceremony begins tonight. The stars and planets are aligned. Julie, you came through for me."

I raced to her, Digel barking loudly behind me. My grandma, alive and here! My heart burst with joy.

From the columns, two crystal soldiers broke away, and stopped me from reaching her by crossing their pikes to bar my path.

"Grandma? What's…what is this?"

She gestured to the crown and I peered past the crystal soldiers. All the jewels in the crown glittered atop its pink velvet pillow, except for one. The largest one, at the center of the uppermost point was missing. I remembered the Shaman and what he said about how the ceremony couldn't begin without the stone.

"You see, darling," Grandma smiled. "The crown must be complete before we can begin. We need the ruby heart."

She gave me such a look, my pulse pounded. "But Grandma, I didn't know I was supposed to bring it to you."

"You have brought it to me. You had it all along." She laughed, but it wasn't my Nona's laugh at all. A horrible and strange cackle I recognized from the awful face made of herbs back at Inti's village. "All we have to do is slice open your chest and cut out your heart."

"No!" I yelled.

Digel barked furiously as Mercy, the jealous hag who wanted to destroy my beautiful Nona and now me, shed the skin of my grandma and revealed her true self.

Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of Letters to the 5th Direction!