Monday, December 4, 2017

Color It Christmas

The joy of the Christmas celebration is a theme that rings every where we go in songs, decorations, gifts, food, and stories. It's a time when making a child happy is foremost in our efforts to share an understanding of the importance of the season.
  The idea for this collection of holiday books was conceived over a cup of coffee. The author/illustrator and I were talking about how very young children view all the hustle-and-bustle that revolves around them. How they learn to read. How we introduce them to the basic building blocks of our written language. I'm sure I first encountered the alphabet with a set of wooden squares that had raised letters on the sides.
   Twenty-six letters, with a bit of a squeeze, fit into the American style Advent calendar. What better way to help a child or remind an adult of the joy and meaning of the season than to color in each day a letter and learn a word associated with the celebration? If we sneak in lessons that lead to reading readiness so much the better for an extra benefit.
   Barbara Appleby, author and illustrator, used today's technology to create three versions of a Christmas book to suit individual tastes, Alphabet Christmas. They are available from Click on the first title for link to all book styles.

Alphabet Christmas: A B C Coloring Book. "A" is for the perfect Advent calendar to give as a gift to a child or adult. Twenty-six letters of the alphabet - color a page every day to end with "z" to blow the debris away. We sent a copy to a shut-in friend and she loves it.
Alphabet Christmas: ABC's (Paperback picture book). Each year a special title appeals to all ages. Enjoy and treasure a picture book of holiday words, some old and some new to keep and share for seasons to come. A perfect gift for both children or someone you love who is spending Christmas in a nursing home.
Alphabet Christmas: A B C Kindle edition (Picture Book). This edition is designed as a text pop-up book, so both the letter and the word become important. I'm not sure at what age children acquire these electronic marvels, but I'm sure I saw toy models in the stores.
   Are you on the fly? Grab a lunch, rest, relax, and enjoy a moment's peace right on your phone or device at a touch of a button as your present to you.

   We met Barbara Appleby at our first book signing some years back. She peppered us with questions about writing and the different aspects of independent publishing. We talked for over an hour, while we traded thoughts and ideas.
   I soon learned she had talents and skills that I do no possess. I can imagine an illustration, but I do not have the talent to create it. For some time I've sent her a vague idea and asked if she can develop it, hence the pen drawings that appear with our articles are the product of her creative imagination. I sometimes forget to give her credit for the work.
   Visit with Barbara on Twitter: @PenDrawings or Facebook: barbara.appleby.37.

Nash Black, author of Forged Blade

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Frost Flowers of Late Fall

 There is a briskness in the air that foretells of colder days to come. The wind cuts through our clothes like sharp knives. Nights are becoming longer as the days get shorter when winter winds its way to our homes.
   Driving down the highway we've noticed daylillies are re-blooming and not just those that have been genetically engineered to do so, but wild ones that give an unexpected spot of color to the roadside. Why, I'm not sure. Others have attributed it to this year's frequent rains with a long span of days before we have a hard freeze.
   A friend asked me the other day if we left home during the winter. The answer is no, we tough it out and enjoy the privilege of complaining about the weather.
   I love the changing seasons, even droopy late fall when you're rushing to pack away the porch and deck furniture. Empty the clay pots of summer, blooms, hill in plants for the winter, and turn pots upside down so water won't collect, freeze, and break them.
   Even a sudden deep freeze has an unexpected rare benefit.
Have you ever seen "frost flowers?"
   Some years ago Radine Trees, Arkansas mystery writer, posted some photos of them she had taken near her home in the Ozarks.
  We've seen them once, but didn't know what they were at the

time. It was very early morning in late November. The sun was rising after a night of a hard freeze. The sides of the road and fields were glittering with ribbons of ice spilling around plant stalks, even from the wooden fence posts.
   What happens is after a season of rain the grasses, plant stems, stalks, fence posts, and wooden deck railings are saturated with moisture. Then the vegetation is hit by a sudden deep freeze. The moisture within the plant freezes.
   Water expands in volume as it freezes to ice. The ice is too large to be contained in the veins of the plants. It is forced out through cracks and fissures in thin ribbons much like the hard holiday candy in hundreds of shapes and sizes creating a wonderland of beauty that lasts for an hour or so before the sun melts them.
   Go to Google Images and type in 'frost flowers.' You will see a large collection of photographs. I've included two from that source with this article for illustration. Many of the Google Images are from Africa, so maybe the perfect conditions are more frequent there than they are here on the Cumberland Plateau.
   For now our cameras are in the backseat ready to hand if we should be lucky enough to pass another display when we go into town for breakfast.
Nash Black, author of Forged Blade.   

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Scardy Cat

I love to visit Aunt Edna. She is my grandmother's sister.
   I've heard Mother's friends whisper, "Poor Edna, she didn't have the looks to catch a man." I was under the table playing with my cars. I don't care, she is one cool pal.
   She didn't scream when I brought Toad in the house and he got loose. She helped me find him before Grand, her orange marmalade cat, made a meal of him. Aunt Edna bought a special house for Toad at the pottery. We put him in her garden so Toad could eat the bad bugs.
   Nights she lets me stay up late and watch scary movies on TV. She laughs at the freaky parts while telling me it's make believe.
   Aunt Edna knows about make believe stories. She makes up stories to put in books.
   Her house is old with thick walls made of stone. There is a window of colored glass by the stairs where the sun shines through in different colors. It's fun to move my hand and make it green like a snake, blue like a specter in a fog, yellow like a slimy serpent, or red like blood on a pirate's blade.
   A padded bench sits under the window where I stretch out and look at a picture book with Grand curled beside me.
   I'm not afraid when I see the ghost. Who can be scared by a ghost that sits on the top step sobbing like a sniveling sissy?
   I know it's a ghost because I can see through his grey self to the banister.
   Grand isn't having any part of the silly thing. He swells up like a balloon having a hissy-fit. I'm not sure what a hissy-fit is, but that is what Aunt Edna said the woman across the road was having one when she found my garter snake in her mailbox.
   She was hollering and jumping up and down while Aunt Edna got it out. Now she opens her mailbox with a broom handle.
   I try petting Grand to calm him down. He shoots across the landing, through the ghost and down the stairs without touching the steps.
   The ghost turns his head. Gives a hiccup without covering his mouth and squeaks, "That tickled."
   "Why are you blubbering? It's enough to wake the dead."
   Mother yells that when I slam the backdoor. Sounds good on my tongue, 'wake the dead.'
   "Don't want to be dead. Don't like being a ghost. No one will play with me."
   "But a ghost can't be seen or get in trouble. They don't have to take time-outs. You scare people."
   "How can a ghost scare people?"
   "Sneak up behind them and yell boo."
   "Boo. What does that do?"
   "Boo is ghost talk. Say it, Boo!"
   "Boo. Did that scare you?"
   "No, that lily-hammered little boo wouldn't scare an old shoe."
   "Why scare a shoe?"
   I'm about to explain I made it up when a horrendous crack of thunder tattles the window.
   Dumb ghost jumps up. Puts his hand over his ears. Races down the hall plunging through my door.
   As I open it the silly fool dives under my bed. All I can see are his bare feet sticking out like Grand's tail does when he hides under the sofa.
   I'm not supposed to call a ghost a fool, but that's how he's acting. Besides, I heard my dad say it about a neighbor so it can't be bad. Not like other words I can't say.
   I like big people words, like 'horrendous,' which means great big. It makes my mouth pucker.
   Aunt Edna went to the store. I've got to get this ghost out from under my bed. If I tell her about him she'll think I'm telling a horrendous whopper.
  How do I get rid of a ghost? If I grab his feet to drag him my hands will ball up into fists cause he's a fog.
   I crawl in beside him. The idgit is howling like a dog with a thorn in his paw. The floor under the bed is dusty. I start sneezing.
   "Why are you hiding? It's a thunder storm."
   "I'm scared," knucklehead blubbers.
   "Of what? Storms can't hurt you."
   "Yes, they can. That's how I got killed. I was playing in a tree." A loud hiccup stops his story.
   My nose answers him with a sneeze.
  "Go on. You were playing in a tree and . . . ."
   "Lightening came down from the sky. Last I heard was a crack of thunder."
   "You can't stay under my bed. You must hide."
   "Don't know." I sneezed again. "I'll think of something."

   I scrunch out and run down to hall to get the vacuum cleaner. I drag it into my room. I know how to get rid of the scardy cat ghost who can't do anything, but hide and cry.
   I plug the cord in the wall. The motors roars. The ghost come flying out, Scuttles into a corner.
  I lift the quilt and stick the hose under the bed, running it up and down as I've seen Aunt Edna do. When I finish I step on the little button to shut it off.
   I turn to the ghost. He's sniffing. Wiping his nose on his sleeve.
   "What's that?"
   "It's a vacuum cleaner. I'm going to suck you up in the bag and throw you away."
   I walk toward him waving the tube like a magic wand. Don't want a ghost who is a scardy cat.
   "No. No."
   "Fly out the window. My aunt doesn't want ghosts who cry and can't say boo in her house."
   "I'm scared."
   "Can't be scared. You're a ghost."

   I stomp the button. He runs to the window and jumps. I put the vacuum cleaner back in the closet and slide down the banister.
   Aunt Edna is in the kitchen.
   "I heard the vacuum. What were you doing?"
   "Getting dust bunnies out from under my bed."

From our forth coming collection of ghost stories for all ages, Cauldron Tales. Nash Black


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Pumpkin People

Many years ago, there was a village where people farmed the land and hunted deer and quail. Their lives were happy and peaceful except for one thing. Once a year, at harvest, they found themselves at the mercy of a giant race of beings. These beings had eyes that glowed like jock-o'-lanterns and skin so orange that the villagers called them Pumpkin People.

   The Pumpkin People lived deep in the earth, but at harvest time they raided the village for furs and food. When they knock on the villagers' doors, they expected these things to be waiting. If they weren't, the Pumpkin People would leave and return again at midnight to punish those who refused to give them what they wanted.
   "Give us something you have planted," they warned, "or we'll take something of yours to plant!"
   One year, a drought struck the land, and the crops failed. The villagers were barely able to harvest enough food for their own families.  When the time came for the Pumpkin People to visit, the villagers had nothing left to offer. Knowing the consequences of leaving nothing, they put out what little they had.
   Only one man refused to share. Peter Vingle put out nothing. He had lost his wife when his daughter was born, and he treasured the child more than anything. She was perfect, except for a tiny birthmark - the outline of a star on her cheek. Peter thought that was beautiful, too, so he named the little girl Starlina. He was determined to have enough food to feed her through the winter.
   "Let the Pumpkin People grow their own food," he said.
   The people begged him not to anger the Pumpkin People, but he heeded no warnings. He looked at the food and furs the villagers had sacrificed and shook his head.
   "After tonight, they will know how foolish they've been," he told himself.
   The night they all dreaded came, and after dark, Peter heard the knocking. He did not answer. He fed Starlina her supper and tucked her in bed. Then he ate and went to bed himself. He heard the knocking again at midnight, but he did not get up. He buried his head between his pillows and slept on. He didn't hear his daughter's little feet patter softly to the door to answer the knock. It wasn't until morning came and he went to wake Starlina that he discovered she was gone.
   He frantically sounded the alarm, and all the villagers joined in the search. They shook their heads sadly, and Peter flew into a rage when they suggested that the Pumpkin People had taken her.
  "That's foolishness!" he yelled. "She has wandered off. We will find her!"
   When the day ended, however, there was still no sign of Starlina. They called off the search, and Peter Vingle walked home with his head bowed in grief.
  As he started to open the door, he noticed a single pumpkin seed on the ground. Anger boiled through him, and he stomped the seed into the earth.
   Winter came, and Peter Vingle's hair turned white to match the snow. He went into the village only when he had to. The villagers tried to engage him in conversation, but he barely replied in response.
   Finally, it was spring - the time of rebirth. Everything was blooming and growing. It was going to be a good year for crops.
   One day, Peter stepped outside and looked around. He noticed for the first time that a pumpkin vine was growing by the door. He looked closer and saw that it had one small pumpkin on it. He stared at in disbelief and fell to his knees. Eyes glowed from the pumpkin like jack-o'-lanterns, but he knew the features of the pumpkin face so well! The star outline was perfect on the cheek.
   The air grew cold, and a voice echoed from deep within the earth: "Give us something you have planted, or we will take something of yours to plant!"
   The pumpkin vine flew into the air and wrapped itself around Peter Vingle's neck. All went black as he fell across the glowing eyes of the pumpkin.

        From the book, The Walking Trees by Roberta Simpson Brown. Republished for Ono Almanac by Nash Black, with permission from August House Publishing. To enjoy more stories from the book click on the title.

Footnote: We've love Roberta Simpson Brown's multiple award winning stories. For many years she has visited schools, libraries and other arenas across Kentucky telling stories. Her fans are legion and she plays to packed houses that enjoy a chilling experience.
   The past winter Roberta contracted a virus that paralyzed her vocal cords and she lost her voice. A beloved story teller was silenced. At this writing, after months of treatment and rehabilitation she can speak to some extent, but has been forced to cancel her story telling sessions for the witching month.
   We are pleased to share with you a story from The Walking Trees and other Scary Stories, pub. 2006, when we were delighted to give it a well-deserved five star review on
   We wish to thank Mr. Steve Floyd, publisher at August House Publishing for his permission to allow us to bring you a seasonal story from Roberta.
   Barbara Appleby designed the illustration for the story.