Posted in General, recaps

A Project Announcement

I am super excited.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you might have noticed that I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I had a project I wanted to start showing off in July. Although that initial timeline ultimately didn’t go as planned, I’m finally at a point where I can tell you a little bit about it.

To start, you may remember The Spinning Wheel Trade which I released back in June. That tied in to my other short, Season of Preparing, both of which are set in the same universe as my novella, Crimson and Gold. All three of those are connected to my newest project.

Which, I have a cover image for.

I’m excited to share more about this in the next couple of weeks. Are you?

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Bloom

Jeremy sat with his knees drawn up to his chest, staring at his grandmother’s garden. He heard the screen door creak open and then a sigh from her. “What’s wrong, muffin?”

He shrugged. He didn’t want to say it, but he knew he couldn’t lie. Something always kept him from uttering even the tiniest lie.

His grandmother settled next to him. Her hair only had a few grays in it, the only sign that she was fifty-five. Otherwise, she looked almost young enough to have just been his mother.

For a moment, they were quiet before she inhaled. “You know, I never could get those daffodils to survive long enough to bloom.”

“They need dryer soil and more sunlight,” he said. He knew that from talking to them.

“Do you want to help me move them then?”

Maybe. It would give him something to do, something to keep his hands busy so he wasn’t brooding.

But he wasn’t sure he wanted to either and shrugged.

“Is this about your parents?”

Annoyance and anger sparked up. “They don’t want me,” he said.

“Jeremy, they—”

“They gave you papers saying that you could make any choice you wanted or needed to. They don’t even know what school I go to. They didn’t know I’d joined the debate club. Most of the time they just send me to go get dinner on my own when they have a date night or some stupid trip and I have more of my things here than I do at home. I didn’t even pack anything this time. They’ve been home less than a week and they already decided they had to go somewhere else. They don’t want me.”

His grandmother paused a moment and inhaled as she looked at the garden before she looked back at him.

“It’s a little harder to explain,” she said.

“I don’t need it explained,” he answered and poked at a knot in the wooden railing next to him. “I figured it out. Why do they even bother taking me home if they’re just going to turn around and drop me off again anyways?”

“Because they do love you,” his grandmother replied and Jeremy snorted. “That’s something you do need to understand. They do love you. They’re just…”

“They like the idea of having a kid but not the work.”

His grandmother sighed and looked down at her hands, where they were callused and scarred from years of work.

“You know, I had your mom when I was barely eighteen,” she said. “And I tried so hard to make sure she had every opportunity.”

“I know,” Jeremy said.

“But, for whatever reason, she had you when she was barely eighteen herself. Some kids aren’t ready to have children, and as much as I don’t want to admit it, your mom is one of those kids.”

“She’s not even here.” Jeremy put his head down. “And she hates the weird stuff I do.”

“That weird stuff is magic,” his grandmother said. “You and I both know that.”

“Yeah, but try telling either of them that. I get told I can’t have magic because that would make me a Caster and I’m not supposed to be a Caster.”

“People are supposed to be a lot of things.”

“Like supportive parents,” he muttered it to himself mostly, but his grandmother chuckled.

“Yes,” she agreed. “But they aren’t always what they’re supposed to be. And that means that even when they’re not expected to be something, sometimes they are.”

Logically, it checked out and Jeremy knew it.

And yet, it still burned him. He knew what the plants were in need of, could feel the power in streams and the occasional windstorm.

Rather than answer, he grunted and put his head down.

His grandmother chuckled. “I’ve got to get those daffodils moved,” she said. “Do you want to help?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“That’s fine. I have cookies cooling inside if you decide you don’t want to help, and I’ll be down in the garden if you do want to.”

He had to smile as she stood, going down the steps. “Thanks,” he said.

“Only for you,” she said and kissed his head. “Don’t eat too many cookies. I’m making chicken casserole tonight.”

 “Spicy chicken casserole?”

“I could be talked into it, but it does take a little bit of work and I really do want daffodils this year.”

He laughed and jogged down the steps. “They just need a little more sunlight,” he said. “I know the perfect spot for them.”


by A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this short, you can find more on my short stories page, or by checking out my published books. Thanks for reading!

Posted in books

Reasons for a DNF

If you’re not familiar with the term DNF it’s short for Did Not Finish. I’ve seen it a lot in the book community, and even some posts on specific books as to why they ended up being on the DNF list. After looking over my own DNF list, I realized there were a few key things that ended up causing me to put the book aside.

Too Many PoVs This one is very subjective, however for me, there’s a limit of how many characters are needed to tell the story. If you’re introducing a new point of view in almost every chapter, there’s too many views to follow along. I don’t need to know every character and their side of the story, I want to know why I should care about the main character.

A variation on that is also late introduction to PoV characters. I’ve had two separate stories where I got halfway or better into the story only to be blindsided by an entirely new PoV character.

Dumb Characters I really wanted to put it some other way besides ‘dumb’ because that feels harsh but that’s what it came down to. In both of my most recent DNF additions, the lack of basic thought on part of the main characters heavily contributed to the book being put aside.

This isn’t just a case of a character who isn’t academically smart or who simply doesn’t think very quickly. This has been a case of characters following questionably sound logic, or outright ignoring the very obvious signs that they are the Chosen One, their friend is a vampire or anything else that might be painfully obvious to the reader. It’s also a case of characters not asking the obvious and important questions–like how everyone knows they’re the Chosen One, or how everyone knows their friend is a vampire.

Lack of Plot This one is a really minor complaint. I’m personally much more drawn to character driven stories, but when the progress on solving the main conflict is largely characters rehashing what they know or going about their day-to-day lives doing their jobs while the side characters around them are off doing important plot-worthy things, it’s frustrating and it’s boring.

Inaccuracy Again, this is a very minor thing. Getting every detail about a place you’ve never been or a food you’ve never tasted is hard. Even getting every detail about an experience you’ve had can be hard. And the only reason this ended up on the list is because it ended up being the entire reason for a DNF within the first chapter.

Inaccuracy in facts does happen–but when it happens across almost every fact, it makes me feel like you haven’t done your job as a writer. And trust me, I know that’s a hard job (it’s one I pursue myself). It doesn’t take long to google how large an animals is, what kind of fish can be found in an area, that tigers can swim and which plants are actually poisonous.

These are all reasons for my personal DNF’s. They’re not a guarantee that every book out there with these things will be a DNF, it’s just some of the more common or stronger reasons for certain books to be put aside.

What are some of your reasons for a DNF?

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Potion

The café saw a steady stream of people throughout the day. Seeing one particular girl come up to the counter though, Oceania had to smile.

“Hey, Allison. Your mom know you’re drinking coffee?”

Allison shook her head. At twelve she’d started into that awkward and somewhat disproportionate stage of gangliness that might eventually give way to grace.

“I’m not looking for coffee. I kind of had a potion-related question for you.”

That was surprising. Her older brother worked on a magic protection team, as did her father. And Allison’s mother wasn’t exactly without her own magic. Potion-related questions coming from her directly were unusual.

“Alright,” Oceania said and leaned on the counter so she was level with Allison’s face. “What’s the question?”

“Is there a potion that could reveal magic?” Allison asked.

Oceania knew dangerous and stupid ideas when she saw them. There was a whole record and at least a couple of police officers that knew her and her bad ideas quite well.

“Depending on what exactly you need, maybe,” Oceania said. “What’s the situation?”

Allison considered it. “Uhm,” she said. “I…have a friend,” she said. “And she has magic. She thinks she does at least. She should. But, she’s not seeing it yet.”

Dangerous and stupid flashed all over that idea, but Oceania could see the possibilities.

Either she lied and told Allison there was no potion. Allison then had the chance to go looking for something else—a spell or a charm or who knew what else she might find. Alternately, Allison might accept it, and the disheartening realization that she would just have to wait until her magic decided to reveal itself.

Or, she told her the truth and had to fend off any attempts Allison made to get a hold of that potion.

A sigh escaped and she turned. “Carlyn!”

It took her older brother a moment to come out. “What’s up Alley-Cat?” he offered a high-five to Allison, who grinned as she accepted it.

“She’s got a question she needs answering. I’m taking a break.”

“Alright,” Carlyn said. His gaze narrowed slightly. “I’ll cover the front for you.”

“Thanks. Come on you. I know I got a yogurt in the back with your name on it.”

Allison followed into the tiny office they referred to laughably as their ‘break room’. It connected to the back patio, but Oceania stayed inside, pulling a yogurt from the fridge and putting it in front of Allison with a spoon.

“So, this friend of yours. Is she good at sports? Maybe kind of outgoing?”

A nod was Allison’s answered. “She’s on the same softball team I am.”

“I’ll bet she also wears number thirty-six too. I’d be surprised if her jersey doesn’t say Jacobs on it the same way yours does.”

Eyes widened and she ducked her head. “How’d you know?”

Oceania laughed as she sat down. “You aren’t the first kid in the world to wonder if they’ve got magic or why it’s taking so long to show up. And you’re most certainly not the first one to think there’s a spell or potion or something else magic to solve your problem. My main question is what set you to fussing about your magic.”

“If I have any,” Allison muttered and stuck the spoon in her yogurt with a scowl.

“Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Not what I’m looking for just yet. What happened?”

A hefty sigh escaped, pulling Allison’s shoulders even further down.

“One of my friends found out she had magic,” Allison said. “But—no one else in her family does. She just thought she was lucky up until Ricky Thames kept picking on her and she sort of accidentally cursed him.”

“She cursed him?”

“Not like a big one—and the teacher called out the protection team to fix it. She just made his zits spell out mean words.”

“And that got you to thinking?”

“She’s got to go to practices and do extra lessons for it now,” Allison said and pushed her yogurt away to lay her head on her table. “She’s months younger than I am and no one around her mas magic. I’m almost thirteen and everyone in my family has magic and I don’t.”

Therein lay the problem. Oceania already knew Allison was one of the tallest in her class. Not always easy, but understandable when your father was a werewolf.

Less understandable was how she couldn’t seem to work visions how her mother could, and never sported fang or fur in place of her hair and bright smile.

“Hate to break it to you, but there could be a lot of reasons why you don’t see your magic yet.”

“Like something wrong with me?” More of the core fear revealed itself and Oceania laughed.

“Honey, unless you’re out there hurting people for fun or to make yourself feel better, there’s nothing wrong with you,” Oceania said. “And that comes from a whole lot of experience in that department.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s called being a late bloomer,” Oceania said. “It just happens sometimes. Hell—er, heck.” Allison giggled at Oceania’s slip-up. “Heck,” she repeated. “Carlyn and my Dad didn’t even think the weird stuff I was doing was magic for the longest time. They kept brushing it off as ‘Oceania’s weird luck.’ It literally took me bringing a dead plant back to life right in front of them before they clued in. Sometimes magic is small.”

“How small?”

“Small in all the best ways. Maybe you’re just extra good at helping a friend feel better. Maybe you bake really well, or you never lose things. Magic ain’t always some big to-do.”

“Then how am I supposed to know if I have it or not?” Allison protested. “Isn’t there something you can do to at least show me that much?”

Oceania tipped her chin up a little. She did have a nice little magic revealing potion—mostly something she used to make sure money hadn’t been altered, and occasionally when she thought someone was poking around where they shouldn’t be.

“Before you dive off that end, do you really think that’s the best idea?”

“Of course it is! How could it be a bad idea?”

“I do believe your mother is a prophet.”

“Yeah,” Allison said.

“I’d be surprised if she hasn’t explained the limitations of what she can and can’t see.”

“Well, she can only see what might be. It’s hard to see things that will be because they’re flexible about when they happen,” Allison said. “And she can see what’s already happened.”

Oceania nodded. “That’s all stuff she can do. What about what she can’t?”

Allison was silent. “She can’t see her own fate,” she said finally.

“Why do you think that is?”

“I guess…I don’t know.”

“Because magic or not, somethings are better off not being messed with. Let’s say you could see your own fate. So you’d know in the next few minutes what would happen to you—good and bad. That includes stuff like getting hurt or losing something you value.”

“That doesn’t seem too bad,” Allison said.

“Not right away, but look at the bigger picture. Let’s say you know you’re supposed to argue with a friend on a particular day. So you just avoid them that day.”

“They’d understand once you explain, right?”

“Which means then everyone knows you can see the future in detail,” Oceania said. “And that means your friends get curious and they start asking you questions. Now, maybe you’re lucky and those questions have mostly good answers, but what happens when you see things like car accidents, or someone getting ill, getting hurt, all the bad stuff in life?”

“You could stop it.”

“Could you?”

“Well…you’d know when it’s going to happen,” Allison said but frowned. “But…if you tell someone something bad is going to happen, they won’t like it.”

“No, which means that argument you so cleverly avoided happens anyways—but now you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands because trying to stop something else bad from happening means you’ll only make that original argument bigger. Or, let’s say you stop a friend from getting in a car, and they avoid being hit by a drunk driver. That other driver is still drunk and he’s still a danger to others.”

“Someone else would get hurt.”

“Someone who you might not know. More than that, by letting that driver stay out on the road longer, the accident could be worse. Rather than injuries, it could mean killing someone else.” Oceania said. “Your mom calls it What May Be for a reason.”

“Because every choice we make affects what happens next,” Allison muttered. “What’s that go to do with knowing if I have magic or not?”

“What happens when you find out you do have magic?”

“Then I wait for it to finally show itself.”

“Kind of like you’re supposed to be waiting for it to show itself anyways?”

Allison paused. “Well…I guess.”

Oceania nodded. “And of course, since you know you have magic, you wouldn’t want to know what kind of magic it is?”

“Well…okay, that’d be nice to know too.”

“But see, you know you have it and maybe you know what kind you’re supposed to have. What’s stopping you from trying to use that magic before you’re ready?”

A long pause stretched before them, heavy and uncomfortable. “I could really hurt myself,” Allison said finally.

“More than that, buttercup. Magic appears when you’re ready for it.”

“But what if I’m never ready for it? What if I just don’t have it?”

“Then obviously you never needed it to start with. You’ve got a phone.”

“A phone isn’t magic.”

“No, but it lets you call your friends, and your family, doesn’t it? It lets you store photos of memories you want to keep, and share those same photos with the people you care about the most. You don’t need magic for the important stuff, and magic comes with its own downsides. Your friend, you said she had extra practices now?”

Allison nodded. “She’s taking them on Saturday and Sunday.”

“So I’m guessing she doesn’t have a lot of time to hang out on those days,” Oceania said.

This time, the widening of Allison’s eyes came with a slight pursing of her lips, as if she’d just realized something.

“She couldn’t come to the movies with us on Saturday because she had practice,” Allison said.

“Do you think she enjoyed knowing all her friends were watching movies and laughing with each other while she was stuck learning about something she has no choice in?”

A headshake.

“So while you’re fretting about maybe you do, maybe you don’t, she’s probably got some worries of her own about how all this magic is going to affect her life now.”

Squirming in her seat, it took a moment before Allison hung her head. “I guess I didn’t really think about it. I’m used to having magic in my life. It feels weird to try and think of it as anything but normal.”

“Oh it’s plenty normal. Sometimes it’s just so small it gets lost in all the other stuff out there. Rainbows are magic. So are kisses from pretty girls and laughing with your best friends. And sometimes, finding a penny on the street is all the magic you ever need.”

Allison nodded. “I…I still want to know, but I guess I’ll have to wait.”

“Sounds like a smart idea to me,” Oceania said and reached over to grab a lip balm tube from the side of the office desk. “You’ve been picking at your lips again. Put some of that on and go eat your yogurt.”

Smiling, Allison took it and dutifully applied it to her lips. As she did, the balm shimmered, almost a little like crystals.

“Thanks,” Allison said as she stood, picking up her yogurt and the spoon.

“Of course. I’d say you’ll probably get your answer here soon—but you’ve got to be patient. No more poking at it. It’ll show when it shows.”

“No more poking, I promise,” Allison said and waved as she headed back towards the main dining area.

Oceania sighed a little as she stood, heading to grab the bussing cart.

Instead, Carlyn stopped her. “What exactly did you give her?” he asked.

“Strawberry yogurt,” Oceania said and looked over at where Allison had apparently joined a friend from school and was now chatting and laughing. “And some Chapstick.”

Carlyn looked over. “Just Chapstick?”

Oceania held up the fresh tube of magic-detection potion. “Looked enough like it to me.”