Rutherford the Unicorn Sheep Sees A Ghost [Preorder & Sneak Peek!]

I've been getting requests for the last two years for a new Rutherford book, and the time is here! Meet: Rutherford the Unicorn Sheep Sees A Ghost

I've been thinking about all the different possibilities for Rutherford books, and out of all of them, I decided I wanted to do a Halloween book. This is that book. 

In it, Rutherford the Unicorn Sheep gets a new apartment, and Wilfred comes over to see. But while Rutherford is giving the tour, strange things begin to happen. Could it be that Rutherford has moved in with a ghost? Join Rutherford and Wilfred in this exciting new adventure! 

Here's the cover!

 The front...

The front...

 And the back!

And the back!

[Note: soon you'll be able to buy the "Winter Collection" with Sees a Ghost, Christmas Surprise, Walnut Skunk Family Thanksgiving & Makes Pancakes, and the "Summer Collection" with Goes to the Beach, Walks the Dog, Goes for a Hike, and Visits the Apiary, at a discount!].

This entire book was photographed and drafted in one evening while Josh was at class. It was a rainy, dreary Tuesday, 95 degrees in the middle of a Baltimore summer, and we had a grand old time. The cats stayed out of the way, the dog made a brief appearance (his first Rutherford showing!) and the fish, well, he politely stayed in his bowl.

Below I've added a couple of images, to give you a taste of the story. In the meantime, stay tuned for the release date! If you're desperate for your copy, you can preorder a copy below! Yup that's a thing I do now :) It's on sale for $10.00 until the release. 

Now, for all Rutherford lovers everywhere, a sneak peak! I have selected 5 photos to taunt and tantalize you with. What could be happening? What is going on in this image? WHAT IS HAPPENING? Well, you'll just have to wait and see.

 Books?

Books?

 A bathroom sink??

A bathroom sink??

 A counter and light switches???

A counter and light switches???

 A LAMP???

A LAMP???

  A DARKENED ROOM??? 

A DARKENED ROOM??? 

I know! Scary. 

Anyway, stay tuned: Rutherford the Unicorn Sheep Sees A Ghost is on its way!

And for those of you who want the next Rutherford book already? Well, I am planning at least two more in the series, but after that... it's anyone's guess :)

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July Monster Report: Melc

 <3 

<3 

Every so often, I ask Josh to stop at the grocery store after work to pick up one or two things. Well, yesterday, he did just that--some salsa, some lettuce, some roses (those were a surprise). When he got home, we sat down, ate dinner, watched some Supernatural, went to bed, all unaware that an interloper had managed to sneak into our home. 

The next morning, (that was today), Josh got up, showered, and went to work while I de-flea-ed the cats, walked the dog, you know, the usual. When I got home, I headed straight for the vase where I had put the roses the night before. I hadn't felt like trimming them immediately, so there they were, still in their packaging, just in a vase of water so they wouldn't die.

I trimmed them, put them in water, and took them up to my office. I sat down to work. 

Most of the monsters I've shared so far are enormous, but the truth is, they come in all shapes and sizes. There may be some so tiny that no one has discovered them yet. I have a theory that monsters cause a lot of things--disappearing tupperware lids, missing socks from the dryer, etc. At very least, it's important to be aware that monsters could be anywhere, and it's important to remember to pay attention, even in your own home where you think you're safe. 

This was one of those times when attention to detail is critical. I had music on while I was working, but I kept hearing a soft hissing noise. I thought maybe it was the sleeping dog, or one of that cats being weird, but investigating them turned up nothing. Then I thought maybe it was the HVAC being weird, but then I realized I hadn't even turned it on.

Then I noticed a thing, a tendril, sticking up and out of my bouquet of roses. Now, I might be wrong here, but roses don't usually move on their own, not quickly at any rate. I immediately grabbed them and took them outside where I dumped them out.

Inside was a melc! They're rather horrible creatures, honestly. They grow and move like worms with a mouth on each end, but are typically carrion eaters, always looking for the next dead thing to consume. That wouldn't be so bad, except that if they can't find dead things to eat, they just kill the closest living thing (that would be me, or the dog, or the cat). They are very slithery, and can grow limbs at will. They blend in pretty easily, usually looking just like a dead stick or leaf. They also always look happy, which while I realize is just humans anthropomorphizing them, it's still super creepy. 

 Melc. Super creepy. Look how happy it is! Ugh.

Melc. Super creepy. Look how happy it is! Ugh.

Unfortunately, I was unable to kill it. It slithered out of the bouquet of roses and through the cracks in my deck. I'm hoping a bird ate it, but I won't cross my fingers. I left the flowers out on the deck, just in case. 

The moral of the story is this: Always stay alert! You never know where a monster might be hiding.

Watch out for monsters.

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Ariele University Assignment 1: Steering the Craft

One of the books on my fake "Master's Degree" list is Steering the Craft by Ursula K Le Guin. I loved this book, every chapter, though it took me nearly a year to go through all of the chapters and assignments. I consider Ursula K Le Guin to be a master of the craft, and although this book addressed a lot of basic concepts (voice, style, punctuation and grammar, tense, adjectives, adverbs, narration, point of view, etc.) it was a phenomenal read, and the exercises were absolutely worth it. My plan is to read this book again in 5 years and do the exercises again--maybe every 5 years for the rest of my life.

I'm going to post a couple of assignments I did below (I won't bore you with all of them), but first I want to share a few quotes from the book that really stood out to me. 

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The first quote hit home quite hard, especially as I frequently complain to Josh that half the time he's the only person I see during a week. I also feel this strongly when I am revising my work, and am forced to make a decision about someone else's thoughts--do I change it the way they want me to, or keep it how I think it should be? 

"Ultimately, you write alone. And ultimately you and you alone can judge your work. The judgement that a work is complete--this is what I meant to do, and I stand by it--can come only from the writer, and it can be made rightly only by a writer who's learned to read her own work... until quite recently no writer had that training... they learned by doing it."

So that's what I'm doing here: practicing. Writing. Doing it.

The next quote is from her chapter on punctuation and grammar. Both are incredibly important, not only for making you look like you actually know what you're doing, but because they are essential for your reader's comprehension. Punctuation is a common language that we use to communicate intention and meaning in complex ideas, and even though we writers use copy editors to fix our mistakes, it's on us to make sure our ultimate meaning is clear. 

"That's the important thing for a writer: to know what you're doing with your language and why. This involves knowing usage and punctuation well enough to use them skillfully, not as rules that impede you but as tools that serve you."

And, if I might add, tools that help you communicate your ultimate meaning to your reader. It's all well and good to be able to string words together, but unless your reader knows how they're meant to be read, your meaning will remain unclear. 

The next quote is from her chapter on Person and Tense. For those of you that don't know me well, here's a fun fact: I have opinions. Very strong opinions, frequently, though I'm not apt to share them unless I trust someone, and rarely on social media. One of my strong opinions is that I really dislike present tense. It stresses me out when I read it or write it, however, I also know it's a very popular style currently, and a lot of excellent writers (read: Hunger Games) use it as a tactic. I've thought about trying to write in present tense to attract more readers, but Ursula K. Le Guin put me at ease. She said: 

"At the moment the present tense is in fashion; but if you're not comfortable with it, don't let yourself be crowded into using it."

The thing is, this is true with pretty much everything about writing. Avoiding adverbs is in style right now, too, but that doesn't mean all adverbs are bad or that you should never use them (Though Stephen King disagrees). Vigilante and dystopian stories are popular right now, but that doesn't mean you have to write them. Vampires are in fashion at the moment as well--you don't have to write about vampires. It's important to write your story, the story you want to tell, not the stories other people think you should tell. 

Towards the end of the book, Le Guin goes into detail about how to choose what to put in a book and what to leave out. The last exercise of the book was to write a 400 word scene, and then cut out 50% of it (it was traumatizing). My biggest takeaway was from that chapter was a single quote, that is both meaningful and hilarious: 

"Some say God is in the details; some say the Devil is in the details. Both are correct."

And the last quote I want to share sort of sums up how I feel about writing in general: 

"I like my image of 'steering the craft,' but in fact the story boat is a magic one. It knows its course. The job of the person at the helm is to help it find its own way to wherever it's going."

And that's what I am to do--become a better boat driver. Or pilot. Or captain--whatever they're called. A better writer. A better storyteller.

Below you will find some of the exercises I did as I was working through the book. I'll be honest, I don't really like to share rough draft work, as I know it could be way better than it is, but I'm working hard to be forgiving of myself for this project. That said, i did choose what I think are the my three best responses to the exercises, despite their lack of editing. 

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Exercise 1: The Sound of Your Writing

This is the first exercise in the book. (I summarized the instructions--the exercises in the book have much lengthier descriptions.) 

Part 1: Write for pleasure. Have fun, cut loose, play around, repeat, invent, feel free.

Part 2: Describe an action or a strong emotion with rhythm; make the movement of the sentences represent the physical reality of the scene.

Both parts are included below: 

Soaked. Completely soaked—my jeans, my shirt, my underwear. Even my brain felt wet. I stumbled forward with sand sticking—stuck—all over me, to my feet, my hands, my hair. And salt, almost sticky, a thin coating on every inch of my skin.

Behind me, the waves crashed against each other and against the shore. The wind blew mightily; the palm trees creaked and bent in the face of its powerful gusts. Rain pelted my face so hard that it stung, and the thick water in the air made it difficult to see any distance in front of me.

I slowly made my way up the sandy beach, grateful for the shore, the ground beneath my feet. But I had no idea when the storm would end, or at least calm to a steady rain. I kept walking, up the beach, over the rocks, into the trees that groaned under the strength of the wind. Bushes filled the ground beneath them, and their leaves too, swayed and waved in the turbulent air. I pushed further and further inland, my legs sore and my eyes burning, but all I could see were more rocks, trees, and bushes, swaying, bending, rocking, back and forth, back and forth, to the rhythm of the storm, the rain, the wind.

I finally sank to my knees, head bowed, water rushing through my hair. There was nothing, no shelter, no food, no hope, and I was alone.

“Help, I whispered quietly.

---

And then, the clouds broke and one single ray of sunshine peeked through. I looked up through the forest of palm trees; it was so beautiful, the light shining on the greenest greens I’d ever seen, and the bluest blues of the sky. There were flowers—periwinkle, magenta, crimson, and golden—and a brilliant rainbow contrasted against the roiling gray clouds behind it. And I cried.

Then the sun was gone, and the rainbow, and the colors, but I had seen an end, the end of the storm. I smiled and dragged myself to my feet. I would keep on for as long as the new-found hope lasted. I would keep on.

Exercise 2: Sentence Length and Complex Syntax

One of the assignments for this chapter was to write a half a page that is all one sentence. I found it challenging--I like pauses and periods and space between ideas. This is based on a real-life experience.

There we were, in the car (I was driving, of course) on the way to the doctor’s office, and my grandmother insisted that the doctor needed to increase her brain medication, because after all, it wasn’t working so well now was it and she simply must have more of it to make her brain better again; this, of course, is not how Alzheimer’s medication works and I found myself in the unenviable position of having to explain to my own grandmother, who I had lived with and eaten with and gone to see shows with and gotten a dog with, that she was never, in fact, going to get better and that her medication only slowed the decline, it didn’t fix it altogether—and I had to explain this to her while simultaneously knowing that, due to the very disease she was taking the medication for, she would not, could not, possibly understand what I was telling her no matter how clearly I explained it or how loudly I spoke—and when we arrived she promptly asked the doctor to give her more brain medication, to which he responded quite simply: no.

Exercise 3: Verbs: Person and Tense

Tense and person, two things that every writer struggles with at some point. I loved this assignment, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

Part 1: Write a short story about an old woman, in which the narration moves back and forth between “then” and “now,” all in present or past tense (not both).

It seemed as if the green beans never ended. She carefully snipped and snapped bean after bean, her white hair shining in the afternoon sun.

It also seemed only a short time ago that she sat on this exact same porch, snapping a different heap of green beans, but with Walter beside her humming nearly incoherent songs from their youth, and muttering about how the Williams’ boys were likely to send a baseball through a car window if they weren’t careful.

Cumulus clouds hovered on the horizon, floating gently against a baby blue sky. It was quieter now than it used to be, and she knew fewer people in the neighborhood than she used to, but it was still nice. She still liked it.

Back when the Chansey twins had lived next door, things had been a lot livelier. Their dad had died, and Walter had always done things around their house for their mom to help out—fixing the plumbing, mowing the lawn, putting up a fence. And the girls had almost made her house their second home. They would run through the front door, shoes covered with mud, hair in braids, and beg for cookies or pie or whatever other tasty treats she had made that day. She missed them. But now Emma was studying to be a neurosurgeon and Ellie had gone and married a neurosurgeon—she had become a lawyer first—and soon they would have children of their own and forget all about her.

She leaned back, the pile of green beans in her bowl, and rocked slowly in her chair. So much time had passed, but it almost seemed like no time at all.

---

Part 2: Write the same story from a different person, but tell it where “then” and “now” are in different tenses.

My fingers ache from the arthritis and the rain that will be coming sometime this afternoon. Green beans cover my lap, and while I know they don’t have to be done—I’m the only one that eats them now—it soothes me.

Tendrils of loneliness slide through my thoughts, but I try to ignore them. Walter would have said, “Listen to that snap, my sweet Henrietta, don’t listen to those aches and pains.” And that’s all loneliness is after all, just the aches and pains of a long life.

I miss Walter. He asked me to marry him after only one date, and I said no. But he looked so handsome in his nice suit and tie, with his hair just cut and his tie a little crooked, that I told him he could ask me again in three months. I said yes the second time. We were happy for fifty-six years, three months, and two days.

The wind, when it blows, tosses my white hair all over, a mess, a jumble. But I just tuck it behind my ear and keep at the green beans, snip, snap, snip, snap. Mrs. Hadfield waves at me from across the street, one child on her hip and three more in tow. They moved to our neighborhood only about eight years ago, just after their oldest was born. I sent Walter by with a loaf of bread and some cookies a few weeks later, after they had settled, and he was gone for four hours, helping Mr. Hadfield assemble a playset in the backyard. Someone had given it to them as a gift, and Mr. Hadfield didn’t have much experience with that sort of thing. They finished the cookies off before Walter even came home.

A small smile crosses my lips as I remember this. Walter always made me smile so, and he still does, even though he’s gone. A picture of him sits on the mantel. In it, he wears pants covered with paint and has mud smeared all over his face. He was never happier then when he was working.

For his 35th birthday, I saved up all my extra change, every penny I could spare, and I ordered him a brand new flannel shirt from the Sears Catalogue. He put it on immediately and went to mow the grass. When I looked out, he was on the ground, just in his white t-shirt, changing the oil in the car. When I asked where his new shirt was, he pointed proudly to a hook where he had hung it so it wouldn’t get dirty. I lifted it and gasped at the filth that covered it. He gasped too.

Turned out, he had hung up an old rag made from flannel, and was using his new shirt as a rag instead. We both laughed until we cried, and he wore that old shirt for years, despite the oil stain right across the front.

Mrs. Hadfield hands the baby to her husband through the door, and sends the other kids in before coming out to unload the groceries. It will be dinnertime at their house soon, and then bedtime.

The rocking chair creaks and the wind gently blows. My fingers just keep snap, snap, snapping the beans. Snip, snap, snip, snap.

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Ariele University

As part of my efforts to improve my skills as a writer and storyteller, I have always thought getting my Master's Degree would be a great option. I could get an MA in Creative Writing, meet some great mentors, read some great books, take some great classes, and really learn more about writing as a discipline.

 Look! Me with books! :P

Look! Me with books! :P

The thing is... grad school is expensive. Not only is it expensive, but Josh is already enrolled in business school, and taking on another absurd amount in student loans seems less than prudent, at least based on our current situation. 

But the other thing is, we live in the Age of Information! There are so many ideas available to me at the tip of my fingers. All I have to do is go to Google and type in "Books on Writing" and voila! Every book on writing, pretty much ever, is available to buy (or download for free, in many cases). 

So I decided to invent what Josh and I have been lovingly calling, my "Fake Master's Degree." I perused the books we already own as well as several books recommended to me by other authors, and came up with a list. Each book falls into one of 7 categories: 

  • Writing
  • Marketing
  • Business
  • Science
  • Psychology
  • Fiction
  • Miscellaneous 

If you'd like to take a closer look at the books I've selected and their associated assignments, here's a link to my Google Doc. While I know I'm going to read the entirety of each of these books, I'll be honest, I'm definitely winging this. I haven't read most of the books yet, so making up assignments to go along with them was a shot in the dark. I consider this a guide as much as anything, and will adjust as necessary. My main goal was to continue to educate myself in my field, while also finding a way to engage with the materials I'm working through. I wanted to expose myself to other individual's perspectives, and give myself some non-publishable writing assignments, to keep me on my toes. 

The major thing that my degree is lacking is grading. I don't really care about grades, ultimately, but not having feedback on this sort of thing is definitely a downside. So I'll be posting some of my assignments here, on my blog, just in case anyone is interested. This will also force me to review and edit the things I write, furthering my skills in that area as well. 

I may be adding some books to the list as time passes, but for now, I'll start with this. 

Let me know what you think, or if you have any suggestions.

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Aw, Shucks

I couldn't find a first day of school picture, so instead, here's a first day of summer picture with my brother and I shucking corn. 

I'm going to share my first assignment now. WRITING SMARTS written by the American Girl Library, is probably the most confusing book I have on my list. It was written for twelve year old girls, and I think I was about that age when someone gave it to me. But I added it to my list because, no matter how basic the activities in it are, they still have value. Besides, sometimes what we really need is to go back to the basics. So I thought I would start at the very, very beginning. 

My assignment for this book was to choose three exercises and do them. I chose three: to write two sets of dialogue based off the pictures they provided, to free write for a page (or I did 10 minutes, in my case), and to write four haiku.

The dialogue one was really bad, so I won't torture you with that. But below you'll find 4 haiku and 10 minutes of free writing (with some personal stuff edited out). Fake Master's Degree, here I come! :)

Haiku

Octavius’ Long Day

Doggo sleeps and snores
Running in his vivid dreams
He will wake for treats

Wilfred the King

He rules from his tree
Fat, orange, covered in fur
Endlessly hungry

Summer Weather

They’re invisible
Water droplets in the air
Too humid to breathe

Rowan

Elegant and poised
She sits, gazing through the glass
Dreaming of murder

Free Writing

In the book I’m reading it talks about something called BHAGs, which translated means “Big Hairy Audacious Ideas.” It says that visionary companies have and follow through on BHAGs, and even though I’m not a company, I can still have BHAGs and I can still try new things, experiment. Two definitions pop up when I search the meaning of the word “audacious:” showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks, and showing an impudent lack of respect. I’d like to do both of those things, take bold risks and be impudent towards the way things “are” or “are supposed to be”.

It says in the book that in order for BHAGs to work, they have to be derived from a company’s true, deep down beliefs (which are of course based off of the beliefs of the people working there). So I also need to figure out what my beliefs are. When I was thinking about it yesterday, I really got stuck on the idea of giving my work away for free. I just never want money to be an issue, I never want it to get in the way of someone being able to read my work. But aside from that, what are my beliefs?

Josh suggested independence, and I agree with that. I would call myself fiercely independent. I would rather starve and be free, than have everything I could ever want but be trapped. So yes, independence. Definitely a trait I learned from my parents. 

I’ll start with just a list of things I value: Family, hope, hard work, patience (I’m still working on this), excellence, intelligence, pushing forward, overcoming odds, embracing originality, embracing yourself, not caring what everyone else thinks (I’m not good at this), walking, trees, open mindedness, not being afraid to change when you know you’re wrong or at least not being afraid to at least consider the possibility that you’re wrong, being able to accept things that I can’t change (also not good at this), cats, words, writing. 

Okay there’s a few, though I probably could come up with more. I think hope is one that stands out to me, and intelligence, and overcoming odds, or at least just keeping going. Persistence is probably a good one too. So the next question is how to build a goal off of one of these concepts that is BH and A (big, hairy, and audacious).

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I was thinking about my Patreon plan as well, yesterday. That seems BH and A. It’s the biggest plan I’ve ever tried. It takes a lot of work and time. It’s hard. But at the same time, it’s very much stalled, or at least it feels that way. So persistence would definitely play a role in this case, as would hope, working hard, patience, intelligence, and excellence. So maybe instead of jumping into the idea of giving all of my books away for free, instead, I should focus on following through with just one BHAG at a time, and see where it leads. I’m hopeful. I just have to keep writing for thirty four more seconds, lol. But seriously, I’m hopeful and just have to keep writing Land of Szornyek. It has value. I really believe it. I guess, faith comes into play here, at least a little bit. We’ll see where I end up a year from now. We’ll see. 

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June Monster Report: Plat

For those of you who don't know me that well, I walk a lot. Like, a lot. I walk the dog. I walk myself. I walk to the grocery store. I walk for fun. I walk for exercise. I rarely walk less than two miles at a time, and I will frequently walk between three and seven miles in a day. I walk the treads off my shoes. My highest daily distance to date is 11 miles.

So I've been keeping an eye out, just in case any monsters have appeared in our universe. I  hadn't seen anything, but then yesterday, I noticed that the ducks were gone. This is what the pond used to look like: 

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I even have a video for you, to help you fully understand the true impact of what is happening.

This is what it looks like now: 

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It's scummy and covered in lily pads, and while still beautiful, very lacking in the duck department. In addition, the other birds have been on high alert. Look at Casey, the graceful red-wing blackbird, keeping a watchful eye on the water's surface. Look at Reginald, the elegant heron, standing guard over his beloved home. It seems that something is making them nervous.

In addition, there has been a great deal of flooding lately.

What could cause that? you ask. Rain?

Well yes, rain. Or displacement. And if displacement is what caused the flooding, then whatever is doing the displacing must be very large. 

 Here is Reginald again, inspecting the damage and making sure the wall is secure.

Here is Reginald again, inspecting the damage and making sure the wall is secure.

So I set a trap. I borrowed the Duck of Judgement from Bill (ZoeyD's dad) and let it float aimlessly on the pond while I waited silently. I picked a time of day (early, early morning) when I knew not many people would be around. And I waited. And waited. And waited. 

I waited so long that my phone died.

Then it happened.

The Duck of Judgement disappeared with a floof and a splash. And I, Ariele Joy Sieling the 1st, got a glimpse of my first monster! Luckily, I had a scrap piece of paper and was able to draw a quick sketch before the image receded from my memory. Sorry Bill, you'll probably never see the Duck of Judgement again. 

The monster in question was a PLAT, which is a very silly name for such a terrifying creature. It is large and flat, and sleeps most of the year on the bottom of a pond or lake. They are freshwater monsters. They can grow 6 - 40 feet in diameter. Their head consists primarily of several eye stalks, which, when chopped off, regrow. They are brownish grey with a pebbled pattern, so they blend in with the silt and mud at the bottom of the pond. And once or twice a year, when the pickings are good, they silently float to the surface of the pond, and PLOP, close around whatever meat they can get, like a giant duck burrito. 

Really terrifying. 

But the most terrifying thing is that this is real! These creatures exist all around us, in the here and now, but are so skilled at blending into our world that we may never notice they are there until it's too late. 

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Alas, I have no proof, due to the wily and unreliable thing that is technology. You will just have to trust me--your life may depend on it.

And no, I didn't kill it. I didn't have the weapons necessary. All I can say is--don't let your kids swim in the pond.

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