New Year, New Plans

So, long time no blog, eh wot? Joys of chronic illness….

As frustrating as the latter third of 2015 was for me health-wise, however, I’m determined not to let such things hold me back (at least as far as I can do anything about them) in 2016. I plan to finish at least Loyal Valley: Diversion, release an omnibus collection of the first four volumes in that series, and commission audiobooks of everything that’s out thus far. I still plan to participate in Fort McKavett’s West Texas Heritage days (now in May) and hope to do the same at Fort Martin Scott and possibly some other living history events in the area. And there’s a potential opportunity that I’ll share more about if it gets closer to reality.

And you can help make all these things happen.

I’ve taken the plunge and signed up for Patreon, which allows you to pledge recurring monthly support–as little as $1/mo. or as much as you want to give. Various levels of support will receive a variety of rewards, like exclusive sneak previews of book content and acknowledgement here and in print. The more funds I can raise in this way, the less time I’ll have to spend scraping together a living through freelancing and the more time I can devote to writing and research.

(I don’t currently plan to quit teaching, even if I no longer need the money. Teaching is fun.)

I’ve also got myself a YouTube channel now. Not that I know what I’ll do with it yet–it might be more for Patreon stuff–but it’s there. 😀 I’d like to get back to Literature You Should Know over on Smash Cut Culture, too, assuming I have the time and energy.

So that’s what’s new with me. Alles Gute zum Neuen Jahr!

Coming SOON!

LoyalValleyCaptives_6x9

Murder, especially mass murder, will out. When civilian investigators stumble upon part of Number Seven’s schemes in the summer of 1870, Lt. Col. Clint Donovan and two of his teammates must race halfway across Texas to save their lives and find out what they know. But even that may solve only half of the problem—especially when Clint and his men meet the ladies involved.

Life on the frontier has plenty of risks of its own, however, and not just from the elements. A husband-hunting New York socialite runs away to Loyal Valley, only to discover that dime novels don’t reflect what Texas is really like. And she’s not the only one in danger when an old enemy returns to wreak more havoc of his own accord.

There’s more to war than bullets, wits, and nerve. Who will keep his head and his life, and who will lose his freedom… or his heart?

Yes, Loyal Valley: Captives is now available for ebook pre-orders through Smashwords and KindleDirect! I aim to have paperbacks available by the time the ebooks officially release on Aug. 31.

Also, for new readers, I’m offering the first two books in the series for 99¢ apiece on Smashwords for a limited time! Use coupon code ZB26E for Assassination and DR88E for Bystanders. Please note, however, that these coupons are good only at Smashwords and only through September 9!

Ashley Fetches a Hat

A/N: I’m fighting some writer’s block today, so have this blog-exclusive bit of Loyal Valley fluff!

Ashley Fetches a Hat
By Elisabeth G. Wolfe

Today’s been a good day. Master’s moving very well, and I got to take him for a walk twice! And it’s been sunny and clear but not too hot—a pity Master can’t see it, but he can feel it, so walks are good. But I’m off duty now, so Master says I can go with Jake and Mike while they go out to put the horses in the barn.

I’M OUTSIIIIDE!!!

Jake and Mike are busy and can’t play, but that’s okay because I’m OUTSIDE and everything is wonderful. I can attend to—ahem—business, and I can inspect the garden and make sure the raccoon hasn’t stolen any tomatoes, and I can run and romp and not spook the horses, Ashley, good girl. And I can check the perimeter and… ooh, hey, there’s a deer! Hi, deer, let’s play! Sure, run and I’ll chase you. And then… oh, wait, hi, rabbit! Do you want to play? Boy, you’re fast! Let’s run!

Don’t run away! I’m just….

Wait.

There’s a human out here, a man with a horse.

A stranger.

And he’s on the wrong side of the hill.

I’m too far from the house. If I bark, it won’t bring help, but if I go back now, I can’t tell anyone there’s a man out here. He’s probably got a bangstick, so I can’t just chase him off. I’ll have to bring him closer.

Right. First things first: find the man.

There he is. He’s lying on the ground, and his horse is standing next to him. There’s a big bangstick in the thing that hangs from the saddle, and I think I see little bangsticks on his belt. Tricky. But I think… yes, I think I know what to do.

Ruff down. Ears up. Tail wagging. Approach with caution. Hi, mister, want to play?

He sees me and snorts. “Go ’way, y’dumb dog.”

Who, me? (Wag, wag… look innocent, get closer….)

“Go on, mutt. Git.” He puts his hat over his face.

That’s it. Now slowly… slowly… slowly… got your hat!

“Hey, gimme that!”

Back away, tail wagging, but not too far. Come and get it, you stranger.

He swipes for it. I dodge. He gets up—yes, that’s right, come play with me, mister. He tries again; I dodge again. Come on, come on, a little further from the horse… that’s right… and—DASH! Zig, zag, spin him ’round, spook the horse! Horse goes one way, I go the other, and I don’t care which of us he follows as long as he doesn’t shoot.

But he doesn’t. He can’t. He doesn’t want anybody to know he’s out here. So he runs after me, but I’m like the deer and the rabbits—zig, zag, zoom! Over the hill, down and down, back and forth, and then—there’s the windbreak! DASH! Jake, Mike, Jake, Mike, Jake, Mike….

“Aaashley!” Jake’s calling, whistling.

“Ashley!” That’s Mike.

Jake Mike Jake Mike Jake Mike…

“I think I hear her—Ashley!”

Jake Mike JAKE MIKE HAT! HAT HAT HAT!

“Ashley, where have you—what the hell?

“Whose hat is that?”

Can’t stop! There’s the house! Clint, Jim, HAT! Daniel, Bella, HAT!

“What the—” That’s Daniel. “Whose hat?”

“There’s someone out there!” That’s Clint, and he’s already going for a big bangstick.

But I don’t stop until I’m in front of Master and drop the hat in his lap. Then I sit like a good girl. I brought you a hat, Master!

He runs his hands over it, surprised. “Ashley, what in the world—”

Bark, bark, growl, sneeze! There’s a bad guy out there!

Clint and Daniel and Jim have all run outside. Jake and Mike are shouting something, and then there’s shooting.

“Okay!” yells the bad man. “All right, all right, I surrender!”

Then there’s a lot more yelling I don’t understand. Bella’s got a little bangstick, and she comes over to Master’s chair. “It’s me, Marty,” she tells him.

He turns his head toward her. “Bella? What’s going on out there?”

She shakes her head. “Whoever it is, it looks like Clint or someone got him in the arm. Mike’s got him in custody.”

I huff. Good riddance.

“Jim’s bandaging the man’s arm. Now Mike’s tying him up. Daniel’s going to the barn, and so is Jake… I guess they’re taking him to Mason. Oh, here come Clint and Jim.”

Clint and Jim come in and put their bangsticks back on the rack and close the door. And then they start laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Master asks.

“Fella gave up without much of a fight,” Clint says, coming over to us. “Seems he knows when the jig’s up. But he said that’s the first time he’s ever been busted by a dog!”

“Is he—”

“Nah, just a rustler. Said he’d been scoping out the herd all day and had just decided to take a quick nap before sundown, and then he’d planned to swipe a few head after dark, take ’em to Mexico.”

“His horse is still out there somewhere,” Jim adds. “Jake’s going to look for it, while Mike and Daniel take our prisoner to Mason. He’s probably wanted for something or other.”

Bella laughs and puts her bangstick down. “Ashley fetched a rustler. Will wonders never cease?”

Master reaches down to scratch me behind the ears. “Good girl, Ashley!”

I smile and wag my tail. All in a day’s work.

© 2015 Elisabeth G. Wolfe. All rights reserved.

“Why would a good Christian girl….”

I wasn’t sure whether I should post this, for fear of being accused of answering questions that haven’t been widely asked. (Let’s face it: I’m not exactly burning up the best-seller lists right now!) But I do know of at least one person who has been disappointed, however briefly, with the fantasy content in Look Behind You, and I’m sure there may be others. “Why,” the question runs, “would a good Christian girl be studying the occult to write a book like this?”

The thing is… I didn’t study the occult. I didn’t have to.

Much of my information came from folktales, especially Irish and Scottish fairytales and the legends of King Arthur and the Round Table, though some American Indian mythology also comes into play. I consider such literature mostly harmless, and many fairytales carry good lessons. The Ethics of Elfland from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, C. S. Lewis’ reflections in On Stories and Other Essays, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s On Fairy-Stories all discuss ways in which the right kinds of fantasy, and fairytales in particular, can be extremely useful as part of a Christian’s literary diet.

(IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: There are wrong kinds of fantasy. I’ve actually known someone whose spiritual life got messed up by reading the wrong books, and I’m pretty picky about what I read myself. Yet–and this is crucial–no two people will react the same way to the same book. I know very godly people in the Harry Potter fandom, over which other very godly people have expressed concerns that I think are valid; I know people who’ve gone astray over The Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien himself called “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work” [Letter 142 to Father Robert Murphy, Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien]. In this area, as in all things, each believer needs to exercise prayerful discernment for his or her own walk… and not presume to make his or her needs or preferences an absolute rule for everyone else.)

But the rest, quite literally, is history. Many people know, for example, that Hitler and Himmler were interested in astrology and the occult. What may not be as readily apparent, and what didn’t register for me until I worked on translating The Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction, is the insidious nature of even one of the best-known bits of Nazi propaganda, the concept of the “thousand-year Reich.” Translation has done us English-speakers a disservice here. The term der tausendjährige Reich doesn’t only refer to a hypothetical thousand-year Nazi kingdom; it was and is the theological term usually rendered in English as the Millennial Kingdom or the Millennial Reign, the period prophesied in Revelation 20:2-7 during which Jesus will return, bind Satan, and establish a thousand-year reign of absolute peace on earth. Hitler’s use of the phrase was deliberate blasphemy.
And it gets worse. Here’s one of my sources, a History Channel documentary that argues that the Nazi Party was a full-blown cult:


If you prefer a more scholarly print source, Heather Pringle’s The Master Plan: Hitler’s Scholars and the Holocaust documents in greater detail the SS obsession with the occult and attempts to resurrect ancient German paganism.

In all honesty, I have zero desire to study magic. The danger of genuine magic, as opposed to mere sleight-of-hand trickery, is that it attempts to force reality to bend to a human’s will. There are, of course, perfectly acceptable non-magical ways of getting nature to do what you want it to do; that’s called technology, which is subject to its own questions of ethics and morality. But magic seems, at least on the surface, to fall into one of two formulas:

Do you have problem W? Do X, Y, and Z, and your problem will go away.

or

Do you want D? Do A, B, and C, and you will get exactly what you want.

And from where I stand, what you plug into those blanks makes not a dime’s bit of difference–killing a black cat at 3 a.m. on a starless night of the new moon, washing your hands in a silver basin by moonlight, rearranging your furniture just so and painting your walls a certain color, or (dare I say it?) thinking happy thoughts and telling God what you want and sending $50 to your favorite televangelist. At best, it won’t work, and either you receive something good that would have happened anyway or you get no results at all and end up wondering what you did wrong. At worst, you end up in league with powers beyond your understanding or control, powers that want nothing more than your absolute destruction.
Prayer doesn’t work that way. Prayer submits reality to God’s sovereign control, humbly presenting petitions with full trust in His goodness and seeking to align our will with His will. That’s why “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”–and that’s also why, if you pay close attention, the only ‘spell’ I write out in Look Behind You is actually a prayer. That power is the only power I need… and even when I write fantasy that involves an element of horror, I will always show that prayer trumps magic, because that is the truth.

Just in time for West Texas Heritage Days:

LoyalValleyBystanders_sample2

An unconventional enemy resorts to unconventional tactics. Determined to lure Lt. Col. Clint Donovan and his military intelligence team to their deaths, Number Seven’s operatives make a deal with an Apache warrior whose cruelty is legendary even among his own people and whose involvement stirs up the torturous ghosts of Bella Donovan’s past. A widowed horse rancher sends Clint timely warning, but even that can’t prevent the Apaches from taking a neighbor’s sons as bait for an ambush, and Clint’s informant finds herself on the wrong end of Number Seven’s wrath as a result of her actions. As Clint’s choices set the stage for a cavalryman’s finest hour and a town’s hard lesson in courage, the same question arises time and again:
Is there such a thing as an innocent bystander?

Due to time constraints, ebooks will most likely have to wait until after I get back from Fort McKavett, but you can order the paperbacks now from Amazon and CreateSpace (regular and large print). And if you’re planning to come to Fort McKavett next weekend, it might be wise for you to order now, since my stock will be limited!

Lest We Forget

A/N: This story falls between Assassination and Bystanders in the Loyal Valley series.

Lest We Forget

“You know,” Clint said at breakfast one morning in early March, “we really ought to ride out and check on the herd. Daniel, think you’re up to that?”

Daniel shrugged. “I dunno. Am I up to that, Doc?”

Jim chuckled. “I don’t see why not. If there’s a calf in trouble or anything, though, don’t tangle with it. That shoulder of yours doesn’t need any more abuse.”

“You have my word of honor. If anything comes up that Clint can’t handle alone, I’ll come back to the house and make Jake do it.”

“You would,” Jake said flatly, which made Bella laugh.

Clint shook his head, amused. “I know you need to be careful, but you’re also my foreman, and with all this construction we’ve had going on, I’ve been neglecting your education on that side of things. Roundup’s coming up next month, so….”

Daniel nodded. “I need to look like I’ve got some clue what we’re doing.”

“Exactly.”

“Which means I probably ought to take notes so I don’t forget everything before we get back.”

“Thought you had a photographic memory,” Mike teased.

“Oh, he does,” Jake shot back before Daniel could. “It’s just that he runs low on slides once in a while.”

Everybody laughed at that.

So it was settled. After breakfast, Bella packed up some provisions in case Clint and Daniel needed to be out for more than one working day, and Jim, Jake, and Mike reworked the construction schedule. As Daniel slid a book into one of his saddlebags, however, he found himself on the receiving end of a quizzical look from Clint.

“Expecting to be bored, Major?” Clint asked.

“Well, no, sir, not exactly,” Daniel replied. “I mean, I’m sure we’ll have plenty to do and talk about, won’t be much time for reading, but—I’m starting to see some wildflowers out there, and Mother collects pressed flowers, so I thought I’d try to collect some to send to her in my next letter.”

“I tried that once, before the war,” Marty chimed in. “They don’t look half as good as they do fresh.”

Clint made an odd face. “Most flowers don’t, Sassenach.”

“I know. I’m just saying.”

Daniel shrugged. “I hear you, Marty, I do. It won’t be the same as seeing them in person. But I figure she’ll still appreciate the effort.”

Marty shrugged in turn, which was somewhat amusing, given that he hadn’t seen Daniel move. “All right, fine. She’s your mother.”

Neither Clint nor Daniel was able to suppress a chuckle at that.

There did indeed turn out not to be much time for reading. Clint had a long list of topics to discuss with Daniel regarding the business side of the ranch, from the life cycle of longhorn cattle to their feeding habits to trends in the market, and every conceivable form of contingency and emergency that could arise along the way. And he addressed them mainly by suddenly throwing a question or hypothetical situation Daniel’s way and letting Daniel take a wild guess before explaining what the right answer or approach would be. Most of the questions were ones Daniel would never have thought to ask, and he quickly realized just how much he didn’t even know he didn’t know. But Clint was patient and prompted Daniel to take notes on the occasions where he didn’t start the discussion with a hypothetical, and while the sheer volume of information was overwhelming, Daniel felt much better prepared not only to keep up his cover but also to be a genuine help to Clint and Bella for the duration of the team’s assignment.

“Think I might actually enjoy this,” he confessed as they finally started back toward the house.

Clint chuckled. “Give it a year or two first. Theory’s one thing; practice is something else.”

The excursion wasn’t all business, however. Some of the wildflowers were beginning to show themselves here and there, and Clint didn’t object when Daniel asked to pause and pick a few specimens to press for Mother. In fact, Clint went so far as to explain what they all were—bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, phlox, winecups, and so on—as well as some of the legends of how the various flowers came to be. He was blessed with the gift of the gab and even slipped into an Ulster accent at times as he told his tales, much to Daniel’s amusement, and Daniel found himself taking notes on Clint’s yarns as well.

They stopped on the way back to the house to gather some less-ordinary bluebonnet varieties, including some that looked white from a distance. But as Daniel got closer, another lupine he saw on the far edge of that patch gave him a moment’s pause. “Wait, are those… pink?” He started forward to investigate.

Clint grabbed his arm. “Don’t pick those,” he said, suddenly grave. “Don’t ever pick those.”

Daniel blinked. “Why not?”

Clint didn’t answer right away. Instead, he took off his hat and held it over his heart as he walked over, knelt next to the plant, and stared at it for a long moment.

“… Clint?”

Clint’s voice was quiet and rough when he finally spoke. “The story goes that there used to not be any pinkbonnets anywhere. But there was a place on the San Antonio River, out… uh, southeast of town, downriver, where there were a bunch of whitebonnets every year. In… in ’36….” His voice trailed off.

Daniel took a step or two closer but waited for Clint to continue.

“The plants had… had sprouted already by the beginning of March, y’know, were growing, but they h-hadn’t bloomed yet when… when the Alamo fell. And there was s-… so much….”

Even as an intelligence officer, Daniel had seen his share of rivers running red during the war. That was one of those topics that were too terrible to talk about, let alone describe, but anyone who’d been in a similar spot didn’t need to be told what it was like. So he put a hand on Clint’s shoulder and squeezed to show he understood.

Clint drew a ragged breath and forced himself to go on, heedless of the tear that escaped down his cheek. “When the flowers… finally bloomed that year… they weren’t white anymore. Wouldn’t ever be again.”

Daniel couldn’t think of anything to say or do beyond removing his own hat. After a long moment, however, he ventured, “Maybe God wanted it that way. Lest we forget.”

Clint nodded slowly. Another long moment passed before he whispered, “They burned Harrisburg to the ground the next month. We lost everything.

“Is that when you moved to Independence?”

“Yeah. Da had saved some of his best fabrics, and the money box, but there wasn’t near enough to start a new shop all over again. So he… he took out a homestead, bartered some suits for the goods we needed, saved the cash to invest in a herd. Don’t know how the hell we made it work, but we did.”

“Grace of God.”

“Yeah. And the men who died to keep us free.”

Now it was Daniel’s turn to nod slowly and let a long pause pass. “Those don’t transplant well, do they?”

Clint shook his head. “No. Mum tried once—n-not with these. With bluebonnets. You want ’em in pots, you have to grow ’em from seed.”

“Okay. Then I guess the best way to preserve these is… is to leave ’em right where they are.”

Clint finally managed to smile a little. “Reckon so.”

He took a deep breath then and stood, brushed the grass off his knees, and put his hat back on. Daniel followed suit and followed Clint back to the horses and the job at hand. And when they both felt like talking again, they kept the conversation light. When they got back to the house, however, and found Mike and Jake outside working on a bookcase Marty had designed with a hidden compartment for storing classified documents, Daniel let Clint go inside first while he stopped to check their progress.

Once Clint was out of earshot, Jake lowered his voice. “What is it? What’s happened?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” Daniel replied. “I just wanted to give you both a heads-up about a plant we found out there….”

pinkbonnet

Story and photo copyright © 2014 Elisabeth G. Wolfe. All rights reserved.