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Original Chapter One – Part Three

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The last installment of the original chapter one of Home for Good.  (If you missed the start earlier in the week press here) Enjoy!

Original Chapter One – Home for Good – Part Three

Ali wrung her hands. “A tenth of a second…a tenth of a second.”

Almost. But not quite good enough.

Story of her life.

“You were robbed, Mom.” Chance burst to his feet beside her, his small hand gesturing toward the score board.

Third place. Ali shrugged, but the failure smarted. After replaying the run in her mind twice, she still couldn’t find the misstep that cost them first and second. She wouldn’t thumb her nose at the five hundred dollar prize, but the winner’s purse would have helped more. Two thousand dollars could have paid for a decent farrier and more oats. She let out a long, hot breath. Or gone toward the insurance deductibles. Or new tack…new horses…debt. Something always needed to be paid for.

Never quite good enough. Never quite…enough, for anyone.

“Naw, I lost fair and square, buddy.”

Kate tucked long auburn strands of hair behind her ear. “You made a good run, Al. You and Denny were dynamite out there. The entire crowd was on edge.” She bent, scooping up their small blue cooler full of pop and juice. “We’ll find a way to save Big Sky Dreams. Don’t worry about the future so much.”

“Easy for you to say, seeing as you have nothing to do with my non-profit and no personal effort invested.” The moment Ali solved one issue at Big Sky Dreams, the handicapped horseback riding program she managed, an even bigger problem usually surfaced.

Catching Chance’s hands, lathered with butter and prickly popcorn salt, Ali followed behind her younger sister. At twenty-four, Kate returned home from college a year ago with a degree and a non-stop positive outlook on life. Moreover, she possessed the annoying knack of saying exactly what Ali didn’t want to hear.

“I’m just saying. If God wants Big Sky Dreams to survive, the program will survive.”

Ali rolled her eyes. “Riiiight. Words to live by, I’m sure. But I think the best bet is to bust my back for donations and sign up for every barrel tournament with a purse from here clear to Idaho. I just don’t get where all our money goes. There seemed to be plenty after the last fund-raiser, but the money’s just gone.”  She didn’t want to stomp on her sister’s happy little world, but Ali knew better. God helped those who helped themselves. Because, seriously, when setbacks in life came, God didn’t care. Until she saw him on earth attempting to make a difference with his own two hands, she wouldn’t trust him for anything. Sure, she wanted to believe. Everyone wanted someone to put their hope in. But Ali learned the hard way—hope placed in the wrong thing—or person—left her feeling worse than Chance with a 102 degree temperature.

Ali pointed toward the animal pens. “I’m gonna get Denny. Meet me by the trailer?”

“Sure, and I’ll take scamp here with me.” Kate patted Chance’s head.

“Heeey. I’m not a scamp. Is that a good thing? Mom, what’s a scamp?”

“A nickname like that is a good thing, bud. Means you like to play.” She picked her way across the street then called over her shoulder. “Thanks, Kate.”

Denny nickered as she approached, his black glassy eyes surveying her with what felt like understanding.

“Hey, there, boy. You did good today. I’m the one who botched our run.” She reached out, tracing her fingers down his velvety black muzzle as she unlatched the gate. When Ali slipped the green halter over his head, Denny leaned into her like a hug. She gave him a pat on the neck for thanks.

“We’ll help those kids. We’ll figure out some way.” Bending over, she gathered up most of the brushes. She dumped them all into a bucket then tossed the horse blanket and saddle on Denny’s back, letting the cinch hang loose. She’d just lead him gingerly to the trailer and hope his gear stayed on, which sounded loads better than making two trips.

“Hiya, Ali.”

The voice from her past rocketed through her with the force of a kick drum. The last curry comb flew out of her hand and spun in a drunken arc on the hard dirt. She snapped up and took a step backward.

Jericho Freed.

All six feet of him, clad in jeans and a fitted grey striped button-down. His bold, masculine eyebrows rose as he surveyed her with look-me-in-the-eyes-if-you-dare blues. He wore a straw cowboy hat with unruly hair poking out, and four days-worth of a beard outlined his firm jaw. His defined arms looped over the front of the gate, blocking her path out. Eight years later and the man still made her mouth go dry.

And she hated that he still had that power.

So she did the only rational thing she could think to do. Flee.

In a fluid movement, Ali bounded over the back of the pen and took off sprinting at a breakneck clip. Her hat flew off.

He yelled out her name, called out….

And just like in the past, his voice poured sweet and velvety like chocolate over each syllable, making her toes curl. Ali’s nails dug into her palms. She didn’t want to hear him. She never wanted to fall under his spell again. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes as she ran.

Why was he here? Why couldn’t he leave well enough alone?

Tearing across the carnival, she pushed past people as they threw her angry looks. Forget them. They didn’t know the danger engulfing her. Didn’t know evil incarnate might be ten paces behind, literarily nipping at her heels.

Oh, why hadn’t she moved away when she had the…chance? Chance! Suddenly she pounded faster, the narrow toe of her boots chafing against her feet.

Jericho couldn’t see Chance. She wouldn’t let that happen. God, please!

Ali zeroed in on Chance and Kate milling next to their beat up green Ford pick-up.

She waved her arms. “Quick, get in the truck. Quick. Now! Chance Silver!”

“Where’s Denny? Aren’t—”

“No. Truck. Now. We’ll come back for him later.” Ali pressed a hand to the stitch in her side as she looked over her shoulder, scanning the crowd for the cowboy with impossibly blue eyes. He hadn’t followed her.

Kate rounded the truck, her eyes wide. “Sis? I don’t see smoke coming from your hair, so if it’s not on fire—what is?”

Ali glanced in the truck, making sure Chance was buckled in and out of earshot. She seized Kate’s arms, clamping down on reality as she felt a vine of anger seeded by fear reach up inside of her.

“He’s here. He’s back. What am I supposed to…what if he…what about Chance?” Her voice rose in a frenzy.

Kate shook her gently. “Who’s here?”

“My husband.”

The End of Original Chapter One

___________________

Jess

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Original Chapter One – Part Two

Yesterday I talked about how sometimes when your manuscript gets in front of your editor big sections get cut. So I’m sharing the original first chapter of Home for Good. If you missed the first chunk just press here. Part three will go live on Friday.

Original Chapter One – Home for Good – Part Two

Jericho Freed’s gut clenched. Even from the distance of the bleachers, the sight of little Ali Silver made his heart stampede like a fired up bull. Guess she wasn’t so little anymore. Eight years. He did the math as he passed his hand over his jaw. Well, twenty-seven sure looked good on her. From where he watched, the pink long-sleeved button-down brought out the summer blush of her cheeks, and those leg-huggin’ jeans verified she wasn’t a girl anymore. Fully woman. The woman he’d come home for.

“Why, if it isn’t young Mr. Freed.” Jericho’s sophomore year science teacher, Mrs. Casey, tapped his shoulder. She still wore the purple framed glasses around her neck with a string. “I didn’t think you lived in these parts anymore.”

He touched the front of his hat. “Well, Ma’am, I’ve been away awhile but I’m home now. For good.”

“I was so sorry to hear about your father. How is Abram doing?”

“Thanks for that, Mrs. Casey. He’s just down the road at Valley View Estates. They’re telling me the stroke left Pop without the use of his right side. Got in last night myself so I haven’t made time to see him yet.” Not that he was in any spit-storm rush to go see his father, but Mrs. Casey didn’t need to know that.

Jericho shifted on the bleacher, scanning the stands for Ali. Down the way, he spotted her kid sister Kate sitting with a cute little boy, but no Ali. He pulled off his straw hat, crushed it in his calloused hands then watched as the straw popped back into shape, like a sponge.

Had she seen him? Was she avoiding him? Could he blame her? Nope.

“Is that what brought you home, son?” Mrs. Casey slipped on her glasses and peered at him from over the top of them.

Jericho squirmed. He felt like a fifteen year old again, struggling to remember the chemical formula for salt. “For Pop? Sure. And I completed my tour of duty. And there’s some other…stuff.” A lump formed in the back of his throat as Ali climbed the steps and sauntered towards Kate and the child. She ruffed the boy’s hair. Jericho swallowed hard.

Mrs. Casey raised her eyebrows. “Whatever happened with you and her?”

“Me and Ali?”  He rubbed his clammy palms on the thighs of his jeans.

“In school, why, you two were a matched set. I don’t remember ever seeing one of you without the other around town neither. Then I heard…. Well, listen to me go on about other people’s business.”

I happened.

“Matched set?” He mumbled more to himself than to her.

“Well, whatever you’re here for, I wish you luck, Jericho.”

He lifted his chin. “Thanks. I’ll need a good dose of luck.”

She patted his shoulder again. “You’ll be fine. If I remember right, there isn’t an ounce of quit in your bones.”

Ha. If only Mrs. Casey knew. ‘Cause there was a pretty lady with hair like bottled fire on the other end of the stands that would say ‘quit’ was his middle name.

*          *          *

_______________________________

Jess

Original Chapter One – Part One

I’ve recieved some notes about my new release, Home for Good, that have said they wished the book was longer. When my manuscript was first submitted it was 23,000 words longer than its published length. That’s 30% of the original manuscript that had to stay on the cutting room floor. One of the parts I was really sad to have to chop was the original first chapter. So, I’ve decided to share it in three small chunks today, Wednesday, and Friday. Thursday I’ll be on Seekerville – I’ll post the link when it goes live!

Original Chapter One – Home for Good – Part One

Horse and rider tumbled into a dustbowl of sand in the arena.

Tough break.

Seconds ago the roar of the crowd hammered through the entire rodeo, wired for the Fourth of July weekend. Now the room buzzed with silence.

And her turn came next.

Working her bottom lip between her teeth, Ali Silver ran a hand over the smooth rawhide cantle of her saddle. Two years. After scrimping and saving she’d finally stormed into Hangdog Saddlery a week ago and slammed down the cash for the Billy Cook Flex Flyer Saddle. The money spent better be worth it. The doors to Big Sky Dreams might stay shut forever if she dared to stroll home empty-handed tonight.

Tension laced the air like smoke after gunfire, and Denny shifted beneath her.

“You’re fine, boy.” Ali patted his neck, cording her fingers into the gelding’s mane. As she traced her hand across the silky buckskin hair of his neck, her catapulting stomach began to soothe. Denny knew the barrels.

Rodeo workers ran past her carrying the injured rider out on a stretcher. The fallen horse, a young chestnut, trailed after like a little sister trying to keep up. Ali tried to feel compassion for the rider. But when a horse fell down it meant the rider messed up somewhere.

And she wouldn’t mess up.

“Our next rider hails from our very own Bitterroot Valley.”

The announcer’s voice snapped Ali back to attention. Her turn. Some riders prayed before a run, but Ali didn’t. God stopped listening to her years ago, if he ever listened at all. She mentally practiced the cloverleaf racing pattern, schooling herself, the only proven way to clear her mind and drive away the fog of adrenaline.

Keep centered.

 Visualize the set.

 Leave a clear pocket.

The official nodded to her.

With a defined kick and the lift of the reins, Ali gave Denny his head and he erupted forward, slamming her into the saddle with a jerk that rattled her teeth. Charging down the alley of the rodeo arena, horse and rider busted through the center entrance at mach speed. They crossed the electronic timer beam and tore towards the first barrel with the power of a fuming bull charging a red flag.

Ali smiled. Because when she rode Denny, the rest of the world slouched out of vision. No sound registered as the duo performed their dance. The ache in her chest dissolved, and for about sixteen glorious seconds she felt whole again.

And their approach? Dead on. She fought against a laugh.

Picking Denny’s speed at the precise moment she arced him, leaving a good pocket to give him an even turn. He swung around the orange and blue painted barrel, his hooves digging into the loose ground. Anchored in the saddle, Ali clenched her abs, her right leg pressing along Denny’s ribcage for support. Half clawing the rawhide horn, she looked through the turn toward the enemy…the second barrel. Raising the knotted reins in her sweaty hand, she allowed Denny to rocket forward across the arena, kicking up a mixture of sand and dirt in his wake.

Clocking left around the barrel, they jolted forward, pounding towards the final one with electric force. Ali moistened her lips as they trampled over the place the previous challengers met their fate. She and Denny hugged the last barrel with practiced accuracy, then turned and let loose down the straight. Ali kicked wildly and Denny galloped towards the finish, crossing the timer.

As the race ended, the real world rushed back in. Applause echoed down the arena’s corridors. Ali’s muscles zinged with adrenaline as Denny clip-clopped down the cement hallway. She guided him outside to cool down. The smells of manure, leather, popcorn, and animal sweat hung together in the summer air. She closed her eyes, breathing in the dream of the rodeo. She sympathized with the men who became addicted to running the circuit despite the dangers. Knew what had possessed Dad to chase after the prized bull-riding buckle like a lover. ‘Cause she would, if it weren’t for the four feet of responsibility waiting for her near the outdoor stall.

“Great ride, Mom!” Her brown-haired son jumped up and down as she swung off of Denny.

“You wanna hold him, Chance?” With an impish smile that displayed more gums than teeth, her almost seven-year-old accepted the reins, his beat up cowboy boots clomping into rich Montana dirt. She pulled off her Stetson, using the hat to fan the short cropped hair from around her face then unlatched the gate. Checking first to see that Denny had water, she turned and pulled off the saddle, propping the heavy leather over the metal railing. She ran her hand down his back, drenched from exertion, murmuring praise as Chance handed her the sweat scrapper. With slow swipes she pulled most of the moisture from the horse’s coat then reached for the curry comb.

Her son bounced on the balls of his feet. “Can I go back and see the scores?”

“Sorry buddy, you have to hang with me.”

“But Aunt Kate is in there. If I promise to sit with her can I go?”

Ali moved the comb in strong circles, drawing the dirt out of Denny’s hair. “I said no.”

“Phu-leeeez, Mom. I want to see the bull riders.”

Throwing down the curry comb she spun around and pressed her hands onto her hips. Her heart squeezed. He might mirror her brown-sugar freckles, but the thick maple hair that stuck up on the side when he woke in the morning, his square jaw, the angular nose and intense pale blue eyes—all belonged to his father. Chance looked just like….

Ali shook her head. She did not want to think about him.

“All right my little bronco, here’s the deal. You may go sit with Kate, but we are not staying for the bull riding. Just until they announce the barrel winners. Got it?”

“But Mom—”

“Got it?” She cut him off with a scowl.

With a hand on the top of his hat, Chance ran back into the Ravalli County Fairgrounds main arena. The sticky sweet cotton candy, the clowns, and the 4-H pigs held no interest for him—just the broncs and the blood. She shook her head. Such a boy.

Scooping up a dandy brush, she ran her hands over the stiff rice stems as she looked up at the Bitterroot Mountain Range. The snow-capped peaks laughed down at the sweltering festivities in the sun-drenched valley. Rich light painted vivid greens across a tapestry of pines, the hues of the canyon crags vying with the peaks for splendor. The Bitterroots calmed her. Taking them in reminded her that even when life felt topsy-turvy, purpose and beauty remained in the world. She sometimes toyed with the idea of moving away—starting life over—but she couldn’t leave those mountains.

A summer breeze tickled her skin. She turned and gave Denny’s muscled neck a pat. She needed to get back to the arena. They could have announced the winners by now.

Ali put the dandy brush to Denny with quick little flicks that tossed the last of the dirt off his body and into the air. If only memories were as easy to flick away.

*          *          *

_______________

Jess

Five Keys to an Effective Critique Group

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Finding a good critique group can be as difficult as finding that elusive pair of perfect-fitting jeans. Don’t commit to a group too soon. Make certain to find a good fit. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1)      Find People Whose Writing You Enjoy

Make certain that you enjoy the writing style of the people you are committing to critique. I’ve been in groups before where I wasn’t excited about a particular writer’s voice (meaning the sound of their writing) or the content of their manuscript.  Know what happened every week? I’d wait until an hour before group and force myself to go through their submissions. Ouch. Not so great of me. They deserved more attention, and they deserved someone who was thrilled with what they were working on.  Critiquing shouldn’t be a chore. You should look forward to your group members’ next installments.

The group I’m in now is a perfect for me. When I see a new email from another member I skip every other message waiting for me and open up their note because I’m so excited to get their next submission. I LOVE reading through their pieces and rejoice at the opportunity to help them make said pieces stronger.

You don’t have to find people who write the same as you. Within my critique group we have a suspense writer, a spec writer, a YA writer, and a romance writer. Some of us write historicals, some write contemporaries, and some write in the future.  It works because we all respect each other’s writing.

2)      Find People Who Like Your Writing Voice

Each one of us writes in a way that is unlike anyone else. This is your writing voice. We’re not meant to sound like another author, in fact, that’s boring and probably won’t sell. The problem is many novice writers kill each other’s voices. They innocently believe they are helping that author by cutting out all the things that make that author unique. They tell them to stick to rules, or point out when a writer is doing something “not right.”

Find people who enjoy your writing style and who are going to make your voice stronger. Don’t stick with critique partners who strip your piece of its voice. If after their changes, your piece reads like just about anyone walking down Main Street could have written it, then dump that critique partner quick! Your uniqueness and voice is what draws a readership. That’s the thing that’ll catch an agent or an editor’s eye. Find people who can critique YOUR voice.

3)      Find People Who Know What They Are Talking About

But wait, Jessica – I’m an unpublished author and I only know other unpublished authors. Do you mean I have to befriend J.K. Rowling and see if she’ll critique my stuff? No, absolutely not. Although, sending her homemade cookies couldn’t hurt. In all seriousness, you don’t need to find accomplished writers to find effective critique partners. But you do need people who are knowledgable.

Case in point, I use to belong to a group of wonderful writers. Within the group I was the only fiction writer and they all wrote non-fiction. We all had encouraging things to say about each other’s writing, but we couldn’t truly critique.

Find people who are actively learning about the publishing industry and niche that you are writing within/for. Someone who wants to write for the ABA market will have different things to say than someone who wants to write CBA. A writer’s conference is an excellent place to meet critique group members (that’s where I found mine!).  The other members should be just as motivated as you are to keep up on industry standards and trends. They need to be people whose opinions and advice you’ll trust and respect.

4)      Choose A Manageable Number

Focus on your work load when making a choice of what type of group to join. A group with ten people might sound tempting (I mean, nine people giving feedback!), but remember that means nine people’s stuff you have to critique constantly. Do you have that sort of time? I don’t. My group has four people (including me). We each get one week a month to submit 5000 words, the other three members critique before Saturday each week. When there are other circumstances (looming deadlines and whatnot) we send a call-out for help and one or more other members will step up and help critique full manuscripts  or larger portions as needed. This model works well for us. We can all focus on our own writing, knowing that each week our responsibility is manageable (20 pages a week).

5)      Find People Who Have Different Strengths/Weaknesses Than You

Before you commit to a critique group, sit down and be honest with yourself. What are your writing strengths? What are your weaknesses?  Discuss these things with potential critique partners. Find people who have strengths that will improve your writing and weaknesses that you can help them with.

Know what? I’m terrible at grammar and the mechanics of writing. Embarrassingly so. But I can craft a plot that’ll keep readers guessing and can make-up characters that leap right off the page. I’m also strong at sensory details and describing things in unique ways. If I found critique partners who needed grammar help, what good would I be to them? It would be a waste of time.

When all is said and done, a critique group can be a huge encouragement, or just a lot of extra work. It all depends on who is in your group and what your goals are.

Write on -Jess