Author Archives: Jo Ann Schneider

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Adapting

I’ve been going to the Cedar City Shakespeare Festival for years. We go over the 4th of July weekend, reserving our hotel rooms a year in advance and getting tickets for the festival in January.

As we all know, there’s a bit of a pandemic going on, and as a result the Shakespeare Festival was cancelled. 🙁

This is from a few years ago.

Because everyone already had the days off work, we decided to go to Cedar City anyway. We usually spend out time running between meals and plays, so this year we decided to do some outdoor exploring!

Don’t worry, we had masks and didn’t get too close to people and all that. We did our best to be safe.

The results were spectacular!

One day we took most of the afternoon to drive a scenic route that went from Brianhead ski resort to Cedar Breaks.

If you’ve never been to southern Utah, and have the chance, you should visit. The scenery is stunning, and it feels good to breathe clean air.

We dragged along a small bbq and some hot dogs, and for a late lunch, we stopped at Navajo Lake for a picnic.

Then, on the 4th, we mostly played games and then watched Hamilton on Disney+.

Almost as soon as we finished the movie, the fireworks started. We saw a whole bunch from our hotel balcony.

So not the 4th of July we were expecting, but it was relaxing not to have a strict schedule to stick to.

How was your 4th of July?


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3-Jul-2020

Catastrophic Angel Response Team (C.A.R.T.)

Guardian Angel: Zeek

Rank: Rookie

Mission: 1

I expected the ride to be more bumpy. Instead, one second I was standing on the transport cloud, and the next I was in a home.

An earthly home.

I pulled my flaming sword from the scabbard, conjured my plumed helmet, and readied myself for a fight.

“Seriously, you brought your sword, kid?” my controller, Zedekiah, asked in my ear.

I ignored him as stats poured into my mind.

Two parents. Three children. One cat. One snake.

No immediate danger.

The tabby cat sitting in the corner hissed.

“Stop scaring the animals,” Zedekiah growled.

The green indicator light on my wrist band lit up, indicating I had plenty of time.“What’s my mission?” I asked, looking around the cluttered bedroom. It had been a while since I’d been a kid, but the blocks, cars, and clothes on the floor indicated it likely belonged to a young boy. Maybe he was the one in danger. I slowly moved into the hall, checking both directions for enemies.

The cat hissed again.

“Put the sword away, kid,” Zedekiah said.

“I’m not reading anything out of the ordinary,” I said. Which was unusual. They’d told us at the academy that we should understand our assignment right away. So far I had nothing.

Zedekiah sighed. “Kid, this is a Class A mission.”

“They taught us to be prepared.”

“Tell me what a Class A mission should entail?”

I crept along the plush carpets toward the center of the house, not daring to blink in case I missed something important. “Class A missions are low-level saves.”

“Which include?” Zedekiah prompted.

When I reached the next bedroom, I jumped in front of the doorway with my sword up and ready. Only inanimate objects lay inside. “It depends.”

Zedekiah sighed. “Kid, you’ll never need a sword for a Class A mission.”

I felt the soft padding of paws on the floor, and I whirred around to find the cat in the hall, staring at me. “This cat is following me. It reads as normal, but I’m not so sure.” Demons could be tricky, especially disguised as cats.

“What are you feeling?” Zedekiah asked.

I continued to stare into the cat’s yellow eyes as I considered. Besides the cat nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I closed my eyes and let the mission pull me. A gentle tug, like someone had pulled in a single hair of my head, lured me backward. Away from the cat.

“Do you feel anything?” Zedekiah asked.

“Maybe.” I opened my eyes, glared at the animal, then followed the pull.

A sudden rumble filled the air, and the floor shook.

I moved into a fighting stance. “Something’s coming.” A shriek sounded, then laughter. “Something loud.”

“Probably the kids,” Zedekiah said. “Try to figure out if they’re your mission.”

I really thought it would be easier to feel what my mission was supposed to be. A dark presence would indicate something occult, but there was nothing that oppressive here. A pull toward the cat or the children would give me a clue, but as the three children thundered up the stairs and then through me, which made me shiver, I felt nothing. “It’s not the kids,” I said.

“Keep moving,” Zedekiah said. “It should be close.”

I obeyed, creeping past the last bedroom, where I found the mother picking clothes off the floor and putting them into a basket.

That’s when I finally felt something. “Zedekiah? I’ve got something.”

“From what?”

“The mother. She’s…” I fought to remember the task. “She’s preparing laundry.”

“Are you drawn to her or to something in that room?”

I closed my eyes and let the tug guide me. It moved to my right, and when I cracked one eye, I saw that the woman had moved in the same direction. “Her.”

“You sure?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Okay, what kind of a feeling are you getting?”

Again, I’d expected more. “Frustration. Anger. She seems like she’s on the ragged edge.” Each movement she made looked jerky, and she was muttering under her breath.

The indicator light went from green to yellow, telling me I needed to hurry.

“What do you think that means?” Zedekiah asked.

Lessons from the academy came back to me, as I processed the information. “It probably means that I’m here to…” I trailed off. This was silly. I’d graduated top of my class. Well, almost the top of my class. Certainly in the top ten. Why had they sent me on a feel-good mission? Anyone could do this.

“Zeek?”

“Hold on.” I lowered my sword and released my helmet. How was I going to tell the other angels that my first mission was nothing more than a pep talk? This didn’t seem like a guardian angel sort of thing.

That thought struck me. We were protectors. Usually from some sort of physical harm. We didn’t go around making people feel good about themselves. There was an entire team of support angels for that.

What was I supposed to protect her from? Herself? I finally answered Zedekiah. “I’m not sure why I’m here.”

“Keep looking around.”

I did as he said, walking to the stairs, then floating to the bottom. As soon as I left the stairs the pull tugged me back to them. “It’s something about the stairs,” I said.

“Elaborate.”

I didn’t know how. They pulled me back as if the way to them had suddenly become downhill. There was nothing extraordinary about them.

The yellow indicator light turned orange and began blinking.

I had to hurry.

There was nothing extraordinary about the stairs. They were carpeted and led up to the second floor. One side had a banister while the other was the wall. A couple of toys sat at random intervals.

There was no apparent danger.

The mother got to the top of the stairs.

I searched frantically as the blinking sped up. Nothing caught my attention. Nothing felt off.

The mother started down.

The light turned red, but continued to blink. I had seconds.

There was nothing I could see that would be a danger. I let out a frustrated sigh and kicked one of the toys out of the mother’s way.

She stepped right where it had been.

My indicator light went green.

“Nice job, kid,” Zedekiah said. “Prepare for extraction.”


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Why I Did It

Over the past nine weeks, I’ve read eighteen books that I reviewed on this blog. Here are some stats:

  • Traditionally Published Books: 4
  • Indie (Self) Published Books: 14
  • Science Fiction: 9
  • Romance: 9
  • Books I would highly recommend to others: 2
  • Books I might recommend to others depending on their taste: 4
  • Sci-Fi that I will read more in the series: 2
  • Romance authors I will read more of: 2

There wasn’t a book I would say absolutely don’t read, but there were a few that would come with fair warning that it they had issues.

Part of this nine-week goal was to read books in the genres I write or want to write in. I found a few surprises.

Romance:

I was surprised that The Nantucket Inn, which after a year continues to lurk in the top twenty clean romance books, reads more like a women’s fiction series (drama and ongoing relationships) instead of a happily ever after romance.

The even shorter-than-I-imagined length of most of the romance books I read shocked me. Mine are longer than all but two of these.

Science Fiction:

I do like military sci-fi, but I prefer a smaller team to follow. The books I liked better had this element to them. The stiffness of military structure is okay to read, but I’m not drawn to write it.

This isn’t a shock, but rather than idea driven stories, I prefer character driven stories. Binti is more idea driven, despite there being a great main character, and while I found it interesting, it wasn’t compelling to me.

In General:

I know many of these indie authors make six figures a year selling books on Amazon. They specialize in giving the readers something the same but different from the last favorite story they read. I want to draw on that resonance in my writing, while giving the readers something new but familiar.

In the meantime, I’ll keep reading and looking for those stories that I’ll really love!


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26-Jun-2020

When the End of the World Gets Really Weird

“This is ridiculous,” a man behind me grumbled.

I kept my eyes forward, not wanting to be associated with him. The idiot kept talking.

“I mean, he’s a kid that can’t even talk. How is it he has all the power?”

Someone shushed the man, and he started muttering under his breath.

It’s not that I didn’t agree with the guy, but if the Kid, as the man had called our new God, heard him, we’d all die. Unless the Kid was in a good mood, then we’d all get tickled until we wet our pants or something.

A woman looked over her shoulder at me. “How did our world come to this?”

I shook my head. No one knew, and speculating only wasted time that none of us had. By now my family would only be days away from starving, but if the Kid liked my gift, then we’d have food for the rest of our lives. I cinched up my grip on the old recyclable bag dangling from my fingers, and prayed to the God I used to worship that the Kid would like it.

The man behind me continued to mumble, until I heard a thunk and then a thud. A quick glance told me someone had knocked him out and the guards dragged him away. I found the woman who was responsible—hard to miss the giant staff she had—and gave her a nod.

She nodded back.

It’s like we were best friends.

A tall, heavy door creaked open.

“Next!” a guard shouted.

The line shuffled forward, and the man before the woman ahead of me squared his shoulders and walked from the dingy hallway of an old office building into what I knew was a small auditorium that could hold a hundred people or so.

We waited. I ignored the smell of someone’s fear trickling down their leg. Instead of despairing, I thought of my daughter. If I didn’t have to give a gift to the Kid, it would go to her.

Not that anyone needed what I had. In fact, it was wildly impractical. But, the Kid had fickle taste, and a strange sense of humor on his good days, and if this was one of those days, then I would be in.

I hoped.

I just needed enough food to last the spring. We had seeds to grow in the summer, but I knew we wouldn’t last that long. I hadn’t eaten in three days. My wife, probably more.

A scream came from beyond the door.

The woman in front of me shifted.

I swallowed.

A few minutes later the door opened and the guard said, “Next!”

The woman straightened and entered.

I walked forward to take her place, and caught a glimpse of the man who had gone before her, being dragged out the far door, a smear of blood in his wake. I tried to get a glimpse of the Kid, but the door closed too fast.

Whatever had happened to our world had left us a mere husk of what we’d once been. Magic had taken us by surprise, and had decided children would wield it. Children with disabilities, to be precise. The Kid had severe autism, and could call on power that I’d seen pull down sky scrapers and change the weather. Anything could cause a mood swing, from the color red to someone’s hair being too long to the texture of their jacket.

I knew, because I’d had an autistic daughter before this had all started. Her biggest trigger had been the sound of footsteps on a hard surface, but anything could set her off.

The power had come to her, and consumed her. Along with our house and a nurse. Lucky for us, we’d been grabbing dinner at the time.

It still caused an ache inside when I thought about it, and a tear gathered in the corner of one eye. I hadn’t been there for my little girl, and even though I knew I couldn’t have done anything about it, I still felt it was my biggest failure in this life.

The door before me creaked open.

“Next,” the guard said.

I jumped. My heart was racing, and my hands shaking. I shouldn’t have been thinking about her.

“You coming?” the guard asked.

I lunged forward, afraid I’d miss my chance. He gave me a disdainful look before he shut the door behind me.

I hadn’t heard the woman scream. Maybe that was a good sign.

“Approach,” another guard said.

The room fell away from me, and I focused on the Kid. He was skinny, blond, and filthy. He sat naked within a ring of toys, absently poking an old iPad. It had been almost a year since I’d seen him, and he’d gotten taller, but it seemed his intellect had stayed where it had always been.

It was now or never. I walked forward, got to the line, went down on one knee and bowed. “I have a present for you.”

The Kid glanced up.

I pulled the little toy out of my bag. I knew I’d only have his attention for a second, so I showed him the outside of the happy, stuffed octopus.

The Kid started to look away.

Then I flipped it inside out to reveal a frowning octopus.

The Kid blinked.

I did it again. “Happy. Mad.”

The Kid smiled, and held his hand out for the item.

A guard took it from my trembling fingers and the kid scrambled out of his circle to claim it. His eyes lit up as he switched the toy from happy to mad and back. He squealed in delight, then pointed.

The guard grunted and hauled me to my feet by my elbow. “Looks like you caught him on a good day. Take whatever you want from the food room.”

My heart pounded in relief, but it also ached for this boy. For our innocent children who were now something else.

***

If you want your very own reversible octopus, check out Teeturtle!
(I have a reversible Narwhal myself)


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