the winning entry

Late last July, I entered a contest at Writer Unboxed. The task was this: write 200 words of a story’s beginning  in 24 hours. The judges chose finalists, and then readers voted on the final stories: yes, they would keep reading; or no, they wouldn’t turn the page. Well, my entry won! The prize? A Freewrite, touted as a “distraction free writing tool”.

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My Freewrite arrived the other day and I’m busily learning the ins and outs of it so I can tell you all about it … and that’s what made me realize I never shared my contest entry. I admit I feel shy about it, because I’d like to polish it up more than 24 hours’ worth. Usually I’m a 20 or so drafts writer, but no. It won, after all, posted publicly for all to see. The Freewrite folks also asked permission to reprint it (no news on that one yet), so it’s time I accept it, warts and all.

So here it is folks, for your reading pleasure (I hope!):

Little Kira sucked at her thumb, unable to look away from a few grains of sand clinging to the mermaid’s eye. Confusion pooled within her six-year-old mind, flowing back and forth between delight that mermaids were real and horror that this one was dead.

The tide completed its voyage out and was coming ‘round again when the search party found her there, her small form hidden amid the debris of the storm surge. Squawking gulls took to wing as they approached. The smell struck them hard, a stench of rotting fish and decayed seaweed. Their jaws fell agape at the mermaid, hands flying to their mouths.

Someone clasped their hands over Kira’s eyes as a sand crab scuttled from the mermaid’s open mouth. Kira pushed the hands away, thinking that it wasn’t fair the summer sun had bloated the mermaid so.

A woman wrapped her in a blanket, murmuring to her companion. “What becomes of a little girl who sees something like this?”

Kira wondered what they meant.

She suddenly wanted to touch the mermaid, just once, before she had to leave. Without hesitating, she reached for the mermaid’s tail. A smear of silver scales came off onto her hand.

Well, what about you? Would you keep reading?

pack your bags for a daydream

Pack your bags for a daydream, was all the invitation said. I looked around my apartment, uncertain. What would I need for a daydream?

Google didn’t help.

My empty suitcase, second-hand and no stranger to adventure, waited on my bedroom floor. “Think like a story,” it suggested.

My suitcase is overfond of riddles.

In the end I packed a clock, so I wouldn’t run out of time. A dictionary, so I wouldn’t be at a loss for words. A compass, so I could explore with confidence, and a mirror, to reflect upon my adventures. Blushing, I tucked in my imagination. I probably should have thought of that sooner. Next came knitting needles, in case I felt the dream unraveling. The last thing I packed was a box of cookies. To share.

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publication day!

Issue 68 of Andromeda Spaceways is out today, which is especially exciting because it contains my short story Mrs. Coleman’s Backyard Refugee Camp.  Just look at this gorgeous cover

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artwork by Evgeniia Litovchenko

It is quite a thrill to see my name on there!

The digital issue is available for purchase on Andromeda Spaceways’ website for $4.95 (Australian dollars). I’d love to hear your thoughts if you read it!

On another note, my eldest starts kindergarten tomorrow. Which may mean more time to write, but first … inevitable heartache. *deep breath*

 

a clutch of mermaid eggs

I’d heard the legends, though I didn’t believe them. Not until now. The eclipse passed us over somewhere in the afternoon, too far south for more than a bit of pretty light. This wasn’t why we went to the beach. We only sought an afternoon of fun, a cool breeze, and the reassuring smell of brine.

It wasn’t until I saw them I remembered the tales Grandma used to tell of the mermaids. “They only lay their eggs when the moon eclipses the sun. When the sea is strongest and the sun is busy fighting past the moon. They don’t like anyone watching, you see.”

I dismissed the idea. Even as a child I was convinced mermaids, if they were anything, must be mammals. Like us. Like dolphins.

Grandma shook her head. “Aye but a mermaid has the tail of a fish, not a dolphin. The bottom half is not a mammal, and that’s the end which lays the egg, after all.”

There was no winning with her, though I argued anyway. Most of my life this argument of ours carried, both of us convinced we knew more about the reproductive cycle of mythical creatures than the other. Neither of us acknowledging the futility of debating the science of fairy tales.

She died some years ago, before my child was born. So on this beach, after this eclipse, I tell my daughter Grandma’s mermaid egg story. She screws up her little face and giggles. “Mermaids don’t lay eggs!”

A moment later she looks doubtful, peering into nooks between the rocks, searching. “Just in case,” she tells me.

I smile, basking in her innocence, her sense of wonder. I remain in this smug, parental state until she finds them. A clutch of scaled eggs hidden in a swath of seaweed revealed by the ebbing tide.

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We have just missed the mermaids, I realize, looking out over the endless sea. For once the water doesn’t strike me as empty; it is another world. All I know of it is but a false reflection of my own. I am not privy to the mermaid’s world. But Grandma, she was. Somehow.

My daughter leaps into the air with a whoop and rushes into a wave. No little girl will ever forget the day she found mermaid eggs. She’ll be the keeper of that story now, and I … I will be the person who never believed. Until today.

science potions

My eldest daughter came up to me the other day, with her plaintive, I’m-about-to-ask-for-something expression firmly affixed on her face. I braced myself.

“Mum, do you think I could get one of those science potions kits?”

Science potions!

I’m 98% sure she means a chemistry set, but I’m not going to correct her just yet. She starts kindergarten in a few weeks, so we’ve still got time. We can have fun with science potions for a solid three years before she needs to know the proper name, and by then the wonder should have settled in for good.

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the potion master, hunting for science

P.S. I won the Writer Unboxed Flog-A-Wu first pages contest! If you’d like to read my winning entry and check out my prize (which I am so excited about I can’t stop giggling), click here

 

blurbin’

I have a few short story publications coming up (yay!!) and I have found myself in need of a bio blurb. A third person, all about Jennifer paragraph where I am meant to cleverly market myself.

*cue screeching tires*

Here’s the thing: I’m not all that exciting. That’s what the stories are for. I have a baby; I change diapers and color with my preschooler all day. When I’m not doing that, I’m glued to my notebook/keyboard working on my latest story. Is that exciting? Can I make that exciting? What if the notebook is ON FIRE and the keyboard has a preschooler about to dump a sugary drink into its mysterious innards – wait. That’s not my genre. I’m a fantasy writer dag nab it. The sky is the limit! I can do this!

Eep. What is it about an unlimited sky that makes it so hard to start?

Okay, here goes:

In addition to her tireless efforts as Keeper of Imaginary Beasts, Jennifer Shelby has been known to hunt for stories in the beetled undergrowth of fairy infested forests. If you or your imaginary beast need help, feel free to contact her via story hunting headquarters at  jennifershelby.ca   wait, no, this seems like a good way to get crazy people trolling for dragon ointments contacting me at all hours

Jennifer Shelby is known for hunting stories in the beetled undergrowth of fairy infested forests. She has collected the titles of mother, Keeper of Imaginary Beasts, terrible cook, and   what? I can’t out myself publicly as a terrible cook. I’ll never be invited to another potluck again!         Okay. Maybe leave it in.  

Story hunter. Author. Keeper of imaginary beasts. I like it! But it’s too short. *sigh* Wait! I can use for my fancy schmancy new business cards.

Edit: here that is (the contact info is hiding on the reverse side, it’s not actually the worst business card ever).

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I needed 2 of these, so now I have 500.

 

A visit to her house will yield several illegal, imaginary beasts, so she requests that you keep its location a secret Ugh. *cue CSIS (which is kind of the Canadian FBI but not really) showing up and looking through the diaper pail for illegal unicorns*

Jennifer Shelby is known for hunting stories in the beetled undergrowth of fairy infested forests. This story, discovered in a mossy hollow below an old maple, is a part of her ongoing catch-and-release program. If you would like to know more about story hunting, Jennifer, or imaginary beasts, feel free to contact her story hunting headquarters via jennifershelby.ca

OoOoh. I LIKE this. I might even love it. In fact, I think we’re done here. *crosses fingers that I don’t hate it tomorrow*

Have any feedback? Leave it here, I’d love to have your input!

Side note: this blog syncs into the jennifershelby.ca website via magical widgetiness, sorry if you’re reading on wordpress and feeling as confused as a CSIS agent finding a unicorn in a diaper pail right now.

blunt instruments

Grief is a blunt instrument. It doesn’t follow logic. It isn’t predictable. Then the cruelest moment comes and you discover life goes on without the one you’ve lost. That it can go on without them. All that is left is the black hole of your passing grief. You tip toe around it, trying to ignore its gravity. Trying not to fall in. Or give in.  Trying to be strong for the small people who are not ready to imagine you as anything but. Feeling guilty for healing. For smiling after tragedy. Surviving.

To wake up, scarred, and face another day which deep down you know will only pull you further from the world that knew them. And further from the pain.

Rest in peace, Aunt Patty. You were loved.

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firefly o’clock

Two years ago today I woke up my eldest daughter to see the fireflies for the first time. Her little hand was warm and sweet inside my own as she peered out into the dark forest. “It’s not as dark as I thought it would be,” she announced.
I tried to point out the fireflies among the wildflowers, but her eyes gazed steadily at the seldom-seen stars of the hazy night sky, eagerly devouring them with her entire being. “Wow,” she whispered, transfixed.
We walked further along the wooded lane, with her looking over her shoulder now and again to make certain that the moon was still there. “It’s my friend, the Moon,” she’d tell me in a hushed voice, then shout “Hi Moon!” and give a joyous wave to the jolly orb. Now and then he winked at her with wisps of fog, much to her delight.
A green firefly lit up in a patch of clover not far from us. She gasped. “A firefly!” The green light flashed again, and again, as she counted…poorly.
“I want to see another one, mummy!” she said, So we circled our lawn, traipsing through the wet grass as we watched for fairy lights in wild places.
“We have to whisper, and tiptoe. Whisper and tiptoe,” she hissed loudly to me as she stomped through the wet in her beloved rubber boots.
She squeezed my hand tight as a moth flew too close to her face and they startled one another, but it’s easy to be brave when you’re three and your friend the Moon is right there and your mummy is holding your hand. “What was that?”
“It was a moth.”
“Was it a fairy moth?”
“It might have been, it’s hard to tell in the dark.”
As we neared our little pond a handful of fireflies whispered luminescent greetings and we settled in to watch the twinkle of their phosphorescence. Some nestled in the devil’s paintbrush, while the bolder ones soared as high as the branches of the nearby trees. Her eyes, glazed with the sleepiness of one who should be in bed before dark, wandered back up to the stars in wonder.
In sitting still the mosquitoes discovered us and began to bother. We swatted until she suggested we go back inside. Hand in hand we walked back to the house. “So what did you think of the fireflies?” I asked her.
“I thought there’d be less bugs. And more faeries,” she said, her most serious look upon her face. “But I liked them very much.”
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eighty unicorns under the hood

When she was young, Granny volunteered at a retirement home for imaginary friends. She would read them books, listen to their stories,  and keep them company. Her favorite resident was an aging, black unicorn with an opalescent alicorn who’d been popular in the 1700’s.

“You know, I’ve always been jealous of horses,” he told her. “I was James Watt’s imaginary friend when he was a boy. He grew up to coin the term ‘horsepower’. I’ve never gotten over that. He could have used ‘unicornpower.’ No one would have minded. It sounds good.”

Granny tested it out. “This baby has eighty unicorns under the hood.” She whistled. “Oh my. That does sound good.”

“Doesn’t it? I think he did it just to spite me for not spearing his sister with my horn when he wanted me to. Told me he’d rather have a real horse that listened to him than an imaginary unicorn who wouldn’t.” He let out a sad knicker. “James never imagined me again. He was only five years old.” A few tears dribbled down the unicorn’s muzzle. “Stupid horses.”

Granny always referred to engines in units of unicornpower after that. When she took up farming with Gramps she liked to brag she was the only woman in the county with a thirty-two unicornpower tractor. Drove him absolutely nuts.

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