Meet Mariah Avix

This week I’m introducing the editor of the amazing podcast 600 Second Saga, Mariah Avix. You may have heard a few of my stories published there and they couldn’t have found a happier home. In addition to the podcast, she is also the author of Dangerous Metal, Oak Stream Hollow, and Summer Solace, the first novel in the Smoke Jumper series.

Malcolm needs a summer away to decide if he wants to stay with his cheating wife. His daughter Daisy never wants to see the people who betrayed her.

In a cabin as far from the city as they can get, Faye, the park ranger, warns them of fire, woods, and wildlife.

Will either learn to love or trust again or will the forest devour them first.

Now for the interview.

1. Tell us a little about you and what you’re working on.

I am Mariah Avix and I’m currently working on a rewrite of a novella in my Smoke Jumper series. I’ve also got a rewrite of an urban fantasy novel in progress…progress used in the most loose way possible here.

I can’t wait to read more about Faye!

You As A Reader

2. When did you first fall in love with books?

When I was small. I was talking recently with my mom and sister about this after hearing LeVar Burton speak and I was absolutely sure that my grandma had recorded herself reading Ramona Quimby to me. And yes! I wasn’t imagining it. She’d read both Ramona Quimby and The Secret Garden into a cassette recorder and I was able to listen to those. That was definitely a moment of falling in love with books.

3. What’s your favorite book from your childhood?

In addition to those I loved Swan Lake. My recollection of this was that my mom would read it to my sister and I while the music played. (I had a chance later to see the Swan Lake ballet performed in St. Petersburg which was incredible.)

4. Of the books you’ve read, which one changed you the most?

I think all of the books have changed me a little. It’s a great part of what books do, they make you change and see the world differently which I love. The most? I’m not sure I could answer that. Maybe Hitchhiker’s Guide? Maybe Shards of Honor? Maybe a few of the books I read as a pre-teen that I don’t remember the names of, or even if my recollection of them is accurate any more but some ghost of them still haunts my experiences? 

5. What’s the last book you read and your current favorite? 

The last book I read would be Ancillary Justice. I listened to the audiobook and the second was done by a different narrator so I’ve been very hesitant to jump into it. My current favorite is all of them? I’m sort of floating around in a I Love Them All space so no favorite.

I’m sure most readers can relate to that happy state of being. I know I do right now. They’re all so good!

6. If you could meet any author, alive or dead, who would it be?

This is hard! I’m not sure because there’s the whole don’t meet your heroes thing. I think any author I could meet would be one who would want to be my friend and hang out with me and discuss the minutia of being an author with me. (I’ve been incredibly lucky to have made some great friends through NaNo, FB, Twitter, and through doing the podcast.)

You As A Writer

7. When did you first know you were a writer?

I’m really not sure. I’ve always loved making up stories, but putting them down on paper with some seriousness has only come in the last 5 years or so.

8. Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?  If so, what was it about?

I’m not sure it was the first, but I have somewhere a nice little handwriting book that I wrote a story in when I was maybe 5 or 6? I don’t even know what it was about. Hopefully I’ve gotten better at story structure since, but I think I’ve gotten worse at handwriting.

I’ve never met an author who actually likes their own handwriting.

9. What has been the most difficult part of your writing journey?  The best part?

Deciding to rewrite or kill. I’m not sure sometimes, often even, if I should rework the entire story or chuck it and start over knowing the things I know now. There is a huge cyclical nature to it and I’d like to use that better when I can. But I get so hung up on I put SO much work into this story and I hate throwing it all out and only keeping the knowledge that I’ve gained when I feel like I should keep more.

The best part is the bringing the story to life. I love that moment when I do the final audio record and even though I’ve worked and reworked and re reworked the story to death it still pulls at my heartstrings and makes me feel all the things. I love those moments.

I know what you mean about deciding whether to keep working on it or to move on. It’s hard to know if/when any idea becomes no longer worth the work.

10. Of all the writing advice you’ve received, what helped you the most?

All the writing advice is wrong. Seriously. The best thing to hear is that all the super prescriptive “you have to do it this way Or Else” things are wrong. Work your way.

11. Tell us about your current project and any others you’re working on.

Always working on Smoke Jumper’s stories. Shifters and protecters of the woods. And a thousand pieces of flash fiction.

For the record, I totally blame you for my newfound obsession with flash fiction. I’d never written anything that short before and now I can’t stop. And it’s all your fault.

Fun Stuff About You

12. Besides writing and reading, what are some of your other interests?

Podcast! Audio!

I love audio, I love taking a piece of work and turning it into something else. Giving that additional layer of life and breath to the story. I do audiobook narration and of course the 600 Second Saga podcast (and if anyone hasn’t listened to your episodes, especially Ann, they have to!).

Aww, thanks.

13. If you could become an instant expert at any one thing, what would it be and why?

Being charming. Just being perfectly, incredibly, impossibly charismatic. It’s a skill that is so far outside my universe I’m not even sure how it works, it is one of 2 things that I think are legitimate magic in our world. (The other being impossibly large amounts of money.)

14. You’ve just won an all expenses paid trip to anywhere in the world.  Where would you go?

Antarctica is pretty appealing. But really? Space. I want to go to space. I know you said in the world, but I reject that and say an all expense paid trip I entered would be for space. Up. All the way.

That’s awesome!

Final Thoughts

15. How can people connect with you?

Twitter is great, @MariahAvix and my website

16. Anything else you’d like to tell us?

Stories are very important. Tell them.

Thanks for sharing a bit about you, Mariah!

Be sure to check out her podcast 600 Second Saga and if you like what you hear, consider giving your support through Patreon. If you’d like to read or listen to Mariah’s books, they are available on Amazon and Audible:

Summer Solace ebook

Summer Solace audiobook

Oak Stream Hollow ebook
Oak Stream Hollow audiobook
Dangerous Metal ebook
Dangerous Metal audiobook

Meet A.S. Akkalon

This week I’d like to introduce you to the talented and hilarious A.S. Akkalon, aspiring author and blogger. Get a taste of her humor and read her exceptional short stories at

A.S. Akkalon planned to run away and join the circus until the fantastical worlds of David Eddings, Katharine Kerr, and Raymond E. Feist inspired her to become a fantasy author. 

By day, she works in an office where computers outnumber suits of armour more than two-to-one, and by night she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

If life has taught her anything, it’s that the cat is always right.

1. Tell us a little about you and what you’re working on.

My name is Alecia and I’m definitely not obsessed with cats or dragons. Sorry, I can’t say that with a straight face. 

As well as cats and dragons, I’m moderately fond of medieval castles, and manage to maintain my romantic illusions about them because I’ve never actually visited one. Nor have I visited a hobbit hole even though I live in Middle Earth.

I am working on making friends online with people I will never have to meet, ridding the world of coffee by drinking it all myself, and editing my high fantasy novel, which is still WAY TOO LONG.

I’m trying – and failing – to not judge you for the hobbit hole thing. Not that I’m jealous of you for living in Middle Earth or anything.

You As A Reader

2. When did you first fall in love with books?

I think I’ve always loved books. It’s possible in a past life I was a book.

3. What’s your favorite book from your childhood?

I loved so many books as a child, but one of my favourites now from back then is Winnie the Pooh because it’s cute, funny, and at least a little profound. I’m working on collecting it in as many languages as I can… and then learning the languages. Collecting the books has turned out to be easier than learning the languages.

4. Of the books you’ve read, which one changed you the most?

I left this question for last because it was the hardest. Is “the heavy one that I dropped on my foot, breaking it” a valid answer?

I can’t decide whether to roll my eyes or be impressed that you managed to break your foot with a book.

5. What’s the last book you read and your current favorite?

The last book I read was Catling’s Bane by D. Wallace Peach. I just finished reading it for the second time. The first time I was beta reading for Diana, the second time was just for fun. If you enjoy beautifully written fantasy I recommend you check it out.

Sorry, I can’t pick just one favourite book. The others might get offended and smother me in the night. Or maybe that’s the cat.

6. If you could meet any author, alive or dead, who would it be?

Shakespeare, because then I could say I met Shakespeare. Also, I could see if he talks as funny as he writes. 

You As A Writer

7. When did you first know you were a writer?

I write every day, but I’m not convinced I’m a writer now. In fact, I’d rather not be.

There’s something about labelling it that feels limiting. If I’m a writer then I ought to be like this and behave like that, and I’m automatically *not* a whole pile of other things, like a vegemite sandwich. It’s easy to do both writing and vegemite sandwiching. It’s much harder to be both a writer and a sandwich.

8. Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?  If so, what was it about?

I’m not sure it was the first story I ever wrote, but I remember writing and illustrating a story about a pricess (not being able to spell “princess”). She started out as a little pricess and turned into a big pricess. Somewhere along the way she was captured by an arch-villain called the Big Thing. Don’t worry, she escaped in the end. And possibly was eaten by a plastic crocodile.

9. What has been the most difficult part of your writing journey?  The best part?

I find plotting difficult. It took me six months of planning before I started writing my current work in progress. Then there was the time my Roomba ate the index cards of my first draft. [] That was a desolate day.

I was horrified just looking at the pictures!

Every evening when I get to sit down and work on my book is the best part, except when my cat bites me for reaching over his back to type.

10. Of all the writing advice you’ve received, what helped you the most?

“Stuff happened” is not a plot. Even if it was exciting stuff.

11. Tell us about your current project and any others you’re working on.

Right now I’m editing my fantasy novel RAIN ON DRAGON SCALES, and today I love it. Tomorrow might be a different story. 

The very short summary: An impetuous arena fighter must mend a powerful duke’s alliance with a clan of dragons if she’s ever to return home.

I’m also working on improving the very short summary for RAIN ON DRAGON SCALES, adding two posts a week of random humour and snippets of life to my blog, and writing a short story to give to people who sign up to my blog. The short story is called THE DRAGON’S APPRENTICE, and it’s about a human boy who is apprenticed to a dragon. It turns out I’m very slow at writing short stories.

Fun Stuff About You

12. Besides writing and reading, what are some of your other interests?

Reading about writing. Oh, and world domination.

Does your cat know? Because His Royal Fluffiness might have some objections.

13. If you could become an instant expert at any one thing, what would it be and why?

Learning! (And no, that’s not the same as wishing for more wishes.) Because then I could get to be an expert in anything else, obviously.

14. You’ve just won an all expenses paid trip to anywhere in the world.  Where would you go?

An isolated cabin in the snowy mountains somewhere, with a log fire and reliable internet.

Final Thoughts

15. How can people connect with you?

I blog at, or you can find me on Twitter way too often (@AkkalonAS).

16. Anything else you’d like to tell us?

Thanks for having me here. It’s been fun! And cats are better than dogs.

Thanks for gracing my little blog with your unique flair.

If you enjoyed A.S. Akkalon’s answers as much as I did, leave a comment and let us know, then check out her blog for more hilarious fun.

Meet Shari L. Tapscott

For this interview I’d like to introduce a personal favorite of mine, Shari L. Tapscott. She is the author of the Eldentimber series, the Glitter and Sparkle series, and her newest additions, Moss Forest Orchid and its sequel Greybrow Serpent which is available for pre-order.

1. Tell us a little about you and what you’re working on.

Hello! First, thank you for the interview, ML! As you’ve probably gathered, my name is Shari. A lot of people think it’s pronounced like “Sherry” but it actually rhymes with “starry” and “sorry.” I am the mother of two amazing kids, the wife to a hardworking man, and I have two incredibly spoiled pups. We live in western Colorado, in the mountain bike mecca of Fruita. 

Right now, I’m writing Sugar and Spice, the third book in the Glitter and Sparkle series, and outlining both the third Silver and Orchids book and the fifth Eldentimber book. I’m also working on edits for Greybrow Serpent.

A fifth Eldentimber book?! Eeee!

You As A Reader:

2. When did you first fall in love with books?

When I was six, my parents bought property up by a local lake and began building a cabin. It turned into a massive weekend project that spanned more than ten years, and a lot of that time I was bored to death. Mom and Dad were always working on something, and though I love to be outside, there were only so many times I could prowl the property. Thankfully, when I turned nine, I received Little Women and two Babysitter’s Club books, and I ended up devouring them. My parents encouraged both my reading and writing hobbies, and I remember being gifted with a never-ending supply of books.

3. What’s your favorite book from your childhood?

This is such a hard question! I got Battle for the Castle by Elizabeth Winthrop from a Scholastic school catalog in fifth grade, and that’s standing out right now as one of my most favorites. I remember reading that book over and over. I just loved it. 

4. Of the books you’ve read, which one changed you the most?

This is another throwback to my childhood. The Saddleclub Books by Bonnie Bryant changed me the most. I started reading them when I was in fourth grade. They are what inspired me to write. I filled notebook after notebook with stories similar to the ones I read in that series.

5. Last book you read and current favorite?

How I Met your Brother by Janette Rallison (very cute) and…another hard choice. Since I’m in a contemporary mood, let’s go with A Different Blue by Amy Harmon. It’s another book I’ve read multiple times. I love Wilson, the main guy character. He’s funny and sweet and charming. Blue is flawed and real, and her growth is amazing. Awesome book. 

6. If you could meet any author, alive or dead, who would it be?

I would love to meet Marissa Meyer. I am a huge fan of her Lunar Chronicles, and I adore her writing style.  

I couldn’t agree more. I could go on for hours about her books.

You As A Writer:

7. When did you first know you were a writer?

I wanted to write since elementary school, but I didn’t know I had a knack for it until seventh grade. Mrs. Maguire, my language arts teacher, held up one of my essays, complimenting it in front of the class. It made me feel amazing, and I started to think that I might actually be able to pursue this “writing thing.”

8. Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? If so, what was it about?

Oh, goodness. No, I’m afraid I don’t. (That’s horrible, isn’t it?) I do remember the first book I completed, though. It was a retelling of the Jorinda and Joringel fairy tale, which I titled Smoke and Mirrors Songstress. It needs all kinds of work, but I’d really like to get it out there someday, even if I have to rewrite the entire thing. 

That’s awesome that you haven’t given up on it. It’s excellent encouragement for writers still working on their first novels (in other words, me).

9. What has been the most difficult part of your writing journey? The best part?

I took a correspondence writing course when I was newly married. The information was amazing, but I got an advisor who I did not click with. At all. She writes sports non-fiction, and I…do not. After struggling through it, I stopped writing for awhile. My husband and I wanted to start a family, and I began to doubt myself and my writing ability.

About three months after my son was born, I started writing again, just for me. Then I couldn’t stop. The best part of my writing journey was when, years later, I published Pippa of Lauramore, and the paperback finally showed up on the Barnes and Noble website. It’s crazy how something like that can make you feel “real.” (Kind of like the Velveteen Rabbit!)

10. Of all the writing advice you’ve received, what helped you the most?

Write for you. When I stop loving my story, loving my characters, and loving what I’m doing, then my manuscript suffers. I cannot write for my readers–I’ve tried that, and the pressure is unreal. I’ve stopped reading most reviews, and I just do what I love. I absolutely adore my readers, but I cannot please everyone. Once I accepted that, writing became easy again. 

11. Tell us about your current project and any others you’re working on.

Sugar and Spice is Harper’s story. I love the Glitter and Sparkle books because they give me a much-needed break from the intricate world of fantasy. Sometimes a girl just needs a little modern-day fluff. This one, like the first two in the series, is a fun romantic comedy.

Greybrow Serpent picks up where Moss Forest Orchid ended, and it is a continuation of Lucia’s story. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s more magic and romance and Flink. The third book is taking a little longer to flesh out than the first, but I know the story–I just have to work it all out.

The fifth Eldentimber book is a little ways out (still untitled), but I’m hoping to release it soon after the third Silver and Orchids book. It’s going to be set a few years after Audette of Brookraven. In the story, Bran and Dristan’s father has stepped down, and Bran is now the king of Triblue. I’m toying with dual viewpoints on this novel like I did in Puss without Boots, but I’ve never done it on an Eldentimber book, and I’m not sure I want to change things up. 

Pardon me while I scream in fangirl excitement! Just when I thought I had to say goodbye to the Eldentimber universe, and it turns out I get to go back one more time! Yay!

Fun Stuff About You:

12. Besides writing and reading, what are some of your other interests?

I love to be outside! Our family has a camping/hiking blog (, and eventually, we want to explore all of Colorado and write campground guides. Right now my favorite activity is biking because the whole family loves it, and the kids will bound out of the house with smiles on their faces if we suggest it. I also love gardening, making candles and soap, and remodeling our ’84 pickup camper. (I have no idea what we were thinking!)

13. If you could become an instant expert at any one thing, what would it be and why?

You know those people who have traveled everywhere and seen everything? They can spout off facts about everything from cool places to native animals to cultures of different regions. I want to be that kind of expert, focusing first on the United States. I want to go everywhere, soak it all up, and then I want to write about it and let it fuel my fiction. 

14. You’ve just won an all expenses paid trip to anywhere in the world. Where would you go?

I want to go to Italy and tour all the little coastal villages, especially those of Cinque Terre! I want to eat the food, swim in the ocean, try gelato, and pretend I’m very cultured!  

Final Thoughts:

15. How can people connect with you?

You can visit me on Twitter, Instagram, or on my website, I am not on Facebook anymore, so please don’t reach out to me there!

16. Anything else you’d like to tell us?

If you join my newsletter, you will get all kinds of goodies, including Fire and Feathers: Prequel Novelette to Moss Forest Orchid.

Thank you so much for sharing a little about you. I can’t wait to dive into the new series and especially to read Bran’s story in the fifth Eldentimber book.

If you’d like to dive into Shari’s books as much as I do, you can find them on Amazon here:

Pippa of Lauramore

Glitter and Sparkle

Moss Forest Orchid


My goal upon beginning this blog was to post once a week. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, that hasn’t been happening. And for that I sincerely apologize.

You see, the only unique thing I could think to post when I started this adventure were short stories. After all, there are plenty of blogs about SAHMs and their lives, and most of them are pulling it off a lot better than me. But that leaves the dilemma of not getting paid for those stories. So, if I wanted to save some stories for submission, what would I fill in the extra weeks with? Most writers go the writing craft and book reviews route, which I totally get. It makes sense, write what you know and all.

I hate giving advice though, since I don’t have anything figured out any better than anyone else. So if I go the writing craft route, I won’t be doing it all that often. As for book reviews, I’ve never actually written one. I’ve read plenty and most of them seem to either gush fangirl style, spoil it way too much, or rip into it like bubble wrap. So if I start doing book reviews, I probably won’t do them very often either, to be sure I do it right.

All that still leaves a lot of space to get creative, though. So I thought I’d put it to you dear reader. What would you like to see more of on this blog? What do you want to know about me? What don’t you want to see here?

For now, I will be spending the month of April participating in Camp NaNoWriMo and using its magic to crank out a bunch of short stories and post ideas I’ve been neglecting lately. Unfortunately, that means I probably won’t be posting here much until May. However, when I return, I will hopefully have so much new writing to share, you won’t be able to keep up. And while I’m busy writing, you can share your thoughts in the comments. I want to make everyone’s time here worthwhile, so if you have suggestions, please let me know.

With that, I bid you adieu.

Until May … the force be with you … the odds be ever in your favor … and all that good stuff.

Siren of the Void

The door to Sam ’n Joe’s bar slid away as the gruff captain approached and he stumped through. A quiet ding informed him that he’d passed the age scan. Ed grunted. That stupid ding just reminded him how old he’d gotten. And thinking about his age reminded him of how much he’d lost since leaving Earth. The people he’d lost. Well, one person. One impossible, one-of-a-kind woman.

He thunked into his usual seat at the end of the bar and rapped a knuckle against the grungy stainless steel. A holographic screen flickered on and he punched in his order, swiping his wrist over the scanner to pay. Most customers just told the smart bar what they wanted, but he never opened his bushy mouth if he didn’t have to. A minute later, a slot opened in the counter and his usual beer popped out.

“I swears over my memaw’s grave. She came floatin’ right up to the port window. I could hear her sweet singin’ all the way through the walls.”

Ed’s ears twitched. Without drawing any undue attention, he creaked his head around to peek at the unknown speaker. The young greenhorn waved his arms around in the small booth, nearly toppling his buddies’ drinks. They both grabbed the bottles and rolled their eyes at each other.

“At first I thought I was dreamin’ so I smacked myself to see if I’d wake up, but I didn’t so she must’a been real. She looked like a ghost woman only the most beautifulest woman I ever did see.”

His buddies turned to each other, then burst out laughing. Ed turned back to his beer with a twist to his lips. They didn’t know what they were laughing at. For that matter, neither did the greenhorn. Most beautiful woman, indeed. If the kid had seen her on the other side of the barrier, he’d have dropped dead of shock. Ed nearly did the first time he’d seen one of them in their incredible, natural form.

Her name was Savensa and she was the reason he’d stayed out in space longer than any other miner. Not long after getting fired at the bar back on Earth, he’d heard of an asteroid mining company seeking entry level workers. After all the jobs he’d lost, space had started to look like his last chance to do something fun. The novelty had worn off almost as soon as he’d gotten out there.

Then she’d found him.

He’d been out on an unauthorized spacewalk, watching the stars, trying to manufacture some semblance of adventure. She appeared out of nowhere and he nearly shit himself. She was glowing and hazy and a lot of her wasn’t even visible. Most of her was sort of bluish, but he could see traces of other bright colors, too. Like the greenhorn had said, she looked like a beautiful ghost. When their eyes met, his blood flowed south and his brain pretty much shut down. She cocked her head curiously and he got lightheaded, like that one time he’d drunk an entire bottle of rum in one night.

Then she disappeared. He blinked and looked around stupidly, as if there was a corner somewhere she could have ducked behind. He nearly emptied his oxygen tank waiting for her to appear again, but she never did.

After that, Ed made sure to get as many spacewalks as he could. Weeks went by, but the need to see her again never faded. If anything, it grew stronger and stronger the longer he waited. She appeared a few more times after that, but it was always too brief. All his free time he spent fantasizing about her, hearing her voice, touching her skin, tasting her lips. She was driving him mad.

He’d snuck out while the rest of the crew slept when she appeared that final time. He blinked a couple times, not quite trusting his own eyes. There was more of her this time, more definition. Her arms ended in fingers instead of wispy trails and her legs … well, that’s about when his brain shut down again.

Her head cocked and a ridiculous grin spread across his face. Then she spoke. It was like a jolt to his spine, so beautiful it struck him like lightning. He couldn’t understand any of it, but that didn’t stop him from reaching for her. His whole body ached to touch her, to hold her.

Her eyes widened as he neared. That tempting mouth started babbling a mile a minute and her hands fluttered around anxiously. All he could think was how adorable she looked, but he held back, not wanting to spook her. He waited as her rambling tapered off. She met his eyes, then seemed to take a deep breath and tentatively took his hand.

He felt a brief tugging before being sucked through her and into unconsciousness.

Later on he learned that he’d been pulled through the barrier to her alternate universe. When he came to, it was to smooth, bright colored trees which turned out to be huge strands of fur. Light fluff all over the ground that he eventually learned was dander. But what he’d truly never gotten used to was Savensa.

She’d appeared seconds after he’d first opened his eyes in that world. As if the world itself wasn’t amazing enough, seeing her in full form had nearly knocked him out. She’d begun rambling and fluttering again. And it looked so damn cute on her, he didn’t bother to check if he could breathe the air before ripping off his helmet and covering that pretty, golden mouth with his own. She froze, and he silently cursed himself for being too forward. Then like chocolate held too long in his hand, she melted against him, filling in all his cracks.

He swept his fingers into her glittering, silver hair, groaning when they tingled like cold hands under hot water. He pressed her to him, clutching a fistful of her petal soft dress. Finally holding her, finally kissing her; it felt like coming home. Which only made their abrupt separation some time later more painful.

He still had no answers for why he’d been ripped back through the barrier so soon after coming through. He hadn’t had nearly enough time with her. But he hadn’t given up so easily. He’d spent every minute since leaving her world looking for another way back in. Every spacewalk he lingered in the hope that she would appear. Every quadrant of the system in which they’d met he’d mapped and scoured.

And now, after all the years, he found himself listening to a bunch of knuckleheads scoffing at a fantasy he’d never stopped believing in.

He knocked back the last drips of his beer and tossed the empty bottle into the smart bar’s recycle chute. His sore muscles strained as he stood and turned to the greenhorn and his buddies.

“I hear you saw a siren of the void. Mind tellin’ me where?”

They all blinked up at him stupidly. After a quiet minute, the greenhorn stuttered out the coordinates. Ed nodded his thanks and stomped back out of the bar, suddenly tempted to throw out a fist pump. He was finally going home.


This is another story inspired by the Jesus bracelet. See this earlier post for the picture and explanation.

        I slid my plane ticket onto the attendant’s desk, not bothering to look up from the email I was skimming on my phone.  I’d hoped to have at least one night to recoup after this trip.  Maybe I’d have even spent it at home with my wife.  I couldn’t remember the last home cooked meal I’d eaten.  Then again, home wasn’t as relaxing as it used to be.
        It didn’t really matter anymore, though, since I wouldn’t be getting that night anyway.  A good reporter followed the news.  And according to the email, the news was halfway across the country.
       I spared the attendant a glance to retrieve my ticket and shuffled my way onto the plane.  My small suitcase slid easily into the overhead compartment and I slumped into my window seat.  I considered pulling out my laptop to confirm the details of this additional, last minute trip and the breaking news I’d be covering.  Then I saw the first batch of travelers I’d be stuck with for the next two hours and tucked my briefcase under the seat in front of me instead.  Working on my phone would generate enough sour looks from this bunch without needing to add more technology.
        As more and more of them piled onto the plane, I noticed a lot of them carrying on large, group conversations.  And those groups merged and split like cells as they all found their seats. I rolled my eyes and groaned.  It was going to be a long two hours.
        I pulled my ear buds from a pocket and thumbed through various jazz albums on my phone.  If I had those ear buds in and kept my eyes on the screen, whoever ended up next to me would hopefully be less likely to start chatting.  It had worked on previous business trips. Then a metallic clatter brought my eyes to the aisle floor.
        A set of keys, or rather, a collection of key chains with a few keys on it, sat there in a jumbled clump.  My gaze traveled slowly up and I was not surprised by what I saw of the owner.
       Flowers.  A lot of flowers.  And who wore a hat on an airplane?  I mean, a ball cap I could understand, but that monstrosity?  Was she really going to wear it the whole time?
        Then I came back to her face and instantly felt somewhat shamed by the cynical thoughts.  She had a charming smile.  To make up for the disrespectful attitude, I gave her a small smile in return.  Her eyes lit up.
        For a moment I was transported back to the first time I had seen my wife.  Her eyes had lit up the same way.  And it dawned on me that she didn’t smile like that anymore.  Or perhaps she did and I was simply too busy to notice.
        “Hi there!”
        I came back to the present and suppressed a groan.  I hadn’t gotten the ear buds in soon enough.
        “Uh, hi.”
        “I’m Sally.”
        She was a talker.  Of course she was a talker.
        The flowery Sally gave me another charming smile.  Then she pushed her carry-on the rest of the way into the overhead compartment and bent to pick up her key chains.  She sat in the aisle seat next to me and the jangle they made grated against my already frayed nerves.  Like she was sawing my brain with them instead of flipping through them like they were a stress reliever.  And naturally she was jabbering away the entire time.
        I tried to focus on the emails I’d opened on my phone while the plane taxied out to the runway, but for some reason my eyes kept being drawn back to those ridiculous key chains.  There was Micky Mouse.  I could only imagine from Disneyland.  The Eiffel tower.  Either Paris or LA.  I couldn’t see her type enjoying LA, but I also had a hard time seeing her affording a trip to Paris.  A glittery one in all colors of the rainbow must have meant she had grandchildren.
        Then my eyes landed on one that seemed somehow different from the others.  In what way, I couldn’t figure out.  I almost dismissed it as another crafty thing her grandchildren had made her.  But something about it made me look again.  Perhaps it was the strange order in which the beads were arranged; or maybe it was the gleaming spots on some of them revealing how often she held this particular chain.  Whatever it was, I couldn’t stop glancing at it.
        Then, as the plane reached altitude, I became aware of a stark lack of chatter.  I glanced at the woman.  What was her name again?  Sally.
        She was staring at me with an unnerving look in her eyes.  Like all my sly peeking hadn’t fooled her for a second.  Like she knew every thought that had gone through my head and knew exactly what sort of man I was.  A shiver ran down my spine.
        Then she looked back down at the chain, releasing me from her piercing gaze.  I dragged in a deep breath as quietly as I could.  What was with this woman?  I started tapping out a reply to my boss’s email.
        “You know, I’ve had this particular key chain for a long time,” she said.  “I made it myself, actually.”
        I glanced sideways at her.
        “Really?  I never would have guessed.”  My dripping sarcasm didn’t phase her.
        “Yup.  It actually tells a whole story, too.”
        Oh no.  I was in …
        “Would you like to hear it?”
trouble.  Crap.  If I said yes, I would be stuck listening to old lady stories for the entire trip.  But if I said no, I’d come off as a heartless jerk.  Which normally wouldn’t bother me, except we were both stuck on this plane.  Being rude to embezzling CEOs, criminal masterminds, and multimillionaires was one thing.  Being rude to harmless, kindly old ladies – especially kindly old ladies I would be sitting next to for two hours straight – was just … Well, let’s just say I was even less eager to endure her glares for the entire trip.
        I glanced back at Sally and nearly groaned at the hopeful look in her eyes.  What was I getting myself into?
        “Why not?  Tell me the story.”
        Then, the strangest thing happened.  She started telling me all about Jesus, the same Jesus I’d learned about in Sunday School as a kid.  Only she began explaining things I’d never thought about, showing me new perspectives I’d never considered.  Without even realizing it, I had tucked my phone away and was soon not simply listening, but asking all kinds of questions.  Questions about Jesus, about faith, about life.  Where only moments before I had thought I had everything I could possibly want, I now felt empty.  Moments ago I had contemplated spending a night with my wife like she was a risky asset, and now being two hours away from her felt like an eternity.
        My boss had told me the breaking news was halfway across the country.  But he was wrong.  The breaking news was 30,000 feet in the air, tucked inside the heart of a sweet and caring grandmother.