The Tourist Trap

Four hours and 250 miles of barren, desolate country without so much as a pine tree to look at to break up the monotony. It was all plains and dead grass and other cars. Theresa leaned back in the passenger seat and tried to stretch, but the cramped foot space under the dashboard didn’t allow her much opportunity to ease her aching joints.

“How much longer?” seven-year-old Jimmy whined from the back seat. He’d been listening to music on his iPod for the last couple of hours, but the battery had run out thirty minutes ago, and he’d been restless and agitated ever since.

Mandy, his ten-year-old sister, dropped the book she’d been reading and looked up at Theresa. “Yeah. How much longer? I need to go to the bathroom.”

Theresa sighed. This was supposed to be a fun family road trip. A chance to drive across the country and see places none of them had ever been. But so far, other than a less-than-scinitillating stop at the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, the trip had turned out to be nothing more than a chance for everyone to get on each other’s nerves.

“How about there?” Theresa’s husband, Mike asked, pointing at a crudely made sign that appeared to be made out of an old pallet.  “HUGE CAVE! 2 MILES AHEAD” it proclaimed in shaky letters.

“I don’t know,” Theresa said. She was as desperate to get out of the car as the kids were, but something about the sign gave her the heebie jeebies. She checked the map she’d been using to navigate thanks to a total lack of cell phone signal anywhere in the last two hundred miles. “There should be another rest stop about fifty miles ahead.”

“I can’t wait fifty miles,” Jimmy said, doing the best “I’ve-gotta-pee” dance that his seat belt would allow. “I need to go now. I’m gonna pee my pants.”

Another sign loomed on the horizon. This one was just as shoddily put together as the first. “BATHROOMS, SNACKS, AND A WORLD CLASS MUSEUM INCLUDED WITH ADMISSION.”

“Come on,” Mike urged. “It can’t be that far off the interstate. Besides, what good is a road trip if all we do is drive?”

Theresa glanced at the map and sighed. They still had another hundred and fifty miles to go before they reached their destination for the night. “I guess it won’t hurt to get out for a few minutes,” she said.

Jimmy let out an excited whoop and Mandy grinned as Mike steered the car off the interstate.

The small road that took off to the north was so overgrown with weeds that they almost missed it. If it hadn’t been for another sign – this one was smaller, and simply said cave, with an arrow pointing the direction they needed to go – they would have missed it entirely.

Theresa’s stomach churned, and she looked at Mike. “Are you sure about this? It doesn’t look like anyone’s been out here in forever.”

Mike smiled. “Where’s your sense of adventure? When we first met you would’ve jumped at the chance to do something like this.”

Theresa frowned and sank into her seat. She’d lost her sense of adventure ten years ago when Mandy had been born. Sure, she’d once been that carefree girl that loved skydiving and rock climbing. The girl that would jump off the cliff into the water without thinking twice. That didn’t mind going for mystery drives that might mean getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. Now, she had two kids to worry about keeping safe.

Mike nudged her elbow gently. “I’m just kidding. I’m sure everything will be fine. I just want everyone to have fun.”

“I know,” Theresa said. “I just have a bad feeling about this.”

“That’s probably the chicken salad you had for lunch,” he said with a laugh. And maybe he was right. That diner they’d stopped at didn’t look like it would pass any sort of food safety inspection, but it was the only place to eat for miles, and the kids were “starving.” Mike slid his hand forward, wrapping his fingers through hers. “It’s going to be okay.”

They bumped down the road for another mile and a half before the ramshackle building came into sight. COME SEE THE STATE’S TWELFTH LARGEST CAVE was painted directly on the side.

“That doesn’t seem like much of a claim,” Mandy said, twisting her lips.

“Come on,” Jimmy said, bouncing out of his seat. “It’ll be awesome.”

The smell hit Theresa as soon as she opened the car door. It was overwhelming, but somehow familiar. “What is that?” she asked, looking around for the source of the awful aroma permeating the air. But other than the shack, a couple of vehicles that looked like they’d been broken down since the 1970’s, and endless miles of knee-high dead grass, there was nothing.

Mike gingerly sniffed the air. “I don’t smell anything,” he said. “It’s probably nothing.”

Of course he didn’t smell anything. Mike suffered from chronic allergies, and lived in a constant state of congestion. He hadn’t smelled the rice he’d burned last week either, even after it had set off the smoke alarms. But Mandy and Jimmy had already climbed out of the car, and they were running around laughing. The smell didn’t seem to bother them at all. And since they had driven all the way out here, they should at least use the bathroom.

Suddenly, a loud scream broke through the silence. Theresa dashed over to the kids and grabbed them by the hands. “Come on,” she said. “We’re leaving.”

The shriek pierced the air again, followed by the rustling of wings. A peacock strutted out from the grass next to the car, its tail feathers held high. It shrieked again.

“It’s just a peacock, Mom,” Jimmy said, laughing. “I don’t think it’s going to eat us.”

“It’s so pretty,” Mandy said, dropping into a crouch and offering her hand to the bird. It stuck its head in the air and walked right past her, like it didn’t even see her.

Mike moved next to Theresa and squeezed her gently. “Are you okay?”

She smiled and nodded as she watched the peacock head toward the building. “Yeah. I’m sorry. It just scared me.”

Mike narrowed his eyes and tried to look mean. “You don’t need to worry about anything. You know I won’t let anything hurt you.”

A broken cobblestone path lined the way from the parking area to the building. The kids walked along, gathering fallen peacock feathers along the way and babbling excitedly about what they thought they cave would be like. Mike kept a firm grip on Theresa’s hand. “We won’t stay long,” he promised.

She leaned her head on his shoulder as they walked. “Just promise me we’ll get the hell out of here if we hear banjos start playing.”

“Cross my heart,” he replied.

They stepped inside the building to find a pleasant looking woman sitting on a couch, watching a TV. She looked up at them and smiled. “Here to see the cave?”

Mike nodded. “We thought it sounded fun. Can you tell us a little bit about it?”

“Sure thing.” She stood up and made her way to a small counter covered with pamphlets. She grabbed one, shook the dust off of it, and handed it to Mike. “The cave you’re about to enter is an old lava tube. The entire thing runs about a mile long, but for safety reasons, we’ve got it roped off about half a mile in.”

“What kind of safety reasons?” Theresa asked, swallowing hard as she pictured the entire cave collapsing on top of them.

The woman giggled and waved her hand dismissively. “Nothing serious as long as you stay on the path. At it’s deepest point, the cave’s about seventy-feet high. I’ve got some propane lanterns you can take down with you.” She eyed the family in their shorts and flip-flops. “I’ve got a couple extra coats you can borrow too. It keeps pretty chilly down there.”

Mike shook his head and extracted a handful of bills from his wallet. “I think we’ll be okay.”

Ignoring him, the woman rummaged around under the counter and pulled out of a box of coats. “Trust me. You’ll be wantin’ these.”

Theresa stared at the bright colors and variety of fabrics. “Where do you get all those?” she asked.

“Here and there,” the woman replied with a shrug. She extracted four coats and thrust them across the counter. “There ya go,” she said, smiling. “Let me get those lanterns for you.”

She lit two lanterns and led the family to a small door on the back of the building. “Have fun,” she said, handing Theresa and Mike the lanterns as the family filed through the door. “But whatever you do, don’t stray from the path.” Her voice was low and ominous, but when Theresa turned to ask her what she meant, the woman just smiled and closed the door.

The twisting feeling hadn’t left Theresa’s gut, and another strange smell she couldn’t place seemed to be coming off the jacket she was wearing, but before she could say anything to Mike, the kids took off down the pathway, excitedly pointing out the wide array of animals that called the place home: llamas, emus, a shaggy miniature donkey, and even a potbellied pig.

They finally reached the cave entrance, and Mike offered to go first, holding his lantern high to light the way as they made their way down the steep stone path. It wasn’t long before the long cavern twisted away from the cave opening, leaving their lanterns the only source of light. Water dripped down the stone walls, and it was at least thirty degrees colder than the seventy it had been outside.

“This is so cool,” Jimmy said, from somewhere near Theresa’s hip, the thick stone walls deadening the sound of his voice.

“Check that out,” Mandy said, rushing forward and pointing to a panel of cave drawings. A small hand-painted sign identified them as being left by early Native American inhabitants. She glanced back at Theresa, smiling. “Can you believe that Native Americans once stood here?”

“Let me see,” Jimmy said, pushing forward. He leaned against the cable that was strung across the pathway, preventing people from touching the rock art. “Eww, that one guy looks like he’s being eaten by a monster.”

Theresa squinted. It was hard to make it out in the dim light of the propane lantern. “I’m sure that’s not what’s happening,” she said. But even as the words thudded against the stone walls of the cave, the image came into focus. A monster that looked like a giant bear hovered over a drawing of a man that looked like he’d been split in two.

“Gross,” Mandy said, sticking her tongue out. “Let’s keep going.”

“Maybe we should just go back to the car,” Theresa suggested. “We’ve seen the cave. I’m sure it doesn’t look much different down there than it does up here.”

Mike turned toward her, the light of the lantern casting an eerie glow on his features. “It’s not much farther,” he said. “We already paid our money. We might as well see what all the fuss is about.”

Theresa hoisted her lantern and set her jaw. She was being ridiculous. It was just a cave. So what if it smelled bad and there were terrifyingly graphic ancient paintings on the wall? Someone had come down here and installed the ropes and cables to keep paying customers on the path. And it wasn’t like she really thought monsters existed. But the woman’s words of warning came back to her, echoing in her ears. There had been something about the way she’d told them to stay on the path that had bothered Theresa.

“Whoa!”

Theresa’s thoughts were interrupted by the rest of the family gushing excitedly over reaching the end of the trail. A very large – and admittedly impressive – cavern opened up in front of them. Even the light from the lanterns couldn’t reach all of the walls at once. “This is so cool,” Mandy said.

Mike looped his arm around Theresa’s waist and gave her a quick kiss. “See? This was totally worth coming down here for, right?”

“It’s pretty awesome,” Theresa agreed, snuggling against him.

“Hey, what’s that?” Jimmy asked. Before Theresa could stop him, he’d ducked under the single length of rope that marked the end of the trail and darted into the shadows.

“Jimmy, stop!” Theresa ran after him, the heel of her flip-flop clipping one of the lanterns as she went. The lantern fell on its side, the light flickering out. Theresa darted under the rope and grabbed Jimmy. “What are you doing?”

“I thought I saw someone,” he said, his eyes wide and fixed on a shape that was too dark to make out. “A little kid.”

“No one is down here but us,” Theresa said, soothingly. She put an arm around his shoulder and guided him back under the tope to Mandy and Mike, and the comforting light of the lantern.

Mike gave Jimmy a stern look. “That wasn’t safe,” he scolded. “You know better than that. There’s a reason that part of the cave is roped off. It might not be stable.”

Jimmy hung his head. “I’m sorry,” he said, sniffling slightly. “I thought it was a kid. And he was lost.”

Theresa looked back over her shoulder. The shape that Jimmy had pointed out was gone. She shook her head, trying to will away the goose bumps that had prickled up all over. It was just a trick of the light. No one else was down here. “Let’s get out of here,” she said, stooping to pick up the dead lantern.

As they turned to leave, the light in Mike’s lantern flickered. Then it went out completely, plunging the cave into darkness. Mandy and Jimmy both shrieked. Theresa wanted to scream too, but she knew it would only scare the kids more. “Follow my voice,” she said. “I’m right here.”

“Mom, I’m scared,” Mandy said, her voice shaking.

“We’re okay,” Theresa said. “There’s only one way out of this cave. We’ll be fine.” She kept talking until both kids had their arms wrapped around her. “Mike, you have your cell phone, right?” she asked.

He didn’t respond.

“Mike?”

The smell from outside was back. Only now it was stronger. And Theresa suddenly remembered why the scent was so familiar. She’d only smelled it once before. When she and her grandfather had come across a decaying deer in the woods. It was the stench of death. Decay.

Then something screamed, and Theresa knew deep down, in the very marrow of her bones, that it wasn’t a peacock.

 

*Disclaimer- This short story is my first attempt at writing horror. It’s not a genre I’m overly familiar with, but after visiting a cave very similar to this one while on a road trip with my family, I felt compelled to write something. I hope you enjoyed reading it. And if you did, please share.:)

A Kind Word

I’m going to start with a quick introduction (i.e. excuse). It’s been nearly a year since I’ve written anything on here. Last fall, I accepted a part-time job with the local school district. So between two part-time jobs, two full-time kids, a minimum of three novels being balanced at any given time, and trying to find some time for my own mental health, blogging kind of fell by the wayside. But I realized recently that I have something to say, so I’m hopping behind the keyboard again. Hope you enjoy!

We live in a day and age that many people seem to have forgotten the impact that a simple word of kindness can have on a person. It’s so easy to be mean online. To not think twice about what you say. To let your emotions run the keyboard and never think twice about it. Cyber bullying runs rampant, partially because it’s easier to be cruel and hurtful when you don’t have to see the pain your words have caused.

As a result, I think people have started to underestimate the power of words. Yes, they’re just words. A strand of sounds put together that amazingly make sense in our human brains. Even so, words can hurt. But they can also help. It really is amazing how much an off-the-cuff compliment given at the right time can affect a person’s life. In my case, a rejection email I received years ago is part of the reason I haven’t given up on writing.

I started writing long, long ago. Like a million years in dog years. Okay, so maybe I’m not quite that old. But some days it feels like it. My first “querying” experience came when I was a sophomore in college. I had written a novel. Looking back, it was a hot mess of everything that could have been wrong with a novel. It was full of cliches, purple prose, and the plot had more holes in it than a piece of moldy swiss cheese. (Don’t ask why it has to be moldy. I’m the one in charge here.) But I was proud of what I’d accomplished. I had completed a novel. (I didn’t realize at the time that completed also meant revising the ever loving…whatever out of it.)

So with the cursor flashing at THE END, I threw myself into the world of querying. A world that I now realize I knew NOTHING about. Full of naive excitement, I attended a small romance writers conference that was held about an hour from my house. Prior to the conference, I sent an email to the editor of the small press I was going to be pitching to, asking him if he’d be willing to take a look at the manuscript and give me some feedback on it. (This is a no-no, by the way. Like I said, I didn’t know better.)

To my surprise, he agreed, and had me send over a partial manuscript. When I met with him at the conference, he had a lot of really nice things to say, and actually asked me to send the full. I was convinced my moment had arrived. I was going to be published. And my life was going to be full of fancy book tours and chocolates and…Then came the rejection.

It landed in my email a few months later. He let me down gently, saying I needed to concentrate more on my setting (which was probably his way of toning down “What in the actual f*** did I just read?”) It stung, but it was the end of the email that truly stuck with me. He said that even though it hadn’t worked out, he strongly believed he would see my name on the bookshelf some day.

At the time, it didn’t mean that much to me. I was licking my wounds from my first real rejection. But over the years, those words have burned themselves into my brain. There have been many other projects. More rejections than I care to count. And plenty of times that it would have been easy to give up writing and walk away. After all, it’s a big mountain to climb, and just like Mount Everest, not everyone makes it to the top. But every time I considered calling it quits, I thought of those words. And they were enough to push me to hit send on the next query, or jump into the next set of revisions, or start on a new project because the last one just wasn’t quite right.

I don’t remember his name, or even the name of the press he was acquiring for. And I’m sure he doesn’t remember me or that email. It’s possible he said that in all of his rejections. But for me, it was the push that I needed to keep going.

Is it possible I would have pushed on anyway? Of course it is. I’m a Taurus. We’re known for being stubborn. But I’ll never forget those words, and one of these days, I will prove him right.

Moral of the story: Don’t lose faith in words. They have power. But like superheroes, with great power, comes great responsibility. Be kind with your words. Use them to inspire. To encourage. To lift up. Not to tear people down. Because we can all use to hear some kind words every now and then.

In loving memory . . .

IMG_1639 On June 10, 2015 Bear “Puppy Chow” Haley passed away peacefully, surrounded by people she loved. She was twelve-years-old in human years, but around ninety in dog years.

Bear was born on July 1, 2002 in Flora Vista, New Mexico to a Blue Heeler and a Beagle. Her parents were unable to take care of a litter of five puppies, so Bear and her siblings were put up for adoption when they were two months old.

Though her first three siblings quickly found homes, the days came and went, and Bear still waited. That’s when Jason and Laura Haley came into her life, welcoming her into the family she would be part of for the remainder of her nearly thirteen years on this earth.

Bear developed an early taste for fashion, with a particular affinity for Laura’s shoes. She also loved the written word, once attempting to devour a hardback copy of HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE in a single day.

Though she never graduated from obedience school (despite her parents’ regular threats to send her there), Bear knew every trick in the book. Except stay. And heel. Oh, and she wasn’t very good at drop it. And she only came when wanted to. Other than that, she quickly learned shake, roll over, play dead, and speak. She could also count to ten. She loved food, walks, food, playing fetch, food, her people and mostly food. She hated fireworks and swimming. And cats.

As she got older, Bear settled into a routine with her family. She loved to hike and camp, and her family always slept better knowing Bear was on guard. She enjoyed the company of other dogs, as long as they went home when she was done playing.

Bear eventually welcomed several siblings into her home: two human children named Vince and Shelby who she loved dearly. She was less welcoming of her canine sibling Kona, and her feline sibling, Sprocket. In fact, she probably would have eaten them given the opportunity.

For most of her life, Bear held down several careers, including, but not limited to guard dog, river dog, obnoxious dog panting and whining in the back seat because she hated car rides, cat and rabbit chaser, lizard de-tailer, and eater of all things, even broccoli, but especially New York strip steaks that were left on the floor by unexpecting grandparents.

During her last few years, after a leg injury received while bravely defending her backyard from the yappy dog on the other side of the privacy fence, she slowed down, taking up residence mostly as a doormat, and an obstacle to trip over in the kitchen. She remained an eater of all things until her final days.

After a brief illness, compounded with severe arthritis, Bear’s family made the painful decision to let her go. Her last few days of life were full of laughter, love and plenty of tears. In fitting style, Bear’s final meal consisted of ice cream and waffles.

Bear is survived by her human parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and siblings, as well as Kona and Sprocket. She was preceded in death by dozens of squeaky toys, countless plastic bottles, several pairs of shoes, and a couch that she swore had a squeaker buried somewhere deep within its stuffing.

Bear will be greatly missed by all who knew her. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to your local animal shelter. Or better yet, go take a dog for a walk.

We love you Bear. And you will never be far from our thoughts.

Knowing When to Say Good-bye

I’ve often heard that the hardest part of having a pet is saying good-bye. Dogs and cats become part of our families. Part of our lives. Yet they have tragically short life spans, and all too often, we are forced to say good-bye to those animals that have worked their way into the deepest, softest parts of our hearts.

And while saying good-bye is awful, in some ways, knowing when it’s time to say it, having to make that decision, can be much, much more difficult.

My husband and I got Bear when she was only eleven weeks old. We had both had dogs while growing up, but she was the first dog to join us in our new lives as a family. After receiving word from our landlord that we were cleared to have a dog, we both played hookie from our college classes and set out to find the perfect dog for us.

We spent the entire day on the hunt, visiting multiple animal shelters. We were about to give up when we came across an ad for Beagle/Blue Heeler mix puppies. My husband had his mind set on a beagle, so we called the number in the ad. The puppies were nearly fifty miles away, in a town we’d already visited once that day. But we jumped back into the car and made the drive anyway. An hour later, we were dog owners.

Bear's first night home

As young — and admittedly naive — college students, we made our share of mistakes when it came to raising a puppy. She chewed up more than one pen, leaving the carpets of our rented apartment spotted with black and neon pink. She chewed up several pairs of shoes. Always mine, and always only one from each pair. And on what was probably her worst day, she chewed up a newly released, hardback copy of HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE.

But despite the hiccups, Bear grew into an amazing dog. She loved to play fetch and go hiking. She learned tricks as quickly as we could teach them. And when we brought our firstborn son into our home, she watched over him, made him laugh, and cleaned up his messes.

It’s been twelve years since Bear came into our lives, and sadly, the time is coming when she will have to leave us. As we get closer to her thirteenth birthday, her arthritis gets worse and worse. We’ve known for some time that her days are numbered, but it’s a hard decision to make.

Last summer, Bear tore her ACL. She was never quite the same. Her hips have gotten weak, and she falls down frequently. But she is otherwise healthy and there are days where I still see a flash of the puppy she used to be. Days like this morning, when she rolled onto her side, and playfully tried to grab my hand as I brushed her. While I don’t want her to suffer, I also don’t want to take her from this world before she is ready to go.

I’ve spent a lot of days and nights lying awake, and I’ve already shed gallons of tears in anticipation of losing Bear. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m crying now as I write this, while she sleeps peacefully at my feet. All I can hope is that when that day comes, when she reaches the point that it’s harder to be here with us than to be without us, we will recognize it for what it is. And we will be strong enough to let her go.

Bear and our new puppy Kona

Eyes on the Prize

When I first started mountain biking, a friend of mine went out with me to help me learn the basics. The most important piece of advice he gave me was simple: “Look where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go.” Easy enough, right? With every swoop and turn, I felt a little more confident. I rode over ledges (a whopping four inches tall) that I wouldn’t have thought I could ride. I was feeling pretty damn good. (We’ll ignore the fact that the trail we were on was equivalent to a two-lane highway as far as mountain bikes are concerned.) We were almost to the end of the trail, and I was really getting in the groove. We came to a spot in the trail that dropped down into a creek bed before climbing up the other side. My friend went first, telling me he’d wait at the top.

I dropped into the wash. And then I saw it. A big rock on the side of the trail. It shouldn’t have been a problem. It was well out of the middle of the trail. But I couldn’t stop staring at it. “That’s a big rock,” I thought. “I don’t want to hit that.” Next thing I knew . . . BAM! I’d hit the rock and crashed in the bottom of the ravine. Luckily the crash was relatively minor, and I had to laugh. If I had kept my eyes on the trail, I probably would have been fine.

While riding my bike today, I realized that this advice applies to more than just mountain biking. Last month, I submitted my work into a pitch contest. The results came out last night, and suffice to say, I didn’t make the cut. Am I disappointed? Definitely. The people involved in the contest all seem awesome, and I would have loved a chance to work with them more closely. But at the same time, I can’t keep staring at the rejection like I stared at that rock.

If you get on a mountain bike, you’re bound to crash. If you decide to put your work out there, rejection is bound to happen. And like crashes, rejection can hurt. But you can’t concentrate on the obstacle, because you’ll never make it where you’re going if you do. Keep your eye on your end goal, whether it be in school, in writing, or just life in general. And whatever you do, keep an eye out for that rock!!!

Why I write (and other things): My PitchWars mentee bio

Okay. So it’s do or die time. I think I’ve rewritten this blog post almost as many times as I’ve rewritten my query letter. It’s time to suck it up and post it.

I took the plunge and submitted my current manuscript to PitchWars this year. And, to be honest, I submitted largely because all of the people involved seem so awesome, and I want to get to know them better. So here’s a little bit about me.

I grew up in a tiny tourist town in Colorado. I wish I still lived there. Instead, I now live in a tiny tourist town in Utah. I grew up reading books and raising all different types of farm animals: sheep, goats, rabbits, horses and the occasional llama.

I wrote my first novel in middle school. I credit it with surviving that period of pre-teen angst. During seventh grade science, instead of listening to the teacher, I sat in the back of the class writing a story about my adult life operating a horse ranch with my best friend. We even raised a Kentucky Derby winner. The story enabled me to see past the bullying and failed friendships. It showed me a future that was only possible if I pushed through and survived. So I did. I didn’t go on to raise horses, but I am raising two pretty awesome kids.

I never really planned on pursuing writing. In fact, in high school, even though I did well in English, it was one of my least favorite classes. It wasn’t until college that I decided to abandon my dream of professional trumpet playing (just one of my not very realistic career choices, including country music singer) and pursue a degree in creative writing.

I am now a stay-at-home mom, and a freelance writer doing regular work for the local newspaper. I have written six novel-length stories, though many of them are doomed to the obscurity of my computer’s hard drive.

So why pick me? Well, I can sing my alphabet backwards (a trick I taught myself after hearing that cops made you do it for sobriety tests), and I can ride a unicycle. Not very far, but I can do it!

I’m also a hard worker, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get this manuscript whipped into shape so that it’s presentable to the world.

So there you have it. That’s me in a nutshell. I just hope you aren’t allergic to nuts.

Oh, and if you’re interested in checking out some of the other awesome authors that I’m up against, you can find more bios here: http://dcmorin.blogspot.com/2014/08/2014-pitchwars-contestant-hop-now-its.html

Need to get away?

Sometimes in life, we need to escape. Hit CTRL, ALT, DEL. Reboot. Whatever. But that’s not always easy. Life can make it difficult to hide from all of its problems, so we find our own ways to escape within the confines of daily life. Some people use music. Others turn to drugs and alcohol. Me? I write.

When I sat down to write my first novel-length piece, I had no intentions of writing a novel. It was just a story. A story about my future. A story that gave me hope. I was in middle school, and I was miserable. Now, to be fair, middle school is a rough time for most kids. Changing hormones, acne, trying to fit in . . . I don’t know a single person who wishes they could go back.

Middle school was extremely rough for me. I was bullied routinely. Because I cut my hair short. Because I listened to country music. Because I preferred soccer over makeup. It was non-stop noise, constantly buzzing in my ears, making me question everything about who I was, and who I was going to be. Add to that a healthy dose of family drama and a falling out with my best friend, and some days I was pretty sure the light at the end of the tunnel had been snuffed out.

Then I started to write Rosewater Creek. It was silly, really. A story about my life on a ranch on a horse ranch in Texas. All of my friends played lead roles. I had a jockey who eventually quit to take a job riding wildebeests, a sassy stablehand who was always yelling at me, and even a trashcan prophet.

Though the story was awful and will never see the light of day, it was not a waste of time. I didn’t write Rosewater Creek dreaming of fame and fortune (though I did ask a famous country singer to come star in the film adaptation my friends and I had planned. I’m still waiting to hear back on that request. I’m sure he’s just busy.) I wrote Rosewater Creek to remind myself that life could get better. That middle school wouldn’t last forever.

I don’t live in Texas. I don’t even own a horse. And I certainly didn’t raise a Kentucky Derby winner. My life isn’t anything like I pictured it to be during those bleak days, but that’s okay. Because by picturing that life . . . by writing it down, I gave myself hope. Enough hope to struggle through the daily grind that was middle school. And I came out the other side. A little bruised and battered, and definitely a different person than I was going in. But I made it.

Rosewater Creek isn’t my only novel that is destined to never see the bright lights of publication. I’ve written several novel-length pieces that are likely to reside in obscurity, but they’ve all served a purpose. One helped me realize that I wanted to pursue the dream of being a writer. Another helped me handle the ups and downs of an unexpected pregnancy. And every single word I wrote brought me closer to a reality where I can call myself a writer.

When you write, there will be naysayers. People who think you are wasting your time. And chances are, in their opinion, you will waste a lot of it. But you know what? It’s not a waste. Because if you’re anything like me, even if you never achieve your dream of being traditionally published, you love writing. And doing something you love can never be a waste of time.