The Travels of Pacha Riley

Below is the first chapter of my middle-grade fantasy novel. The story is about twelve-year-old Pacha Riley and his family who live in Peru where his parents are researching Machu Picchu.  When the Rileys receive ever-escalating threats to hand over an important Inkan artifact, Pacha and little sister Lucy must flee to safety in America to live with their aunt and uncle.  Accompanied only by their Travellers–animal spirit guides–the two find themselves caught up in something much more than stolen artifacts. 

I would greatly appreciate any comments on this first chapter.  Please note that “Inka” and “Inkan” are intentional spellings and not typos.  Please also consider that, as a middle-grade novel, this story is aimed at a ten-year-old reader.  Thank you.  🙂


After the protestors tried to blow up the family car, the Rileys decided to leave the country.

The threats had been escalating, and twelve-year-old Pacha could understand why his parents had made plans for them to go live with his aunt and uncle in America.  But he couldn’t understand why they didn’t just give up their research at Machu Picchu if it bothered the local Quechuas so much.  Even I don’t care about the Inkas, and I’m named after a famous Inkan emperor.

Then, the day before they were all supposed to leave, the attackers had struck again, cutting the power to their house. On that unusually cold winter night, there was no electricity, no hot meals, not even warm thoughts.

Okay, he thought.  I get it.  But I don’t have to like it.

Shivering, he pulled the blankets up to his chin and guessed that it was less than zero degrees Celsius.  He tried to imagine life in America.  No one’ll pronounce my name right.  They’ll tease me about being skinny.  And everyone’s going to think a blond Latino is weird.  Excelente.  I’ll be the weird, skinny kid with the funny name.

Arms crossed tightly around his chest, he continued to glower up at the ceiling, wondering what living with his aunt and uncle would be like.  He’d met Uncle Jamie and Aunt Nina only once, when he was younger.  Despite the cold, he kicked off his blankets in frustration, punched his pillow, and flopped over onto his stomach.

He thought briefly about running away, and almost smiled as he pictured a life on the run:  no homework, no little sister, no Quechua Indians troubling him.  But then his stomach rumbled again.  No food either.

“In a few days, my life will be over.  America’s going to stink, Oso,” he complained to his Bear Traveller for the hundredth time.

Oso was currently buried under the blankets at the foot of the bed, along with various socks, sports magazines, and a candy wrapper or two.  There was a reluctant rustling of sheets as a small brown form emerged:  first a meticulously groomed paw, then a long pointed muzzle, and finally the barrel chest of a fuzzy yet somehow still stately Bear.

The Bear yawned, sleepily scratched his ear with his paw, and answered in his usual deep, patient voice.  “As your Traveller, whose sole purpose is to help you learn your life lessons, may I remind you again to think positively.”

A beam of moonlight snuck in through the window and danced on the glass of the battery-operated clock on Pacha’s bedside table.  Just past midnight.  He’d been tossing and turning for nearly three hours.  Rolling onto his back again, he saw flickering candlelight coming into the hallway from his parents’ bedroom.  The sounds of hurried footsteps and whisperings made him sit up.

Just then a small shadow crossed the strip of light coming into the doorway.  Lucy was awake too.  As usual she had her Traveller, a sleek red Fox, under her arm.  Nine-year-old Lucy was a miniature version of their mother:  long black hair, dark eyes, brown skin.  She tiptoed over to his bed.

Muevete.  Slide over,” she said, punching him in the arm.

Pacha scowled but moved over to make room for her.  She crawled into the bed with him and pulled the blankets over her legs.  Her head barely came to his shoulder.

“Did you hear Papi talking to Dr. Castillo on the phone just now?  Why did Papi call him so late?” she whispered.

A short, balding man with thick glasses and a thicker belly, Dr. Castillo was the head of the archaeology department at the university where their parents worked.  He oversaw the Inkan research that the Rileys were doing at Machu Picchu and in Cuzco, where they all lived.

Pacha liked Dr. Castillo well enough, but people with Cat Travellers always made Pacha uncomfortable.  Sometimes, when the family went to Dr. Castillo’s house for dinner, Pacha felt as if the Cat were staring at him.  And even though Pacha knew that Travellers were animate only around their own humans, he would swear that Dr. Castillo’s Cat had followed him once when he got up from the dinner table to go to the bathroom.

“I don’t know.  Did you hear anything they were saying?” he asked.

“All I heard was ‘tonight’ and something about a car.”

Lucy looked up at Pacha expectantly.  Pacha wished she would seem more scared, or at least worried.  He just wanted to pull the covers over his head.

“Maybe Dr. Castillo learned something about our car,” Pacha said.

Suddenly their mother burst into his room.  Her Deer Traveller came skittering after her, his eyes like saucers.

She looked about the room wildly.  “Where is Lucy?  ¡Ay, Dios mío!  Pacha, Lucy, listen.  We need to get ready to leave for America now.  Quickly pack your things, but only what you absolutely must have.  We need to travel lightly and quietly.  Make sure you . . . “

But a pounding on the front door and a sharp CRASH interrupted his mother.

¡Corre!  Run!  Go to Dr. Castillo’s house now!”

She yanked both of them out of the bed and dragged them towards the bedroom window, flinging it open in one swift movement.

¡Los amo!  Pacha, take care of your sister!”  With a quick glance over her shoulder, she pushed them both through the window.

As he stepped out onto the ground, Pacha turned back to look at his mother.  She had her hand over her mouth and looked as if she were going to be sick.  And then she ran out of the bedroom, her long black hair flying out behind her.

The look on his mother’s face spurred him into action, and he grabbed his sister’s hand.  He suddenly realized that they were both in their pajamas and still clutching their Travellers.  And nothing else.  For a second he thought about creeping back in through the window to grab their shoes.  But another loud crash from inside the house made them both jump, and they sprinted out into the dark street.

“Pacha, what about Mami and Papi?”  Now Lucy sounded worried.

More to reassure himself, Pacha said, “They’ll be okay.  I’m sure they’ll be right behind us.  We’ll just wait for them at Dr. Castillo’s house.”

Holding hands, they ran down the street and into the silent, shadowy night.  Pacha started to turn left on the main road, but Lucy pulled him the other way, back toward their own house.

“What are you doing? Mami said to go to Dr. Castillo’s!”

“I know a shortcut!  This way!”

Lucy dragged him through the maze of hilly, cobbled streets that was San Blas, the artist district of Cuzco, Peru, where they lived.  They darted through the ancient, narrow roads, behind a cluster of white houses with blue doors, past the wall with the Stone of Twelve Angles, and into an alleyway that he never even knew was there.  Pacha felt a flash of annoyance as they came out on a street that was only a few blocks from Dr. Castillo’s house.  Why don’t I know about that shortcut?

They flew down the darkened street, their breath making clouds in the cold night air.  Just ahead, Pacha could see the red-roofed buildings of the Plaza de Armas, so he knew they were getting close.  But then he felt a tug on his arm; Lucy was slowing down.  He gripped her hand tighter and said, “Come on, almost there.”

His thoughts were racing as fast as his feet now.  Mami had said to look after Lucy.  That sounded as if they would not be meeting up at Dr. Castillo’s house.  What is going on?

Pacha looked back at his little sister, her hair flying behind her like Mami’s.  A knot of panic tightened in his stomach, but he swallowed hard and fought it back.

“Come on,” he said again.  “I see Dr. Castillo’s house.  Everything will be okay now.”

But even as he said it, Pacha doubted that anything would be okay.

Aries Fire, the Vernal Equinox, and the Beginnings of Re-Mojo-fication

I don’t know about you, but for me, the past several years have had their fair share of challenges.  I suspect that many of us could say the same.  If I step back and take a look around, I see a lot of very tired, very stressed, very worn-thin folks.  That sounds pessimistic, I know.  Maybe it’s my age.  Maybe it’s the fact that this past winter was a particularly rough one here in the northeastern part of the US.  Can’t say for sure, but I still suspect that the Tension Meter is a bit higher than usual now.

Again, I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, I have been finding it difficult to regain my mojo after the grind of those challenging years.  Almost as if I’d used up all of my Picking-Self-Up-By-The-Bootstraps energy and was left flat and apathetic.

However, sometimes Mother Nature provides just the right energy and environment to give her children a gentle nudge, if they are paying attention.  Today is one such day.

With the Vernal Equinox, we have equal day and night.  In other words, there is balance.  It is a symbolic reminder for us to stop and check in with ourselves:  am I in balance?  And with the Sun moving into Aries, a Fire Sign, we are also given an extra spark of motivation to DO something about it if we are not.

Now, like many bloggers, I have a dream to be a “real” writer someday.  I have a manuscript that I have been working on for many years, and I have been sending out queries and attending conferences.  I’ve also been reading about the changes to the industry and learning about the different paths to publication.  At first, I was determined to go the “traditional” route of finding an agent who would sell my story to an editor.  But in all my research on the writing world today, I am learning that perhaps a different approach is best.

There is no doubt that e-publishing and self-publishing have completely changed the landscape for authors today.  And it’s the savvy writer who takes advantage of these new opportunities.  I’ve come to realize that the traditional route is going the way of the dinosaur and that a new route may be best for me.

Sooooooo. . . . I have found my Aries spark of fire in the decision to self-publish my book this year.  And I would like your help.  I will post the first chapter of my manuscript in the next post here, and I would gladly welcome your feedback, comments, and constructive criticisms.

Thank you, WordPress Family, for this venue to share thoughts and words and ideas.  I look forward to any comments you might have, and I look forward to reading all of your wonderful blogs in the months and years ahead!

One’s Legacy

Since it’s Mercury Retrograde, it’s a time to reflect and review.  There are also influences from the outer planets which signal great change.  Saturn in Scorpio and Pluto in Capricorn both challenge us to transform old structures.

In other words, we’ve got a perfect opportunity for a do-over.

I would guess that most of us at least attempt some kind of self-improvement.  We go on diets, we get a haircut, we go on retreats.  But what are we aiming for?

In the end, perhaps we should consider how we would like to be remembered.  And then live that way now.

How would you like to be remembered?



Applying Power (in Life and in Sports)

More than half my life has been spent in Sports World.  And I can tell you, without reservation, that sports are indeed a metaphor for life.  Consider the concept of power.
Right now, I coach a power sport–dragon boating.  (Do an internet search on it if you aren’t familiar with it. . . . it’s pretty cool.)  Here’s a picture in case you want the general idea:
dragon boat

Dragon Boating

For our sport, we need to be sprinters, not marathoners.  We need to be strong and we need to have good technique; in that way, we can apply our power and move the boat.
All winter we train, lifting weights and practicing technique in an indoor paddle pool.  We coaches talk about the fundamentals of the stroke, starting at the bottom (this is called leg drive).  We are trying to show the proper way to translate the strength earned from weight training into power through the water.  Basically, the legs/lower body are way stronger than the arms, and so they supply the power to move the boat.  Even though it might seem counterintuitive, trying to paddle by pulling with the arms is nothing more than spinning your wheels.
Here’s a concrete example.  Members of my team are asked to do a fitness test on an erg (rowing machine).  We coaches need to measure each paddler’s strength, and therefore, their contribution to the boat.  Now, whether a paddler is racing or fitness testing, they are trying to generate a buttload of energy, or watts.  To do that, you need power (power = force x velocity).  Power makes watts.  (What are watts, exactly?  Long story short, it’s how we coaches can see if someone is literally pulling her weight.  For example, if you weigh 100 lbs and you get 100 watts, you have pulled your weight…… if you weigh 100 lbs but you get 75 watts, you are NOT pulling your weight……. and if you weigh 100 lbs and you get 175 watts, I want you on my team.)
Still with me?  I know, I don’t like math either.  But hang in there…… almost done.
OK, so think about times you’ve been on a bicycle.  Let’s say you were trying to go down a hill very fast.  If you were in the “granny gears” (the smaller rings), you probably just ended up “spinning your wheels.”  Your legs would be flying at a ridiculous cadence but you wouldn’t be going very fast.  BUT if you put the hammer down and shifted into the bigger gears, you could fly.  Your quads would be pushing hard, and your strength would translate into power and watts.
Same on the erg.  If you put the resistance damper on a lower setting (say, on 2) and yanked on the handle and pulled a really high stroke rate (that is, over 35 pulls per minute), you might not get such a good score.  But you’d sure be winded!  Now, try that erg with a decent amount of resistance (maybe 4 or 5 on the damper) and biiiiiiiiig hard pulls at a nice steady rate (a stroke rate of 25-30), and you’d rock out.
In both examples above (the bike and the erg), you need great, strong leg drive.  Velocity AND resistance matter.  Don’t be fooled by fast stroke rate alone.  A high stroke rate will FEEL like a big intense effort.  But in reality, you won’t have much resistance to create a lot of power.  Remember that power is velocity TIMES force.  Let me ‘splain.  No, there’s no time.  Let me sum up.  BIG GIANT LEG DRIVE MOVES THE BOAT BEST.  Make sense?  (I’m sorry if it doesn’t….. I’m trying to type this while watching the Olympics, and I keep getting distracted by Apolo Ohno……)
So how is all of this a metaphor for life?  Well, just like on the boat, using your “leg drive” (i.e. your stronger muscles, whether those be literal or metaphorical) and a proper technique will translate into more success.  Why put things into an easy gear and spin your wheels?  Why not rely on your strengths and make bigger strides?
Go forth and be powerful, everyone. . . .

Happy New Year!

A new year, a clean slate!  I don’t know about you, but there’s something so appealing to me about a “do over.”  I usually blame that on my Scorpio Sun Sign.  After all, Scorpio represents transformation and change.

But maybe it’s deeper than that.  I mean, who doesn’t love a good redemption story?  Don’t we always cheer for the hero who goes through the fire and comes out stronger on the other side?  Don’t we all applaud the man who falls down and then pulls himself back up?  Maybe it’s the “hope springs eternal” thing that is inside each of us.

2013 certainly had its share of challenges.  Lots of fires for us to go through.  Lots of chances to fall down.

But my hope is that we all learned at least a little something from those setbacks.  Every warrior on the path toward wisdom needs a nemesis or two, a hurdle to overcome, a hardship to test his mettle.  The key, though, I think, is to keep going through those obstacles.  Sure, there are times when we all want to give up, and times when we even do give up for a bit.  But in the end, it’s continuing to fight the good fight that matters.

So here, then, is my wish for 2014, expressed through the amazing genius of Donald O’Connor:

Phriday Philosophy

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately.  Forgiveness of self and of others.  Maybe it’s my Scorpio or maybe it’s the Italian in me, but for some reason, I have often equated “forgiving” with “weak.”  In some ways, forgiving feels like quitting or giving up.  I realize it’s not my best quality.

Not forgiving self or others can really put a crimp in your ability to move forward, though.  So how to shift my perspective on forgiveness?

Now, I am not qualified in tarot cards (check out Through the Peacock’s Eyes for great insights on tarot).  But sometimes I do use mine to help me clear my head.  One of the Minor Arcana, The Five of Swords card, can be interpreted to mean “the current course of action is a fruitless fight, and it is wiser to admit defeat than to continue to punish yourself.”

Hmmm. . . .

So, for today’s Friday Fun creative writing prompt, think about forgiveness.  How do you forgive self?  Others?  Does forgiveness ever feel like defeat?  Write a letter of forgiveness to yourself or to another.

Happy Writing!

Wanna Learn Some Stuff?

One of my resolutions for 2013 was to learn something new.  Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for.  This past year has been full of life lessons, mistakes, and do-overs.  I am grateful for all of the learning I’ve done this year, and grateful for the teachers.

I’d like to share two sites in case you’d like to learn some groovy stuff too.  The author is the same for both, and she is a wealth of information.  Stop by, learn, and enjoy!

Farm at Coventry

Homestead Herbalism


Social Media and the Age of Aquarius

A reluctant user to begin with, I am becoming even less of a fan of social media. 

I know that writers are supposed to have blogs and Twitter accounts and Facebook pages.  I know that self-promotion is part of the deal if you want people to buy your stuff.  But all the “look at me” stuff is difficult for me to take.

I was dismayed to see that “selfie” was recently chosen as the Word of the Year.  Bluh. . . .   Are we all really THAT self-absorbed?

As I am wont to do, I tried to put things into astrological terms.  Social media is very much a child of the Aquarian Age.  Aquarius rules all things social and all things electronic.  It is the symbol for friendships and groups and intellectual exchange.

So maybe we humans are just trying to figure out who we are collectively.  Maybe all this navel gazing is our way of understanding how each of us individuals fits into the group, which is, after all, a big part of what Aquarius means.

But we should also remember that Leo is the other side of the Aquarian coin.  Some of the challenging aspects of Leo include self-centeredness, arrogance, childishness, and look-at-me-ness.

Perhaps we humans just have a need to be a bit egocentric on our way to becoming evolved and enlightened.  After all, how can we know the creature we are trying to improve unless we examine it closely?

For me, I am going to try to fuse the best of Aquarius and the best of Leo:  social awareness (Aquarius) with a heart (Leo).  Unless it comes from the heart, I’m not putting it out there.

What do you think about social media? 


The Case for Bias

Today I saw an article that was about teaching children how not to be biased.  Now, I will admit that I did not read the article; rather, the title simply got my attention because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about judgment and tolerance.  And after a good long think, I’ve decided that bias is good, and the notion of equality is hooey.

Bear with me a sec.

First, understand that I’m not talking about hating certain groups or making different rules for different people.  So please don’t think that I mean that kind of discrimination.  What I mean is that we should learn how to be more discriminating, how to analyze things thoughtfully and carefully and make a wise decision.  And then allow others to do the same, even if you don’t agree with it.

In other words, the Golden Rule is dumb, and it’s impossible for us all to be alike or for us all to want to be treated alike.  Because we are NOT alike, and that’s okay.

Think about it.  Take any topic in the world: coffee, television, religion, clothing, dinner, politics.  I bet if you asked ten different people their opinions on any of those, you would get a hundred shades of grey.  Maybe I love strong coffee with cream and sugar, but you think coffee tastes like dirt.  Maybe nine out of those ten people like coffee, but this one only drinks organic, fair trade coffee, while that one gets his morning cuppa joe at the gas station.  Maybe you have five cups of coffee by lunchtime, but I only have one per day.  See what I mean?  The number of variables and possibilities is too endless to ever think that we’ll all be the same and agree on every point.

It really bothers me when well-intentioned but oh-so-righteous people try to argue or even make others feel bad just for having a different opinion.  You eat meat?!?!  Murderer!  You don’t go to church?!?!  Heathen!  You voted for which party?!?!  A-hole!

What if instead of trying to eliminate our instincts to judge and define and categorize, we learned how to understand ourselves and others better, and then tried to figure out how to be our own successful individual within the group?

Lemme ‘splain using some astrological evidence.  Right now we’ve got Saturn in Scorpio and Pluto in Capricorn.  Long story short, that represents the breaking down of old structures that aren’t working anymore.  We can apply that to social, political, religious, or any kind of structure . . . . pretty much to anything that’s outdated and no longer serving us.  And with the Age of Aquarius (that has either already started or is rapidly approaching, depending on which astrologer you ask), we really need to figure out what “New Age” looks like.

In my opinion, political correctness and the idea of holding hands around the campfire singing Kumbaya has not been and is not working.  We have been trying to stuff everyone into the same mold with no success.  Maybe instead of trying to bring everyone down into the same common denominator, we should instead recognize that we each have a different path, we each have different strengths and weaknesses, and we each have a different life purpose.  And that’s cool.  We don’t need to feel threatened by someone who has different beliefs or traditions or habits.  We can learn about our differences, feel happy and secure in our own choices, and go about the daily practice of “live and let live.”

What do you think?