THE BOOK: Sparks
PUBLISHED IN: 2019
THE AUTHOR: Maren Anderson .
THE PUBLISHER: Not a Pipe Publishing. Not a Pipe Publishing is a small, independent publishing company formed in 2013 and located (fittingly) in Independence, Oregon. Working with groups like the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Willamette Writers, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, Literary Arts, and Project GirlSpire, Not a Pipe Publishing is committed to supporting fine literature in our region, across the country, and around the world. Focusing on high quality genre fiction for young adult and adult audiences, Not a Pipe Publishing seeks to both entertain and enlighten readers by bringing diverse voices to the market, engaging in the struggle for human rights, and giving voice to deeper truths best expressed through fiction.
SUMMARY: Sparks is a contemporary paranormal romance set on a horse ranch. It’s a horse romance, but there is an “amoral barn sprite” under the barn.
All Rosie wants is to tear down the ancient cowshed on her horse ranch, but the old-timers tell her that she can’t because it might anger the cowsprite that lives underneath. Rosie thinks this is ridiculous. That’s why, after too much whiskey one dark night, she and her new boyfriend, Patrick, knock the shed down with the tractor. The next morning, the tractor is on its side, its tires are shredded, and the cowshed has been rebuilt.
Rosie is plopped into a world of magic she didn’t know existed. Patrick can talk to animals. His aunt is a witch who owns an “herb shop.” The cowsprite is deadly, won’t leave, and requires a cow to keep him company. Rosie throws Patrick off her ranch because they fight about the sprite. Rosie has to figure out how to save her ranch, her love, and even her dog, as she struggles to accept her place in a world far more magical than she cares to believe.
THE BACK STORY: This goes back all the way to 2008. I raise alpacas, and I was on the ranch of another alpaca rancher. He was this old farmer type—old ball-cap, overalls, most of his teeth. His ranch was on his family’s original Oregon Trail homestead, so each building had this rich history, not that history mattered a whole lot to the old farmer. As we walked by one of the old buildings, he said, “I wish that old milk barn would just fall down. It’s dangerous for the grandkids.”
“Why don’t you just tear it down?” I asked.
He looked at me like I’d just fallen out of the sky and grew three more legs. “I can’t do that!” he cried. “It’s bad luck to tear down a barn!”
I just nodded like I’d forgotten that very basic, common-knowledge fact, but I didn’t follow up. I’m kind of glad I didn’t because it means that I kept wondering about it for years, and I never found a good answer to why it’s bad luck to tear down a barn. The closest I got was folklore in Scandinavia about sprites that protect animals and punish people who hurt them. Voila! My Cowsprite was born.
The main characters came from another book, Fuzzy Logic. They were supposed to be the “B” love story, but they were so dynamic that they demanded their own book.
WHY THIS TITLE?: This book was difficult to title because it’s a weird genre: romantic, monsters, magic, but not YA, and no one turns into a werewolf. So I had to find something that didn’t signal those things. “Sparks” came to me because of the way the characters actually magically zap each other. It’s like static electricity, but not.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? What makes your book unique, and what niche audiences might it reach?
Sparks is a paranormal rural romance with horses, magic, and other urban fantasy elements. People who would enjoy this book like romances with horses, but wish they had magic, too. People who would enjoy this book like paranormal romances, but wish they had horses, too. People who would enjoy this book like books with magic and love, but wish they were written from an adult’s point of view.
“Sparks is a fresh and playful love story, told with wry, laugh out loud humor … Anderson uses a –mischievous twist of magic to take her characters, and readers, on a cozy but exhilarating ride.”
— Therese Oneill, NYT Bestselling author of Ungovernable
“…a story comprised of romance, folklore, and the paranormal which made me feel safe and scared… [Anderson] did a fabulous job of portraying life in the barn, the riding scenes, and the horse characters. Fun, intriguing story!” — Brittney Joy, author of the Red Rock Ranch series
“Romance, monsters, and magic … for grownups? Yes, please!” — Karen Eisenbrey, author of Daughter of Magic and Wizard Girl
“An upbeat, witty paranormal – Anderson’s Sparks is deliciously addictive with touches of sizzling chemistry, zany twists, and quirky turns that simply leave you wanting more. Fast-paced and entertaining, Rosie and Patrick’s simmering romance, mixed with a little magical mayhem, heat up this romantic fantasy, creating a wonderfully amusing read. Clear your day because you won’t want to put this book down!” == -Heather S. Ransom, author of the Going Green trilogy
Maren Bradley Anderson is a writer, teacher, editor, and alpaca rancher in Oregon. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Timberline Review, the incoming Managing Editor of PURE Insights, and has written three plays for the Apple Box Children’s Theater including Beowulf for 2019. Her writing has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Alpacas Magazine, and The Timberline Review. Her sex strike novel, Closing the Store, and alpaca ranch romance, Fuzzy Logic, are available online and through your local bookstore.
I write about the town I live in, only with more fantastical elements, because I love it. I love living on our ranch. I love our little college town miles from “anywhere.” I love animals, whether wild, or domestic, inside or outside. And I like writing about people I would like to hang out with.
The characters in Sparks began life as characters in the “B” plot of another book, but they were too strong to stay in the secondary story. They demanded their own book. I’ve already told the story about the old farmer guy who told me it was bad luck to tear down a barn. With characters and a set up like that, the rest fit into place. This just goes to show that you can’t ever know what little bits will end up being interesting when put together.
Copyright © 2019 by Maren Anderson
The ancient cowshed tumbled down so slowly only an immortal could see it collapsing. Rosie was not immortal, so she merely noted every month or so that the roof had sunk lower or another board had twisted loose. Blackberry vines thrust between the slats like tentacles, so the shed had spidery legs at twilight. Even with prickly appendages, the structure leaned heavily against a more ancient oak tree as if it were tired from collapsing and needed a rest.
Rosie stood in front of the old building. It was low and long, designed for milking ten cows at a time as they munched hay or grain in the troughs. She suspected the cowshed was actually the oldest building on her property. The original farmhouse might have been older, but Rosie had no way of knowing. It had burned down eight years ago.
Ed stood next to her, eyeing her crowbar. “I sure wish you’d think about this,” he said. He pushed back his tattered ball cap and rubbed his eyes again. “It’s bad luck to tear down a barn.”
Rosie tried not to grin. She knew Ed believed this superstition and took it seriously. He lived next door and had adopted Rosie as family after Ben had died, even though her own father only lived ten minutes away. She accepted Ed’s friendship and his help, but not always his advice. For instance, Ed had tried to give her a rabbit’s foot like the one he had in his pocket to try to protect his calves from the cougar that had been prowling the hills that winter. She didn’t think a rabbit’s foot had been so lucky for the rabbit.
“Ed,” she said. “It is not bad luck to tear down a barn.” Still, she took one more opportunity to knock the dirt off of her boots with the curve of the crowbar.
Ed pulled his cap back over his white hair. His eyes wouldn’t stay still.
“This is the best place to build the round pen,” Rosie explained again. She swept her arm to show her horse ranch and boarding facility, the place she’d been developing for years on her own. “There is no place else.”
“I know,” he said. He shuffled his feet and then turned. “It’s getting late.”
Rosie shoved her cold hands into her pockets as she watched him go. Ed readily shoveled manure and fixed frozen pipes for her, but today — indeed, every time she’d tried to remove the shed — he excused himself at the last minute and went home with hunched shoulders, kicking rocks. She sighed and let herself believe the early spring afternoon was growing dimmer. She leaned the crowbar onto the side of the shed and stood a moment in the doorway.
It was dark in the shed, made gloomier still because the weak spring twilight merely glowed between the warped slats. Today, there were no bright shafts of light slashing through the dark making the dust motes dance like pixies. Her biggest hay barn had light like that sometimes, but the cowshed never did. It always seemed dark, especially in the back near the floor. The blackness and the cold draft that breathed out of the doors made the building Rosie’s least favorite, and she had never used it for anything but storing broken machinery.
She cleared out the old tractor and broken long-handled tools last winter when she couldn’t go out on the trails with her horses and the lessons had dwindled. Rosie busied herself those cold months planning the new round pen where she would train mustangs. She had always wanted to try her hand at taming a wild creature but had never had the correct facilities to do it properly.
Of course, the money she could make selling beautiful, well-trained horses would help a lot toward paying off the bills accrued from her father’s heart attack last year. His meager health insurance had been affordable because of its outrageously high deductible. Rosie had taken out a HELOC on her ranch, but the added payments had stretched her finances very thin, indeed. She needed more income from more boarders and lessons, and the mustangs represented another badly needed source of revenue.
A round pen was one crucial step in that plan. At fifty feet across, it wouldn’t be too big, but finding a place for it on her hilly property was nearly impossible unless she knocked down the cowshed. Even though she liked the romance of having a 150-year-old building on her property, she wasn’t going to allow nostalgia to stop her from moving forward.
That back corner was very black this evening and looked even more ominous than usual because it was empty. Cold air wrapped around her ankles, and she shivered. She wondered again if the perpetual cold was from a hidden well or spring at the back of the shed and if that would mess up the ground of the round pen. She shook her head and leaned against the doorframe. An endlessly muddy pen would annoy her.
“You certainly are a thorn in my side,” Rosie said to the building. She ran her hand over her head and drew her long ponytail across her shoulder so it draped down her front. “It would be so much more convenient if you would just fall down on your own.”
A puff of cold air on her calves seemed to acknowledge her departure as she turned, but Rosie had long ago discounted any thought of anthropomorphizing the creaky buildings on her property. If she had spent the last fifteen years guessing what each creak and groan, what each dropped nail or swinging door had meant, she’d be in the loony bin by now.
Still, she said, “Goodnight, Cowshed. I guess I’ll tear you down tomorrow,” as she turned to go inside.
Bobby, her cattle dog, waited for her on the steps of the triple-wide modular home that she and Ben had chosen to replace the burned-down farmhouse. They had only lived in it a few months before Ben was killed. Still, Rosie thought of the house as “theirs.” Bobby was only five years old, so he was “her” dog. Ben would have liked him, though.
She patted his head. “You chicken shit,” she said smiling. Bobby refused to go anywhere near the cowshed. He had never liked it. Rosie assumed that a board had fallen on him or something when she wasn’t around, but she was only guessing. Whenever Rosie went to the shed, Bobby waited for her on the porch, sometimes whimpering, never venturing closer than the bottom step. She shoved her cold fingers into his fur to warm them for a moment before she stood up and opened the door.
They went inside the house, and Bobby bounced and laughed with his dog mouth and dog tongue until Rosie put his food down on the floor. Then she contemplated her own supper by opening the freezer and regarding the stack of TV dinner boxes. She only cooked when she had company, and she had not had company in a long time. She chose her favorite — Chicken Parmesan — and popped it into the microwave. She rubbed her hands together and then sorted the mail as she waited for the ding. Bills, bills, bills. She wished that she just once she’d get something other than a bill in the mail.
Across the room, her cellphone rang. “Damn,” she said as she looked around for it. It rang again from somewhere near the door. Rosie stepped around Bobby as she navigated around the dining room table to the coat tree. She fumbled through the pockets with fingers that all felt like they were thumbs as the phone shrilled again. Finally, she found it in the breast pocket, and even though the call was from an unknown number, she answered it.
“Hello, this is Rosie.”
“Oh! Hello. This is Patrick.”
“Hi, Patrick,” she said. “How can I help you?”
“Let’s see. This is Equestrian Heights, the horse training and boarding facility on Highway 223, right?” He sounded like he was reading from one of her cards.
The microwave pinged. Rosie decided the food needed to sit for a while, anyway.
“That’s me,” she said. After a moment she repeated, “How can I help you, Patrick?”
“Oh, yes!” Patrick said. “I just bought a horse, and I need someplace to put her. I found your card at the feed store, and thought I’d give you call.”
Warning flags leaped up in Rosie’s head. “You bought a horse before you knew where you’d keep her?”
“Well, yes. It was a little spur-of-the-moment,” the caller Patrick admitted. “She’s at my aunt’s place until I can find a stable.”
“I see. So, you will require boarding. Do you think you’ll need training for her or perhaps lessons for yourself?”
“Well, yes. I was thinking of both of those things,” he said.
Don’t do it, a little voice whispered to her. Don’t take on another novice who bought too much horse. He’ll just blame you when it doesn’t work. Just like all the others.
Rosie shook her head, but her eyes fell on the pile of bills she’d been sorting through. It had been a lean winter. “Can you come visit tomorrow?” she asked.
“I’ll be there with bells on,” Patrick said.
Rosie hung up and sighed. Another problem child to take care of. She patted her cowardly dog and took her pre-packaged dinner out of the microwave. Problem children seemed to be her specialty.
The sprite watched the woman who loved the horses lean the metal bar on his shed and walk to her house where the canine waited for her. The sprite didn’t mind the canine, but when it had been puppy the sprite had needed to frighten it once.
If he could have sighed, he would have, but he was not a creature that needed to breathe. Instead, he pulled back into the quiet darkness of the corner of the cowshed nearest the biggest root of the oak tree where the tree spirit faintly pulsed. Turning the woman away from the shed was tiring, but necessary.
He continued his vigil, checking the animals within its territory. This included the horses in the barn and also the beef cattle in the field next door which belonged to the cattle-loving human named “Ed.” These animals were not dairy cows, the sprite’s favorite, but since there were no milk cows, he watched the other domestic livestock.
The sprite could tell that the neighborhood cougar was miles away, but the cat was hungry and possibly injured after a long winter. The cat knew better than to bother the animals near the sprite, though.
All was quiet, so he sank deeper into the damp and waited.
Patrick was due “first thing in the morning,” in his words. When he pulled up in a white pickup, Rosie — already done with morning chores — was sitting on her porch with Bobby, her hands wrapped around a mug of coffee, enjoying the warm steam as much as the hot drink. He hopped out, smiling, and strode over to her, hand extended. “Hiya! I’m Patrick!”
Rosie stood and shook his hand. “Hi, yourself,” she said. Then she handed him the other mug of coffee steaming beside her and sat down again.
He stood a moment with the mug and then sat one step below her. He rubbed Bobby, and the dog nearly died in ecstasy. Patrick took a sip. “Nice place you’ve got here.”
Rosie smiled into her drink. “Thanks.”
Patrick didn’t seem to know what to do next, so he fondled her dog. “What’s your name, buddy?”
“That’s Bobby,” Rosie said.
“Bobby’s a handsome boy.” Patrick smiled at Bobby and scrubbed him at the base of his tail.
Bobby groaned, and his tongue lolled out and hung to his knees.
“You found his favorite spot,” Rosie said. “It looks like you’ve got the magic touch.”
“Maybe I do,” he said. “I like animals.”
She stood and stretched a little. “I assume you want a tour?”
Rosie strode off the porch toward the horse barn, mug in hand. Patrick, Bobby close at his heels, followed, but when they passed the falling-down shed, he stopped and blinked.
“You don’t keep animals in there, do you?” he asked.
“Not on your life,” Rosie said. She stood next to him as they regarded the shed together. She noticed that they were nearly the same height, she five four, he maybe five six. His haircut made her suspicious of a military background, but it wasn’t so short that she couldn’t see that he had been blond as a child. She decided there was something both old and decidedly young about him.
He looked at her, and his gray eyes smiled. “What kind of ghosties live in there?” he asked.
Rosie smiled back. “I don’t know. I’ve been trying to bring myself to tear it down for a while. I need the space for a round pen. Something always comes up, though.” She let her gaze return to the shed. Today it looked as though it were trying to push the oak tree out of its way. She shrugged and turned.
Patrick, with Bobby trotting at his heels, followed her to the twenty-stall barn slash indoor arena that had been Rosie and Ben’s pride and joy. It had taken them years to scrape enough together to buy the materials for the barn, and then it had taken months and every favor from every friend they ever had to put it up. The ordeal never seemed like work, though, Rosie told herself.
Patrick was impressed. “This is way nicer than where Sunny is boarded now,” he said. “My aunt has her behind her house, but there’s no shelter except a tree. It’s really muddy, too.”
“Just a tree?” Rosie clenched her teeth and let out a slow breath. “I do my best to take care of my boarders like they were my own.” Her face brightened. “Speaking of my own…”
A huge horse head swung over the stall nearest the tack room. The pert ears swiveled, and a hearty whinny shook the glass in the skylight.
“Hi, Caesar,” Rosie said. She stepped up to the stall and rubbed her friend’s head between his ears; they drooped, and his eyelids slid down.
“Wow, that’s a huge horse,” Patrick said.
“Caesar? He’s chunky now, but you should have seen him when we were competing.” She slipped the horse a sugar cube from her pocket.
“What did you compete in?”
“Oh, three-day eventing mostly. Some Dressage,” Rosie said as if she were describing a car wash and not a grueling test of horse and rider.
Patrick was oblivious, as Rosie thought he might be. “Maybe you’ll show me pictures someday.”
Rosie smiled and gave Caesar a last rub. “C’mon. I’ll show you the available stall.”
She led him to the end of the row where a stall door stood open. The rubber matting was clean and dry. The last border, Ellen, had been forced to sell her gelding months ago because she had injured her back. The new owner had taken the horse to her own farm in October. The box had been empty since then.
Before Patrick had arrived, Rosie had pulled out the random broken tack and cracked buckets she had stored there and then swept out the stray bedding. As he looked around pretending to know what he saw, Rosie idly pushed on the automatic waterer to make sure the pipe hadn’t frozen over the winter. Water filled the muzzle-sized pan.
“So, um, there’d be straw or something on the ground?”
“I use fir shavings from the mill usually, unless there’s a reason to use straw.”
Patrick nodded as if this satisfied him. Then he looked concerned, and Rosie knew a novice question was on his lips.
“Um, do the horses get exercise, or are they just locked up all day?”
“They spend most of their time in the winter in the stalls,” she said. “In a couple weeks, when the pastures dry out, we turn them out. In the summer, they like to sleep outside. We can exercise your horse if you like, but that’ll be extra. There are different levels of boarding: the most basic is just room and board and stall cleaning. Those owners come in every day to exercise and ride.”
“I’ll be in every day.” Patrick smiled at her like he thought this information would please her. “I love Sunny.”
“Right.” Rosie stepped out of the stall to hide her face. He didn’t know it, but he was lucky he’d worn a knit cap and not a cheesy new cowboy hat or else her head would have exploded with contempt.
Patrick followed her into the arena where a woman was lunging a ropey gelding in a seemingly lazy circle.
“The indoor arena is open all year, but most people only use it in the winter or when it is super-hot.”
“Hi!” called Patrick. “What’s your horsey’s name?”
The woman looked up and smiled a tolerant smile. “This is Talent. Don’t come much closer. He’s a bit testy today.”
“Come into my office,” Rosie said. He followed her into the tack room. On the back wall, nearly hidden among a wall of English and Western saddles, Rosie pushed open a door and went into her office. It was a weird setup, but she kind of liked the hidden nature of the room. It felt like a little safe, hidey-hole.
She had turned on the electric space heater before she had started chores, so it was toasty warm inside. She re-filled her mug of coffee from the coffee maker and topped off Patrick’s, too. Patrick sat in the chair in front of her desk, and Rosie noticed that Bobby ignored both the ratty sofa and his soft dog bed in front of the heater, instead flopping at Patrick’s feet. Patrick smiled and rubbed the dog’s back with his toe.
Rosie sat behind her desk and forced herself to smile warmly at the handsome novice on the other side of her desk.
“Now, what exactly do you think I can do for you?”
“Well, I bought this horse,” he began.
“Yes, tell me about that.”
Patrick shifted a little in his seat. “I was thinking about buying a horse for a while, you know, since I’ve been back, in fact, so I went to an auction.”
Rosie cursed in her head. An auction horse? “And?”
“And there was this guy in the parking lot.”
“Oh.” Rosie set her mug down.
“I know I shouldn’t have bought her on the spot, but she is so beautiful, and we have a real connection.”
“Did you at least ride her first?” Rosie asked, fingers crossed.
“No. I’m too new. I wouldn’t know from straight up. But I watched him ride her. She seemed sound.”
“And where is she now?”
“My Aunt Nan lives outside of town on an acre.”
“And the only shelter is a tree?”
“Yeah. It’s been kind of cold this week, too.”
Rosie picked up her long braid and began plaiting the loose hairs on the other side of the rubber band. Finally, she sighed. “Okay. You have a horse. Now what can I do for you?”
“I like your place,” Patrick said. “I like how clean it is. I like how you treat your horse. I’d like to bring Sunny here.”
“And I’d like full board, lessons for me, and training for her.”
Rosie chewed on her lip.
“What’s the problem?” Patrick said. The brightness was gone. “I can pay you for your services.”
“That’s not it,” Rosie said. “I am happy to take your money. I am happy to give you lessons and train your horse, but I need one condition from you.”
“You have to promise me that you’ll sell the horse if I tell you that she’s going to kill you.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“The only way that I’ll take you on is if you will trust me enough to sell the horse if I tell you that she’s too wild and is going to kill you. If you don’t promise, or don’t sell the horse, I’ll evict the both of you.”
They regarded each other a moment before Patrick nodded and said, “Yes, Ma’am,” without a hint of sarcasm.
That was the first time Rosie thought that they might be able to work together.
Bobby interrupted the moment by thrusting his head under Patrick’s hand. He laughed and rubbed the happy dog’s ears. Rosie sat back with her mug and smiled.
“You’re one of the chosen,” she said. “Bobby is wary of new people.”
“Oh, I have a way with animals,” Patrick said. “Always have.”
Rosie watched him rub Bobby into a drooling coma, and she didn’t doubt it. It reminded her of other men and different dogs. She swallowed the lump in her throat and said the first thing that flew into her head.
“Where did you come back from?”
“Huh? Oh, Iraq. The first one and the second.” He was scratching Bobby’s chest and the dog was orgasmic, but Patrick was perceptively more tense. “Retired Army. As a civilian I’m working as an analyst at HP in Corvallis.” He sighed, then half-smiled which made his eyes crinkle. “I’m looking to forget the Middle East, you know?”
As Patrick signed the boarding agreement, Rosie wondered where the idiot who had bought a horse in a parking lot had gone. Who was this man? Patrick was suddenly interesting.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Another Read Through, Portland, Oregon. https://www.anotherreadthrough.com/
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, https://amzn.to/2LLlK26 , Barnes & noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sparks-maren-anderson/1131958226?ean=9781948120302
PRICE: Amazon: $4.99 Kindle, Paperback $19.99, Hardcover $29.99
CONTACT THE AUTHOR:
Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MarenBradleyAnderson), Twitter and Instagram (@marenster) or her website http://www.marens.com.