A Library By Any Other Name…

by Jackie Houchin

Mention “Valentine’s Day,” and instantly visions of  cute or sentimental greeting cards, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and bouquets of red roses come to mind. You may even dream of romantic dinners or diamond bracelets.

But it was none of these things that Kristin Molloy of Mission Viejo, California, wished for last year for Valentine’s Day.

“I love books and libraries,” she said with a smile. “So do my kids. We love to go to our Mission Viejo library to check out books. Growing up, everyone in my family had a book to read around the dining room table. I wanted my own library!”

From left to right: Jenna Brown, Kaitlyn Schisler and Astha Parmar take a photo with the Little Free Library, a book kiosk at the Lake Forest Sports Park designed by the three from Cadette Girl Scout Troop 1859. Contractor Bradlee Rodecker helped in building the house-like kiosk.

Her husband, Kevin Molloy, a fireman, knew exactly what she meant. Earlier that year while visiting the Lake Forest Sports Park and Rec. Center they spotted an amazing tiny wooden library on a pole. Designed and built by three Girl Scouts with help from the Park staff, the cheery blue and white painted Little Free Library is a house-like box of books. Visible through two Plexiglas doors are perhaps 30-40 books for all ages. Anyone can take a book to read…free. After reading it, they can return it or bring back a different one. The organization’s motto is “Take a Book, Return a Book.”

Kristen thought her own Little Free Library would be great for their neighborhood.

IMG_2702Kevin drew plans and constructed his Valentine’s Day gift, painting it to match their house. He checked with city regulations (though not all the Libraries I visited did) and sunk a post into their front lawn three feet from the side walk and about 24 inches from the ground. Three small flagstone steps invite kids to visit. He attached a mailbox flag which is extended when new books are added.

Kristin loved it!

(The height of the Libraries is a personal preference. I saw ones sitting on a base at 3 and 4 feet high.)

The family says they have quite a few kids & teens stopping to choose books on their way to/from a nearby park. The couple’s children, Georgia and Ryan, enjoy sharing their own books as well.

Check out the organization for information on buying or building your own library, and to see an amazing variety of Little Free Libraries, including some that look like a church, schoolhouse, caboose, or English telephone booth! https://littlefreelibrary.org/faqs/

Of course, right away, I had my hubby build a Little FREE Library for ME for THIS Valentine’s Day, and paint it to match our house. (I’ll let you know how it goes in a later post, if you are interested.)

Other Little Free Libraries in Mission Viejo.

IMG_2676      IMG_2705


Now let me tell you about some other things to LOVE and to GIVE on February 14th, and these are especially meaningful to us writers of books.

I love a libraryThe 14th of February is also LIBRARY LOVERS DAY.

Here are some things you can do to celebrate:

  • Visit your local library and check out a book or film.
  • If you know someone who doesn’t have a library card, encourage/help them to get one.
  • Volunteer time at the library (shelving, tutoring, reading to kids), or donate money and/or a few of your books.

Without the library, you have no civilization.” ― Ray Bradbury

“Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.” ― Jo Walton

“The library is like a candy store where everything is free.” ― Jamie Ford

“Libraries made me – as a reader, as a writer, and as a human being.”  –Laurie R. King


book-giving-day-bookmark-original-copyThe 14th of February is also INTERNATIONAL BOOK GIVING DAY.

Here are some ways to participate:

  • Share your favorite book with a friend.
  • Give books as gifts to your own children or to those of friends.
  • Donate books to children’s libraries, schools or charities.
  • Leave books in places where they’ll be found, such as doctors’ waiting rooms, train or bus stations, or airports.

“Give a Book” is a UK based charity with the sole aim of giving books where they will be of particular benefit including prisons.  http://giveabook.org.uk/

“Give a Book” works with Ellie’s Friends, a charity who helps women who are recovering from Cancer. They send a monthly mixed selection of light reading to be enjoyed. Each bundle contains ten titles and is delivered to a different recipient each month.  https://elliesfriends.org

“Give a Book” also works with First Story, a registered charity which places published authors in schools to hold weekly workshops on creative writing. At the end of the program, the students’ pieces are published in their own anthology.  https://firststory.org.uk/





What else can you do for your Sweetheart on February 14th? (Click to Tweet)

Library Lovers Day & International Book Giving Day share February 14 with Valentine’s Day. (Click to Tweet)

Creating Seasonal Articles*

Christmas sugar plumsby Jackie Houchin

Does reading all those December magazines with their holiday stories, recipes, tips, traditions, and inspirations make visions of sugar plums, er, I mean, ideas for articles to dance on your head?

“Oh dear! I so wanted to write an article about those fun games we play for identifying Grandma’s tag-less gifts under the tree!” (Family Circle Magazine?)

“And how I wished I’d shared my Mom’s Christmas fruitcake recipe from her recipe box (that I inherited this year when she died), and told all who read the article why they really should try fruitcake again.”  (Reminiscence Magazine?)

But, I forgot to write them.

And now it’s too late – WAY too late.

At least for this year.

But not for next year, if I plan ahead.  Many magazines need seasonal articles. But they need them long before the pub date. Articles with a “time-tag” are a good way for new writers to break into print (or seasoned writers to pick up some pocket money).

It’s all in the timing

Start by picking up Chase’s Calendar Of Events and look ahead to see what holidays will be celebrated in six months to a year. Or you can check the guidelines in the new The Writers Market Guide for specific publications you hope to write for.

Send a query letter with your idea ahead of the suggested time. If you get a go-ahead, be sure to deliver your article on time. And be patient. If it isn’t used in 2018, it may be held till 2019.

Low-profile holidays

Brain storm ideas for the less popular holidays, such as Arbor Day, Grandparents’ Day, Flag Day, Patriot Day, Friendship Day, Bastille Day, Poppy Day, or even…. Cookie Baking Day! (December 18)  Also think about back-to-school and summer vacation themes.

Your special “slant”

If those “sugar plum” ideas aren’t already dancing away up there, then:

  • Leaf through old magazines (yours or at the library).
  • Think about experiences you’ve had during holidays.
  • Write a short biography of a person linked to a holiday.
  • Research a holiday custom.
  • Remember anniversaries. (What happened 5, 10, 500 years ago?)
  • Interview a teacher, a parent, a coach, a Macy’s clerk.
  • Write a holiday short story or poem. (Some magazines are still open to them.)

Christmas funny poem

Before and After Tips

Start an idea folder with clipped articles from magazines or newspapers. Jot notes about ideas on each. Not all will be usable, but many will work. When you’re looking for a certain seasonal theme, these may trigger an idea.

After the original-rights sale, look for reprint markets for next season. Make a list of potential ones and their lead times, and keep your original article with them.

Open a new bank account!

Christmas bank accountJust kidding!  You won’t get rich from these sales, but you will get “writing clips.”  And when magazine editors discover your timely, well-written articles/stories etc., they will approach YOU with their needs.

Okay… do you need some ideas for NEXT Christmas?  Check out these:

  • Favorite Christmas books, movies, musicals/plays (pastiche or true likes)
  • Christmas mishaps (humorous, or coping skills)
  • Christmas trees: cutting your own, uniquely decorating (we knew friends who lit live candles on their tree!), a special nostalgia ornament
  • Family traditions (oldies, or how to start your own)
  • How to make homemade gifts (food, ornaments, clothes, home decor)
  • Holiday baking (how-to, tastes & smells, shipping)
  • Holiday traditions from other countries (foods, decorations, activities)
  • Or…. interview someone with over 3,500 Santa Claus decorations (Hint: I can give you her name.)

Take away

After all the gifts are opened, the holiday meal is eaten (and cleaned up), the kids are playing with new toys (or the boxes), and the older “boys” are watching football, go grab a piece of crumpled wrapping paper, smooth it out, flick open that new expensive gold-plated pen, and start writing up your holiday impressions, experiences, and ideas while they are still “dancing in your head.”

Christmas garland

Merry Christmas &  Happy New Year !


*Inspiration for this post came from Jewell Johnson’s article, Writing Seasonal Articles in the Christian Communicator, Nov-Dec, 2017.

Winning and Worrying

by Jackie Houchin

In my last post (August 30), I wrote about The Write Practice and their Fall Writing Contest which I entered. It was the first contest I’d entered in 20 years. The theme was “Let’s Fall in Love” with the emphasis on FALL and LOVE.

AutumnGold paintingFrame2.I wrote a 1,500 word short story titled AUTUMN GOLD about a couple of young artists having a hard time making ends meet when a huge “windfall” arrives (literally) at their feet.  What they conspire to do about it is the gist of the story, with the climax happening on the first day of fall five years later.

If you wish to read the story, I’ve posted it here:  http://bit.ly/2vUvLTS

With over four hundred entries I had no thought of winning, and indeed placed the story in yet another contest. It was a good experience and I’d gotten some valuable help in crafting a good story.

Autumn-Gold, SFB cover photoTwo weeks later I was informed that AUTUMN GOLD was among the five Honorable Mentions (after first, second, and third places).  I was totally surprised.  Wow.  A week later they featured it – with the other winners – in their online magazine, Short Fiction Break with a jacket cover that, well, didn’t quite show what I had in mind, but which brought many readers and good comments.

So, I basked in the light of that glory, amazed still at the story winning anything, until their WINTER Writing Contest was announced. Eagerly I jumped on board that wagon.

A week later I had brain freeze and not from eating ice cream. Suddenly I had doubts of ever writing another short story let alone writing one good enough to win.  How do authors write book after book after having a good seller?  Are they freaked out with trying another story?  I think maybe series book writers may have an easier time, but maybe not?

Have you ever been in that place?  How did you overcome the fear and despair of ever writing something new that might be as good as a former book?

The theme for the new contest is “Countdown” and presents all sorts of possibilities of a suspense story, a heart-pounder, a page-turner.  What could be so desperate a deadline that a character would die or die trying to meet it?  A terrorist attack? A terminal cancer deadline?  A race to save someone from imminent death?

The only thing I could think of was a countdown to a wedding.  (My #2 granddaughter is getting married in two months.)  But what could be heart-stopping about that deadline?  The invitations got lost in the mail? The cake or flowers didn’t arrive?  The groom didn’t arrive because of traffic, an accident, an abduction?

wedding dress - dualWhat I came up with is a story with two points of view on an upcoming wedding ceremony. One person gleefully anticipates the event, thinking the time drags at a snail’s pace, while the other person desperately dreads the act and sees the time flying by way too quickly.

But oh, dear!  What could the climax be? What could happen when the time ran out for both people? What dynamic finale could I imagine when they came together before the clergyman?

At sat at my keyboard and wrote the story in almost one sitting, with very few changes. The ending shocked even me. Whoa!

And now I face a conundrum.  The story is due to start work-shopping in my contest Group on October 30.  After others read it and comment and I make any changes, the story must be submitted to the judges a week later on November 6.

All’s good, right?

No. Because the ending of UNTIMELY BRIDE does not sit well with my heart or my convictions.  I’ve been told this story could be another winner (see my ego puff up?)  and I fear that if I change it to ease my conscience that the story will lose its impact, become too soft to even be considered in the run. I’m reluctant to even try a rewrite. Or, I could always pull the story before November 6.

What to do? Leave it and remain uneasy, conflicted? Try to change the ending and be left with a milk-toast story? Write something entirely new… AT THIS LATE DATE?  Pull the story and simply enjoy reading and critiquing the other stories in my group in this contest?

What to do?

wedding dress - question

A Boost Up!

By Jackie Houchin

Boost up2“A boost up”….when someone holds their clasped hands together next to a horse, and you put your foot in like a stirrup, and they propel you upward into the saddle.


Sometimes a beginner (or lazy) writer needs a boost up into the writing saddle.  That’s where The Write Practice came into the picture for me. (I’m one of those lazy ones!)

The Write Practice

”If you want to become a better writer, you need to practice,” says Joe Bunting, creator of The Write Practice organization and blog. What’s involved? Fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, practicing with fresh writing prompts, unique lessons on technique, and getting feedback from a supportive community.

There are over 1000 practice exercises and lessons on the blog in such categories as; better writing, genre & format, characterization, grammar, journalism, plot & story, writers block, inspirational writing, publishing, and blogging. And it’s free.  http://thewritepractice.com/about/

I’ve attempted two lessons so far in the Short Story category. The first lesson was to read at least six short stories from the many magazine links supplied. The second lesson was to free-write for at least 15 minutes, post what you wrote in the comments section, read three of what other people wrote, and give them brief feedback.  Simple as that; practice writing and give feedback. It’s really the basis for everything Bunting does.

I wrote a short ditty on ‘Pig, Porcupine & Pineapple.’  It was totally fun!  Now to see with my fellow writers say about it

The Becoming Writer Community & Challenge

 If you are ready to go to the next level and start writing finished pieces (and get published), then the Becoming Writer community is the next step. Bunting compares this with what the “Inklings were for Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the expats in Paris were for Hemingway, and the Bloomsbury group was for Woolf.”

I discovered Becoming Writer because membership in it (yes, it does cost a little) was a requirement to submit to The Write Practice’s quarterly short story writing contest. But what you get with membership is a lot more than the contest.

Like the free practice lessons above, you share your writing with a community of writers to get and give feedback.  Actually giving feedback on another’s work helps you when it comes time to edit your own piece.

The Challenge is to write ONE piece EACH WEEK, submitted on Fridays.  It can be a short story, blog post, poem, essay, or a chapter in a book.  This is what us “lazy” writers call accountability.

And finally, besides actually finishing your pieces (Yay!), you get opportunities to submit to magazines like Short Fiction Break, Wordhaus and others.

The feedback on my first piece, an essay I wrote about Africa, brought a suggestion for submission to a specific online magazine. I submitted it and am waiting to hear.  http://thewritepractice.com/members/join

The Fall Contest

This is what caught my attention at first, a writing contest that promised cash prizes, free books, and publication. The theme was “Let’s Fall in Love.” Stories had to contain the two elements FALL and LOVE and be no longer than 1,500 words.  I told myself, “I can do that.”

The name “Autumn Gold” sprang to my mind and I quizzed my writer friends on Facebook as to how a girl with that name might look. The first answer – a stripper – caused me to cringe because that’s not what I had in mind. But when another person confirmed what he said, it left no doubt.

The story I eventually wrote keeps the title “Autumn Gold,” but the girl’s name is Audrey Gould.  I wrote an outline of sorts, showed it to a friend for her opinion, and then pounded out a story about LOVE that takes place in AUTUMN. It was 1,948 words. Lots of cuts and edits later, I submitted it to the Becoming Writer Contest community.

For the contest (548 entrants) the community is divided into ten groups, A–J, with about 40-50 writers in each. I landed in Group D. There are 46 of us, and we’ve become a close-knit group.

I’ve gotten about nine feedbacks on “Autumn Gold,” and I’ve given at least many more on other stories.  Some are VERY good! Others will need some work.  Reading my story’s feedback and the feedback on the other stories has opened my eyes to what works and what doesn’t, and what readers “get” from what you write, even if it’s not what you intended.


I’m considering rewriting the ending and running it past them one more time. The final deadline to submit the story to the judges is September 4.

Other Programs

The Write Practice offers other programs for writers and authors on building a platform, publishing & marketing, Twitter, and the 100 Day Book challenge.  http://thewritepractice.com/products


Now I’m up in the saddle. I’m trotting around and loving it. I can’t wait to press my calves against my steed’s sides and rise into a canter.  I needed that boost up.  Do you?  Perhaps you should consider a writing community.

I suggest The Writing Practice. Take advantage of the discipline and the getting and giving of feedback.  Pick the lessons you are interested in and go for it. They are free! You might also consider Becoming Writer.

Or join a critique group and begin giving your work over to new eyes and opinions.

Get up there and get galloping!


Currently the Becoming Writer and the 100 Day Book programs are closed until next semester.  Future contests in Becoming Writer will be on Flash Fiction, Essay writing, Novels, and Poetry.








Called to Please

Guest post by Rebecca Carey Lyles

becky Lyles

Write what pleases your readers?

While on my daily walk this morning, I listened to one of my favorite book-marketing podcasts. Although I’ve learned much from that audio show, I took exception to a statement made by today’s guest, who writes romance novels, thrillers and comedy. In addition to being versatile, she’s prolific and has sold thousands of eBooks. Obviously, she knows whereof she speaks. Even so, her suggestion that we write what pleases our readers didn’t quite jive with me.

My reluctance to accept her advice is partly due to being a faith-based author and partly due to the fact I’m old enough to be her mother. I realize more each day that life is short and my time on Planet Earth is limited. I want to leave a written legacy that deepens readers’ faith, enhances relationships, and inspires personal life-change as well as concern for others.

For a Christian author, writing for publication is a calling to use our God-given talent to honor him and draw others to him. Of course, I want to please readers. However, pleasing God should be my primary goal. Such a focus will enable me to compose stories that uplift, educate and challenge as well as entertain.

windsRomantic-suspense, peppered with frank reality

My romantic-suspense novels might attract a few readers similar to the above-mentioned readers. But difficult subjects like imprisonment and human trafficking will likely cause many who prefer a “lighter read” to turn away. Yet, I felt led to write about those important topics through a series of “serendipitous” events that precipitated each book in the Kate Neilson Series.

I’m currently conducting interviews and doing research for my next fiction series, which will feature individuals trapped in an abusive religious cult. Not exactly pleasant subject matter. Thanks to family members caught in a controlling group, I’ve learned that cult awareness is as crucial for Americans as is understanding the human-trafficking epidemic that plagues our country.

My part in disseminating truth about cults is to create an entertaining plot peopled by compelling characters who search for transformation and freedom in a beautiful mountain setting (only because I like mountains!). Just so you know, despite daunting themes and heartrending storylines, all my books have happy endings, even the nonfiction ones, It’s a God Thing! and On a Wing and a Prayer.

Passagways.A good story

 I might add that my writing is neither literary nor preachy (at least I try not to be preachy). I’ve penned short stories that entertain or make readers think but don’t overtly teach biblical truths (see Passageways)***. As Henry says in the movie The Book of Henry, “A good story will remind you of who you want to be.” All truth emanates from God’s Truth.

How do we live out our calling and write what God wants us to write? The same tools that help us know his will for other aspects of life are also useful for writing guidance. Prayer, Bible reading and study, Bible teaching, listening and responding to the Spirit’s nudges, wise counsel, inspirational books and music, intuition, contemplation, circumstances, confirmation, serendipitous moments—and peace when the right decision has been made.

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Becky.Steve LylesBio

Rebecca Carey Lyles grew up in Wyoming, the setting for her Kate Neilson novels. She currently lives in Idaho, where she serves as an editor and as a mentor for aspiring authors. She’s also written two Colorado-based nonfiction books, “It’s a God Thing!” and “On a Wing and a Prayer,” and compiled a short-story collection with other Idaho authors titled “Passageways.”  With her husband, Steve, she hosts a podcast called “Let Me Tell You a Story.”

Please visit her website or contact her via email or Facebook.


Excerpt from her most recent novel:

 Winds of Hope***

Prequel to the Kate Neilson Series

THE PRISON GATE CLANGED SHUT behind Kate Neilson, the sound as loud and harsh in her ears as coupling train cars. She’d heard that clatter of metal against metal hundreds of times during her five years of incarceration. Yet with each slam, her stomach lurched and her shoulders jerked. Try as she might to steel herself against the jarring crash, she couldn’t help but react like a startled bird.

For the first time, Kate stood on the visitor side of the barred gate that separated the reception area from the wide fluorescent-lit hallway leading to the cellblocks…..


***NOTE from Jackie: To read the entire excerpt, go to http://bit.ly/2sLVHzI  on my ‘Here’s How It Happened’ blog.

 ***NOTE from Jackie: PASSAGEWAYS  is a collection of 16 stories by four authors. They range from amusing (an old lady with an unusual “weapon” for an unusual purpose, in Mattie Cummins), to romantic (Follow the Moonbeam), heart-rending (Grand Champion), thought-provoking (Invisible Thread), mysterious (Three Days) and sweet (Morning Song) to….. downright creepy! (The Magician).

And yes, Gayle Bartos-Pool, there is a Christmas story (Spirit of Christmas) with a not-so-typical ending.


Let Freedom Ring!

*My country ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!

Our father’s God to, Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!


Freedom.flagFreedom from fear and oppression, freedom to live our lives and fulfill our dreams, freedom to write our stories. It’s in our constitution and our patriotic songs. Freedom is a precious commodity still alive (for the most part) in this country. Oh, may we cherish it!

As authors and journalists, we are still relatively free from censor as long as we don’t intentionally harm someone. Ours is a country made for wordsmiths! We can write our articles, poems, songs, memoirs, stories, and books without fear of being imprisoned. We can think up plots that chill spines or puzzle astute minds; humor and satire that produce chuckles, guffaws, or wry smiles; and desperate, horrific situations that rend hearts (and bring out tissue boxes), and pierce consciences.

Freedom.pen.swordWords have power.

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” said English playwright, Edward Bulwer-Lytton. So let’s wield our words wisely.  Yes, let us use them to entertain, but  also to encourage, inspire, challenge, and provoke our readers toward  what is good.

Come mighty patriots, take advantage of the freedom you have. Write on! Publish! Change a mind, a life, a world!

The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng:” Psalm 68:11 NIV

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7


* Written by Samuel Francis Smith; the tune used for this song is “God Save the Queen”, the British National Anthem.



Big Black Dogs, a Writing Inspiration

The Dogs of Africa, by Jackie Houchin

I’ve just returned from two weeks in Lilongwe, Malawi. Two things I’ve noticed in the four times I have been there is that many American families (teachers, missionaries, administrators) live in “compounds.” Many well-to-do Malawians do too.

These are large houses – really, amazingly so – inside large, high walled yards. Some of these enclosing brick walls sport coiled barbed wire or broken glass on top. All have solid metal sliding gates that are opened only by guards who work in shifts and only for residents and acknowledged visitors. And…. only after the DOGS are chained.

The transition from red-dusty, pot-holed roads to the lush garden interiors of these compounds is quite astonishing. So is the first sight of the…. huge, barking, slavering, jumping against chains, black guard dogs.

Malawi is known as “The Warm Heart of Africa,” and there has never been a war there. So why the over-the-top security? Poverty and hunger.  Malawi is now officially the poorest country in the world.

But thank God, this year there was sufficient rain, The maize crop – their main food source – did well. Harvesting had begun in earnest while we were there.

But for the last number of years, many, many people in the villages went hungry.  They see (or imagine) the things inside these fortresses as a means to feed themselves and their families. They steal to sell to buy food. Occasionally someone gets hurt if the residents are unexpectedly at home. The intruders’ greatest fear is not the guards, but the dogs. Big dogs. Black dogs.  The color is important; they see them as especially evil and powerful.

IMG_3221 - CopyThe first home our visiting short term missions team stayed at had Simba and Samson – father and son Great Dane/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix dogs. Their shoulders are at hip joint level. Their massive heads taller. Their shining fur, black as night.

Once inside the gate and approved by the owners, the dogs are really quite friendly to visitors and buffet each other to get the most petting. They run loose in the compound, and can be seen lazing about on the thick grass under flowering trees or Hibiscus bushes.  But let a car toot at the gate, and they pound into action. The guard chains them to the wall near his shack at the gate before rolling it open.

My second Missionary Kids’ Story, titled Big Black Dogs, was inspired by these two beasts, with my made-up names of Gideon and Goliath. You can read the story here, (https://jackiehouchin.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/kids-stories-of-missionary-life-in-africa-2-big-black-dogs/ ) and marvel at their instinct for protection and their cunning ways.

This last trip, we stayed at another home (the family I patterned my MK Stories after).  They have been in Malawi only since last summer, but one of the first things they did was to purchase two Great Dane-Shepherd mix pups; black, of course, and big.

FullSizeRender (21)Their young children – fans of the Lord of the Rings series – named them Samwise and Frodo. They are only eleven months old and have some puppy ways, but let a horn sound at the gate and they are transformed into something like the Hound of the Baskervilles.

There is one other Big Black Dog that I have met in Malawi.  He belongs to a family with three children, who hang on him and throw toys for him to fetch. Grown men who frequent the house are, however, quite fearful of him. I think it’s the eyes, because once a car enters the compound, he is quite silent. He watches, his tail never waging. A silent menace.

The family has a large Kondie – screened patio – at the back of the house where they entertain guests. It’s a great place (free of those pesky, dangerous mosquitoes) to talk while the chicken and beef sizzle on the grill.

Their Big Black Dog will appear silently as you relax and gab, and stare at you through the screen. You think that if you approach him all friendly-like and let him sniff your hand, all will be well. He’ll see you are no threat.

FullSizeRender (18)But as you rise and move toward him, a flimsy screen the only barrier separating you, and your eyes meet… he stands and growls deep in his throat and lifts a lip to show long canine teeth. His stiff-legged stance and erect tail warn of horrors to come should you venture closer.

You back away slowly and he stops. Eventually, as you sit down, he turns and resumes his guard duty around the house and other buildings. You notice sweat at your temples and armpits although it’s a fairly cool evening. Eventually your heart beat slows.

When it’s time to leave, the gate guard whistles for the Big Black Dog and secures him to the sturdy chain.  Safe inside your car you drive slowly through the gate. “Killer” – as you have dubbed him – barks viciously and lunges against the chain as you pass.  When you turn into the street and the metal gate rattles along the rail and bangs shut, the barking ends.

As the car moves away, you hear the young daughter of the family call the monster for a game of fetch. “Get it!” she shouts, and you hear nails scrape on cement. “Good boy, Sniff.”