Back Again–Jumping (and bumbling) Publishing Pirouettes

Hello peeps!

It’s been a while.

As some of you know, I’ve been scrambling to get things ready for an upcoming book release–and it’s been so frustrating!

But let us go back a while. Some of you are aware I’d been trying to get an agent (started querying June 2020). I spent months getting rejected–until I was told by a few that Agents preferred to work closely with authors, and giving my end-of-the-world location, I was a big NO! from the first paragraph in the query: “My name is Jina S. Bazzar, and I’m a Palestinian author.” 👌So I searched and found a nearby agency. Well, there’s a 3 hour flight between us, but at least we’re in the same continent. 😁And yay, the agent offered me a contract after reading the manuscript. Cue the dancing. 🎶

But as days turned into weeks and then a month with not a word from the agent, I decided to send an inquiry, and hey, we were still on. Just some internal details to be finalized. And then more days turned into weeks and, another inquiry, and reassurances and a few months later, I realized I was being strung along.

So I decided it was time to push up my sleeves and do this on my own. Being in a very small dot on a map meant Amazon KDP only offered its bear minimum, so I put in my Brazilian details.

Now able to use its exclusivity program, I went in for the final details – editor, book cover, digital and paperback layout and so on. Despite those having been frustrating, I had friends helping – Tyler Colins (the book’s editor), and E. Denise Billups (who did the layout formats) again, thank you. As for book cover, after a brief stint on fiver, I decided my best bet was a professional designer. But $500 + was some of the cheapest I could find, so I crossed US book covers from the list and moved to Brazilian ones.

He rose. She fell. They met on a glamorous path to ruin.

I set release date far enough (December 21st, 2021) to give myself enough time should unexpected obstacles popup, and hey, there were (and still are) so darn many! 😢

First was the ISBN number for the paperback. Since I planned to include the paperback version on Ingram Sparks as well, I couldn’t accept KDP’s free ISBN. But ISBN from the US would cost me $125, and honestly, I balked. Countless frustrating hours later, I learned that I could buy an ISBN from anywhere in the world, providing I had the necessary documents. So I tried buying it from here first. Well, the page link was broken, ha-ha-ha, and I put that aside. I checked ISBN in Brazil, and wow, it cost $5. So I eagerly filled all the necessary information – which took me about two hours, since the page wasn’t so accessible to screen readers (seriously, that’s getting old fast). And then, when it came time to pay, they refused payment from my bank (which is Brazilian), asking instead for payment through another (also Brazilian) bank (which I don’t have an account in). They did have another option for other banks that didn’t involve credit cards, but I’d need to be there to use it, so, wall, meet my face.😒

I went back to that broken link, discovered that the URL belonged to a branch of a local university, and I googled that university. Nothing so simple as a link saying ISBN here, of course, so I reached out to the library.

Of course, there was no reply. (Did you believe after all the above, that it would be that easy?) 🤷‍♀️

So, I went back to KDP, telling myself when I figured the ISBN problem, I could trim the book size to a new one, and use that one for Ingram Sparks (each book size has its own ISBN).

So, ISBN appointed through KDP, I got both the digital and paperback forms uploaded, with the digital set on pre-order. Yay. ✌

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/-ebook/dp/B09HSGMFYC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58827418-from-fame-to-ruin

Time to gather book reviews and set up some ads so I could get eyes on the book.

First, of course, I contacted reviewers I knew. Out of 60 some emails, I got 5 replies.🤔

Mmm, maybe their emails changed. So I went hunting for them on social media and discovered that many of them haven’t posted for months, some even years. Given what’s happening around the globe, I wondered if they were okay, but put them aside as nothing I could do about. So I started reaching out to other reviewers, and while I waited for replies, I decided to tackle some ads.

Since some indie friends I know mentioned Bookbub ads , I headed there first. And discovered their page is mostly inaccessible to the blind. Well, I discovered that long ago when I tried posting reviews and recommending books I read, but I honestly thought their ad page would be accessible. Foolish me. 🤦‍♀️

Complaint sent to their customer service, I headed to amazon and hey, their page is accessible. But… yes, of course there’s a but: I can’t access their payment billing with paypal, so I’ll need that other payment method the Brazilian ISBN people asked for.

I admit there was plenty of hair-yanking.

So now while family members in Brazil scramble to get my bank account in order, I find myself in limbo, hands tied with nothing to do but reach out to reviewers. The problem? 200 emails and change, and I’ve rarely got back any reply– I wonder if my emails are going to spam?

So there it is, peeps, the condensed version of a few months and a lot of frustration, sprinkled with some achievement.

Any author here have any good suggestions – for book reviewers, places where I can put up some ads? Any readers here interested on a free e-book in exchange of a review when the book releases? 🤞

Ps: On an unrelated note, it only took me two days to get this post up and (hopefully) presentable.

Cultivating Curiosity

It’s been months since I last posted here, and though I’m still on that hiatus, I wanted to share a piece I guest posted for a friend. It’s a bit different than my usual posts – and there’s more about my personal life there than I’ve actually shared here.
So, come take a look!

possibly irrelevant photo of a butterfly from pixabay

Cultivating Curiosity

As I sit here pondering what to write, rain drenching my face, the salt of the ocean stinging my eye, the… Wait, no, no. There’s no rain in the summers here in Palestine. We have, however, blistering hot, very dry conditions. The sky is clear, the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming. It’s the perfect time for beach vacations, the gentle lap of soothing waves, the shade of swaying frond leaves, the call of seagulls. Wait, there are no beaches on this side of the wall either.
Okay, let’s try again… it’s the perfect time for picnics, sightseeing, fruit picking, doing dishes, house chores, mosquito baiting, and there are no F-16 bombings nearby, no riots, nor any sound of gunfire today. (Sorry, had to drop that last part in. You know, in case you wondered when you saw Palestine mentioned above.)…

Click here to read more:

https://georgerede.wordpress.com/2021/08/13/cultivating-curiosity/

The bug that eats star ratings

I’ve lost a third of my ratings on Goodreads overnight. According to Goodreads customer services, they’re experiencing a bug. It’s got full priority, but they have no idea when it’ll be fixed. Meanwhile, I’ve dropped from 4.41 average rating to a 4.09 – because most ratings that disappeared were 5 and 4 star ratings.

It’s Disheartening.

Image source Pixabay

How to Leave the Planet

1. Phone NASA. Their phone number is (713) 483-3111. Explain that it’s very important that you get away as soon as possible.

2. If they do not cooperate, phone any friend you may have in the White House–(202) 456-1414–to have a word on your behalf with the guys at NASA.

3. If you don’t have any friends in the White House, phone the Kremlin (ask the overseas operator for 0107-095-295-9051). They don’t have any friends there either (at least, none to speak of), but they do seem to have a little influence, so you may as well try.

4. If that also fails, phone the Pope for guidance. His telephone number is 011-39-6-6982, and I gather his switchboard is infallible.

5. If all these attempts fail, flag down a passing flying saucer and explain that it’s vitally important you get away before your phone bill arrives.

(Taken from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams)

Cover image taken from Goodreads

It’s covid’s fault – whose else could it be?

While the world is getting vaccinated and covid cases decrease, we’re going through our 4th wave here in the Middle East, and starting a new two week lockdown, trying to manage the spike of British and South African variants – that we could have prevented without a lockdown, if only the boarders remained shut. Or simply by quarantining those arriving.

Alas, that didn’t happen, so now we’re responsible for the spike, because “we, the civilians” didn’t take enough precautions.

At least we have the promise of vaccines dangling like a carrot in front of us. I’d say I hate carrots, but that would be a lie, so along I trod, hoping those vaccines arrive – and my turn as well.

My writing has suffered meanwhile, though I’m not sure if it’s because of the chaos the virus made of everyone’s life, lack of focus, stress, or something else I can’t think to name at the moment. I have to force myself to pick up the draft and add word after word and make cohesive sentences. It’s a struggle, though none that affects any other aspect of my day-to-day in a big way.

Just my writing. Where once I could tune out the world, now I’m easily distracted by anything and everything going on around me – and considering now that the kids will be home for the coming weeks, I probably won’t even manage those few sentences a day.

It’s all covid’s fault.

Source from Pixabay

Any suggestions? Something I could do to return that focus? An exercise I can do, a vitamin I could take, something I could smoke? A planet I could escape to?

Well, I’ll leave you here with something that happened a few weeks ago (when the kids returned to school for the second semester). I’m totally blaming covid for this.

***

My daughter, 3rd grade, returned from school the very first day happy and excited. So happy that she wanted to teach my niece, 2nd grade, some math.

I, as the proud mother, paused what I was doing (tinkering with my fantasy draft of course), and listened.

Daughter: “Let’s do the times table. 3 X 4=?”

Niece: “17!”

Daughter: “No.”

Niece: “18?”

Daughter: “No.”

Niece: “19?”

Daughter: “No.”

Niece: “I know. 20!”

Daughter, now smug: “No. Do you want me to tell you?”

Niece: “yes.”

Daughter: “3 X 4…. It’s 16!”

Source: Pixabay

Bartholomew 3.5 – Covid19 special edition

This one’s been a long time in my document folder, waiting to be posted. Instead of Barth and “I”, this one is about Barth and “my cousin”, Alec.

Just a special edition for covid19

***

Alec stood apart from the twelve other candidates in the spacious but efficient lobby. So far, no one had been called in for the job interview. To his side, Bartholomew, aka Barth the Mew, aka his cousin’s nightmare, stood, one shoulder leaning against the wall as he picked his teeth with a small Swiss knife.

Alec quickly looked away, afraid Barth would catch him watching and feel obliged to engage in conversation. The only reason he’d agreed for Barth to drive (and not escort) him to the job interview, had been to take him away from the house and his cousin – Barth’s current obsession.

Thankfully, no one was paying them any attention.

A guy in the group gave a hearty laugh, and Alec shifted his focus back to them. He listened to each individual boast about their experience and degree, and slowly, Alec’s confidence deflated. He had hopes for the job, but he didn’t have any experience, he didn’t even have a degree because of the virus lockdown. He felt stuck in limbo, unable to move forward without his degree, unable to attain any experience without getting a job.

He should just leave and save himself the embarrassment the rejection would cause.

Alec hugged his one page CV to his chest, afraid anyone would see his pathetic resume, and hung his head low.

“What’s wrong?” Barth asked near his ear.

“Nothing,” Alec said and shifted away.

Barth, because apparently he was as clueless as Alec’s cousin claimed, leaned forward and closed the gap. “Why are you lookin’ so low?”

Alec shrugged. “We should leave,” he said. “I can’t compete with them.” He pointed his chin to the candidates.

“Don’ you have a resume just like them?” Barth asked, eyeing where Alec hugged his CV against his chest.

“My CV is pathetic,” Alec admitted. “Let’s go home.”

“CV? Ain’t that what covid is called on social media?” Barth asked with a confused frown.

“Curriculum Vitae. It’s the Latin name for a resume.”

“Ah.” Barth turned his frown to the group. “I can fix this,” he said and moved away before Alec could stop him.

With dread, Alec watched barth pause beside the tallest candidate and say something that caused the guy to glance back at Alec with alarm.

Alec’s face instantly heated.

Oh shit, he thought with a muffled cough, his cousin was right, Barth was a walking humiliation magnet.

By the time Barth had moved to the third guy, Alec was pressed against the wall, praying a higher dimension would open and swallow him whole. His cheeks were in flame, no doubt the color of ripe tomatoes. Alec continued coughing into his fist to cover his face, but all that accomplished was help his eyes to water and make him look like he was crying.

He could just picture himself standing there, face flushed red, eyes glassy with unshed tears, hunched in on himself. In other words, pathetic.

It was said that everyone could become a murder, given the right circumstance at the right time, but Alec didn’t feel it. Instead, he was resigned to the embarrassment. He lowered his head, fixed his eyes at a bland spot on the floor and allowed the moment to wash over him.

“Done,” Barth said an eternity later. Alec’s head jerked up, but before he could grab Barth and skedaddle out of there, the door at the far end opened and the interviewer stepped out.

Source image from Pixabay

Alec found his cousin in the living room, seated on the sofa with a steaming mug, watching the local news.

“So did you get the position?” she asked the moment Alec sat on the sofa beside her.

Alec grinned. His face was still a little flushed, but he didn’t care. “Sure. I’ll start in two weeks thanks to Barth.”

His cousin paused in the process of sipping from her mug. “Oh? How’d that happen?”

Alec snickered and dropped his pathetic CV on the table. “Barth went around telling the candidates he heard me mention how strong my CV was. I was the only one left by the time the interview began.” Alec waved his hand. “The company’s only concern was that I get tested for the Covid before I start in two weeks.”

*Note: I have no idea if I’m getting the format of the posts right. So if it’s crooked, or words appear out of nowhere, please ignore it the way the new editor is ignoring all my commands.

Me again!

 “Sing like no one’s listening,

love like you’ve never been hurt,

dance like nobody’s watching,

and live like it’s heaven on earth.”

–Mark Twain

I read this a few weeks ago , and it stuck with me. These past few months have been hard on me, on the majority of the world. A lot of people passed away, many still will.

It’s been a while – months – since I last posted here. I didn’t spend these months wallowing in sadness and self-pity.

I read a lot, I wrote a lot, I queried many agents and publishing houses. I let my kids drive me crazy, though I’ve never been sane to begin with, so they only needed to take me around the corner.

I even created a facebook author page. I’m posting the link below – I’m in need of followers! If you have a page, give me a follow and I’ll follow back. I’ve also updated my books here on my blog, and started posting on fb.

This week, I decided it’s time I started writing reviews for the books I read, to return to wp, and straighten my routines again.

I’m hoping to connect again to the friends I made here – looking forward to making rounds again!

My new fb author page:

https://www.facebook.com/JinaBazzarOfficial

Liars and Thieves, by D. Wallace Peach

Liars and Thieves is the new enthralling release by fellow blogger and prolific author D. Wallace Peach. It’s the first installment in a new trilogy, and today is my stop at the launch tour.

 

Behind the Veil, the hordes gather, eager to savage the world. But Kalann il Drakk, First of Chaos, is untroubled by the shimmering wall that holds his beasts at bay. For if he cannot cleanse the land of life, the races will do it for him. All he needs is a spark to light the fire.

Three unlikely allies stand in his way.

A misfit elf plagued by failure—

When Elanalue Windthorn abandons her soldiers to hunt a goblin, she strays into forbidden territory.

A changeling who betrays his home—

Talin Raska is a talented liar, thief, and spy. He makes a fatal mistake—he falls for his mark.

A halfbreed goblin with deadly secrets—

Naj’ar is a loner with a talent he doesn’t understand and cannot control, one that threatens all he holds dear.

When the spark of Chaos ignites, miners go missing. But they won’t be the last to vanish. As the cycles of blame whirl through the Borderland, old animosities flare, accusations break bonds, and war looms.

Three outcasts, thrust into an alliance by fate, by oaths, and the churning gears of calamity, must learn the truth. For they hold the future of their world in their hands.

 

Read on to find out more about the author, watch a book trailer and read an interesting tidbit about Naj’ar The Halfbreed Goblin.

 

Let’s start with a Q & A

Q: Naj’s weapon of choice is a glaive. What’s that?

 

A: Originally, I made up a word “tarik” to represent Naj’s goblin weapon. But it was a glaive (sort of), so why not call it a glaive. Duh?

Image credit Pixabay

A glaive is a pole with a long, curved blade on one end, so it has a longer cutting reach than a sword. The goblin version of the weapon is bladed on both ends. It can be used like a scimitar, a quarterstaff, or spear, but is designed for sweeping cuts.

There’s some argument among weapon’s experts that holding two weapons is probably more realistic and flexible, but Naj’ar is quite skilled with his double-bladed glaive. His mate had it made for him, and he’s quite attached to it.

*

Liars and Thieves Global Purchase Link: http://a-fwd.com/as

in=B08FGQ2W3Q

 

About the author:

D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill. Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked. Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two dogs, bats, owls, and the occasional family of coyotes.

Author Links:

Website/Blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

Website/Books: http://dwallacepeachbooks.com

Amazon Author’s Page: https://www.amazon.com/D.-Wallace-Peach/e/B00CLKLXP8

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Myths-of-the-Mirror/187264861398982

Twitter: @dwallacepeach

Morning Tribute

My love,

 

Since the day we were introduced,

You’ve never been far.

Through laughter and tears,

The bad and the good,

You were there by my side.

My love,

There hasn’t been a day,

When you weren’t within reach,

Always giving me a boost.

You run in my veins,

Your fragrance on my skin,

Your taste on my tongue.

I can honestly say I need you every morning,

And afternoons and evenings too.

No cream, no sugar,

I like my coffee freshly brewed.

Image source https://mewallpaper.com/1778-coffee-love-coffee-beans-hd-image-free-wallpaper?

Against All Odds (Crossroads 03) by Jacqui Murray

 

Against All Odds is the third and last installment in the Crossroads trilogy, Jacqui Murray’s pre-historic fiction.

You might remember when I posted about the first book, Survival of the Fittest, or the second, The Quest for Home – if not, check them out, you wouldn’t want to miss them! I’m amazed at the depth Jacqui Murray went with her research to get this story out. Kudos!

 

Let’s start with a trailer:

Xhosa’s extraordinary prehistoric saga concludes, filled with hardship, courage, survival, and family.

Cover

A million years of evolution made Xhosa tough but was it enough? She and her People finally reach their destination—a glorious land of tall grasses, few predators, and an abundance that seems limitless, but an enemy greater than any they have met so far threatens to end their dreams. If Xhosa can’t stop this one, she and her People must again flee.

The Crossroads trilogy is set 850,000 years ago, a time in prehistory when man populated most of Eurasia. He was a violent species, fully capable of addressing the many hardships that threatened his survival except for one: future man, a smarter version of himself, one destined to obliterate all those who came before.

From prehistoric fiction author Jacqui Murray comes the unforgettable saga of a courageous woman who questions assumptions, searches for truth, and does what she must despite daunting opposition. Read the final chapter of her search for freedom, safety, and a new home.

A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!

Available digitally (print soon) at: 

Kindle US: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08C9KLP56

Kindle UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08C9KLP56

Kindle CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B08C9KLP56

Kindle AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B08C9KLP56

Jacqui Murray pic

Author Bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for  NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Book 2 in the Dawn of Humanity trilogy, Winter 2021.

Social Media contacts:

Amazon Author Page:        https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/

Blog:                                       https://worddreams.wordpress.com

Instagram:                             https://www.instagram.com/jacquimurraywriter/

LinkedIn:                                http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

Pinterest:                                http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

Twitter:                                   http://twitter.com/worddreams

Website:                                 https://jacquimurray.net

 

Book Excerpt:

Chapter 1

The foothills of the Pyrenees

They came out of the mountains, hair frozen in sparkling strands, hands and feet wrapped in shredded pelts, ribs etched against their skin under ragged hides white with snow, faces haggard with fatigue. Blood crusted scrapes and gashes, many recent, others almost healed, reminders of the violent struggles endured on their journey.

Though their steps flagged, not one of these upright creatures exhibited a hint of defeat. All males and a few females carried at least one spear, some two, many with warclubs strapped to their backs. Despite the anxiety and fear of entering this foreign land, hope energized them today, that their migration might be at an end.

All of them—Xhosa and her tribe, Pan-do and his, Wind, Zvi, and Seeker—had been chased from their homes by enemies. In their flight, they found each other. It took time to work through their differences but now they traveled side by side, respected ideas not theirs, and called themselves the People.

Their charismatic Leaders—Xhosa, Wind, and Pan-do—were known as reliable friends to those who earned their trust and dangerous enemies to those who opposed them. Two wolves—Spirit and Black Wolf—journeyed with them. Though the People lacked the animals’ sharp claws, dense fur, and piercing teeth, each considered the other “pack” and would defend them to death.

The exhausted group straggled down the gently sloping flank, feet shuffling carefully over the slippery scree. The ground changed from talus to stunted tufts of grass, sparse and brown which made walking easier. Optimism shone from their faces even as their tired eyes flicked side to side in search of unexpected movement, ears strained for out-of-place noises, and noses sniffed.

Rather than continue across the meadow, Xhosa led the People into the shade of the edging forest.

“Do you smell it, Wind?” Anticipation filled her gestures.

She and Wind, pairmates as well as Co-Leaders, stood quietly, absorbing their surroundings. Light filtered lazily through the canopy, the shadowed ground dappled with patches of warmth. She sniffed in the essence of wet earth and rotting leaves, the mustiness of moss, and something else much more enticing.

“It’s there.” She pointed and strode forward, lengthening her stride.

An icy gust whipped down the hillside through the shadows and raised bumps on her arms but she ignored it. The forest gave way to open sky and searing heat. It was too hot for her thin pelt but she didn’t stop to remove it. Green stalks swayed as far as she could see, edged on one side by more mountains and the other by some sort of leaves and branches. Sunlight glinted off the rippled surface of a distant river as it curled over the terrain.

“Dung!” The scent overpowered every other odor.

Wind huffed to her side. “It’s been a long time since we smelled dung that wasn’t frozen.”

“We did it, Wind.” Her eyes glistened with relief.

For most of a Moon, dread gnawed at her courage and left her wondering if following the guidance of Seeker—a boy barely a man—was a mistake. But Seeker assured her in his ebullient way that once out of the hills, their new homebase would welcome them. Xhosa wanted to believe him because she wasn’t sure what else to do. Nor did she know what to do if it didn’t work.

Wind motioned, arms inclusive, “It’s beautiful, Xhosa.”

Siri, Pan-do, Ngili, the wolves Spirit and Black Wolf, and the rest of the People gathered around Xhosa and Wind, eyes locked on what lay in front of them.

Pan-do whispered, “We made it.” His eyes were moist, mouth open.

Ngili, the People’s Lead Hunter, motioned, hands close to his body. “With all this grass, Gazelle or Mammoth must be nearby.”

Dust, the Lead Scout, trotted up, coming from a tall cliff far ahead on their forward path. “I think there are caves there.”

The People hadn’t slept in a cave since leaving Viper and the Mountain Dwellers. It would be a treat if true.

Xhosa looked behind. Shadows already stretched as far from the bottom of the rocky slopes as sunlight to the top. Daylight would soon end.

“We don’t have much time. Let’s rest and then see if those are caves.”

Ngili, the People’s Lead Hunter, motioned, fingers spaced out, palms up, “I’ll go with Dust to check.” He added a swift spread-fingered swipe with first one hand and then the other, followed by a quick bob of his head and a puff.

Xhosa brushed both hands down her sides. Go.

The People spoke with a complex combination of hand motions, facial expressions, body movements, and sounds augmented with chirrups, snaps, hisses, and whistles. By the time Ngili finished talking, Xhosa knew how many would join him, where they would go, and how long they’d be away. The People’s communication was sophisticated but quiet, a precaution especially in unfamiliar areas. Unusual sounds—voices, for example—stood out. All animals made noises but few as varied as the People’s. Why alert Others who lived here to their presence? Xhosa would do that in her own time, in her own way.

Dust, Ngili, and two scouts soon receded into the landscape, the only evidence of their passage a slight disturbance in the slender waving stalks. Despite the dung scents, the abundant plant food, and the glisten of a faraway river, Xhosa crossed her arms over her chest and paced.

Something is wrong.

She searched the forests and the rippling field that had swallowed up Dust and Ngili . Xhosa possessed the ability to see great distances in sufficient detail to find trails, footprints, movement, or the glitter of sun off eyes.

She saw none of those and that made her more uncomfortable.

With this wealth of food and water, Others should be here.

Wind motioned, palms flattened against his chest, “The mountains we crossed touched Sun. They’re cold and barren. Few can do what we did to get here, Xhosa. We are safe.”

Xhosa could hear in his voice, see in his gestures, that despite his bravado, Wind too felt uneasy about what they didn’t see and hear.

But she grinned. “I don’t know how I survived without someone being able to read my thoughts.”

She trotted over to a stream that fed into the river she had noticed. She stretched out on her belly, flat on the soft grass at the water’s edge, and took a long, satisfying drink of the sweet liquid. Thirst quenched, she collected handfuls of the tender shoots of new plants growing along the shore, ate what she wanted and tossed the rest into a communal food pile that would be shared with all the People. It was already filling up with fat fish speared from the slow-moving pools beside the river, tasty reeds and cattails, and even a handful of eggs plucked from nests not hidden well enough along the shore and in the roots of trees. The wolves snapped birds from the air and swallowed them almost whole, coughing up feathers.

Xhosa leaned back on her hands, sniffing the unique fragrance of each groupmember. Zvi was sweaty from wrestling with Spirit. Siri smelled sourly of hunger but she wouldn’t eat until Honey’s bleeding foot was wrapped in mulch and leaves. The females with new babies exuded the pleasant aroma of milk. Some scents jumbled together making them impossible to identify. When Xhosa became Leader of the People, before it merged with Pan-do’s and Hawk’s, the People had been small enough that she could recognize everyone by their odor. Now, she kept track of her tribe while Pan-do did the same with his. Wind helped everyone.

Done eating, the People sprawled on the warm ground, soaking up Sun’s remaining rays, chatting contentedly with gestures and the occasional sigh. Water dripped from their thawing bodies, soaking into the thirsty ground, as the remaining ice and snow on their pelts and in their hair melted away.

Xhosa and Wind sat apart from the others, on a log long ago softened by rot. She uprooted handfuls of grass and wiped the sweat from Wind’s body, as he did hers. The soft scratch felt good and the earthy fragrance reminded her of times long gone. When he finished, she harvested chunks of green moss from the log’s decaying bark and stuffed them into her neck sack. All the People wore one of these around their necks. Even the wolves did when they were migrating.

Finished, she leaned against Wind and closed her eyes. In a group of Others, her pairmate stood out. A Big Head, the People’s traditional enemy, the ones who drove Xhosa and her tribe from their long-established home, Wind had earned Xhosa’s trust by saving her life more than once and then, as a member of her People, sharing Big Head spear tricks and warrior skills with her Leads. Before long, each of them individually told her that thanks to Wind they could now defeat an attack which they couldn’t have done in the past. Whatever distrust her People harbored toward him faded away.

“Xhosa!” Dust panted up to her. “I found a cave. And we found trace of a herd. Ngili is tracking it.”

By the time Sun settled into its night nest, the People were ensconced in the cave Dust found. They had to squeeze together to fit but all were thrilled to sleep without waking to frozen toes and numb fingers. Stone and Zvi—the burliest of the People—lugged rocks in and Siri built a fire that quickly warmed the interior. The subadults gathered kindling to feed it and arranged who would be responsible throughout the night for keeping it lit.

Usually, the wolves slept scattered among the People but with Black Wolf close to delivering her pups, she dug out an opening in the back and claimed it as her den. Then she settled to her belly, one leg forward, the other bent back, eyebrows twitching.

Xhosa strode toward the nest she would share with Wind but stopped at the sight of Seeker, weight on his bottom, legs crossed in front of his body in the uncomfortable position he preferred. His pairmate Lyta curled next to him with their best friend, Zvi.

Xhosa approached Seeker. “You are not outside.”

Every night as long as Xhosa could remember, the enigmatic male lay on his back, gaze fixed steadily on the star-dotted sky, spouting what to Xhosa sounded like gibberish to whoever listened. Intermittently, he leapt to his feet and spun dizzying circles or bounced from one foot to the other, huffing and chirping. Lyta and Zvi would either join him or watch. He once explained to Xhosa that this was how he studied the changes in the night sky—the appearance and disappearance of particular stars or their movement in relation to each other—so he could guide the People accurately. This nightly process was how they had moved from the distant start of Endless Pond to this cave where Endless Pond seemed to end.

He didn’t respond to her statement, didn’t even acknowledge her. That worried Xhosa. She hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that danger lurked around them, somewhere. Seeker’s anxious look didn’t help.

She squatted at his side and added a question to her declaration. “The stars aren’t talking to you?”

To the side, Lyta wriggled, not comfortable in the seated position Seeker preferred but determined to try because Seeker liked it so much. Zvi crouched on the balls of her feet, the more traditional pose. She’d tried to sit on her bottom, legs crossed in front, but kept falling backward. Besides, it took her too long to rise from that position which meant if Lyta needed help, she couldn’t respond quickly. Squatting, for her, made more sense. Seeker didn’t care. He expected all to do what worked for them. Both his best friend and his future pairmate were long accustomed to his eccentricities.

Finally, Seeker offered Xhosa only a confused frown.

That’s not a “Yes they are,” and that raised the hair on her neck. Before she could ask more, Ngili scrambled through the thistle barrier the youngsters had placed around the cave’s mouth to prevent the entrance of intruders and hurried toward Xhosa.

He motioned, “I lost the herd’s trace in the dark. I’ll try again tomorrow,” and then raced toward where the hunters had gathered. They were all tired. Some would mate before sleeping but not Ngili. He hadn’t given up hope that his pairmate, Hecate, would come back.

After a final glance at Seeker, Xhosa joined Wind in their nest. She squatted behind him and teased the dirt and debris from his long head hair, occasionally focusing on a difficult tangle until her fingers could move easily through his hair. When she finished, he did the same for her.

As he groomed, he said, “I’ll join Ngili tomorrow. If there are herds, we will find them.”

“Pan-do and I will continue with the People.”

They said nothing more, both enjoying the calming feel of nails scratching on their skin and the intimacy of someone they trusted implicitly. Done, both fell asleep.

The first rays of daylight filtered into the cave. Black Wolf was already outside, padding back and forth restlessly, huffing uncomfortably. Wind left with Ngili and a handful of scouts, knowing Xhosa would leave a trail to wherever they settled when Sun’s light ran out. Though Spirit usually went with the hunters, today he stayed with Black Wolf.

Xhosa and Pan-do led. Dust copied their pace and direction but a distance away. With Ngili and Wind searching for meat, Xhosa focused on finding a cave large enough for the People. They strode onward, gaze sweeping the landscape, everyone grazing on berries, roots, and worms as they walked. Sporadically, Xhosa heard a faraway squawk or glimpsed a covey of birds as they exploded into flight, fleeing an unknown threat. It was the direction Ngili and Wind had gone, and told her how far they’d gotten.

The People rested by a waterhole. They searched its shoreline for prints but found none. Wherever the herds lived, they didn’t drink here so the People moved on, through copses of young saplings and around a bed of haphazardly-strewn boulders. The air tasted of flowers, warm earth, and the mild tang of salt, but the dung they found was hard and old.

Xhosa touched Pan-do’s hand and both stopped, eyes forward. “Do you smell that? It reminds me of Endless Pond.”

He pointed to his strong side and the direction they were walking. “From there and there. How can it be on two sides?”

Xhosa tingled. One of her People—Rainbow—had abandoned them long ago, taking many males and females with him. Others she and her People ran into while migrating here told her Rainbow traveled the same route she did but along the opposite shore of Endless Pond. For him, as for her, this was as far as he could go without folding back on himself.

If they got this far. If any survived.

She pushed aside those thoughts. Before searching for whatever remnants remained of Rainbow’s group, the People must find a homebase. All they suffered to get here—the interminable walking, the loss of Hawk, the death of groupmembers, Nightshade’s treachery—was for naught if they didn’t establish a home.

Spirit bumped her leg. Black Wolf panted at her mate’s side, her belly almost touching the ground.

Xhosa motioned, “Your mate’s pups won’t wait much longer. We will find a den for her.”

Spirit took off, his movements graceful and fluid with Black Wolf lumbering after him.

Not much later, Pan-do squinted ahead. “I think Spirit found a cave.”

Xhosa leaned forward, narrowing her gaze, and finally saw where Spirit stopped. He sat on his haunches at the base of a cliff, facing her, nose twitching, tail swishing the dirt behind him.

It took the rest of the day to cross over the craggy scrubland, up and down the deep ravines, and around the occasional spot of slippery ice. The cave proved too small for the People but not for Black Wolf’s needs. With much scuffling and panting, she created a nest for her pups and disappeared into the cool dark hole. The People settled outside, under an overhang that would protect them from rain and predators, and far enough away to not bother the new mother. As soon as Ngili and Wind arrived, shaking their heads that they hadn’t found a herd, they left again to search for signs of a trail left by former inhabitants of this cave.

Xhosa’s chest squeezed and her stomach knotted. Spirit padded up to her side, hackles puffed, nostrils flaring. He agreed. Something about this area made her tingle but for now, until Black Wolf finished, they must stay.