Finding Sage

Chapter One


Sage Magnolia stood in front of the weathered sign that read, “Welcome To Wild Blue Springs, Colorado.” She lifted her camera and took a picture with the rugged landscape blurry in the distance. Up above the snow-capped mountains, dark gray storm clouds gathered around the peaks. The smell of rain penetrated the cool breeze whispering through the spruce and fir trees.

Sage adjusted the strap of her camera draped around her neck. Two days ago, her boss, Rick Mathison, had sent her an email asking if she would be interested in hiking into a remote mountain community in need of good press. She took the assignment without hesitation. She was grateful to spend a few days hiking and camping in the forest, anything to get away from the chaos her personal life was currently in.

She had accepted a job offer to become a traveling writer for the Outdoor Times for a variety of reasons. The position offered a salary that financially supported her on her own. The benefits, a retirement account and health insurance, were another bonus.

It also gave her the opportunity to travel all over the United States.

And it also made it that much harder for her ex-boyfriend to track her down after he came back to their apartment a few weeks ago to find all her things packed up and gone within a matter of hours.

The imprint of Rhett’s hands were still all over her body in old bruises. Her ribs, now finally on the mend, were no longer sore from the torn muscles and fractures from their last fight that ended with her in the emergency room.

 An entire year of her life had been wrapped up in a man who had worked his way into her heart through spoiling her with attention and affection, only to beat it senselessly anytime he felt it needed a reminder of who was in charge of it.

Thunder rolled through the steep valley. The hair on the back of Sage’s neck stood on edge from the static charge of a powerful storm filling the air.

She squatted down to unzip her camera bag and pulled the strap over the back of her neck. She clipped the lens cap in place before setting the camera inside the waterproof bag she had bought years ago to keep her camera protected from the weather.

The trail was steep and rocky as it curved down the mountainside in the direction of Wild Blue Springs. She spent the entire flight from Miami to Denver researching the various trails and recreational activities around the small town that had started during the gold rush. It was a popular tourist attraction and a place outdoor enthusiasts flocked to during the summer, or when the ever-changing weather permitted.

Two years ago, the mountains had seen a continuous season of heavy snowfall followed by over 200 avalanches that had wiped out parts of the forest and clouded the trails with debris. Then, the year before, a tourist had arrived with a contagious virus that spread through the entire town of 1,000 full-time residents. Which prompted a series of emergency health orders and banned entrance to anyone who didn’t live in the town.

The town was hurting to attract tourism again now that the emergency health orders were set to expire at the end of the month.  

Sage shouldered her camera bag along with her hiking pack. She started down the trail and let her thoughts wander to how blissful it would feel to rent a room followed by a steamy hot—

 “Excuse me!”

The deep baritone of a male voice from the trail above startled her. The rubber heel of her hiking boot slipped on a rock, a twinge of pain shooting through her ankle and up her leg.

She glanced up at the trail in annoyance while shaking out the pain in her leg. A tall and handsomely rugged man dressed in charcoal gray khakis, thick black boots, and a long-sleeved black shirt strode down the trail in her direction.

A fluttering sensation filled the center of Sage’s chest as he approached with an air of authority and purpose. His hair was a rich black color and buzzed short with the faint scruff of a beard along his strong jawline. Beneath dark eyebrows, his eyes were guarded and the color of rich honey. A stony and determined expression filled the hard lines around his sharp face.

“What are you doing?” He demanded when he reached her. “Did you not see the sign back there?”

“I—”

Words knotted in the center of Sage’s throat. The man stood in front of her, muscles straining against the shirt clinging to his broad chest and shoulder, towering easily over her. A handgun sat at his right hip and a rifle was strapped to his back. All easy to grab in a split second if needed. She took a step back with a pang of uneasiness.

“The sign,” he repeated with an air of impatience. “Did you not see it up there?”

She managed to find her voice. “What sign are you talking about?”

“The sign at the trailhead above here. The bright orange one that says, “No Hikers Allowed.”

She did see it while coming down from the forest. Rick had assured her that the town would welcome her in despite the tourist ban that was set to expire in a month. The fines from what Sage had read online were hefty and meant to dissuade traffic in and out of town unless for essential reasons.  

Sage gripped the straps of her backpack. She fought back the urge to shrivel beneath the hard weight of this man’s stare. His presence wasn’t threatening, but it demanded attention and respect. Her eyes landed on the gold star stitched into the fabric of his shirt.

Sheriff Stone.

“You’re one of the Sheriff’s in Wild Blue Springs?” she asked, tentatively.

“Yes.” His eyes flicked down to the same spot her eyes had been. “I’m one of the Sheriffs.”

“Okay. I know that—”

“There is a ban on non-essential travel into Wild Blue Springs,” he finished for her. “It doesn’t expire until the end of the month.”

“I realize that but—”

“Do you have your license on you?”

Her irritation levels ratcheted up a few notches at being interrupted again. There had been a few grumblings on a couple of internet forums about the Wild Blue Springs Sheriff’s Department being a bit coarse with visitors coming to town, but she never expected it to be true, let alone experience it for herself.

His eyes narrowed when a few seconds ticked by. “Do you have a drivers license?”

“Yes,” Sage muttered, shrugging the straps of her backpack down her arms. “It’s in my backpack.”

He took a step closer to watch her crouch and yank the zipper of her backpack open. The faint smell of clean soap clung to the air around him. Mindful of the extra set of clothes had packed and his eyes focused on the contents she was digging through, including clean underwear and a bra, she managed to find her wallet at the bottom of her backpack.

Sage pulled her license from the front slot of her wallet and handed it over. His fingers grazed over the top of hers. Enough of touch for her to feel the warmth of his calloused skin.

She curled her fingers up into a fist, willing the tingling heat away. Thunder cracked again in the distance. Unperturbed by the gathering storm clouds, his eyes scanned the front of her license. A disapproving frown settled along his face.

“You shouldn’t be out here on your own,” he stated. “You’re a young and unarmed woman hiking alone.”

Sage bristled at his condescending tone. “I’m twenty-three years old, so I’m not that young. My boss sent me out here to write about your town.”

She waited for a trickle of recognition, but his face remained blank and stony.

“Your boss doesn’t care about your safety if he sent you out here alone and to a town where there is a ban against tourism at the moment.”

“I was assured that I could be here,” Sage said in exasperation. “Look, if you’re that concerned about it, then you can call my boss and talk to him.”

“I’m not writing your boss a ticket. I’m writing you a ticket.”

Her jaw dropped open in shock as he reached into the back pocket of his pants and pulled out a pad.

“You’re seriously writing me a ticket?!”

“You violated a public health order,” he said, calmly clicking a pen. “And if you were telling the truth, I would know about you coming into this town. It’s that small.”

Hot anger flooded through Sage in hypersonic speed. Maybe it was the past few months stewing inside of her and the ache in her ribcage from her healing ribs, but she wanted to strangle this man despite how strong and armed he appeared to be.

 “I can’t believe this you pr—”

 “What is going on, Sheriff Stone?”

 Sage tore her furious gaze away from him at the sound of approaching footsteps. A woman dressed in jeans, hiking boots, and a flannel shirt came up the trail. Her curly brown hair was streaked gray and pulled up high in a messy bun. 

 “Go along, Maisie,” he said, flatly. “This doesn’t concern you.”

 Maisie. As in Maisie Rae.

 Relief filled Sage to see the woman who had sent her an email with directions to hike down into town. She owned the only small lodge in a town called Maisie’s House and was in charge of the tourism in the town.

“I assure you it does, Sheriff,” Maisie said, ignoring his attempt to brush her off. “This is the woman coming to write a feature article about our town to help bring back all the tourism you’ve effectively scared off.”

 He didn’t stop scribbling on the pad with Sage’s driver’s license in his hand.

“I took an oath to keep our town safe until the order expires at the end of the month.” He shifted his gaze to Sage who glared at him. “No special treatment of any kind. It sets a bad example, Maisie.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. The mayor invited her to come into town. I booked her a special room even.”

  “The mayor didn’t mention anything to me.”

  “Maybe you should talk to him about it,” Maisie countered. “Don’t waste a piece of paper on something you know Judge Billing will throw out when she fights it.”

A scowl tugged at his lips at Maisie’s words. With visible reluctance, he handed Sage her license back and then tore the ticket free from the pad. He folded it, tucking the paper inside of his pant pocket.

 “I’ll be sure to talk to the mayor about this,” he said through clenched teeth. “If I find out you’re lying, Maisie…”

 Maisie folded her arms over her chest. “Or what? I’m not lying.”

The wind ripped through the swaying spruce trees while a long and tense moment passed. He strode past Sage without a second glance. The crunch of rocks beneath his boots echoed in the late evening air as he left them behind on the trail.

 “Forgive Sheriff Stone,” Maisie said, rolling her eyes. “He hasn’t dropped the tough city cop attitude quite yet and adapted a friendlier one.”

 Sage willed the adrenaline pumping in her veins to slow back down to a normal pace.

 “Is that normal?” she asked. “For the Sheriff’s to walk along the trails like that?”

 The smile on Maisie’s faltered a bit. She opened her mouth to reply, but the boom of thunder stopped her.

“We should go before it downpours. You don’t want to be caught out here when lightning starts and hail. Plus, I can imagine that you’d like to have a hot shower and a good meal.” 

  Sage nodded. Food, a hot shower, and an actual bed to sleep in sounded like pure bliss. “More than anything at the moment.”

  “I’ll fill you in about everything as we walk,” Maisie said, cheerfully. “I promise you will enjoy your time here in Wild Blue Springs.”

Only if I avoid Sheriff Stone, Sage thought sourly as she followed the other woman down the same trail he had disappeared down. Her time in Wild Blue Springs would be enjoyable then.


Copyright @ Hope Carter 2020

Why I Took A Hiatus

“Sometimes you must shatter
in order to decide
which pieces of yourself to keep
and which to leave behind.”
Kristin Lohr

I’ve been quiet for a long time.

I pulled away from Twitter in March. I slowly pulled away over the summer from posting on Facebook and Instagram. I stopped replying to messages. A complete social media hiatus.

But, I’ve been silent longer in many other ways.

I stopped writing like I used to. I’d start, and then stop. I deleted so many drafts.

Falling For His Best Man is the last book I published back in August 2019. I currently have more unfinished writing projects because I started to struggle with depression from an accumulated amount of stress in my life along with a lot of self-doubt. I was burnt out trying to help everyone around me when I neglected to ask for help myself.

The thoughts going through my mind weren’t the usual thoughts all writer’s suffer from constantly. “This scene is a dumpster fire. Delete this chapter because it’s crap.”

It was, “I’m a failure. I can’t do anything right. I can’t get away from this heartache and all the stress. I just want the pain to stop. I just want to escape.”

I struggled privately with suicidal thoughts after I published my last book. So much had piled up inside of me that I didn’t know how to even sort through the clutter of it. After my friend died of suicide in 2017, I had mentally convinced myself that if I just kept sprinting forward that the grief and shock would eventually lessen. Because time is considered to be the greatest healer of all wounds– mental and physical. When my was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and was deemed terminal, I realized that I couldn’t outrun the grief and despair. I’d cry for hours at night. I would walk around and hope for a fight because it’d give my anger the opportunity to unleash. My engine was swamped and all I wanted to do was tie an anchor to my feet and let it pull me down to the bottom.

I put so much pressure on myself to achieve all these goals that I pushed away the reason why I had stepped away from my career as a freelance ghostwriter: to actually enjoy the writing process. To fall in love with every word and character. To feel that stab of giddy happiness when doing a final read through. Not detached and rushed because I’m trying to make a tight deadline.

So, I took a step back to focus on myself and re-align again. I knew I couldn’t give readers a book they could use to escape when I wasn’t capable of doing that for myself.

Prior to the pandemic, my boyfriend and I had decided it was time to focus on our relationship and protect our private bubble from outside influences. 2020 was the year we took chairs from our table. It was the year we put up boundaries and it turned out to be the best thing we did for not only our relationship, but for ourselves, too.

While writing this, I’m listening to the Sims 4 soundtrack because I’m a weird 90’s kid who still loves their music. I’m also 27k deep in Finding Sage. I’m nearly 12k in One Night Won’t Hurt. I’ve barely scratched the surface of Nowhere To Go at 5k, but progress is progress.

I can’t wait to share these stories with you all. I hope you all love them as much as I’ve loved writing them so far. I am very hopeful to have at least two of this releases available no later than January 2021.

I can’t say that I regret my social media and writing hiatus completely. It gave me a lot of time to think about what I want to do going forward, but a chance to really sit down and plot out stories. But, I am sorry to those of you who are reading this and wondered what happened. I am in very good place mentally now, so I am hopeful going forward that I can return back to giving you all stories that I’ve written fully engaged and with lots of love.

So, if you’re interested in reading what I’ve been up to recently, I will be posting Chapter One for Finding Sage, One Night Won’t Hurt, and Nowhere To Go this Friday.

All love,

HC

Writing Through The Unknown Of 2020

I’ve seen a post circulating around Facebook asking the question, “What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?” If you haven’t seen it yet, look up the name Leslie Dwight. It’s a beautiful piece of writing. 2020 had a lot of plans for everyone. We all wanted to do things. We cancelled and adjusted the best we could. It wasn’t an easy process to let go of certain things.


Like everyone else, I had pinned 2020 as the year for a lot things. This was the year I was going to go back to the gym. I was going to start eating better. For the past year, my physical health hasn’t been ideal. I was in and out of the ER for pain in my stomach, so I had committed myself to figuring out what was going on.

This was also going to be the year I got back on track with my mental health. I’ll be point blank and honest here: I struggled with depression in 2019. I’ve gone through it before, but this time it was different.

I was struggling to cope with the grief of losing someone to suicide. I was struggling to function under the weight of my dad’s stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. I was struggling to be a good person and mother. I’d drop my daughter off at my parents house and drive home thinking about how I just wanted to take a bottle of Tylenol PM and lay down and never wake up. I was that far down. I was that close.

Yes. No one could guess it was going on just by glancing at my social media, or even talking with me. It was a isolating and private struggle. I didn’t want to talk about it to anyone. I clammed up. I put on a fake smile and told myself to just keep going forward. Keep getting up everyday. Keep writing. The truth was, I was empty and emotionally numbed out.

By the end of 2019, I realized that I couldn’t write until I re-aligned and re-connected with the reason why I wanted to be a writer. I started the process in January 2020 by re-writing Color Me Blue. This time, it didn’t feel like I was sprinting down a dark tunnel because I thought the light at the end would fill the holes I was desperate to fill. I was writing because I was in love with it. I was writing because I found the joy inside of words.

I was able to write because I came to a point of healing after painful growth. I didn’t want to face the ugly and intense emotions of suicide grief and cancer grief, but I knew I had to embrace it. I had gotten to the point of giving myself a day to feel whatever I needed to feel and then start with purpose the next morning.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Everything went sideways real fast. Schools were cancelled. Businesses were shut. Life went to a screeching halt and it felt like whiplash all over again. And when the video of George Floyd surfaced in the media, I was horrified by it. Just like that, the world changed all over again and this time it was burning.

For any of you wondering while you’re reading this, I was raised to never judge a person by the color of their skin. I was raised to see the heart and soul of a person because that’s all that matters. I do not support or tolerate racism of any kind. I am 100% supportive of peaceful protestors who are genuinely concerned and want to see change. On the flipside, I don’t support violence. I don’t support destruction. I don’t support justifying violent behavior. I have not publicly commented about any of this because I wanted to hear the messages and to truly understand it. Where could I do better to help in the future? I realize that a lot of people won’t agree with this, but it’s where I stand. I don’t fight fire with fire.

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast about self-care through current events. I was relieved to hear someone say that it’s perfectly okay to take a step back and focus on your personal growth. It’s not selfish. It’s not you being complicit. It’s not that you don’t care. It’s because you can’t do a damn thing if you’re suffocating or stretching yourself to thin. Put the oxygen mask on before you help out with the cause. And if someone says, “It’s not enough. Do more. Do this.” You tell them that you are doing what you can on your own terms. Change is not a knee-jerk reaction. Change is a marathon and you’ll run out of breath if you use up all your energy within the first mile.

So, here is 2020 still being pinned as a year of painful growth and change. Writing on this precipice of unknown and change is like writing a book with no end goal in mind, but eventually the end will come. That’s the greatest thing about being a writer. It’s an adventure for us to figure out where we are going to go. It’s a learning process.

And 2020 is a new system of learning.

How To Write On The Days You’re Falling Apart

I took this picture on Snapchat last night because I wanted to see how I looked. Before you all think I’m a shallow and vain person, let me explain.

I’m a writer like many of you. It takes self-discipline. It takes practice. It takes an insane amount of courage to sit down and face a blank screen. That’s just on a good day. The bad days… well, it’s an entirely different ball game.

And yesterday was a bad day.

Not because of an argument. Not because my five-year-old refused to get ready for school. Not because I stood in my kitchen looking at the pile of dishes in the sink and thinking, “I really need to clean this house. I’m slacking.”

It was a bad day because I spent the better half of it wondering if my dad is going to live past this weekend. I walked into 2018 completely traumatized and numbed out with the suicide of my close friend. Then, my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. It didn’t click in my head that 2018 would be a year of hard growth until two deaths in my boyfriend’s family happened only a few days apart. Mix all of that together, and well, it gets draining.

Life happens. So, does death.

I took that picture above because I wanted to see the strength I managed to find after writing only 456 words.  I did it to show everyone else that it’s okay to show up writing on the bad days– even if it’s just a few words.

I collected some valuable tips on how to write on and after the days like I had yesterday. For anyone struggling with their emotions, and trying to self-regulate themselves because they have families and bills to be paid, here are some things that have helped me:

  1. Set a timer. I only wrote for thirty minutes yesterday. I told myself not to self-edit either. Just let the fingers type words. If it sucks next the morning, I can delete it and start over. That’s the beauty of being in control of your own work.
  2. Take care of yourself. I didn’t do a damn thing yesterday. We were in and out of the cancer clinic all afternoon and morning. When you’re emotionally strained, you don’t think of your body. It wasn’t until my boyfriend came home that I realized I couldn’t even make dinner because I was weak from not eating either. Have food that you like to eat. Drink a nice cup of tea. Take a hot bubble bath like I did to just unwind and get your muscles to relax. Whatever you feel like you need, do it first and foremost.
  3. Be easy on expectations. I have a list in my calendar book of what I want to accomplish, and what I need to do. I had a list all set out yesterday. Write a chapter for #RememberingEmma. Work on a short fiction piece. Pay this bill. When you don’t get to what you wrote down, don’t feel panicked. Don’t talk yourself down. Remind yourself that you’re getting another day to accomplish what you want to do. Someone else didn’t get that blessing.
  4. Rely on your support system and self. I am a mom. I juggle everything in our house– cooking, cleaning, laundry, appointments, errands, etc. Fitting my writing in there is a juggle. I have to drop several things sometimes to fit in a chunk of writing, but on the bad day, I have to trust myself to reach out and tell my support, “I had a bad day. Please help me.” I realized quickly that my support system doesn’t know when to be a support system if I don’t ever say that I need help.
  5. Go back to your schedule the next day if possible. I think about the pressing deadlines I have for my writing too. I mentally tell myself losing two days of writing will put me behind, but the truth is, you can catch up. What good are you to your characters and plot if your emotionally drained? I woke up this morning thinking to myself, “I can’t write today. I’m exhausted.” Those were the first two thoughts in my brain, so I know that it’s okay to focus on other things today. Like writing these tips. Drinking a cup of coffee. Reading a book. When I’m ready to go back to my writing schedule, I will do it with charged batteries. Not drained.

Take care of yourself always. Your characters are like your friends and family. They will be understanding when you tell them that you can’t meet them because you’re having a bad day. They’ll be there tomorrow and the day after that.

All love,
HC

52 bad short stories

Ray Bradbury once said, “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” 

For a long time, I never understood what Bradbury meant by that. Why a short story every week? Why not commit to a novella or novel length story?

And then, Lorrie Moore said this, “A short story is a love affair, a novel is marriage.” 

It made perfect sense to me then why all famous authors, alive and gone, encourage budding writers to write short stories. They are the perfect love affair for one good reason– you learn a lot about yourself as a writer. You learn what your strengths are, but also what your weaknesses are. All within 10,000 words and less.

I’m not going to ever encourage another human being to have a love affair, single or not, in order for them to learn things about themselves. Not highly recommended. It’s just the concept of it. All those lessons you learn through relationships and affairs prep you for the real idea of marriage.

A short story preps you for a novel.

I’m currently writing Remembering Emma. A novella, so it’s mixture of a love affair and close to marriage type of a relationship. A slightly more serious commitment then a week long relationship, but I realized how important it is to keep the short story in mind.

The only way to get better is to write. Sure. Easier said than done, but it’s the truth.

So, I got to thinking today. Despite my personal life blowing up in my face, and not knowing where the hell I’m going to end up, I’m just tossing all the pieces of myself into this. And trust me, the pieces are messy.

I’m going to write a short story every other week. I can’t be exactly ambitious like Ray Bradbury (even though I’d love too), but I didn’t pick up the pen when I was a kid hoping that I would make money. I wrote because I couldn’t sleep at night. It’s the same way today, and maybe I do hope to make a good living with it, but so much of what I’m going to write is personal.

The nitty and gritty bits of what I’m trying to get through in life. Just like every single one of you.

All love,

H.C