Dear Pain


Pain is a funny thing. Especially when you live with it constantly. Every moment of every day. 

In some ways, it grounds you, like an old friend. It keeps you humble and it feels like home. 

But that doesn’t make it pleasant. 

It’s more like that nostalgia that drags at the fuzzy corners of your mind, prompting an acute sense of melancholy or longing. 

And then there are the days where you just wish for a physical manifestation of your pain to punch in the face. With an anvil. Or ten. And the frustration of having nothing to take it out on is palpable. 

You can reach out to friends and family. Tell them you’re struggling, tell them you’re hurting. And they’ll be there for you. They’ll listen to you rant, they’ll wish you the best, they’ll be just as frustrated as you are that they can’t fix it. 

But they can’t do anything. 

And you can’t do anything. 

And sometimes, that fact is enough to keep you tossing and turning all night. Fear, maybe. Anger, sometimes. 

But mostly it’s just helplessness. 


It’s grappling with the truth that you don’t even know what it means to be without pain, even just for a single second of a single day.  

And that hurts almost as much as your body does. 

At that point, there are only two options. You can give up and cry and let yourself fall apart. Or you can suck it up, embrace the pain, and find the things that make life worth it. 

The friends that hold your hand through it. 

The stage that makes you feel alive. 

The words dancing under your pen that show you that you are more than your physical, pain wracked body. 

The light in another’s eyes when you unlock a door of knowledge for them. 

Pain is hard. 

Pain is everywhere. 

And sometimes, pain is constant. 

But it isn’t everything. 

And it isn’t who you are. 


I Would Read 500 Words (And I Would Read 500 More…)

If you’ve ever had to edit the sludge pile of your own first draft, you know the pain of that underlined statement above. Every writer struggles with their craft at some point or other, and I’ve personally lost count of the times I’ve lamented my decision to become a writer. It’s a rough life style, draining emotionally, mentally, and physically – something that those outside the profession don’t often understand. But this week, I’d like to help my fellow writers out.

Those of you that have been around here long enough will have noticed the recent addition to Cross Country Gal – the new Editing and Tutoring page. What does this have to do with helping out the frantic, red ink bleeding writers out there? Well, I just so happen to be offering my services for free over the next week.

Proclaimers Week

When:  Sunday (2/12/14) – Saturday (2/22/14)

Where: In the comfort of your own home. Or school. Or favorite coffee house nook. Anywhere with internet and your handy lap-top.

What: You select the service you believe most helpful to any of your written pieces (manuscripts, essays, anything currently residing in your “SOS” pile). I will perform the specified service on 500-1,000 words for you, free of charge. The only thing I ask in return is that you share this post through your various forms of social media, tagging my Author Page so that I can verify. I then ask that upon my completion of your submission, you leave a review of my performance on either the above Facebook page, or the Editing and Tutoring page here. That’s all there is to it!

How: Send your 500-1,ooo word segment (preferably as an MS Word document) and selected service to Hannah Stewart at with “Proclaimers Week” as the Subject, along with any special requests.

Bonus: If you include a link to the song referenced in this post with your email, I will up the offer to 1,100 words.

Note: All documents I receive for editing will be deleted from my computer upon your acceptance of the returned document, to guarantee safety for your works. Your works are yours, protected under Copyright, and Heaven take me if I use them dishonestly. 

A Fighter

They were pounding down the homestretch, thundering breaths and hooves hammering against our chests, the handicappers hollering, swearing. Then there was screaming, horrified gasps, our champion reined back with leg uplifted, swinging. Helpers, muscled stablehands hold that dark curtain up between us, faces tight and downcast, protecting softhearted viewers from the harsh and painful sight. I stretch and strain, desperate for just a single glance to know. A black muzzle, nostrils strained, appears. I crane around to meet his flashing, bloodshot eyes that give me answer.
He was a fighter. But he’s tired of fighting. 

Into Silence

The plastic chairs creak beneath the classroom full of students. Yawns, scratching pencils, shuffling feet create the deep, white silence swallowing the scene, leaving only thirst in its wake. No sound but the empty words bouncing from the walls, falling on deaf ears like raindrops pounding a tin roof – less pleasing. In one dark corner a flipping page, nose buried in a book, hungry to learn, to know. The lecture continues its war drum pound, droning into silence.

Summer Heat: Meet the Cast

Folks, it’s about that time again. I’ve spent the month with my new, shiny characters from Summer Heat (available to read here) and can now say I know them well enough for another Interesting Introduction. So, without further ado, the cast of Summer Heat, presented by Disney (and Disney-esque) songs encompassing the essence of their characters. It may not be your typical introduction, but I bet you’ll get a pretty good feel for each of these characters after listening in.


Main character of Summer Heat, Immy is a Winter being. She is loving and loyal, and fighting to save her family – no matter the cost.


Teague is a friend (and sometimes antagonist) to Immy. He came in at just the right time to help her, and seems to know quite a bit about her past. His own history is a mystery, but glimpses of kindness behind his sarcastic, hardened shell give us an idea of what he may really be like.


Immy’s adoptive father and leader of the Fall clan that has raised her. He’s a loving man, willing to do anything it takes to protect his family.


Shona is married to Bebai. She’s a wonderful mother, not opposed to tough love, but is always there to pick her children up when they fall down. Everyone respects her, and she is fiercely protective of her clan. (Disclaimer: I selected this song because it fit her very well, but obviously she is not the manipulative villain Mother Gothel was.)


Caryn is Immy’s best friend and adopted sister. They’ve grown up together, and they would do anything for each other.


Alister is Bebai and Shona’s only child by blood, and therefore will one day be the leader of their Fall clan. He’s quiet and distant much of the time, jealousy having driven a stake between he and his adopted sisters, but he has his moments. He loves them both dearly even if he won’t show it, and like Bebai, would do anything to protect them.

Prince Carrick

Prince Carrick, heir to the Winter throne and thorn in Immy’s side. Ever since she and Teague accidentally saved his rear end from the fire warriors, he can’t seem to take his eyes off of her. His help is invaluable, but Immy would much rather kick him in the shins and wash her hands of him.


The Fire Warriors

Led by Rourke, the most powerful fire warrior in the Summer Kingdom’s army, these rapscallions cause all kinds of trouble. Less a unified enemy, more a raging mass of wild teenagers that can control flames and cackle like a murder (of crows). As of yet, they are mostly a faceless enemy, but that will soon change – especially now that Immy’s got a highly personal bone to pick with them.

NaNoWriMo: Summer Heat

It’s that time of year again, folks! November: crisp fall air, cozy sweaters, nice hot mochas, fallen leaves crunching like a carpet under foot, the final big push for the semester… and, of course, NaNoWriMo. (National Novel Writing Month, one of the biggest events for writers around the world. It starts at midnight October 31st and ends at midnight November 30th. Writers everywhere pledge to write a 50,000 word novel from scratch within that time frame. It’s a crazy month all around, but worth it to most – even the lost sleep.) I wasn’t sure if I would participate this year, with everything else I’ve been doing, but decided last Thursday that I would at least make an attempt. I’ve been struggling with some writers’ block on my other projects, and figured working on something new for a bit and getting back into the habit of writing a couple thousand words a day would serve to break the ice. After making the decision to move forward, I dug around in my rabbit hole (a notebook I keep ever on me to catch the wild plotbunnies that ambush me for later use) and found an idea I’ve been itching to work on for a while now. Two hours of plotting, story boarding on Pinterest, and laying out the cast later, Summer Heat was born.

So, without further ado, allow me to introduce my new project for November! Instructions for BETA signup are below, for anyone interested.



Long ago, the Summer and Winter kingdoms ruled in harmony. But when the Summer King committed an unforgivable act, the slaughter of a family of mixed-blood Spring beings, the treaty was broken. In the years since, war has ensued. The fire warriors of the Summer kingdom move in on an ever-shrinking Winter kingdom, where the few remaining Fall and Spring beings have taken refuge.
Young Winter orphan, Immy, was raised up by one of these small fugitive colonies. Now a young woman, she uses her Winter talents to help keep them safe. That is, until one day, when a blizzard separates her from her pseudo family. By the time she returns to the campsite, the fire warriors have struck, carrying them to the fate worse than death awaiting them in the Summer kingdom. With the help of her strange new friend, Teague, Immy must track down the warriors and release their prisoners, or lose the only family she’s ever known forever.


The wind ruffles my feathers like a soft, cold hand, crisp with the scent of frostbitten pine. My eyes squint against the frozen flakes peppering the cloudy sky, thumping lightly against my face and beak, frosting my silken white and tan down. The world is veiled by a pure ivory blanket extending to the heavens, enveloping me with every swoosh of my long, tawny wings. Pearly freedom, everywhere I look – the silver expanse of air my own shining citadel upon a hill.

“Immy, come on! Stop messing around, we’re supposed to be gathering firewood!” Alister calls, a hint of bitterness in his voice. I scan the forest below, the long black trunks and the dark evergreens attempting to hide him from view. With my sharp eyes, it takes only a short time to find his shadowy form beside the big black draft horse with thick, fringed legs iced over and wet from the deep snow. With a sinking feeling in my chest, I begin my descent, circling tighter and tighter, dropping from the fresh, cool sky.

The trees and their long branches reach out for me like eager children, and I engage in their game, dodging between them, letting the tips of my wings brush clumps of slushy white to thump lightly on the ground, rustling the sharp needles as if I were a great gust of wind. Alister watches me with a look somewhere between awe, longing, and disdain, and I accidentally bump the branch directly above him, showering his dark head with sloppy wet snow.

“Hey! Cut it out, Immy.” He yelps, jumping back and whipping his unruly hair back and forth to shake the cold, wet clumps out. I laugh, a soft clicking sound from my beak, and swoop in. diving toward the horse’s back. Just before I ram into his withers, I pull up, flipping in the air and shifting simultaneously. Jadis, the black steed, lets out a low snort as I land softly on his back, my legs pressing into either side of his round barrel, wild blonde locks pouring down my back and spilling over my shoulders. Alister rolls his eyes, but I can’t wipe the grin from my wind-licked face, a shiver of delight running down my spine.

“Sorry Alister. It’s just such a beautiful day, and it’s been days since I’ve had a nice relaxing flight. Besides, Bebai told me to keep a good eye out for any trouble. There’s no better place to spy it than from up there.” My voice is hoarse and rushed, edged with that grit only adrenaline can cause.

Current Cast


The four characters that began my brainstorming for Summer Heat, including Immy, my main character.


Five very important characters that cropped up on Day 1 of NaNo.



Interested in BETA Reading?

If you would like to be on the list of first people to read each chapter as I write it, the rules are very simple.

1) If you offer to be a BETA reader, you are also offering your criticism and feedback. This can be as short or as in depth as you wish, but be prepared for questions about the story. There are no bad answers, of course, I just need feedback on the writing to know if I’m doing my job.

2) After reading each update, I ask that you remove the document from your computer. This is simply a safety precaution for me. I know none of you are fiendish enough to plagiarize, but I have to cover my bases.

3) If you are so inclined, you are welcome to talk about Summer Heat through all forms of social media, but I do ask that you tag my author pages in these posts. For direct quotes, please ask permission first and give credit where it is due.

4) Finally, please be honest. As much as I love getting positive feedback, I can’t improve without knowing my weak points. This is a NaNoNovel, which means it will be a much rougher first draft than usual, and therefore I will ask you to be gentle (especially where typos are concerned), but where plot, characters, and so on are concerned, I want to know how you really feel.

Still up for the challenge? Shoot an email to, subject line Summer Heat BETA, with your name and a sentence about why you want to be a BETA. (This will get you past my spam filter.) You will be added to the list, and begin receiving updates with the next chapter. At any point in time, you can email me requesting to be taken off the list, and I am always available to answer questions.

Thank you!

Just Squawking

“They’re so beautiful!”


“The birds! Little black spots blinking in the sunset, all red and orange and blazing. It must be amazing up there, the wind in your feathers, the sun ahead, a world below you like a living map. That would be wonderful, don’t you think?”

I blink, lick my dry, cracked lips. Darkness, that familiar shroud, pulls me close. Her voice, an excited, romantic lilt, melds with the distant honking until I struggle to distinguish them. It feels like she’s distant too, and I’m alone again. It’s just a bunch of squawking to me. Nothing but squawking.