When I dreamed of writing a novel I assumed the hard part was the writing. I imagined that once it was written my story would go on to an agent, who might offer a few suggestions, and then on to an editor. I had a vague notion that there might be two rounds of edits before publication – one with the editor and then a copy edit for grammar and spelling.

I was hopelessly naive.

When Under a Blood Moon comes out in a few months it will have been edited several times. More than I can remember actually. And while writing a book is often hard, it’s not nearly as draining as editing. I suspect I make things harder for myself by setting a firm deadline, adhering to a schedule, and paying strict attention to all the details. Then again maybe those things actually help? In any case, since I’ve been talking about editing for an almost impossibly long time now, I thought it might be best to explain what the various stages are.

Manuscripts, like good cookie dough, need to rest before they’re prepared. When I finished Under a Blood Moon, I set it aside for three months. When I returned to it, I gave it a thorough read, correcting any poor grammar or spelling. Then I sent it off to a beta reader. Beta readers don’t typically concern themselves with the mechanics of writing beyond point of view and plot. They give the book a ‘first pass’ to tell if the story hangs together. When the Beta Reader’s comments and suggestions were in place, I let the story rest again.

After another personal edit, I sent Under a Blood Moon off to its first professional edit in 2008. My editor was a wonderful woman with years of experience on a newspaper. She returned the paper copies to me with a thousand notes. I incorporated them, and began searching out an agent.

When I landed a real live New York agent, she also reviewed the full manuscript. After I put her edits in place another agent in her firm gave the book a read. With both sets of edits in place we sent the manuscript out to editors.

For a long time, no one called back. I did what authors do, and started work on another manuscript. Then someone called! After four rounds of edits, it was time to start the real editing process!

Content edits came first. They arrived from my editor as both general comments “add more back story” and specific comments in the text “I don’t understand the point of this conversation.” I had two rounds of content edits, which felt fairly easy and quick. I have no idea if it was either, but being done with content edits felt like an accomplishment.

If I had known Copy edits were coming I would’ve dragged my heels and stayed in Content edit forever. My copy editor had a background in healthcare and was the most detail orientated person on the planet. She picked up small inconsistencies I never realized were there. She charted the days of the full moon and wanted an explanation of how the different phases acted on my werewolves. She explained in deep detail how a person might die from werewolf attack (blood loss, not heart attack, unless it was a heart attack brought on by blood loss). She made my story stronger, but she made me work for it.

After two rounds of copy edits, the manuscript moved into Galley edits, where I am now. The proof I received for my Galley edits is what will be sent to the printers. It shows exactly how the printed book will look, complete with copyright information, dedication, and page numbers.

Galley edits have thrown me for a loop. By now the book should be perfect, but as an author you’ll always find something to change. In theory you’re only looking for mistakes, times when a character is called by the wrong name or when a word is left out. In reality, it’s impossible not to crawl along examining every word, judging it, trying to decide if it’s perfect. The Galley edits are my last chance to read the manuscript before it becomes a book. So while I know I’m neglecting friendships and sleep, I think they’re my favorite part.

01. May 2015 · Comments Off on Apologies and the Rabbit Editor · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

Due to line edits, copy edits, and galley edits, today’s blog (planned topic: Beltane and Witchcraft in my novels) has been replaced with gratuitous pictures of my rabbit editor. Many apologies.

For those of you who aren’t aware, rabbits are disapproving creatures.

I disapprove

Your shenanigans are not amusing. Get back to writing.

They also enjoy sleeping on large, fluffy piles of shredded paper, if that paper contains your hopes and dreams, er, manuscript, all the better.

Your failure is as soft as a cloud.

Your failure is as soft as a cloud.

 

These two combine to make a harsh, but adorable editor. For example, when you get a rejection and nothing is working right you see this:

 

keep writing

I’m bored with your complaining. Go back to work.

Then, when you’re ready to give up:

Give up

Enough. I’m done.

And hide your face in shame:

 

I can't face what I've done.

I can’t face what I’ve done.

They offer you a treat. If you’re lucky you won’t fall asleep before you can finish it.

So tired.

So tired.

When you wake up, you’ll see something like this:

so bored

Why aren’t you writing?

15. April 2015 · Comments Off on Reenactments as Research · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

I love the juxtaposition of historic values and modern settings. One of the reasons I write with vampires is the unique chance they give me to explore cultural shifts and changing social roles. In my book, Under a Blood Moon, I have two vampires, Jakob, born around 1360 and, Mark, born 1574. Jakob, a devout Catholic, values family and faith. Mark is more calloused and cynical. That’s probably enough to start writing but to really flesh out a character you need more. When you dig into the history you learn that most men in Jakob’s time couldn’t read. They knew famine personally and would have lost family members to starvation. Their church offered not only solace but also support and safety. Knowing that about him improves my writing. There’s no way around it, to really understand how historic characters think you need to do research.

While I enjoy the usual kinds of research, like reading academic articles and history books, my favorite kind of research is more hands on. I talk with and interview historic reenactors. Most people are familiar with Civil War reenactors. Many Southern states hold large scale battles and encampments in the summer. But there’s more than just the Civil War out there. In St. Augustine, where I went to college, encampments from the 16th century were common. I spent more than one summer night awkwardly pressed in a crowd of women and children forced into the old fort while cannons fired around me, trying to beat back English forces as if it was still 1586. For years I interacted with people who slept, ate, and dressed in that time period. It’s no surprise that I based Mark on what I learned. His favorite breakfast is the one I saw being eaten in the camps, his political views are shaped by the discussions I had with the reenactors while they ate.

I was recently lucky enough to find an event that focused not on one battle or time period, but brought them all together. Military through the Ages showcased encampments from a Roman Legion (64 A.D.) to the current Virginia Army National Guard. While it was hard to pull myself away from the Fenvald Vikings, the good people of La Belle Compagnie who reenact the Hundred Years War between England and France (1337 to 1453) were my best resource of the day. I learned about cooking, cleaning, women’s roles vs. men’s roles, and how fighting really worked in the time period. Reading about swords is good, holding the sword and talking to someone who uses period techniques to make swords is even better.

One of the ladies of La Belle Compagnie and a friend of hers from about 600 years in the future.

One of the ladies of La Belle Compagnie and a friend of hers from about 600 years in the future.

The event included a lot of hands on demonstrations, some of them given by people who aren’t just reenacting, but remembering. This lovely woman was a member of British Women’s Land Army during WWII.

The Women’s Land Army took on the jobs left empty by soldiers. They planted and harvested crops, milked cows, and ran the home front. Despite all this, I’d never heard of them. I folded their story into the background of Margaret, Jakob’s love from the 1940s and the grandmother of his adopted son. Not far from the encampment, one of the wonderful women offered to pin my hair up. While Margaret and I don’t have the same hair, I know the way the bobby pins scraped across my scalp will end up in a book somewhere.

The seated woman was a member of the Women's Land Army, while the standing reenactor is dressed in clothing from the Colonial era

The seated woman was a member of the Women’s Land Army, while the standing reenactor is dressed in clothing from the Colonial era

To me history is a dying solider on a battlefield telling you his story. Reenactments give us a chance to talk to those soldiers, and ask them about the little things we might not be able to read about so easily. When you’re lucky you get a chance to feel a piece of history (or something pretty close) for yourself.

 

 

 

01. April 2015 · Comments Off on Whispers · Categories: Short Stories · Tags: , , ,

The first time I swam I was three. My pudgy fingers reached forward in a stroke I barely knew, wrapped in salt water, happier than I had ever been. My parents pulled me from the water hours later but I never really left. Most teenagers slept in, but I went back to the water every day at four in the morning and four in the afternoon. Swim team captain, champion swimmer, the water is my home. It makes the doctor’s words hard to take.swimmer

“No swimming until we take out the tubes.”

Thanks to the ear infections I’ve spent weeks listening to muffled, unclear speech. His words boom into me. I put my hands over my ears, trying to block the sound. “So loud.”

“A side effect of the tubes, everything is two decibels louder. You’ll get used to it.”


I start to hear the whispers in math class. They follow me to history, scratches of sound, like someone talking behind you or in the hall. I haven’t gotten used to the tubes. Chewing blocks out every sound. Running makes my breath as loud as a rock concert. But when I’m not doing that, when I’m sitting or reading the whispers come back. Frustrated, I say what I’d been saying for almost two months.

“I’m sorry, I can’t understand you.” Every time I say it, people speak louder and slower, a look of pity on their face for the seventeen year old who acts like an old man. The whispers stop. A bliss of relative quiet falls over me. I hear the noise of my teeth rubbing together, the sound of locks clicking open on lockers, and a thousand conversations in the hall but I can’t hear any whispers.

They come back. This time I understood them.

You’re useless. Nothing. Nobody.

“No, I’m not.” My response startles my lab partner, who raises an eyebrow before going back to the experiment.

Then who are you? What can you do?

“I’m a swimmer.”

“Yeah, sure you are, dude.” My lab partner smiles. “Best in the state in the 50 meter. Everyone knows that.”

But the whispers say “A swimmer who can’t swim. You’re nothing.”

They’re wrong. It stings anyway. They keep it up all day. I’m nothing, useless, I’ll never get in the water again. They’re wrong and I don’t believe them, but the more I hear, the more I think about it. If I’m not a swimmer, if this thing with my ears doesn’t get better, who am I? When I couldn’t hear the gun, I started from the block just a second after the other swimmers. Not enough to hurt me in meets but enough that I couldn’t get my best time. I haven’t set any records, haven’t seen any improvements since the infection started.

And you’ll never set any records again.

I know the whispers lie, but it’s hard to hear them, over and over again, and not start to wonder if they’re right.


On the third day I can’t take it anymore. Every hallway, every classroom, every where I go in the school I hear them. Over and over again, repeating the same terrible lies. (I’m sure they’re lies. Really. Except what if they’re not?) The whispers have me half convinced. I break my word to my parents and head for the deserted pool. There, with ear plugs and water between us, I don’t hear them. But I can’t swim forever. Two hours in my arms burn. I’ll get caught for cutting class soon. Does it matter? If the whispers are right, nothing matters. I swim another few laps before I get out. The whispers start again in the locker room.

I’m not going crazy and the weekend proves it. Two days away from school, and I don’t hear them. I hear the water in my mouth and the rustle of the newspaper when I fold it. It should be a gift but the only thing I’m grateful for is getting away from the whispers. On Monday-

“Doesn’t matter if you hear us. It’s still the truth. You might as well kill yourself.”

For a second, just a split second, I think about taking that advice. How I might do it, how it would make people feel. Instead I add lying to cutting class and call the doctor’s office. I pretend to be my Dad. The whispers tell me I’ll never be as good as he was, never have it together the way he does. I talk over them, asking the receptionist to change my appointment. She gets me in that afternoon, and when I check in I lie some more about why he isn’t with me. I’m shocked it works. I remember what the whispers said.

There’s a loud pop when the tubes come out, a bright pain that radiates down my jaw. Pop and the world goes quiet.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” The doctor smiles.

“It was wonderful.”

He tells me a lot of things, but I’m focused on how I can’t hear the air coming through the vent anymore. There’s only one class left in the afternoon, and I might as well miss it, but I go back anyway. The whispers are gone. I walk the halls, check the locker room. Nothing. I’m in the auditorium back stage when the drama club starts to file in. I can hear them but nothing else, no lies, no threats.

Are they there, still trying? Still talking to me? Just in case I tell them, “Doesn’t matter if you’re there. I don’t have to listen to you anymore.”

A movement behind me makes me jump. I would’ve heard it a few hours ago, but now the girl surprises me. Pale, tired, she looks half dead with dark circles under her eyes. “You hear them? The whispers?”

15. March 2015 · Comments Off on Writing and Quilting: Editing my Stash · Categories: Experiences · Tags: , ,

The odd thing about writing is that it spreads to take over your life. You find yourself in meetings thinking about characters or editing for other people when you should be talking. In my case, writing is oozing into my two hobbies, running and quilting. My running is getting the same treatment as Under A Blood Moon, where I’m adding quality words, or runs, to make the overall product better. My quilting suffers from the opposite problem – I’m cutting out yards of fabric as if they were wordy paragraphs of purple prose.

I’m willing to bet that most of you aren’t quilters, and you probably aren’t familiar with the concept of a stash. It’s exactly like hoarding fabric, except that no quilter admits that. T-shirts proclaim “whoever dies with the most fabric wins.” There are “Fabric Acquisition Road Trips” cleverly called FARTs and fabric swaps. The goal is always to have more fabric. One of my quilting friends has proudly filled an eight ft. by ten ft. shed. Since quilting fabric is meant to last for a hundred years, the amount of a quilter’s “stash” can easily grow to surpass a thousand yards.

My own meager stash reads like a history of my life. I found quilting when I was 17. Here was a room full of caring, open women, the wise Aunts and Great-Aunts I never had. They talked about everything, helpfully corrected my mistakes, and were genuinely interested in sharing their craft with me. My mother and I were never close. I had no girlfriends. The camaraderie of women was a new and wonderful discovery. All of my fabric from those years is feminine – tiny calico prints, big flowers, pastel pinks, and purples.

A square from my first quilt, tiny light blue, purple, and pink flowers mixed with a pink-purple. I loathe calicoes now.

A square from my first quilt, tiny light blue, purple, and pink flowers mixed with a pink-purple. I loathe calicoes now.

Fast-forward a decade, and I was working in Washington DC, one of a million drones for the federal government. My greatest fear was that I would wake up forty years later, having wasted my life in the same building, at the same job. My fabric: skulls, screaming ghosts, bats, and spiders; a not-so-subtle expression of rebellion sewn into traditional patterns.

I liked this fabric so much I had it made into a dress. The skulls glow in the dark!

I liked this fabric so much I had it made into a dress. The skulls glow in the dark!

And now? Now I’m buying batiks, saturated color that doesn’t have a wrong side. Some quilters frown on bold colors, saying they take over a quilt. That’s what I love. I like creating a pattern of lines and geometric shapes, creating order with color. Modern style quilts, with their hard lines and 1960s feel have become my new favorite.

Back to the editing: I’m getting rid of fabric. That’s a shocking confession for a quilter, but there are things I’m ready to let go. Editing my writing has taught me that less is more and it that applies to my fabric. When I got rid of 22 yards this week I realized that every yard felt like a burden. I felt a pressure to use that fabric as soon as I could, and guilt over the way I carried it with me over various moves and over the years. Getting rid of it took an item off my to-do list and freed me up to take on other things.

I don’t know what those other things are. Right now, writing is the focus of my life, quilting doesn’t seem as important. I’m pretty happy about that, and I’m excited about the future. But while I’m looking forward to road tripping to Bouchercon (a conference for mystery writers) this fall, I still might stop at fabric store along the way.

01. March 2015 · Comments Off on Reseach Road Trip: Rosewell Plantation · Categories: Experiences · Tags: ,

As I type these words, a cold rain falls down, turning to ice almost the instant it touches something. Icicles cling to the eaves of the roof, the edges of cars, and any living thing that holds still. We’ve slogged through snow since Tuesday, but next Wednesday will be seventy degrees. More snow arrives on Thursday. The ping-pong of Spring weather makes me dream of the summer, when I took clear, dry roads into the middle of nowhere to find things to put in a book someday.

Ruins of Rosewell (photo is "Rosewell.VA" by Agadant  Licensed under CC)

Ruins of Rosewell
(photo “Rosewell.VA” by Agadant )

Last August, I sought out Rosewell Plantation. Just one or two steps above a road side attraction, Rosewell mattered once. These days, you’d be hard pressed to find the place. You take a rural highway, pass historic battlefields, go over a bridge, and then wind through farmland long enough to be sure you’re lost. The houses hide behind pines and oaks, bright red pickup trucks show in between the branches. If you’re lucky, you stopped at the 7-11 nine and half miles before for a bottle of water or a clean bathroom. Your only other option is the plantation visitor center or a tree.

Besides the bathroom and the small refrigerator with the cool bottles of water, the visitor center holds a one room exhibit of artifacts found at the house. Learn about the rough draft of the declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson wrote here or watch a quick movie about the restoration efforts. The gift shop boasts two display cases filled with out-of-print books, talked up by a volunteer who works hard to sell them. I couldn’t tell if her enthusiasm came from desperation, boredom, or devotion. In any case she walked out to the shell paved parking lot and pointed to the right. The land around the plantation is rented to farmers, corn in the front, soy closer to the main house. She warned me at least twice not to pick any of it, and to stay out of the fields.

The road to the plantation is paved only with dirt. If you let your hand drift outside the window you risk feeling the slap of corn stalks. An uncomfortable drop off exists between the soy bean plants and the road, a two foot rise of crushed shells and white dirt. It’s not like the car would have an accident, but the wire around the beans would surely snap, ruining a paint job, so it’s best to drive straight, trying not to think about what would happen in the one lane space if another visitor was leaving at that time.

In 1725 they called it the grandest home in the nation. In 1916 it burned to the bones.

plantation photo0001

Click to enlarge

For a few decades Rosewell was something of a local celebrity. Kids came out to play here, each one leaving their mark on the antique bricks. The names are clearly visible, some have dates scratched into them. I spent a few minutes trying to follow a timeline of my life in them. A brick for the year my brother born showed up quickly, one for the year I was born took a bit more time. They stop soon after the house won its place on the National Historic Register but Joey and TJ haven’t been erased.

plantation photo0004

Click to enlarge

Restoration efforts seem shaky. Groups come out to plaster over brick. Modern beams are sunk to support the old structure. But somehow the work doesn’t seem to have gone on lately, certainly not this week or last, probably not in the last month. The volunteer warned us about ticks in the interior of the house. There was a problem with funding for the proper weed-eater, the bugs couldn’t be controlled in the high grasses. I didn’t mind, the wildflowers and high grasses added to the air of companionable neglect. You could tell from walking around Rosewell that a small group of people loved it. They wanted it to be grand again, to remind the world of how important it had been once. There’s something wonderful about local people fighting to keep a local place from being forgotten by the rest of the world.

plantation photo0002

Click to enlarge

17. February 2015 · Comments Off on Editing and the Hourglass · Categories: Writing · Tags: , ,

I’ve been editing Under a Blood Moon this month. It’s become the main focus of my life. Luckily, I ended a 15 month volunteer commitment in January. All my other hobbies suffer greatly, no weight lifting, barely any running. My quilting sits neglected the antique sewing machine silent. Why this all consuming obsession?

I have always believed that editing is reduction. To quote Stephen King the formula is “2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%”. I can’t count the number of drafts Blood Moon has undergone. I have documents labeled ‘maybe final’, ‘final’, and ‘really final’. Somewhere along the way I cut too much. My editor advised me to add back-story, to flesh out the characters. She pointed out readers will feel blindsided by a vampire mentioning his son for the first time on page 200. I’ve lived with these characters so long it never occurred to me that someone wouldn’t think 600 year old vampire, 36 year old son, kid must be adopted and move on.

My secret weapon is an hourglass:

An hourglass filled with purple sand, rests in the snow

Not even snow can freeze time. My Haunted Mansion hourglass.

I bought it as décor. It doesn’t keep time very well. I suspect most of my hours are actually a bit longer than that. I’m learning to adjust to longer lengths though, to let things develop on their own. I sit down at my writing desk, a rickety combination of silver steel and glass that looks better than it functions, and I flip the hourglass over. For that time I do nothing but edit. If I think I need to fact check something on the internet, I note it for later. The door to my office is shut and email turned off. If I absolutely must take a break, I lay the hour glass on its side, stopping the flow of time and sand.

I wish I could tell you that I often find myself working past the end of the hourglass. Instead, I find myself shaking it, wondering if something got stuck. Putting words back into a work leaves a lump. I go back time after time, smoothing it down with both hands like making a bed, hoping some future reader won’t see the bulge.

We’ve had a bad winter storm, leaving me alone in the house with my words. I’ll write three sentences of dialog, short little lines. The hour glass finishes. Liberated, I move on to something else. But an hour later, my mind is still on those sentences. Two hours later I rewrite them, saving the first ones just in case they were better. Then, five hours later, lying in bed, the perfect set of replacement sentences comes to me. I repeat them over to myself, twenty words chanted like a mantra while the lap top boots up. Finally, they rest beside their kin, perfect, exactly what I wanted, twenty words out of the five or ten thousand I swore to myself I’d add by February 28.

I promised one short story a month on the blog, but lately that’s become ‘a custom more honored in the breach than the observance’. There’s no room in my head for other stories, for matching clothes, or preparing meals. I’m sure I bore people; the long road to publication (8 years!) can’t be thrilling to anyone but me. Someone mocked me because I have no social life. I’m not sure I need one. After all, I have a book. It makes me happy, angry, frustrated, excited, and tired but mostly happy.

01. February 2015 · Comments Off on Feelings about Football, love and hate · Categories: Experiences, Writing · Tags: , ,

Somewhere, right now, an athlete warms up, stretches, and mentally reviews his form, preparing for the big game. Americans everywhere do the same, following their rituals for things like icing beer or making onion dip from soup mix. The Superbowl begins in hours and it’s got football on my mind.

My high school’s team ranked number one in the state for five years, earning the boys a 1.2 million dollar stadium. I walked past it on my way to English and Latin, classes held in permanently parked trailers euphemistically called ‘portables’. In Florida football is not a pastime but a religion. I have been greeted at 7am, in my bathrobe standing over a newspaper, by the shouts of a never-met neighbor who needed to know right away who won in overtime last night.

I couldn’t tell him. Despite efforts by every member of my family I don’t care about the Giants or the Gators. Somewhere around age 13 they decided I didn’t like football because I didn’t understand it, and weekly lessons began. I sat on the couch absorbing knowledge of first downs, flags, and offensive lines wishing I could go read a book. It came as no surprise when I picked a college without a football team. My family gave up, sure that I hated the game.

I agreed with them long enough that I made Mallory, the main character in my novel, a football fan. I didn’t want anyone to think she was a Mary Sue, a main character that is a stand in for the author, so I made a list of traits we wouldn’t share. She drinks Dr. Pepper, I drink Coke. She loves the heat, I loath it. So when it came to football, of course, she had special game day plates and favorite snacks.The sport was part of her life, something she shared with friends, and it brought her great joy.

Oddly, the more I wrote about her and her team (the New Orleans Saints) the less I hated the sport. Mallory’s love of football was wrapped around her love for her father, who had been out of her life for years. Wearing his jersey, routing for his team, and watching the plays he’d taught kept her close to him.  Somewhere along the way, researching those players and picking those traditions changed my own views about the sport.

I still don’t have a favorite team. You won’t find me at a sports bar and I’ve never been to a Superbowl party, but I won’t joke about rabid fans, or belittle them for being excited. While I may not be interested in the sport, I’ve come to respect the relationships it creates and the happiness it brings. I won’t be watching today’s game for the plays, but I do want to see if Derrick Coleman  invites those two little girls to the game again.

15. January 2015 · Comments Off on Case Files of a Death Witch Detective — the Skull · Categories: from my manuscripts, Short Stories · Tags: ,

When you’ve been working with a manuscript on and off for years, you develop quite a collection of files. The folder for Mallory Mors, a death witch who works for the Baton Rouge Police Department, and her partner, Detective Danny Gallagher, has grown to include dozens of short stories. These little side plots were meant to move things along while Mallory waited for evidence to be processed. Instead I’m going to share a few with you while I work on getting Mallory’s (and my) first novel, Under a Blood Moon, ready for the editor.

Monday morning started with a banana. Sure, I wouldn’t have bought it on my own but when fruit was in front of me I liked it. I ate on my way to the train thinking about how good my weekend had been. It lightened my step and made me think everything in life would go my way. I took that confidence right to my desk and started to sit down.

“No so fast, we’ve got a vandalism that might be connected to a hex,” Danny began without even saying good morning.

“Seriously?” I groaned, my eyes turned toward the coffee pot.

“A murder doesn’t mean we stop getting other cases, Mal, you know that.”

“Okay, fine, no lectures, just let me get some coffee before we go.”

 

By ten o’clock we stood outside the Way of the Ancient Ones shop. Inside the display windows artfully arranged crystals, geodes, various rocks and jewelry promised to heal, help, and keep safe from harm. I thought the alliteration was a bit much, but I liked the way the purple quartz crystals looked. On the drive over I’d talked about Jakob. Like a good partner, Danny hadn’t told me how annoying it was. Now that we were here I realized I knew nothing about the case.

“Uh, so what’s the deal?” I stepped out of the car. The strip mall that held the shop was anchored by a 7-11 on one end and a liquor store on the other. I wasn’t too impressed.

“Problems started a couple of weeks back. The owner would drive by and see the lights on. He’d park, get out of the car, get to the door and the lights would go off.”

“Annoying.”

“Yeah, but not a real problem. The real problem was when they found the snake outside of its tank in the morning or the-”

“Wait a minute, the snake?”

“The shop appeals to various faiths, some of them claim snakes can speak truths. Hence, the store keeps a snake.”

“Okay, sorry to interrupt go on.”

“The snake out of its tank, displays knocked over, the cash drawer open but nothing taken, that’s the sort of thing we’re dealing with.”

“No one’s caught the pranksters?”

Danny leaned over the car and looked at me. “No pranksters. They installed motion detectors and an antitheft system. There are no people inside, things just fall over or fly around.”

“Someone with telekinesis?”

“Maybe, or maybe a hex, let’s go see.”

He gestured toward the door where a sleepy employee was just opening up. The kid looked about nineteen and I wondered why the owner hadn’t come himself.

“Hey,” he called to us. His braces made his mouth move funny, I tried my best not to stare. “Doug’ll be here, like really soon, until then you can look around.”

We nodded and headed inside. The store was narrow and long, neatly made wooden shelves held books in one aisle, herbs in another, farther back a curtained off room held secrets. I wandered through the shelves, hearing a whispering noise, something quiet. I glanced back at Danny but if he heard it he didn’t give any sign.

“The shop sells mostly mass produced stuff?” Danny asked the kid.

“Well yeah, I guess, the herbs come from a local woman, but the rest of it comes in via UPS.”

“What’s behind the curtain?” I asked as I walked toward it. The whispering got louder with every step. In a horror movie I’d draw back that curtain and find someone with a large knife ready to spring at me. I felt along my hip for my service weapon, just in case.

“Oh, that’s the occult stuff.”

“Occult stuff?”

“The really dark magic stuff,” the kid answered before he went back to opening the cash drawer for the night. Danny glanced at me and I pulled back the curtain. The display sat on a low wooden hutch, scared wood with mismatched door pulls on six drawers.

“Can I go through this?” I called back up to the front.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” the reply came back to me like I’d stepped into another building, not another room. When I put my hands on the wood, the whispering got louder. The dead whisper to us, but I didn’t expect to find them in a cabinet. I was wrong.

The top of the hutch held feathers and beads, little statues I didn’t recognize. Inside the drawers were skulls, lots of skulls. A wide bottom drawer held a steer, its long horns gracefully curved up. A smaller side drawer contained at least five tiny skulls, maybe they were birds. None of those whispered at me.

I swung the middle doors open to reveal not drawers but a shelf. In the center a perfect human skull grinned at me. I wanted to touch it, but I knew I shouldn’t.

“Hey Danny,” I called, knowing it needed to be tagged for evidence. Then somehow, without even thinking, I held the fragile bone in my hands, surprised by the weight of it. The round cap filled my palm and then some, the jaw hinge worked with an empty mechanical creak. Touching it made the whisper turn into a wind, the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard, a thousand bad sounds all at once. The room swirled a little around me, but I couldn’t put it down. The skull wanted me to know something.

Danny said something to the clerk, but I couldn’t hear him. I was someplace else, someplace where there were only two of us, the skull and me.

The wide open eye sockets looked up at me, and I focused all my concentration on the face that had once been there. For a minute nothing changed and then I started to see it, hair, spilling over my hand, curling around my fingers. Deep brown hair, and when I looked back there were eyes looking at me in the same shade of brown. I froze with terror, watching as more of the face came into view. Full red lips and high cheekbones, she looked at me and I didn’t know what to say.

“Hey, you the cops?” I jumped. A guy with long hair and an scraggly beard appeared in the back doorway. When I looked away from him the face had turned back into a skull again. “I’m Doug.”

I heard Danny and the kid walking toward us, but I didn’t say anything. I don’t know what I was waiting for, the skull to grow her face back again, or maybe to speak to me? Nothing happened. In another second I found my voice, and then without putting the skull down I confronted the man.

“Where do you get these skulls?”

“Most of them come from hunters or hikers. I buy them off people.” He gave me the brush off. “The rest are fake. That one’s from a medical catalog.”

“No, it’s not. It’s real,” I insisted.

“No way, completely fake,” the owner denied it again.

I turned to the kid, ignoring his boss. “Did he lose someone in his life, lately? Have someone die or leave him?”

The teenager swallowed hard and bobbed his head.

“Tell me who she was.”

“His girlfriend, Jessie, she left for some guy in Texas.” The kid looked guiltily at his employer.

“Exactly she left. Check my place, all of her stuff is gone, her car, she’s gone.” Doug jumped into the conversation. “The skull is a fake.”

“Then why does it have filings?” Danny asked.

 

We were joined at the scene by a forensics crew, then a group of uniformed cops. Eventually the whole shop was filled with people and I waited on a ratty love seat in the back holding on to Jessie’s skull. Someone in a white lab coat asked me for it, for her or what was left of her. I didn’t want to let her go, but I knew it was the right thing.

“Be careful with that.” Danny instructed them. “It’s got a pretty angry ghost attached to it.”

“She’ll be okay now,” I said, without realizing it.

“How’d you know it was a woman?”

I shrugged, there was no easy way to explain being a death witch.

He nodded. “I thought maybe a child with how small it was, but the kid up front says the missing girlfriend was small.”

“What’ll happen next?”

“Someone else will build a case, see if there are other fake things that aren’t, that sort of thing.” He shook his head as he watched the skull disappear into an evidence bag. “And we’ll do paperwork.”

01. January 2015 · Comments Off on Under a Blood Moon contracted to Wild Rose Press · Categories: from my manuscripts, Writing · Tags: , , ,

I’m thrilled to announce my book deal with the Wild Rose Press. Under a Blood Moon will be published electronically and in print sometime in the next year. Some story details:

With a single touch, Detective Mallory Mors controls death and communes with the recently killed, but even her magic isn’t enough to solve the string of violent murders and kidnappings that terrify Baton Rouge.

A member of the Supernatural Investigative Unit (SIU), Mallory is called to the scene of a zombie attack in an immigrant neighborhood. The case quickly escalates to involve werewolf extortionists, voodoo queens, and ghosts. Every morning Malloy finds a new scene of mass murder with most of the victims eaten. The case is complicated by the intrusion of the FBI in the form of her boyfriend’s best friend, a prickly vampire who has hunted werewolves for centuries. When Mallory is saved from a pair of killer werewolves by a sexy werejaugar, she realizes it will take all of the town’s supernatural citizens to solve the case.

I created this world because my love of folklore and fairy tales doesn’t live in just one culture. I’m as fascinated by Greek satyrs as I am by Mesoamerican jaguar shifters. I brought all of those myths together under the fiery Louisiana sun until they melted into a world with vampire safe apartments that block out sunlight with the flick of a switch and churches for all the pagan gods. The detectives of the SIU are part of the community they serve, they don’t just police the supernatural citizens, they are supernatural.

One of the great joys of being an author is shaping a world to fit your values. That’s why the people in Mallory’s world fought the Morality Wars, a series of international conflicts that stopped the trafficking of women and children. Prostitution has been legalized and highly regulated to end the exploitation of sex workers. Gender equality as reached a place where both men and women can express their sexuality openly. There’s no slut shaming when Mallory’s best friend Phoebe seduces all sorts of men just for the fun of it.

Also important to me: diversity. I wanted to include people from different cultures and communities. The SIU’s lieutenant is black. The community where the trouble begins is Indian. Mallory goes dancing with Anna, a tall and thin model, and Isaura, a plus-sized cutie. Malloy’s partner at work and her vampire boyfriend are both Catholic. Isaura is Jewish. Anna and Phoebe are both witches but they worship at different pagan churches.

Under a Blood Moon is my third manuscript and the second in this universe. An earlier story that details Mallory’s arrival in Baton Rouge and how she meets everyone lives in a drawer in my office. While I love that story, Under a Blood Moon sets a faster pace, focusing on a complex case that weaves folklore and legends into issues of community and inclusion.

I began work on Under a Blood Moon in 2007 and have been polishing it ever since. A detective story with supernatural and romantic elements, I worked hard to strike the right balance between the case and Mallory’s personal life. I’m excited to work with the editors and artists at Wild Rose to put the finishing touches on a great story so the world can read it.