06/15/17

Time to Take First Things First

In my last blog, I talked about time-tithing. I was gripped with a fever to give back to the writing community and impressed with the way giving back helped me as a person and a writer. I followed through with what I posted, and volunteered as a last-minute judge for the annual writing contest.

It’s important for me to judge books the way I would want my own to be judged. I’ll never forget the seasoned, privileged romance novelist who, upon hearing a summary of Under a Blood Moon, immediately said “you could never pay me enough to read that sort of trash”. Now serial killer werewolves aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t make them trash.  While I might not like your topic or the way your heroine thinks, that doesn’t make a book trash. I spent about half a day on each book, looking at the mechanics of the story and not how my own values applied to the characters.

I also volunteered my time to a local quilt guild, and inspired a great story idea. My work judging novels helped my writing and motivated me to join RWA (Romance Writers of America). So time-tithing was a success! But that great story idea demanded my immediate attention, with the words running like quicksilver through my fingers, teaching me another important lesson:

You need time to do the things that matter most.

The story idea came to me at 3am on a Saturday morning. I gave up about six hours of sleep planning and plotting. I started my writing time an hour earlier and kept going an hour longer than usual. I shorted myself on sleep, whittled my morning beauty routine down to a quick five minutes, and barely made it to my day job on time. I spent all of my time writing and editing. I didn’t cook meals (sorry, Tiger!), clean house, or go out with friends. A story grabbed me and I held on tight.

In a week I wrote nearly 7,500 words.

I have a clean plot. I have a character reference sheet. I know how the story will go and how I can promote it. And I hope to all the Gods above the words keep coming. Because there’s really nothing better than writing. While the idea would never have come without the volunteer work, the words wouldn’t have come if I didn’t shut everything out.

I’m very lucky to have a partner who will support me and a day job that isn’t jeopardized when I go on a writing spree. But I also need to make good choices and set clear boundaries. It’s easy to lose time on meaningless things: TV shows, facebook, internet “research”. There a million metaphors about managing your time. YouTube videos show people putting large rocks into glass jars, then smaller rocks, then pebbles, then sand, until finally the jar must be full. But no! There’s room for water. Search a little longer and you’ll find the advice that a woman should have four things in her life – her work, her family, her health, and one other thing. (Not two! You can’t ever have two jobs or two hobbies, nope not enough time.)

I don’t agree with all the advice that’s out there, but this last week has made it clear: I need to do what matters most first. For me that’s writing. My commitment to my writing – whether it’s this blog, a guest blog, a short story, or a novel – comes first. Any other commitments need to wait. If they can’t wait, I don’t have time for them in my life.

06/1/17

Time-tithe and Giving Back

I’ve been expanding the list of podcasts I listen to, branching out into more science-based programs. I love  myths, stories, and legends, but lately the factual information side of my info-tainment has been lacking. Thus, I ended up listening to a Neil deGrasse Tyson podcast (Star Talk Radio) where they mentioned an idea I can’t stop thinking about.

The guests suggested each listener should ‘time-tithe’ each week. They focused on science, but I couldn’t help but think how well this would work for writing. Now, depending on your religious life, you might not be familiar with the Biblical concept of a tithe. The idea is to give 10% of your income, as both an obligation and as an offering of thanks. Many of my friends grew up tithing 10% of their babysitting earnings. But the podcast was talking not about writing a check, but about setting aside 10% of their time time where you work to make things better.

For at least the last five years, I’ve judged a writing contest each spring. This year was a bit of a trial with lost packages and some hard to score entries. I found myself considering if this should be my last year. My writing time is scarce these days and my word counts show it. The hardest connection for any writer is the one between their butt and the chair, and I often imagine that lightening my commitments will make me write more. The contest felt like a simple thing to take off my plate, something I could give up and not miss.

But it’s not that simple. Most importantly, judging is one of the few ways I have to give back to the writing community. I benefit from the many blogs, tutorials, and general help other writers offer. I was blessed to be briefly mentored by an amazing scifi author. I’ve gotten advice from other members of SFWA, and help from writers near and far. Giving back, helping the next writer down the line, is the right thing to do.

Selfishly though, judging improves my own writing, helping me decide what I do and don’t like in a story. This year’s entries taught me that I can tolerate violent speech and woman-hating behavior if there’s a good reason for it. If a ‘hero’ uses violent or sexist language because he was raised in a drug-running biker gang, and grows past that, I don’t mind. If he’s rich enough that he doesn’t have a 9-5 job, had a loving family to raise him, and still generally hates my gender? We’re done. That’s probably something I should have realized before, but it took judging to make me really look at how I feel about casual misogyny.

My time-tithe paid me back. It taught me something about the kind of writing I want to do. It got me thinking about the way I should develop the characters that I write. If there’s something hateful in them, then I need to make their reasons clear. If they’re the ‘hero’, then I need to give them a way to move past their prejudices and bad behavior.

That’s why going forward, I’ll be looking for more chances to volunteer and offering to beta read other authors work. It might be time for me to be more active in writing groups, or work with a critique partner. I haven’t worked out the details yet, so if you hear of something, drop me a note.

05/15/17

Patron of the Arts

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I pay for my entertainment.

As a kid there wasn’t a lot of extra money for things like books. Most of the people I knew were in the same boat, except for one girl with a rich grandmother. Walking around the newly opened Barnes and Noble (which meant the world had finally joined our small town) she filled a basket with books and paid for them with a grandmother supplied credit card. Not just any books, but hard-covers from the new releases table, the kind of books that cost a quarter of my family’s weekly grocery budget. I knew I would be rich when I could buy all the books I wanted without even considering the prices.

I’m privileged to have made that dream come true. Decades later, thanks to a great job in the big city, I developed a weekly book habit. My Friday night indulgences included a cup of hot cocoa from the in-store coffee shop and three or four books of my own. I didn’t flinch at my monthly book budget, even when it climbed to the $200 mark.

But a curious thing happened as eBooks started to become my preferred reading choice. I began to question the value of a book. If I wasn’t paying for paper and ink, what was a reasonable amount to pay? The magic conversion from a thing of worth (a book on a shelf) to a worthless thing (a used paperback) seems even more unfathomable when we’re talking about a downloaded electronic file. At the same time, I value the joy I get from reading a book. And if I’m not sure what I should pay for an electronic book file I don’t really own, how do I judge a streamed podcast I listen to but never download?

Finding a good story-based podcast is hard. I don’t want to listen to people chat or a conversation that wanders around. I want a tale, a fable, a narrative that will hold my attention and spark my imagination. Myths and Legends Podcast is exactly that, a podcast that tells a different myth or related a different legend each episode. After the main story, the ‘creature of the week’ introduces a new supernatural critter, ghost, or monster.  I stumbled on the podcast when I was too sick to hold a book or focus my eyes to read. I’ve been a huge fan ever since. I love listening to the well researched, well put together podcasts.

I could listen for free but I don’t. The host (Jason) can’t produce the stories for free. There are research costs and equipment costs, not to mention the time he spends. I edit audio as part of my day job – it’s time consuming to get it right. I like Jason’s work. I love the stories. They inspire and entertain me. I want to support them, so I joined the podcast as a member.

As a writer, I understand that sometimes we need to give away content to get folks to take a chance on us. They don’t know if our stories are worth their money. I agree with that idea. I’m much more likely to try a new author if the first book is free, or if the free trial of the book hooks me. But I don’t want to get to a place where I’m not willing to support the artists who make the content I love. I wouldn’t steal from a bookstore or sneak into a concert without a ticket, which means I’m not comfortable listening to every episode of a podcast without contributing. Now if only someone would give me a way to pay my favorite authors on AO3.

05/1/17

Quiz: Are you a Romance Hero?

Have you ever felt like you’re walking around in a movie? Or maybe that your life is the plot of a novel? Do obstacles pop up in a way that seems plot-driven? Do you wonder if your life is really someone else’s summer daydream?  Well, I’m here to help.

Every spring I judge a writing contest. Last year, it inspired my list of ways to tell if your hero is a jerk. This year, I’d like to perform a service for all my readers and help them figure out if they’re secretly the romantic lead in story, an always ideal creature that is usually called ‘the hero’. Consider each trait below. If they sound like you, you might just be someone’s hero.

You always have a condom, no matter how implausible sex might be.  Most of us don’t go hiking, riding on the range, kayaking, or to board meetings thinking about safe sex, but heroes always seem to have a discreet condom in their pocket.
Bonus points if you can offer a plausible explanation for the condom, like the cowboy hero who explained the condom was a integral part of his saddle bag first aid kit.

You’re such an accomplished lover you always know what to do for your partner, every time, even if it’s the first time the two of you have been together. Sure, everyone has different preferences, but the hero magically never tries something their partner doesn’t like.
Bonus points if you give your partner something they craved but have been too afraid to ask for/never even said out loud.

You are so potent, that the one time you forget protection your partner is immediately pregnant regardless of age, being on the pill, or a history of infertility.
Bonus points if those pregnancies have no negative side effects like morning sickness or exhaustion.

You always satisfy your lover first. Heroes never rush into anything, least of all their partner. The person (or people) they’re with is always satisfied at least once, usually twice, before the hero even thinks of their own pleasure.

You can go a very long time without having sex and lose none of your abilities as a lover. Even five hundred years of celibacy doesn’t make you rush or fumble.

You are never so injured, tired, or hungry that you can’t have sex. Ever. Bruised, beaten, or dealing with heavy blood loss a hero can always satisfy (see above).

You are never not completely in love with your partner. Is she moody? Does he have the flu? Doesn’t matter. You still find them sexy, or maybe adorable, but never annoying, whiny, or tiresome. Heroes never fall out of love and think their partner is always perfect.

You can always set the mood for some romance. Bad guys chasing you? Earthquake? Zombie attack? A real hero only needs a semi-dark or semi-private place to turn any situation into a sexy night to remember.

You are instantly loved by all. Colicky babies, defensive mutts, and disapproving mothers all immediately fall for you, even though they usually hate people like you. They instinctively know you’re different, without being able to put it in words.

Did you say yes to three or more of the above? If so, you might be a trope-driven romance hero. Maybe consider developing a few real life flaws to go with that tortured back-story. Or don’t: a lot of folks love romance heroes.

04/20/17

Crafting a Creature: Were-Alligators

I drafted my first treatment for a were-alligator novel in April of 2012. In March of 2016, a new idea came, this time for an alligator-shifter romance trilogy. I worked out the treatment in a rough sketch of the plot and characters, but also a few thousand words of scenes. Somewhere lost on my hard drive are the plots for books two and three. They aren’t the sort of thing I usually write (is alligator-shifter-romance/erotica-thriller even a category?), but they catch my eye from time to time.

When I headed to the Georgia aquarium looking for monsters for the next book in the Monster Beach series, the white skinned alligator reminded me of those stories. I’d love to introduce my alligator-shifters in that book – establishing them as a culture but giving myself more time. I need to find a reference for how alligator-shifters would work. I don’t want to create characters or start a new manuscript until I find a good myth to base the alligator culture on. I want a solid grounding with rules on how the alligators would work, like the way we all know werewolves shift on the full moon. Easy, right?

Except there are no alligator-shifters.

Not that I can find anyway. I’ve read a lot about sea monsters, swamp monsters, lake monsters, cyrptids, and urban legends, and I can’t find a single culture that has a monster that’s human by day and alligator by night/full moon/etc. There are a few modern paperback books out there, most of which make the were-alligators up as victims of a voodoo curse. With its connection to Louisiana, voodoo-magic seems like a logical choice, but it leaves the ‘how does that work?’ question unanswered. I’m not happy with that idea.

I’m also not comfortable appropriating culture. As an outsider to many cultures, I don’t know when a monster is actually a monster, or if they’re really a deity or guardian-style spirit. I don’t want to turn a sacred creature into something offensive. Taking traits from myths and legends is one thing, using only the name or a handful of characteristics sounds like the path to trouble to me. I’m not a superstitious person, but I was raised to be respectful of the Others.

A photo of Kappa illustration from the book Yokai Attack

The Kappa entry in Yokai Attack

Japanese Kappa
Kappa are one of the most popular Yokai (Japanese monsters/spirits/demons/ghosts). Turtle like with a long beak-style mouth (sounds like an alligator mouth to me), Kappa are known for challenging their victims to a wrestling match. Like an alligator’s famous ‘death roll’ Kappa drag their prey under the water, twisting and turning while they drown. Like selkies Kappa can remove their skin, and must do so in order to sleep. I can see a lot of fun writing coming from that, so while my favorite reference (Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide) shows me they don’t look like what I want, Kappa certainly act like. I’m not sure how I could justify a Japanese monster in the swamps of Florida though.

Bunyips
These Aboriginal-Australian  creatures first came to my attention in Temeraire series, where they are described as being somewhat dragon-like in appearance. A silhouette drawing supposedly dating back to the 1850s shows them as more of whale-like creature, except with the addition of two stubbing forearms (or maybe legs). A widely quoted newspaper article from 1845 describes the creatures as a half-horse, half-alligator, while another source says the head is more like a crocodile. Fascinating stuff, but there’s almost no trustworthy research out there, so until I can head to the Outback to track them down myself, I’ll have to pass.

Lizard men
More urban legend than monster, lizard men show up in modern culture the way Bigfoot does. The manlike cryptids have scaly skin and huge amounts of strength. They tend to live near swamps (I found a lot of stories set in South Carolina) and show up in the media as being responsible for damage to cars or houses. They look more like frog-men in Ohio, and reports from Canada are more like ‘the Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (Thetis Lake Monster) or have two tails (myths from the Queen Charlotte Islands). While I’m impressed that reptilian humanoids are still being reported, the stories are, once again, lacking.

None of them really work, so it’s up to me to create something new. My stories are set in South Florida, near the swamps inhabited by the Seminole Indians so I’ll use the Seminole language for their name: halputta-is-te (alligator people). I’m familiar with selkies and there’s a lot of source material about them, so I’ll likely take from those legends. There are also a lot of Kappa tales that overlap with selkie lore. That intersection will be where I ground my alligator-shifter stories as I start to write them.

04/1/17

Researching Were-Jaguars and Mayan Culture

April Fools’ Day seems like the perfect time to announce that everything I’ve told you about the third Death Witch book has been a lie. Or rather, a bad miscalculation. I had book three – working title “Blood, Dirt, and Lies” written and ready to go, when I was seized with the desire to make book three Indigo’s story. But the more I wrote, the more I realized my childhood stories weren’t enough. I needed to do more research.

At the same time, I went back and gave Blood, Dirt, and Lies a thorough re-read, only to discover it really worked as the third book. It flowed naturally from where the story ended in Fire in Her Blood. Adding a book in between would mean a tight timeline (the mystery could last a week or two but no more) and reworking a lot of relationship details for the supporting characters (Anna, Phoebe, Mark, E). Indigo’s story excites me, but it needs to wait until I have done the research to write it well.

So I sent the manuscript to my editor on Thursday, and was at the Michael C. Carlos Museum researching jaguars in Mayan culture on Saturday morning.

When the sun leaves our sky to visit the underworld, it does so in the form of jaguar. An incense burner depicting the Mayan Sun God as an old man during the day and a jaguar at night.

The bedtime story jaguars I grew up with came from tales set in Honduras. Before the Spanish invaded in the early 1500s, the area was Mayan. Most of the jaguar stories I know are from the Mayan culture, where shaman transformed themselves into jaguar spirits.

The change didn’t happen the way it does in my books – shaman didn’t shift completely into animal form, but instead took on traits of a jaguar to become an animal-self. One of the ways to tell if an artifact shows a shaman in jaguar form or a jaguar is to look for the tail. No tail means it’s a shaman, not a jaguar. I didn’t want to appropriate a culture I loved, so I made a point of using a more ‘Hollywood’ style transformation. Indigo isn’t a man using mystical knowledge to transform his spirit. He’s a shape-shifter who completely becomes a large cat but retains consciousness, thoughts, and sense of humor.

The jaguar on this vase as no tail, which means he’s actually a shaman’s animal-self. The vase was part of the collection at the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

My first real life jaguar came when I helped build the Brevard County Zoo. The majestic cinnamon (yellow-brown) jaguar was in residence in his enclosure as I volunteered building the boardwalk in front of it. It didn’t take much of an imagination to think he could understand English. If anyone stopped and complimented the jaguar (saying pretty or wow) he would leap on to the highest rock and pose. A lot of those poses made it into Under a Blood Moon.

But culturally, tawny jaguars aren’t the most revered, that position goes to the black jaguar, whose fur is covered with deep black rosettes. Black jaguars are a mystical animal because of their ability to disappear into the night.  Oddly, black fur is a dominate trait not a recessive gene. A pair of black jaguars can have young with a variety of fur colors, while a cinnamon jaguar will only have more cinnamon offspring. Indigo’s daughter originally had cinnamon fur. While that’s still genetically possible (I haven’t explored her mother yet at all) I’m not sure it makes as much sense. She might need to have a dark coat like her father.

KaKaw vessels, also from the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

But my museum trip influenced more than the look of my new character.  The ancient people of Honduras traded their salt for chocolate. The chocolate drink, also known as kakaw, was a status symbol. The drink was prepared cold and unsweetened, sometimes with the a few vision inducing chemicals and held in tall, straight sized pitchers decorated with complex designs and mythological scenes. A number of chocolate pitchers were on display, and a few of them will make them to Indigo’s shop.

03/15/17

Irish myths, legends, and more

It’s almost St. Patrick’s day and as an Irish Girl I’m obligated to talk about Irish things. Thankfully, I love a lot of Irish things like my grandmother and my mother, strong Irish tea, and crusty soda bread. Some of those Irish things even influence my writing, here’s a list of the big ones:

Darby O’Gill and the Little People
When this movie came out in 1959 it was meant to be wholesome family entertainment. It’s terrifying. I saw it as a child one stormy day and have lived in fear of fairies every since. Darby is a good man who’s a bit of a slacker. He and his daughter are about to be kicked out of their home because of his habit of drinking instead of working. Thankfully his replacement, a very dapper, singing Sean Connery, adds some levity. Darby ends up extorting three wishes from the fairy king. They go rather badly; like death’s carriage in the sky and a banshee that still appears in my nightmares. While it has a happy ending, it’s spooky enough to be a scary movie for eight-year olds and people like me.

The Secret of Roan Inish
This Irish/American independent film tells the story of Fiona, a little girl who is sent to live with her grandparents. While there she discovers her family tree may include a selkie – an Irish seal shapeshifter.  Fiona has a baby brother, Jamie, who has been lost at sea. She comes to believe her selkie ancestor is keeping him. Convinced  the selkie will only return Jamie when their family lives on the island where the seals live, Fiona sets out to make that happen. This movie is filled with magic and I rewatch it every year. It’s responsible for at least three of the characters in the Death Witch series.

Tropical Brainstorm by Kirsty MacColl
NPR’s Celtic music show, Thistle and Shamrock, is a weekly listen in my life. Unfortunately, there are weeks when I have to switch it off, Irish music can get a bit depressing. That’s why I love Kirsty MacColl’s final album so much – the hit singer took inspiration from a trip to Cuba and blended the upbeat Latin rhythm into her Celtic songs. Yes there are some sad songs (AutumnGirlSoup), but the story telling (like ‘England 2 Colombia 0’, a catchy song about adultery and lies) is perfect. This album is perfect for dancing around the kitchen on gray gloomy days.

And then there are the books. My two favorites are Classic Celtic Fairy Tales by John Matthews and Irish Folktales by Henry Glassie (Editor)  Classic Celtic Fairy Tales is beautifully illustrated, with each story followed by a notes section filled with references. Irish folktales contains well documented stories arranged by topic (faith, war, ghosts). Each story is preceded by the first name of the teller and the county they lived in. This anthology with stories from 1825 to the ‘present day’ is perfect when I want to pull a piece of folklore from a specific time or place. These two are the books I go to when I’m looking for a new monster or need inspiration for a character. Movies and TV shows are great, but these more scholarly treatments feel closer to the source. Someday, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to visit my grandmother’s home town in Ireland. I imagine the stories I hear there will be the ones in these books, with dangerous, beautiful fairies, brave men, cunning women, and a lot of magic.

I plan to capture them all in stories of my own.

 

 

 

03/1/17

Timelines and the Next Mallory Story

Fire in Her Blood released on February 15. While I’m spending a lot of time obsessively clicking on Amazon to see if it gets any reviews, I’m also at work on the next book. I’m afraid written myself into a bit of pickle.

Fire in Her Blood was meant to have a subplot with Indigo, my favorite werejaguar. Werejaguars came into my life through stories my father gathered in his travels in Central America (Mesoamerica). The powerful, protective jaguar-spirit wove itself into Indigo’s appearance in Under a Blood Moon. When Indigo saves the day and provides a bit of light hearted fun, I’m recreating the balance of scary, blood thirsty animal, and lovable, caring cat god. I wanted to explore more about Indigo, working the stories I knew into his (only hinted at) complicated, dark history.

The jaguar cards from Dad’s tarot card set.

Which is how I ended up with way too many words in Fire in Her Blood. Ultimately, I decided to focus on the serial arsonist and revealing more about how vampire culture worked. When I edited Indigo out I knew his story had to go into another book. But at that point, the draft of the book that should have the third in the Death Witch series was already finished. And edited. Twice.

Which left me written into a corner.

The would-be-book-three starts during a rare February snow storm in Baton Rouge. Fire in Her Blood ends on Halloween. Unless this new Indigo-focused book ended up a Christmas story there wasn’t any room in the timeline for it.

I mean, I could have moved would-be-book-three to the next year, and put Indigo’s story in the center of the second year? But then I would need to add more books to explain what Mallory did with her year. And then there’s Amadeus…

When the spotlight wasn’t on Indigo, Amadeus really shined. His cocksure attitude and the way he enjoyed shocking everyone by proudly being a vampire sex worker created some of my favorite scenes. The dynamic between Mallory and Amadeus was fun, but the tension between him and Jakob was priceless. Would-be-book-three gave Amadeus a new role, forcing both of those relationships to grow.

I don’t want to wait to explore those relationships.

Which leads me back to Indigo’s story. It will now be book three. The would-be-book-three will need to be re-written a bit. The snow storm can’t be moved, so Indigo’s story is going to fit into a tight timeline from mid-November until early January. Amadeus is going to be forced into a supporting role somehow (he’s a difficult character to rein in). In his place are a collection of new characters and mythological creatures.

Aside from Anubis (Egyptian god of the afterlife) and a very scary wraith, Laumės (woodland spirits from Lithuanian mythology) make an appearance in the SIU squad room. They traditionally have a bad relationship with men so Mallory’s usual partner, Danny, can’t work the case. That gives me a chance to add a very tough female cop to the SIU, Kaniesha King. She’s used to working with the Muslim communities of Detroit, wears her hair natural, and takes no shit. You can see reference photos for her and most of the characters on the Pinterest board for this book: https://www.pinterest.com/GravesRachel/death-witch-book-3/

You’ll also find the Ursuline nun (a vampire from the 1600s), Charlotte (the girl the Laumės discover), and the biker bar from Fire in Her Blood (it’s quickly becoming my favorite place to leave a body). I’m having a lot of fun writing and adding reference photos as I go. I know the path to publication is long, but if I’m lucky you’ll be able to read this one by the end of the year.

That is assuming, of course, that I can come up with a title.

02/1/17

Fire in Her Blood – First to Finished photo

My dear friend taught me if you do something three times it’s a tradition. Thus, this is the traditional photo of Fire in Her Blood.

It’s here! Time for the “from first to finished” photo. Below you see the first draft of Fire in Her Blood, so big I had to wire it together, and the final novel, a compact page-turner. I printed the first draft on March 9, 2008, and the final novel will be released February 14, 2017.

I did the first round of edits on paper during a four hour road trip. You can see them in the picture. It wasn’t an easy trip.

The first edition came in at 155,000 words, long enough for two novels. After my road trip a dear friend who edited for her local newspaper took a red pen to it. When she finished I put the manuscript on the shelf. There were dark themes, plots about controlling relationships and giving people what they want only to have it go horribly wrong. I needed a break, some time to get perspective.

When I came back to the story last fall I ruthlessly cut sixty thousand words, taking out a romance for Mark, a subplot about Indigo, and a vampire-porn star. (At least two of those are going to get written into in the next Death Witch book.) I changed the story’s focus, softening one character and making another even more hot-headed. I cut out two crimes and all of the characters they involved. I felt bad about ignoring some of the characters from the first book, but sometimes you have to choose.

Like choosing how one of the best scenes in the book would go. You’ll know it when you read it, the scene with the alligators. It had to be re-worked. A lot. My editor at Wild Rose Press hated it. Eventually, I realized she was right. The story reads better with the final version, but the first version will always be close to my heart. I usually let the rabbit editor shred the original paper copies, but I’ll keep those pages.

When I wrote the first draft of this novel, being an author seemed very simple: write, edit, edit more, write more, edit again, and then get it published. Now I worry over things like advertising (does it work?), social media (is it a time suck?), and if I should self-publish or pursue an agent (???).

I don’t worry about the story. When it’s not right, I can’t write it. I’ll stomp around the house for hours, ignore my laptop for days. I’ll be an absolute monster to the world until I find a way to work out the story. When I mess up the plot, the writing just stops. It makes me crazy. But it makes me love the finished draft.

I loved this story. Some of the funny parts still make me laugh, even after a dozen readings. Amadeus shines as my favorite new character. I loved setting him up as a foil to Mallory, and forcing her to deal with the idea of a vampire sex worker. She fails against his manipulations but her frustration was always fun. I don’t think I’ve gotten him out of my system in one book. I’m already searching for a good way to force the two of them to work together again.

There’s the jeep, Phoebe’s character changing (but not too much), and intriguing developments between Mallory and Jakob. When I remember all the writing I did and all the hours spent editing, I’m glad. The story was worth it. I hope you all think so too.

01/15/17

Better Used and Destroyed than Unused and Perfect

I don’t talk much about my halcyon days at Flagler College. I cherish them, but keep them close. My best friend from school, Donalyn Frank, died in 2010. The Mermaid and the Murders is actually all about Donalyn, but I keep that close too. When hurricane Matthew ripped through Saint Augustine, I searched out news of the place where I finally fit in, the school where I learned so much, and the hometown I’ll always miss. Pictures of sharks swimming over the sidewalk where I used to walk and my precious college drowning left me filled with a sense of fealty, even as I knew my ties to that idyllic place were slipping. After all, my Flagler College mug is fading.FullSizeRender

About twenty years ago, every Flagler College graduate got a mug with their graduation date written in gold script, beneath our lion mascot. I kept it safe through my many moves, wrapping it in a dishtowel, then putting it in the plastic box – not trusting bubble wrap and cardboard. When it got unwrapped it went on a shelf to be admired, or in one very small apartment, on my writing desk to hold pencils. In nineteen years and nine moves I never drank from it. It was too special.

After a trying day I found myself wishing for a drink. Unfortunately, I wished out loud and an amazing waitress offered to get me one. When I explained that I can’t have alcohol and shouldn’t have caffeine, she summoned the bartender, Patrick, who took my problem as a challenge. He customized not one, but two ‘mock-tails’, cocktails without a drop of alcohol, and sent them to the table. One of them turned out to be bliss in a glass, a nirvana of sweet but not too sweet, garnished with a Luxardo cherry.

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As rare as they are wonderful Luxardo cherries come from one place in the world, a lucky town in Italy. Dark, sweet, and tart without a hint of bitter, there’s no good way to explain the bliss of savoring a Luxardo cherry. The juice is just as impeccable. Before I left the restaurant that night, I’d written Patrick into a novel (he’s on page 68 of Fire in Her Blood), christened the drink a Rachel, and bought my first jar of Luxardo cherries from Amazon. They aren’t cheap – twenty-five dollars gets you about thirty-five cherries – but mixing the sweet cherry syrup-juice they come packed in with club soda is my favorite way to turn a bad day around.

Which brings me back to my Flagler College mug. I reverently wrapped it again for our third move in nine months (2016 had a lot of moves even for me) put it in a box and promptly forgot it existed. I didn’t have as much counter space for knickknacks in the new place. I expected it to stay in the box until the next move. But my cherry cocktail needed exact measurements, a ratio of cherry syrup to club soda that produced the perfect blood red drink sensation, and all my glasses were opaque. The Flagler College mug was unwrapped at Halloween, and ruined by Christmas.

It seems the oh-so-carefully preserved mug was better as a pencil jar than an actual mug. Washing it chipped the gold enamel finish, and after one particularly hot bath of suds, the proud Flagler loin was wiped away by my dishcloth. Gone. The lettering has made it a bit longer, you can still my graduation date but the year is fading. I suspect it will be a nothing but a glass mug in another few months of service.

And I’m glad.

I’ve had more joy using that mug in the last three months than I did carrying it for nineteen years. In all that time it could have been lost or shattered, but instead it remained pristine but spiritless. When I unknowingly began its destruction, I made it part of a ritual to bring comfort on bad days. Happiness has a price, I guess, and I’ll only get to use the magic of my Flagler College memories a little longer. Not using the mug might have preserved it, but I realize now, preservation isn’t the always the best way to honor a thing you love. Sometimes using something up, hugging the stuffing out of the teddy bear, staining the quilt with picnic dirt, and loving something so hard there’s nothing left to love, is the best thing you can do.