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.”

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.

15. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Reviews · Tags:

Ghost brideLast January I challenged myself to keep a list of all the books I read in 2014. I knew the ‘empty bookshelf’ approach, emptying a shelf and filling it with each book you finish, but suspected I wouldn’t have a shelf big enough. I was right:

65 total books read
16 books that I Did Not Finish (DNF)
33 library books
9 digital books

The best books were:

Blackwater: The Complete Caskey Family Saga by Michael McDowell
Horror. Subtle with a complex cast of well developed ‘real’ characters. Set in the south with a creative monster (human crocodile hybrid? Creature from the black lagoon? I was never sure) I didn’t want this story to end, even after six full length books.

The Revenant by Sonia Gensler
YA fantasy. A diverse (most of the characters are Cherokees), well written ghost story with a smart and resourceful heroine who steals the things she needs and refuses to let a ghost stand in the way of her plans.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
YA Fantasy. This adventure takes place in the afterlife as depicted in Eastern/Chinese culture. The plot hinges on a girl being courted by a ghost. She doesn’t love him, and fights to break free of him.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Historic YA fantasy. This is a book about surviving horrors, but it’s also a ghost story. The heroine suffers through the flu pandemic, WWII paranoia, her father being jail, and the love of her life haunting her. Everything felt amazingly real and vivid, the smells, the sounds, the pressures she was under.

WildfireWildfire by Mina Khan
Paranormal Romance/Western. This one blew me away. The heroine is a dragon shifter, she’s also half-Japanese and struggling with depression. I check often in the hopes of another book with these characters.

My best list makes it seem like I read a lot of YA, but they added up to only about 31% of my list. The rest is mystery or historic fiction. I rarely read romances (seven) and am far too picky about my Westerns (five).

I’m not going to mention the worst books by name, but oddly most were highly recommended. It seems I don’t have a lot of tolerance for confusion. Several of the DNF books involved world building that left me completely lost. In one example characters went by different names and switched genders depending on who was narrating.

While I have plenty of editing, running, and quilting on the schedule for the next few weeks I’ll probably add another three or four books to my total. While my tracking project was fun for a year, I’m not sure I’ll keep it up in 2015. I feel slightly guilty admitting I read more than a book a week, but didn’t write any new manuscripts. Saying I spent the year editing is a poor excuse. The best stories are always the ones that haven’t been written yet.

01. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Experiences · Tags: , , ,

In my 20’s I wanted to be sexy. That’s probably not shocking to you, but to me it’s a revelation. Schoolyard bullies convinced me I would always be ugly. I carried that truth into college where I focused on my classes, taking as many as 28 credit hours a term, rather than risk the assured rejection of the dating scene. It was only in my 20s, after grad school, that I realized my body could be something more than a container for my mind.

I found cosplay right around that time. There’s something enormously powerful about a man stopping a long line of pedestrian just to take your picture. It’s hard to find a greater confidence boost than to have ten or fifteen camera flashes go off when you stop and pose. Immersing myself in a world of corsets, costumes, and conventions, I found my fairy wings.

fairy wings

Over four feet tall and made of shimmering purple fabric, my wings could not be ignored. Walking on a crowded convention floor required a ‘wing man’  to make sure that no eyes got poked. In my wings, I floated as a sexy, free spirit. I became fey, an attractive just out of reach, thing of beauty to be coveted.

Oddly, as I left my twenties, my wings hung on my wall more than my back. I found that I wanted to be more than sexy. My tastes in costumes began to veer more toward the Evil Queen than Tinerkbell. Sexy was fine, but I wanted to be strong and sexy. The light, flirtatious, giggles I never quite mastered began to grate on me. The goal ceased to be being desirable to someone else and became proving I was strong.

My fashion ideal: Once Up A Time's Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla) (Photo : Reuters)

My fashion ideal: Once Up A Time’s Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla) (Photo : Reuters)

I write about strong woman, and some of them happen to be sexy. I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. Instead they strike me as phases of a woman’s life. Just like the maiden-mother-crone cycle, surely there must be a fairy-dragon-queen cosplay cycle. Or perhaps there’s something even greater, a systematic unboxing where as women grow older they broaden their definitions of what they want to be, and expand the list of things they can be at once.

My fairy wings will go up on the auction block soon, maybe at a local SciFi Con or maybe in a costuming group. I will miss them, especially the easy way they gave me to define myself. I won’t be the girl with 4 foot fairy wings any more but I will always be the woman who wore them.

15. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Short Stories · Tags: ,

A white cat with bright blue eyes looks out of the photograph.The  worst nightmares were memories and the worst dreams were a little bit true. She dreamed of living a life away from her family, just her and her cat. She dreamed of sun beams and Charlie, stroking his fur and never feeling afraid. The nightmare-memories came from every time her father hit her, except in them she was denied the mercy of blacking out. She was five.

Charlie went missing on Thursday, and her world nearly ended. Without him, the screaming and the tears, were so much worse. She tried hard to be good, but it was easier to avoid doing something wrong when you could come home from school and hide in your room with a white cat. Charlie’s body wasn’t really big enough to hide her, but he was big, and she imagined he could. With Charlie in front of her father wouldn’t see what she did wrong. He wouldn’t get angry, and she wouldn’t have a new nightmare-memory.

Except that Charlie wasn’t found until Sunday morning. His soft fur hadn’t changed, but his body was cold and stiff. Her mother was dressing for church, too busy to offer an explanation. Father only said “It’s dead.” with a shrug. She knew what dead meant, gone forever, but Charlie couldn’t be gone forever. She needed him too much. She thought she knew how much she could cry, how much she could hurt. Holding him in her arms without the hum of his purr, she felt a new depth of pain. It tore out of her, and something came with it, grief or maturity, or maybe something else.

She wouldn’t let Charlie go. Father slapped hard against her head but she wouldn’t let him go. Finally her mother intervened and supplied a box. They would bury Charlie in the churchyard and one day he would rise again with Jesus and live forever. But when her mother said it, her eyes looked the same way they did when she said your father isn’t angry anymore, he’s sorry he hit you.

She knew the people of the church loved her. Sometimes she dreamed that she and Charlie left to live with them. The family with three teenage boys who held her up to the basketball hoop so she could slam dunk. The old woman who always had candy in her purse. A hundred of them, maybe more, she couldn’t count so high, that all loved her and never hit her, and still they didn’t add up to one Charlie. Every time she peeked under the box lid he hadn’t moved. She cried, but after a hard look from Father she did it silently.

After church there was a potluck supper, but the thought of food made her sick. How could she eat when Charlie never would? Father insisted she get a plate. Her fingers couldn’t quite hold it though, and it splattered on the ground, splashing macaroni and cheese on top of green bean casserole. Father shouted, grabbing her arm. She broke away, peeling from his grasp for the first time, her mind fixed not on the inevitable but on Charlie. Two steps later she realized her mistake, and knowing the beating would be worse because of it, cowered on the floor.

The beating didn’t come. When she opened her eyes in tiny slits, everyone, all the people who loved her, were watching. They looked from her to Father, and his face changed from red rage to embarrassment. It would go worse for her later, but now she felt their love. She scrambled from the floor and ran to her chair. She took Charlie’s box on her lap, and while she basked in that love, she felt the box move.

Under the lid Charlie stayed stiff, but his back paw jumped. Was it the love? Was it that other thing, the thing that felt hard in the back of her throat, the thing that welled up inside her when she thought about Charlie never playing with a feather or curling up beside her. Maybe it was both, love and the other thing, and she reached into the box to pet her only friend.

Father grabbed her hand but she peeled away again, turning her wrist. The box lid fell to the floor and her fingers rested on soft fur. A second passed, and then another, Father’s eyes going wide with fear. In the box, Charlie purred.

03. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Experiences · Tags: ,

In mid-September they stopped me in a restaurant, just as the waitress set down my dinner. In early October they braved the spray of my lawn mower to ask. By mid-October I’d heard the same question from more neighbors I’d never met, “What are you doing for Halloween?”

And my answer? A Giant Spider:

giant spider with fog

 

We weren’t going to do a new Halloween display this year, but puppy dog eyes and pleading from some of the neighborhood boys changed my mind. With only 6 weeks until the big day, we needed something quick, that didn’t rely on special orders. More importantly, we’d booked a trip out of for the days just before Halloween so it had to be something that could stay inside and be assembled relatively quickly. Shelob’s Lair was perfect.

Spider cocoons

The large web was mailed ordered. It turns out that it’s cheaper to buy the web than buy your own rope and make one. The two cocoons were made from a combination of old quilt batting, balled up papers, and packing plastic wrap. The process was pretty simple. Spread the plastic wrap out on the floor, making a section twice as wide as the cocoon will be. Place the cotton batting (or white sheet, white paper, red paper etc) on first. Cover with balled up paper, tree branches, or anything light that gives shape. Now’s the time to add any limbs or gore effects you’d like. With lots of younger neighbors, that wasn’t an option for me, but a severed foot or hand would’ve looked perfect. Finally, gently roll the plastic wrap, making a giant sausage, and encase with more plastic wrap.

The spider was more of an event to produce. The head and abdomen are chicken wire wrapped in packing plastic wrap or cloth and spray painted. The cephalothorax is a plastic storage bin with a ‘spine’ of PVC screwed in place. The legs are PVC wrapped in tattered fabric. PVC is my new favorite building material. It works like tinker toys for adults, and if you don’t glue it in place can be reused from year to year. Last year we spent far too much for it at the hardware store, this year we found it at the ReStore for 10 cents a foot. I got to support Habitat for Humanity and build cheap spider legs!

 

20141001_190853

We added the fog machines, mostly because they’re fun, a red light so the spider could be seen, a glowing web on the house, and two pumpkin spiders with vine legs. All in all a good show. We had slightly fewer tricker’er’treaters this year, 10 instead of 15, but more adults. It seems all those grown ups want an excuse to walk around on a cool October night and see some stagecraft. I’m happy to give it to them.

15. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: from my manuscripts, Writing · Tags: ,

Back cover copy is my favorite part of writing. A whole novel takes a long enough that your confidence fails. You doubt yourself. There are nights when every words has to be pried out, making me feel like a dentist with a pair of pliers and my knee in the patient’s chest. A synopsis takes all of that work – weeks and months of it – and forces you to choose just the barest of outlines while insisting you not leave anything out. Marketing copy, those little two lines blurbs, are equally impossible. I just agonized over 100,000 words, and now I have to reduce it down to two sentences? Nope.

But on a back over I just need to say enough to intrigue a reader. I only have to tantalize and tease. All the hard things – showing a character grow and change, developing tension, or making a relationship seem real – can be skipped. That’s why back cover copy usually comes first, and why sometimes it’s the only thing I write.

Thus I give you back cover copy from books I will likely never get around to writing.

Windswept (Inspirational Romance)

When Kim Newland hears that her hometown has been devastated by a hurricane she shrugs her shoulders. She lived through enough hurricanes not to worry, but when her sister, Kristi, asks her for money everything changes for the hard driving lawyer. Money and family in need are the two things that caused ruined her life. Wanting to help but scared of repeating her greatest mistake, Kim heads into the town determined to help make things right.

George Dent spent the hurricane pulling people out of crumbling houses and praying God would stop the storm. Now that it’s over he’s working even harder on clean up, trying to find the missing, comfort the hurt, and maybe, if there’s time, rebuild his church. He’s never had time for a family of his own, and now he’s busier than ever. When Kristi brings her reluctant sister along to the firehouse kitchens he doesn’t know what to say to Kim. Should he try to break through her hard exterior and help her find faith and family again, or just focus on his own work?

###

Remnant’s Revenge (Romantic Suspense)

Srgt. Steve Carter barely remembers the combat accident that stole his soul. Being dead for five minutes wasn’t bad, coming back to life as a remnant, without morals or ethics and with no way to love is horrible. Discharged from the Army for conduct he can’t control, Carter drifts, trying to get back to the man he was.

ER Dr. Jessica Kelly has just found an interesting set of anomalies on the MRI scans of a patient who died briefly on the operating room table. The changes in brain usage might explain the sudden shift in personality and behavior. And if she can explain it, she can fix it. But before she can gather more data she finds herself targeted by shadowy organization, a group willing to kill to keep the remnants exactly as they are.

 

01. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Experiences · Tags:

There’s a drama unfolding that you probably missed if you don’t write or read romance novels.  The story so far:

  • Authors who work for a smaller but very well known publisher began to have problems getting their checks.
  • The publisher went through public troubles with money, laying off staff.
  • A romance blog wrote about it, linking to the authors’ blog posts.
  • The publisher filed a defamation suit again the romance blog demanding the names of those who commented on the blog as well as those that were quoted.

What will happen to the folks who commented? Is it dangerous for authors to talk about their publishers? No one knows, stay tuned for details.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the publisher’s name. I had a contract offer from them once. My agent advised against it, and got me another deal. When that deal fell through I kicked myself for not taking the first offer. That publisher was the first professional contact I had in the writing world. The encounter was short, 5 minutes in the chaos of DragonCon, and took place well before I had a finished novel. Still those 5 minutes fueled me for a long time. But it isn’t out of gratitude that I don’t name them…

As an aspiring author I walk a fine line with social media. I’m encouraged by agents and editors to ‘build a social media platform’ and told that I need to ‘promote my brand’.  My brand should reflect who I am, but never be offensive. For example, I should have a GoodReads account, but not give negative reviews. Apparently, the publishing world is filled with people who will remember and seek vengeance.

Basically I have to sell myself to sell my writing. I’ve never been very comfortable with that idea. When I have to sell a sanitized version of myself, Iget very uncomfortable. I am (among other things) a feminist fan girl, who works in IT, owns a rabbit, and hates whiny female characters. All of those things are going to offend someone.

Thus I have a mix of social media. There’s a secret Tumblr account where I talk about growing up on food stamps and congratulate transwomen on their amazing hair. I link to pretty corset pictures and document every single book I read. Some of those books are amazing, but around 30% of them are ‘did not finish’. I’m honest about when I  couldn’t stand the characters, got bored, or felt the author was misogynistic.  That’s the sort of thing I could never put on my author Facebook account, which holds my nightly word count and a few innocuous comments. My Author Facebook account is populated almost exclusively with posts from my Twitter account, with several of them deleted. I try to keep it on target – something that helps build my platform. I also have a day job Facebook account – which is linked to people from my day job and includes bits about my personal life. Both things I’ve been told to avoid posting on the web, as they’ll ‘water down’ my brand.

Frankly, it’s all exhausting and takes away far too much time from writing. I’ve been considering deleting my Facebook accounts for a few months now. Unfortunately, there are people that I only interact with on Facebook. They stop me from clicking the delete button. But if I had to pick a social media site to maintain, it would be this blog (where it might not be a smart idea to say everything I feel, but at least I maintain control over everything), Twitter (I love chatting with folks over 140 character), and Tumblr (I need my fandom fix).

Meanwhile, I worry that there’s too much of me shared with the world. I like my privacy. And there are more than a few nights where the only people I want to talk to are the ones that live in my head. Those are the nights when I get my best writing done.  Strangely enough, they happen to be the nights when I’m not posting on social media.

15. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Experiences · Tags:

With 45 days left before Halloween, things are beginning to get busy. Although I’m obligated (via my marriage contract) not to put up Halloween decorations until the month of October, a new vanilla-vodka skull has taken up residence on the counter. At the same time, my vague notion that I should do something about my Halloween costume has turned into full blown panic that I have nothing done for my Halloween costume.

Add whole vanilla beans to Crystal Skull Vodka and in a month you have vanilla extract!

Add whole vanilla beans to Crystal Skull Vodka and in a month you’ll have vanilla extract!

Another source of panic? After some nastiness with neighborhood vandals Tiger and I decided we wouldn’t be doing a Halloween display this year. We’d been invited to bring last year’s display (telescope included) to another neighborhood for more kids to enjoy. With our schedule this year the decision made sense… until I bumped into a pair of neighbors, one nine, the other seven, who told me they’d been looking forward to our display all year long. While I wasn’t in the mood to put together a display with less than a month to go, their pleas softened my heart. I realized that if I didn’t make an effort this year, next year there might not be any kids to enjoy it. Our theme is giant spiders. Stay tuned for pictures of all our last minute DIY fun.

When it comes to Halloween time I have two theme park favorites. The first is Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream, which boasts five ‘terror-tories’. In the past the themed spaces worked together to tell a single frightening story. This year theming is a bit more haphazard. Marketing materials brand the effort as ‘Cursed’ spinning the story of a song that brings madness. What does the song have to do with the park areas of pirates, Jack the Ripper, or vampires? Not much but then, the song isn’t mentioned at all inside the park except for signs marked with a tag line ‘don’t listen’.

Dragons and demons go together, right? The Demon Street section of Busch Gardens  Howl-O-Scream

Dragons and demons go together, right? The Demon Street section of Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream

On the other end of the spectrum is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party at Walt Disney World. The theme is Halloween at Disney World. Yep, that’s it. Don’t look for deep scary metaphors or hidden meanings, just cool costumes, free candy, and the chance to meet the Disney Villains. I’ve been a huge Disney fan for a long time, but the addition of expensive add ons to this event make me wonder if this is my last year. In the past everyone had an equal chance to meet their favorite villain, now it’ll cost an additional $100 per person for you to say hello to the Evil Queen or smile at Cinderella’s stepsisters. A better place for that money is the flood of Haunted Mansion merchandise, from a $400 hand bag to a pair of logo-bedecked bedroom slippers. I’m hoping at least some of that materializes by the time I arrive in late October.

On a more personal note, I’m in the middle of making a Halloween quilt to donate to the local foster program. I’m keeping my fingers-crossed there’s at least one foster kid who likes spiders, black cats, smiling jack-o’-lanterns, and silly scarecrows.

The in progress quilt squares.

The in-progress quilt squares.

I’m looking forward to a local writing conference in the middle of the month, and, as always, waiting (im)patiently for replies from cover artists, publishers, editors, and agents.

So begins the start of the best time of year for me: busy, fun, crazy, delightful autumn. I hope I’m as happy at the end of it as I am going into it.

31. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Short Stories · Tags: ,

The little girl would die with her face stuffed into a pillow. Or she would grow up to be a school teacher. Or a scientist. Or there would be a car accident when she was twenty. Cassie shook her head, trying to clear the images and come back to the here and now.

It was no good. There were too many of them. The futures, the possibilities, and the things she could see. Path over path interlaced with the reality in front of her. The little girl was three, then she was eight with two missing teeth. She was dead on a pink blanket, no she was ten winning an award at school. Bits of cotton stuck out of her teeth, no, no, she won a science fair project.

Dead or some other future, they kept coming up in pairs. Dead or a good life, dead or this, dead or that. Like rolling a pair of dice and always getting a six on one of them. Cassie felt the pressure behind her eyes. There would be flashes of light next, starbursts, and then the pain. She had to do something about this future.

Her knee ran into a park bench. She focused on that while she sat down, taking deep breathes of air. People were starting to stare at her. She had to get it together, to stop the pain from coming. Stop the future and you stop the pain, her mantra spooled out in her head.

Steadying herself, she focused on the futures. They ran through her mind like someone flipping through channels on the television. Flickering images of one life, then another. With concentration she could slow the flickering, and look for details in the background. The pink coverlet was a mess, balled up in a big hand. The scene shifted, the little girl as a grown up with a microscope. Cassie waited, it went back to the murder. The little girl wore a blue dress. Cassie squinted, sunlight making her head throb. In front of her, in the real world, the little girl wore the blue dress. It would happen soon.

“Ma’am? Is there a problem?” The police officer wore a concerned expression. Cassie nodded, then looked back at the little girl. He’d broken her concentration and the images became a jumble again. A spike of pain lanced through the right side of her head. That hand reaching for the pillow, taking it out from behind the girl. It wore a heavy silver ring. Cassie fought to stay in that future, the one that came just hours from now. “You hurt your knee?”

Tears of frustration began to form in her eyes and she felt her nose start to run.. If she told him and he didn’t believe, the little girl would die tonight. She needed him to believe. This couldn’t be like the other times. All those futures no one believed in. She gritted her teeth.

“I hit my knee on the bench.” She slid back, letting her shoulders rest on the warm metal, keeping her eyes on the little girl.

“Let me take a look.” He dropped to examine her knee, and over his head she saw the flash of the ring in the sunlight. The heavy silver ring, on the hand attached to the hairy arm. The one the little girl would see just as the man smothered her. Without thinking she let a cry slip out, the future hurt. The cop misunderstood. “Yeah, you smacked the bench pretty good.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Cassie leaned forward, putting her mouth close to his ear. “The man with the cotton candy, to your left, do you see him?”

The cop turned to the left slowly, as if he guessed her strange behavior was somehow important. He nodded in a gesture no one else would see.

“He’s going to kill her.” She could see it, the whole scene now, staggering forward with each pound of her head. “He’s going to murder that little girl tonight.” She steadied herself with a hand on the cop’s shoulder. They must have looked so intimate. But really, all she saw was the room, with the pony dolls by the bed, and the little girl’s fingers in the shaft as sunlight as she reached for air. “Before sunset. He’ll smother her in her bed. You have to stop him.”

Cassie pulled back, memorizing everything about the soon-to-be murderer, the thick black hair, the expressionless eyes. Wetness hit her lip, tears or from her nose. She scrubbed at it with a hand, not caring because it was stopping. The cop got up from his kneeling position, walked over to the man, hand on his gun. Cassie watched at the way his head tilted to the left, talking into the box on his shoulder, calling for more men.

“Excuse me, sir?”

The murderer dropped the cotton candy.

“Uncle Mike?” The little girl’s asked.

And just like that her headache evaporated. Cassie indulged herself in the scene for a few more seconds, watching not the people in front of her but the images in her head. The girl and science, the girl getting married, the girl teaching children, the girl winning awards, the girl struggling to pass classes. So many futures, she let herself smile for a minute, there would be death eventually, but not today.

Cassandra hurried away before anyone had a chance to ask any questions.